From Antwerp to Around the World

Komono’s Success Story

At first sight, Belgium’s latest hot export may not sound like a product from the Benelux region: KOMONO is the Japanese word for “small thing,” and the finer details in life are exactly the Antwerp-based company’s specialty. KOMONO brings Antwerp’s leading design heritage to the global fashion runway with expertly crafted eyewear and watches collections. SPECTR had a chance to visit KOMONO headquarters in Antwerp, where 42 employees out of a worldwide staff of 50 handle the brand’s design, production, distribution, and marketing. The company founded by Anton Janssens and Raf Maes in 2009 also operates two additional offices, one in Santa Monica, California, and the other in Hong Kong. In our Label Update, Anton Janssens opens up about the brand’s initial focus on fashion stores, the evolution of KOMONO and what the future holds for the label and partner opticians.  

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Anton, please tell us a little more about your background. You’ve spent years working in the extreme sports and fashion industries, and ran a distribution company in Belgium, correct?

Anton Janssens (AJ): Yes. Twenty years ago, Raf and I were pro snowboarders – that’s how we met. We traveled the world and discovered many things. Afterwards we started a distribution company, beginning with sports but over the years we switched to fashion with a focus on clothing, footwear, and accessories. At some point we started wondering: why give brands feedback on market opportunities and trends if we can use this experience ourselves?

So in 2009, you decided to leave distribution and do your own thing?

AJ: We’re natural entrepreneurs. And we saw a change in the wider fashion market and a big opportunity to make luxury accessible to many people. At the time, no one had thought to try that with sunglasses and watches. So we took the leap – and the rest is history.

Tell us more about your relationship with Raf and how you decided to partner up?

AJ: When you travel a lot, you get to know people quickly. Our energies really connected. We both have a lust for life, and want to make things happen! That was probably the reason we were snowboarding.

Raf, do you think that your background in extreme sports has had an effect on the way you run your business?

Raf Maes (RM): Yes, definitely. Snowboarding is not a “classic” sport. It’s more about aesthetics, how you read the mountains and make your movements look good. And making things look good is central to what we do at KOMONO.

Do you think there’s a undeserved demand for lifestyle products among the optical stores that you can fill with KOMONO?

RM: Absolutely. We live in a fast-evolving world, and the new generations are demanding. They have it all online, and want it all now! KOMONO is unique: we understand these consumers. We were raised in that environment, so we don’t have to adapt. We’re constantly driven to innovate. The amazing feedback we’ve gotten from opticians is proof that KOMONO offers something special.

What exactly led to the great feedback?

AJ: Our focus has always been making luxury accessible. We won’t make compromises when it comes to quality or design, and insist on giving a luxury experience. And we really want to bring our community to the opticians. After all, the opticians’ know-how is central to offering the perfect service that your eyes deserve. There are a lot of rising brands who want to bypass that important role and sell directly to the customer. We are convinced that KOMONO is the best defense for opticians against this trend!

How does your headquarters in Antwerp factor into your brand DNA?

RM: We’re very proud of our Antwerp roots. It’s the home of many of today’s influential designers. We create contemporary designs with signature Antwerp style: clean lines, modern feel and innovative materials.

What other brands on the market are close to KOMONO?

AJ: It’s hard to name a direct competitor. Aesthetically, some of the new players are following our lead. Different ones pop up in every country, like Warby Parker in the United States. But conceptually? None of these brands give back to the opticians. We do, and that makes our concept different.

Let’s talk frames. What’s typical for KOMONO’s style?

RM: Everything we do must have a sense of purity and refinement. There must be a clear coherence throughout everything we design and do – always driven by a clear sense of innovation. Ultimately, we want people to recognize our products even without the logo!

Speaking of innovation, what are some examples of technical advancements in your product line?

RM: Most recently, our drive for innovation resulted in the NEUTRØ series. These sunglasses are made from a CO2-neutral material developed in-house. Aesthetics are always the number one priority for KOMONO. While designing this series, we learned that we had an opportunity to be part of a bigger thing and raise awareness. So that’s what we did. We wanted the designs to hint at 1960’s fiberglass furniture designs, and that worked out really well.

Which of your product styles perform the best in terms of sales?

AJ: We listen to our customers. Based on their feedback, we’ve developed new styles that mix acetate and steel. These frames –like wie »The Frankie«, »The Boris« and »The Wilbur« – do very well, both as sunglasses and optical models. People can express themselves freely in KOMONO. Some collections that we expected to be more conceptual surprise us and sell extremely well, like our Purple Rain collection. New styles like »The Monroe« are receiving great feedback. As a general rule, I’d say that trends are evolving towards lighter, slimmer steel styles.

You originally started your eyewear collection with sunglasses and later launched your optical line. What was your motivation for branching out?

RM: There was big demand from the opticians. We had seen great success with our sunglasses, and we realized that for most opticians, this is only a small part of their business. We also felt that we had enough experience in manufacturing to take that next step. We launched our first optical collection at SILMO 2016, so that was only about ten months ago.

Your booth at SILMO was almost always totally slammed with visitors. Did that reflect in your order volumes as well?

RM: You never know how a new product launch will go, so we were a bit nervous! We developed a new business approach, pushing online brand awareness through social media. We brought this community exclusively to the retailer. Word started spreading and our booth was packed throughout the entire show. People loved the concept, the whole brand experience. These elements are what makes KOMONO really unique.

What are your strongest markets in general?

AJ: First of all, our local markets Belgium and The Netherlands. Next up are our neighbors Germany, Italy, and France. Globally, the United States are really starting to pick up speed, and Japan is doing a fantastic job as well.

Why do you think opticians need to offer brands like KOMONO?

RM: Things are changing and you’re either part of the change, or you fade out. KOMONO will keep evolving and re-inventing itself!

What was your biggest challenge working with opticians?

AJ: Gaining confidence! In general, it’s a more self-contained, conservative space than the open, innovative fashion world. If you’re the first brand to bring change to a long-standing model, you’ll always bump into some resistance. But that drives us to respond and do better.

You emphasize that it’s important to question processes and conventions. Why the rebellious attitude?

AJ: I’m afraid that’s my nature. I’m not interested in the status quo. When I get to that point it’s time to move on! This attitude has brought me everywhere I’ve been in life, and now pushes the entire KOMONO team. And as they say: never change a winning team.

What kind of wins can we expect from KOMONO next?

RM: We have so many plans. It feels like we’ve only just begun. We’re investing heavily in marketing as we speak. We’ve already hired ten people this year to reinforce our team. We’re confident that our concept is working. Also, we’re opening our retail locations in key cities worldwide. We just opened our first flagship store in Antwerp, and are working on some big collaborations. Keep a close eye on our social media for the latest news!

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More Info: www.komono.com

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