Kipling is revisiting its heritage with a new brand direction, as seen in the just-launched New Classics collection. To learn more about the changes in the company we talked with Denielle Wolfe, the brand’s vice president of global product and design
Kipling was founded in Antwerp in 1987 and is now known worldwide for its practical, stylish bags and signature monkey mascot. To coincide with the release of the New Classics collection, we sit down with Denielle Wolfe, who joined the brand earlier this year as vice president of global product and design. We discuss the Antwerp bag brand’s new direction and why this is an exciting time for Kipling.
You recently joined Kipling. What appealed to you about the company?
I knew Kipling from the days when I worked at Tumi and Tumi was distributing Kipling in the United States. That was a fun time so when I heard about the opportunity I was excited because I know the brand’s heritage and the history. It’s just right on with the trends of the moment, in terms of how we are dressing more casually and how we work in different ways. It was exciting because the brand really wants to look at its roots and heritage, and bring that to the forefront.
What is it like to work for Kipling at this stage in the brand’s story?
We just celebrated Kipling’s 30th anniversary last year. It’s super exciting to be a part of the turning point in the brand’s history and it’s going to go through such an amazing transformation. To make that happen – from what the product looks like to how we communicate, what stores look like, what e-commerce looks like – there’s just so much to touch and change.
It’s interesting too because until recently the brand has grown independently in three different regions – Europe, Asia and the United States. Now we are going to take the brand into the global market with one single voice.
What factors influenced Kipling’s new united global outlook?
We wanted to have a focused brand message and to come at it from a one-brand, one-message standpoint. It’s also the practicality of duplication: duplication of product, duplication of resources. We need to combine forces and push all this energy forward. We call it simplified-amplified: if you can get everybody working towards the same goal you’re just going to be that much stronger than if you’re all trying to do the same thing in smaller ways in different regions. To globalise means we will be stronger locally.
Where are you based?
The design team resides both in Belgium and New York so we will work together developing the collections under my direction. I’m based in Antwerp but am in New York at least one week out of every month and I’m also in Asia a lot as that’s where the market is growing.
How would you describe the brand’s new concept, which is being developed across products and stores?
We’re looking at the brand through a new urban lens. For products that means the part of urban that makes life easier to live: for example, how can a bag carry me through the entire day and make me look the way I want to look?
That urban lens also adopts the perspective of always having something to discover. Living in the city, there’s always a new shop, a new restaurant or a new green space to discover – there’s always something happening. We want to have that element of discovery both in the products and in the stores.
How do Kipling’s products fit the modern world?
Nowadays everything is in these small computers that we carry around in our pockets: thanks to our phones we have access to all the news and everything our friends are doing. Our phones are part of everything we do, from getting us where we need to go to paying for things, and, because of this, we carry less.
It’s a case of adopting a new perspective of what the new world is and where it’s going in the future, and making everything that we do applicable to this reality. We want to take from the heritage of the brand only what is needed. A bag has to be there for a reason, it has to fit seamlessly and stylishly into your life.
Ultimately we want be a brand that you love throughout your entire life and that you don’t grow out of – it’s truly a matter of taking the best of our heritage and making it relevant for today.
What will the key signature features be?
We will have the monkey motif in our brand but in some cases it won’t be on the product in the way we know it today. Signature details will come through as we dive into the details.
What’s your favourite part of your new role?
Every day brings something new for me. Being a New Yorker that has just moved to a new country, there are many aspects of my life that involve learning something new every day and there are also aspects of work that are about learning something new every day too. It’s tiring and exciting all at the same time.
What I really enjoy is working with the people here and everyone’s energy in bringing this new direction to light. Even the people that have been here for several years are excited about the transformation that is starting to happen: energy feeds energy. That’s what I like about working in companies and with people who are really focused on a mission and excited about going there.
What’s your ideal bag and why?
Backpacks. I am a city person so when I was driving all the time, I was always this hobo girl, looking for a quick off-the-shoulder bag that was easy to throw in the car, but your needs really depend on where and how you live. Because I travel so much and have to carry a lot – I usually start my day with an empty bag and by the time I’ve finished all my errands it’s full – a backpack is my bag of choice.
What’s your vision for the brand?
We’re not going to be everything to everyone: season after season, we just want to grow in the hearts of those who we are important to, the tribe of individuals that we are targeting, the people that are in this urban, hands-free, casual everyday lifestyle. We already have a pretty loyal tribe right now which really says a lot about the brand and its quality. Our customers just want a stylish a bag that fits seamlessly into their lives and that’s the ultimate goal.
We are going to be a lightweight nylon brand, we are going to be a vegan brand and we are hopefully going to make a lot of people interested in our styles. It’s a lot of work, but it’s exhilarating and it’s still early days. You’ve got to stick around for a couple years – it’s going to be an evolution, not a revolution. These things take time.