Dutch luxury lifestyle magazine Quote interviewed our founders Karin and Ulex Kostense about WAHTS' success story and the future of office dress codes.
We've loosely translated the Quote story to English below. Read the full story (in Dutch) at Quotenet.nl.
The fact that we're all switching from suits to casual wear in large numbers was clear to Karin and Ulex Kostense all along. In 2012 they founded WAHTS. Their aim? Design high-comfort clothing to fit a modern men's 24/7 lifestyle.
The Brand WAHTS
Back in the day, corporate strategist Ulex Kostense collaborated with companies like Uber and noticed a completely new way of dressing at the office. Kostense himself appeared neatly in a suit while facing guys in hoodies and chinos. These innovative companies' new way of working – flexible working hours and locations – apparently had its influence on what people were wearing. 'Hybrid working merges work and private life. These guys don't need typical office wear anymore, they need a versatile wardrobe to wear anyplace anywhere', he explains.
With his background in consultancy for fashion brands like Peak Performance and Tommy Hilfiger and her education in communication and experience in media, the Kostense-couple decided to start creating clothing for this modern audience. Apparel to serve the hard workers at these innovative companies we find in Silicon Valley for example. The couple followed their own way, not by starting with a classic polo shirt or T-shirt, but a sweatsuit made of a luxurious cotton-cashmere blend in several stylish colours. 'The idea wasn't to present the looks as loungewear. It's created to wear out-of-doors.' By combining technical fabrics with luxurious materials in classic silhouettes, WAHTS creates timeless pieces that look as modern and sporty, as sophisticated.
Who wears WAHTS
WAHTS can rightly call itself a digital native company since the brand started exclusively online. Through data, they got to know the purchasing habits of their customers and evolved the brands' online buying process. But soon the couple explored the value of in-store sales as well. 'Stores could present WAHTS to their customers as a new way of dressing to wear after office hours, or even switch their complete work wardrobe.' Now WAHTS is sold in more than a hundred stores worldwide. In their home country, of course, but also in the growing markets of Europe – from the UK to Switzerland, and in the US – from San Francisco to New York.
In 2019 WAHTS opened a Brand Store at the Gerard Doustraat in Amsterdam. Right there, the founders really got to know their audience. 'E-commerce data gives us a lot of information, but we never knew whó the customer actually was. In our Brand Store, we meet the tech entrepreneur who wants to invest in a timeless wardrobe, but also gentlemen with a more classic style love to shop with us. We think outside the box in the design of our collections, and this reflects on our audience. We meet tech entrepreneurs, as well as athletes and creatives.'
WAHTS was determined to go international from the start. After the first half-year, the couple attended the Pitti Uomo in Florence. 'For buyers, it is always a surprise that we are a Dutch brand. A compliment, because we seem to have an international appeal.' The Pitti led to an invite for the Project Show, in Las Vegas. 'We spoke to department stores and soon we were in at Saks Fifth Avenue.' However, this process didn't go as expected. 'Stores found it hard to place us. Are we casual fashion or sportswear? An often-heard answer was there wasn't a department for us yet, which to us was actually a good sign. We had something new going on. A lot of stores get what we offer only since the cornonaciris.'
Corona might have set a trend, but the casualizing of office wear is already going on for at least a decade. Will suits disappear from the office for good? 'At innovative companies, even the CEO doesn't wear a blazer, let alone a suit. And also employees at young law firms and consultancy agencies are not required to appear in a suit. Suits will only be necessary at formal occasions,' is the prediction. And it's not just the casual trend that explains the success of WAHTS. Their long-term aim also plays a part: 'Because of the contemporary style and the high quality, our garments last for years. Not just because of the high-quality fabrics, but also because classic items like a rollneck sweater or a vest are always in style.'
And what about the long-term aims for the brand itself? 'We're focussing on expansion in Western Europe and the US.' Where the second brand store will land is not clear yet. 'For customer relations, it would be a great idea to open up a store in Germany where we find a large part of our international audience. For branding, a store in San Francisco would be very interesting. About sixty percent of our online customers in the US are from Silicon Valley.' With the positioning of thé brand for a new generation of ambitious men, it looks like WAHTS is up for a long-lasting future. How could it be different when your brands' name is short for We Are Here To Stay.