Leather specialist, the Belgian prêt-à-porter brand opened its first store in Brussels on May 13th on October 29th. After a difficult period marked by the pandemic, the family business experienced organic growth of 32 percent between 2020 and 2021 and intends to continue its momentum. Meeting with Lucie Gulcu, grandson of the founder responsible for design and marketing.
What differentiates the October 29 brand in the leather market?
What differentiates us mainly is our business model. We continue to work in the traditional way and I can say that we are the last laboratory in Belgium to still work the leather in the traditional way. Why you should know that we have a small workshop located in the city center and that we still do everything by hand. We are really in an artisanal process, it is a know-how that has accumulated over the last thirty years and I think that in our laboratories the know-how is a bit at its peak, if I may say so. It is also the knowledge of the material, the wool leathers, which represent the main part of our collections, that makes the difference. And this know-how we have in our workshops is currently required by other brands, both for textiles and for leather and wool skins.
You opened your first shop on May 13th. What time ?
We have been around for more than thirty years and, at the time, we worked in a fairly traditional way: we developed our collections, then we sold them to boutiques in France, Belgium or Luxembourg, but opening our own boutique was never something obvious. Then we realized, with the economic crisis, leather, with changes in consumption patterns, and covid, that we needed a channel that would allow us to be in direct contact with the consumer. Also to be able to express themselves 100%, because when we resell our collections to other stores they only choose a few pieces.
We had this desire to expose our entire universe to the final consumer and we also wanted to tell our story, this family and workshop story. So, following the covid, it was a challenge for us because our activities almost completely stopped – our workshops were closed and we made masks as a family to be able to continue working at that time. So we had to reinvent ourselves and in 2020 an opportunity presented itself: we opened a corner in a pop-up store located in Grand Sablon, which is a district of antiques and artisans. And it lasted two years. We thought we would only stay there for a few months but it went very well, our product was very well received by customers, both locals and tourists. We then said to ourselves that it was a lot for us, both as a brand and as an established one, to have our own store in the city where we were born. It was then that we decided to open in Brussels and Sablon in particular because we love the district but above all because it represents Belgian know-how, craftsmanship, it represents our brand identity.
Do you have any retail plans for the French market?
No, but it is something that is ongoing in the sense that, like any brand, we do prospecting. There was a time when we were very present in France. At the beginning of the 2000s we had over a hundred or even 200 clients in France, but this is because we had agents and this was before the financial and leather crisis. After that, our activities in France almost completely stopped. And after reinventing ourselves in particular through the pop-up store, we met a client based in Île-de-France, who only resells a few pieces of our men’s collections. We also collaborate with another shop, but not in all seasons: sometimes he gets to get us some timeless pieces like motorcycle jackets or things like that. But obviously developing on the French market is a medium-term objective.
The issue of traceability is crucial today in fashion and in particular for the leather sector. What about October 29?
We decided in 2016 not to work with fur anymore. We work exclusively with leather and sheepskin, which come from the food sector. In reality it is a kind of recycling, we take back the skins of animals that are killed for their meat. We only work with certified European tanneries: Portuguese, Spanish and Italian for the most part, sometimes even French, but it is a little more rare.
What are the main challenges facing the brand today?
We have already started the first challenge, which is to keep up with digitization [le site web de la marque a entièrement été revu en 2020]. Today it has become an important problem for all companies and even more so for fashion companies. And for us, as a small business, because we remain small compared to our size – we are a family business – the challenge is to be present on a digital level and to be able to meet the demand of our customers who want to consume intelligently and with quality but who want do it via web platforms.