Tenue de Nîmes opened the doors to it’s first retail store in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam, on a chilly November day in 2008.  Did you realise that’s just two months after the collapse of the investment bank, the Lehman Brothers? To most people reading this interview, myself included, the year 2008 immediately conjures up pretty bleak memories of the now famed global financial crisis. And, lets be honest, a decade of uncertainty and challenging times across most aspects of business (especially retail) has followed. Amongst the bankruptcies and liquidations hitting headlines, alongside the multitude of articles and analysis of this dreadful decade for business, have been some heartening success stories too. Tenue de Nîmes is one of those stories. What lessons can we learn from owner, Menno van Meurs? Well, we can find out what lessons HE learned along the way. And believe me, he has ten years worth of amazing insights we can all apply to our jobs, businesses and lives. We got dug in with Menno recently at his Anniversary party and talked retail, sustainability, community and a whole lotta denim.

Menno van Meurs, Tenue De Nimes

Congratulations on 10 years of Tenue de Nîmes! What do you attribute your 10 year success to?

Thanks to our anniversary, people ask me this question often. I guess the first and most important thing that pops in my head is that no matter what people tell you, you must always stay determined. If I look at all the negativity that has captured the world of retail (specifically during the last ten years) it would have been very easy to become very depressed. But instead I always tell people: “If these are the hard times (having so much fun already) I can’t wait for the great days to happen”. So what I take from that is that no matter what happens to the world, or to the business that you are in, when you provide great product and you are good to your customers there will always be a business for you.

The Tenue de Nîmes ten year window

And what do you think will most impact your business for the next 10 years?

During the past 10 years I have learned many, many lessons. I often wonder how amazing it would be to start all over again with these past 10 years of knowledge and experience in my back pocket. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that you learn every day. That journey never ends. Comparing 2008 with 2018 sometimes freaks me out, because literally nothing is the same. I really feel like I have been in this constant start-up mode, although it’s been 10 years already. The internet changed the game so drastically that I had to reinvent myself quite a few times already. The most important lesson I have taken from all the changes is that we must urgently go back to less, but great product (as opposed to big volumes of fast-fashion crap). The clothing business is the second most pollutive industry after raw oil. We create 150 billion garments annually, on a population of only 7 billion people. On top of that 75% of that 150 billion garments ends up being landfill. The remaining quarter is worn 3 times on average before it’s thrown away. That makes me sick! Tenue de Nîmes will continue to curate only the best available jeans out there and to advocate the good, to make sure this planet is still fun 100 years from now. This is also why I will soon launch my new brand Tenue. which is about making honest quality jeans which are loved and used everyday.

How have consumer’s attitudes and education progressed over these years when it comes to denim quality and transparency? 

Consumer knowledge is far from where it should be in my opinion. At the end of the day it is the consumer that will force brands to re-think their food-chain. So if we want the consumer to make the right choice we have to give them the tools. This is why we make TDN care-instructions for jeans and knitwear to help them make a better purchase. In addition to that, we are working on a ‘how-to-buy-good-jeans-guide’ that helps people understand how you divide jean number 1 from jean number 2. The guide contains very simple guide-lines such as the difference in terms of environmental impact between a rigid jean and a washed jean. People underestimate the importance of simple information. Fashion professionals love to get technical on their garments but consumers don’t have the knowledge to digest that. Therefore we should start small: Where is this made? Where is the fabric from? Does the fabric contain any synthetic fibers? Were there any chemicals involved in the production process? Helping people ask themselves these very simple questions will make a huge change on their purchases!

We recently read an interview with you ‘Buy Less Pay More’ discussing consumers purchasing habits. How do you at Tenue de Nîmes approach big topics such as sustainability and strive to make a positive impact on the industry? 

In addition to my answer above I believe it is our obligation to educate consumers. In my experience consumers are more and more willing to make the difference. But they need to be able to get the right information to draw their conclusions! Consumers are 100% ready to spend more on a product that shows its origin, explains it was made with honest ingredients and labour and built to last. Look at how the evolution of organic food has forced the big chains to invest in eco-friendly assortments. I just feel the consumer is not educated enough and needs some help to see the difference. Trust me that consumers are not crazy and once all the information is available they will turn away massively from stuff that doesn’t smell right. This is why we endorse the idea of saving up some money and then invest it in something that is worth it. Buy less, pay more. On top of that we offer free life-time repairs on all our Tenue. jeans. By doing this we hope people enjoy our products for a life-time. I can only hope that one day my Tenue. jeans will be perceived as premium vintage too. 

What are your thoughts/plans and retail predictions for the future? 

Well I hereby share a scoop! I have hinted at it above, but this Spring we will officially launch our new label, Tenue. I am super excited about this new chapter and I can’t wait to show it to the world. I believe retail goes the same direction as fashion does: We need less, but better retail. Humans are social animals so the dogmatic idea that people will only shop from their mobile phones soon, doesn’t convince me at all. We love interacting with people and some products like premium jeans are much easier to buy when you try them. As long as we add enough value to brick and mortar shopping by for instance customising jeans on the spot, we will be able to keep people coming in. Online will be for repeats or people who live very far away. The rest of the crowd should just come in, lose track of time and enjoy themselves! 

