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Thursday, July 4, 2013

In Talks With, Chris Kerrigan, Co-founder of THE GOODS DEPT Jakarta

From left: Chris, Cynthia and Anton
Image courtesy of The Goods Dept 
I had the great opportunity of seating down with Chris Kerrigan, co-founder of THE GOODS DEPT, one of the leading multi-label boutiques in Jakarta when I was there on holiday. I first met Chris at Blueprint tradeshow last year in May 2012 and have found him to be an extremely humble person, considering he and his wife Cynthia are widely known in Indonesia as the tastemakers for everything hip and cool. 

He shared with me more about the founding of THE GOODS DEPT and also his thoughts on the Singapore market.

Naked Glory: What has been the development for THE GOODS DEPT from last year May till now?

Chris Kerrigan: Last year, we were still in our first location which was in Plaza Indonesia, and that was a temporary space. We had that for a year and a half before we moved to Pacific Place which is more central. Moving was quite a big deal. Subsequently, we opened up a new, bigger location in Pondok Indah Mall, and we're scheduled to open a third store at Lotte in June. We've also launched our webstore, with regional shipping options. We don't have everything listed on the webstore, but a pretty good selection.

NG: Do you think that THE GOODS DEPT reached a cult status amongst the cool kids in Jakarta?
CK: It started with Brightspot market. Before we started Brightspot there wasn't a lot of interest in local Indonesian brands. The perception was that local meant bad quality, or people were just interested in international brands - both high street and high end wise. Brightspot was built around young, local designers who wanted to have a better quality RTW product. 

That's kind of what developed the cult status. Since then, Brightspot has reached a much more mass audience and these indie designers now have a huge following. We definitely have the movers and shakers of the Jakarta fashion scene's support but especially being in a mall, we are able to reach a bigger audience. 

NG: What do you think of Indonesian designers in terms of their potential to reach the global market or at least generate regional interest?
CK: Actually a lot of them have already reached out to markets overseas - we get a lot of Singapore buyers that come to Brightspot and to our stores to check out the brands. Regionally, the brands are ready but internationally it's still a jump. There are things they need to think about - especially in terms of sizing and fit - before they branch out. But there are a few denim brands and accessories that have been picked up internationally. 

There are also other fundamental issues like resources for fabrics that are challenging for a lot of these brands. Indonesia, being a manufacturing country, has quite a bit of amazing fabrics, but in order to get to them, you need to have minimum orders of 10,000 that are just not possible for these young brands. So they resort to a lot of local markets and few places that have endstock of fabric. Sometimes brands end up picking up the same fabric and it becomes a bit of an issue. 

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NG: For THE GOODS DEPT, how often do you get a new designer on board? What do you look out for when you select a new designer and is there a sales target that they have to hit once carried instore?
CK: Our goal is to promote a lot of these young brands and we take them on for different reasons. The most ideal one is when we think the brand is interesting and has a lot of potential to grow. They may not be ready quality-wise, we are actually willing to take brands that have a few issues that they need to iron out but they just need that encouragement to get going. We'd take brands that are just starting out if we see that they have interesting ideas or a really solid identity, even if their product is quite simple. 

Of course, we have to think about different product categories. If we see a product, that will satisfy a certain category - eg home and living/ accesories - then we may take them given that they have good quality products. As for how often, it's really random. We get a lot of new brands pitching to us now, and it becomes a bit of a challenge to pick up new brands when we have limited space instore to display them. 

Currently, we have 250 vendors right now and some vendors have multiple brands under them so I have no idea how many individual brands we carry in total. Some stores will ask a brand to submit promotional materials but with that many brands, it will get too overwhelming, so we try to do everything inhouse to keep a clear, consistent identity. 

NG: For the target market of THE GOODS DEPT, are they mostly young adults or cool street kids?
CK: It's changing actually. Because of the location of our stores, we are in different types of malls. Our goal is to have whatever we think is cool. Pacific Place is in the financial district and a lot of businessmen frequent that space and they are more discerning with their products selection. They can pick up two similar products and pick the one that is higher priced and has better quality. At PIM, the foot traffic is much higher, so we like to have a little bit of everything. Generally the store in Pacific Place is catered to a slightly high end market compared to PIM. 

NG: I understand that you have also set up F&B outlets - THE GOODS DINER - housed together with your stores. Setting up a F&B outlet along with a fashion store is like promoting a lifestyle. Is that what you were going for? 
CK: Yeah, actually that's exactly why we did it. We've always had a food element. In Brightspot, we always had our bakesales - we'd invite independent bakers to sell food as well. We wanted to make THE GOODS DEPT a place where people want to hang out; we want them to actually spend time there. They can just be going there to have a milkshake or a burger, or just buying shoes or be able to do both. We just want them to feel very comfortable within that space.

NG: There's a lot competition in Jakarta in terms of high street, which is similar to the market in Singapore. But in Singapore, there isn't really a multilabel boutique for young designers that's doing really well. Are there any reasons which you can attribute to the success of THE GOODS DEPT?
CK: We did it for ourselves in a way - we made it a place which we would like to hang out. It helps that our partners all have different backgrounds which we are about to integrate into building the brand. Anton - my brother in law - has an events company and he's more into music, but also art, design and fashion. Cynthia, my wife (and co-founder), has a background in retail and she was a buyer before. And I have more of the fine art photography background. I think we followed our gut and that's how the store developed into what it is. 

A lot of things helped us in terms of circumstance as well starting up. We founded Brightspot right when Twitter was becoming a marketing tool and getting popular among Indonesians.You can even see the difference between the first the second Brightspot. The first one, we promoted pretty much on Facebook and word of mouth. The second one, we did it on twitter and more than doubled the number of people that came. It went from about 5000 to 12000 people and most of that was because of Twitter. 

By the fourth event, we can see a huge change - that was when everybody started using Twitter. We jumped from 13000 to 35000 attendants. The last one we did, we had a turnout of 75000. For marketing wise, I guess we really rode on the wave of social media and it's how we did most of our campaigning early on. 

In terms of Singapore - I think there are some really good brands coming out from Singapore, but maybe it's also because of the way the industry is set up.We have high street brands but we don't have as much as you do in Singapore, so local brands in Indonesia are left to fill in the gaps sometimes and also the industry itself is a little easier to manage. Barriers to entry are quite low, and it's easy to start a brand, but not so easy to maintain a brand. In Singapore, it's more expensive to produce designs and it's a totally different environment.

NG: I think part of the reason why it's hard in Singapore is the crazy rental. It's just not possible to open up a multi-label boutique stocking young designers whom are all previously unheard of in a mall with high foot traffic. People will not be likely to step instore and buy from a designer they don't know, when they are inundated with choices like Zara, Topshop and H&M. 
CK: Yes, it's a lot of education even here. We have to educate the consumers on what we're doing. When we first started Brightspot, there was no interest at all. We charge designers like less than SGD200 to rent a booth for 4 days and we couldn't cover our costs. We had difficulty obtaining sponsorship because nobody was interested in what we had to do. They were like there's no Zara, no Topshop, then what's your selling point?
And we were like that's exactly the point, those things are readily available and we want to show that there's a lot of better homegrown offerings around.

Even when we opened the store, people originally didn't understand the concept. But once they spent some time in our store looking at the products, they will get more excited. Actually a lot of the time, people only realize later that it's all local brands. I think it helps Indonesians are really hungry for new things. 

But Singapore seems to be more interested in independent stuff than mass market nowadays, maybe in food more than fashion. Last year we picked up a few brands at Blueprint and as far as the tradeshow goes, it's definitely doing well for a startup. We're hoping to find some good stuff there again this year. 

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