The curated vintage section is a new extension for the store. What inspired this? 

The are two answers to this question. First of all vintage denim, outdoor clothing and army gear are an unbelievable source of inspiration to us as designers. I believe it was Coco Chanel who said that those who insist on their originality, have no memory. So by surrounding ourselves with great vintage we get inspired to strive for the best clothes every day. Vintage clothing teaches me design. I believe now, more than ever, we need to look back and learn from the old days. Look at fabrics, study construction and learn how we can make modern clothes, built on a solid last. Vintage clothes show that making good stuff takes time. You simply can’t hurry craft. On top of that vintage is fun and it helps us to do less harm. By up-cycling vintage garments (we repair and sometimes customise them) we sell what is already here.

Tenue de Nîmes x Momotaro

Collaborations have played a big part in the story and growth of Tenue de Nîmes and you’ve celebrated the 10 year anniversary with some particularly special partnerships with the likes of Red Wing and Momotaro. It’s great to see you really celebrate these in a big way. Why are these long term relationships so important? 

The fashion business went through some seriously uncertain days. Building a solid business alongside so much uncertainty is challenging to say the least. But having strong friendships and ditto partners that you build long-term relationships with makes everything so much easier. Whether it’s my production channels or my store suppliers, I believe a ‘happy chain’ allows you to build the fundament for success. Therefor my 10 year anniversary really became a tribute to my partners. I believe the success of Tenue de Nîmes is the success of Red Wing, Converse, Levi’s Vintage Clothing, Vans, Momotaro and many others too. Without my partners the TDN story would not have been so relevant. This is why I decided to collaborate with my 10 favourite brands. To show: this is our achievement, rather than just mine.

 

Tenue de Nîmes x Momotaro

And how have you seen this collaborative/ limited edition market sector change over the ten years? 

We live in a world where anyone can buy anything, anywhere. Back in the days you would have to travel to a city, go into a specific store to get a certain product. Needless to say those times are gone. So in order to stay relevant and unique you need products that other people don’t have. So these limited editions are important because it protects the value of your collection. More importantly, because they are our creations, we are in control of pricing and distribution. I never have to worry about products going in sale. The runs are exclusive, they are limited and very desirable. 

Tenue de Nîmes x Red Wing 10 year boot
Tenue de Nîmes x Armor Lux 10 year knit

Tenue de Nîmes has always had denim at its core. How have movements like athleisure or the rise of streetwear impacted your business and how have you evolved your offering to stay relevant? 

One of the reasons that I love denim so much is because it is so versatile. Whether trends tell us we need to wear Harris Tweed, or we should go for printed hoodies in bold colours; Denim always finds its way. Jeans are always relevant, no matter what the catwalk brings us. Jeans might not be as popular now as a few years ago when track-suits and technical chino’s weren’t eating so much market share, but they are still strong. I know for a fact that after all the streetwear power in fashion lately, it is only a matter of time before we go back to some proper (denim) nostalgia. It is not a matter of ‘if’ it happens, but just ‘when’ it happens. 

There’s such a defined aesthetic to Tenue de Nîmes – you really feel it once you step inside – whether it’s at this store or Haarlemmerstraat. How did you manage to achieve this signature vibe? 

I often like to compare my stores with how people perceive a house: It is never at is best when you just start to live there. Just like homes, stores need to ‘grow’. It amuses me to witness the evolution of my stores. I believe they become better every year. Every little change adds something to the experience of our customer. I love the idea of surprising people. They should be able to experience something new every time they enter. But to tell you a secret: Stores are also like haircuts, every now and then you see a picture of a few years back and you think: Did I really look like that?!

Tenue de Nîmes second store on Haarlemmerstraat opened in 2012

Tenue de Nîmes is much more than a denim store – more of a space of beautiful products, brands and concepts. Was that always the idea? 

Denim will always be the red line through all our activities. Our passion for good things in general made us meet a lot of like-minded people from all over the world that represent other lovely brands or products that somehow relate to everything we do. This is how our weird mix, or curation if you will, emerged to what it is today. Somehow I feel that Tenue de Nîmes evolves like denim does. We started pretty clean and Scandinavian, went deep into the original denim spirit and we are now this fun mix between European originals, nostalgic Americana and Japanese cult. Who knows where denim takes us 10 years from now! 

What’s been your biggest achievement over the last decade?

It is so hard to answer this question. We’ve been around for a decade, yes, but somehow it feels like yesterday that I started working on the first version of the business plan. There are days I have a hard time realising that there actually was a life ‘before’ Tenue de Nîmes, if that makes sense. So choosing one moment is tough. I am so proud and thankful for the lovely people I met, the growth we went through and the fact that my store now turned into a 21st century denim brand. But still the thing that strikes me the most (on a daily basis) is the fact that Tenue de Nîmes is known all over the world. When friends come back from trips to major cities like Hong Kong or Seattle and they find out that people out there know our company, it just blows my mind. Or when one of my best friends was in India, in the middle of nowhere, carrying our TDN canvas shopper and someone stopped him at the street to say she loved Tenue de Nîmes too. How crazy is that? And still I have the feeling the best is yet to come……

The Tenue de Nîmes tote on its travels around the world