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- By Frankie Graddon
It is no understatement to say that the events of this year have radically affected fashion. While the industry already recognised the importance of responsibility and inclusivity, 2020 has thrown those themes into razor-sharp focus, as consumers – including us – demand more from our brands and the people behind them. As someone with responsibility and inclusivity at their very core, we couldn’t think of a better person to chat to than Ganni’s Ditte Reffstrup.
As the creative director of Ganni, Ditte embodies everything that fashion should be now. Her ethos of feel-good clothes, made with care and sold at a democratic price-point, has catapulted the Danish brand from a little-known cashmere label to one of the most relevant names in the industry, with a cult following to boot. In fact, open the wardrobe of any fashion insider and you are guaranteed to find a Ganni piece or two.
When we catch-up over a lunchtime phone call, Ditte is back in the Ganni offices after several weeks spent working from the Copenhagen home she shares with her three children and husband Nicolaj, who is the founder and former CEO of Ganni. Dressed chicly in a camel roll neck, she talks to me about her lockdown lessons, the future of fashion and why authenticity is the secret to success.
2020 has been a huge year in many respects, but certainly a pivotal one for fashion. How have the last 10 months impacted Ganni?
We had high expectations of how 2020 was going to look, and then everything turned upside down. Of course it shook us, and in the first couple of weeks we didn’t know how we were going to approach this new life. But then the team came together in the way we did when we first started Ganni, and we developed this mindset where we felt we could do anything.
We had to cut down the collection, which meant we really had to nail the essence of it. I think of it like having written a book of 300 pages, and then having to cut it down to 150; you have to strip it to the bone, which somehow makes the story even stronger. It was the same with the images and content we created, and I feel it made everything even more honest. In a way, it’s been good for us.
What lessons have you learnt, personally and professionally?
Personally it has made me rethink my work/life balance. I have been doing Ganni at the same time as having three children – I didn’t take any maternity leave. During lockdown I got even closer to my kids and it made me realise that I’ve been too busy with work. That’s been a hard lesson, but it’s also something I appreciate, as I could have learnt it at 60 rather than at 42, when I can still make changes.
It has also made me appreciate how lucky I am. My work life is filled with travel, friendships, events and creativity and it’s easy to take all of that for granted. It’s easy to say, ‘I don’t want to go to that party.’ But when it gets taken away, you suddenly miss all the fun in fashion.
Being a Ganni Girl is more of a state of mind. When I see a girl in the street, if she has a certain confidence, I find that really sexy. It could be anyone!
What have been the challenges in sticking to this ‘sweet-spot’ price point?
The biggest challenge is that we really want to try to use as many recycled and sustainable fabrics as possible, and these are more expensive. On average, responsibly-sourced fabric is between three to eight times the price of non-responsibly-sourced.
We’ve just launched our Software collection, which is made from 100% recycled fabrics. It’s a little more expensive, but we’ve had a great response, so I do think the customer understands and is interested. But of course it’s still a challenge to ask them to pay more. Some will want to, but I think we are going to have to have patience with it.
Talking of sustainability, operating in a planet-responsible manner is a main consideration for Ganni. Can you talk us through some of the key measures you take to make the brand as responsible as possible?
Earlier this year, we launched a new Ganni Game Plan that covers over 44 goals across people, planet, product and prosperity. The aim is to reach these goals before 2023 and we are well on track, having already initiated over 35. We’re also signatories to the the Global Fashion Agenda Circularity Commitment and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation New Plastics Economy, and have incorporated them into our Game Plan goals. In addition, we have rolled out a take-back scheme in our stores, to give customers the opportunity to hand in clothes for recycling. As we know that around 80% of our CO2 footprint comes from the fabrics we work with, we have accelerated our use of sustainable fabrics across seasons from just 4% when we started in July 2019 to 52.5% in August 2020.
A great sense of authenticity runs throughout the brand, from the clothes to the marketing. How do you achieve this?
We learnt very early on that being something we’re not doesn’t work for us. In the beginning of the brand, we designed something we didn’t like because it was a trend, and it was a failure. Our customer has authenticity and they expect us to be nothing but ourselves.
This extends to our team, too. When Nicolaj and I were building it up, it was all about choosing the right people. We weren’t so worried about where they’d been before, it just had to feel right. I really trust the team – we’re so much more than colleagues and everyone puts so much heart into the brand. I think that’s the key to our success. It seems authentic because it is.
For me, fashion should be about being comfortable in your own skin and dressing in what makes you feel the best.
You run Ganni with your husband, Nicolaj. What is it like working with your partner?
We complement each other 100% because we are total opposites. Nicolaj is all rational and business, I am all emotions and creativity. But one thing we have in common is that we are always thinking of what comes next and how to do it better. It’s a curse and a blessing, because we never stand still, but it also means we never feel like we can just lean back and relax.
The pandemic has meant the entire fashion industry has had to adapt and re-evaluate. How do you see the fashion landscape changing over the next 12 months?
I think that we are moving into a phase where things will slow down and people will take more time to appreciate the things they have around them. I think we will also travel less. In terms of Fashion Weeks, I am hoping that the pandemic will fast-forward a more digital way of being together and spreading creativity. The system we had before was broken and could not be sustained in the long run.
You often speak about ‘gut instinct’ and having used this to build Ganni. Where is your gut instinct guiding you for the year ahead?
As well as doing things in a more responsible way, I think people want realness and honesty. Now isn’t the time for big fashion campaigns and extravagant shows. It needs to be much more ‘what you see is what you get’. On 11th November, we’re launching pre-spring; this was the first collection made during lockdown and it is very much a product of these feelings. It’s called Home Is Where The Heart Is and it’s a very personal collection. All of the imagery was shot in our kitchen, which was really interesting as it was where we spent so much time doing the collection and had so many ups and downs – it’s been a real roller coaster. I really love that we are showing people our true selves.
You became Creative Director in 2009, what was the vision for the brand then, and 11 years later, has it evolved?
I never dreamt of the brand being as big as it is today. Before I went to Ganni I had been a buyer for many years, and I felt like something was missing from Copenhagen. I felt like there were two Scandianvian style routes: androgynous or boho chic, and I couldn’t recognise myself, or the girls I was inspired by, in either of them. So I wanted to create something new – a Scandi 2.0.
I love the term ‘Scandi 2.0’, can you explain it a little more?
It’s something that comes from inside. For me, fashion should be about being comfortable in your own skin and dressing in what makes you feel the best. It’s about not trying too hard and playing with contrasts; if you’re wearing a super-sexy dress, why not team it with minimal make-up and flats to make it more versatile? It has always been important to me that when a woman walks into a room, you see her, not just the clothes. So it’s about letting her express her own personality.
Ganni is often described as a ‘cult’ label, something that the #GanniGirls movement on social media has hugely contributed to. Where did this phenomenon come from? And who is the Ganni Girl?
It was actually Helena Christensen and Kate Bosworth who invented #GanniGirls. They took a photograph of themselves wearing the same Ganni coat and posted it on Instagram with the tag. So we owe them a beer! We started out at the same time as Pernille Teisbaek, Veronika Heilbrunner and Susie Bubble, who liked our collections and would post about them. It has never been forced, which is important; you can’t fool people. If an influencer is just wearing something for five minutes, it’s obvious.
I’ve never had a specific muse, being a Ganni Girl is more of a state of mind. When I see a girl in the street, if she has a certain confidence, I find that really sexy. It could be anyone! There is a lot of beauty in the world, but it’s that energy that is inspiring to me. That’s the kind of feeling I want people to experience when they walk into a store. I want people to feel good about themselves.
When Ganni relaunched under your creative direction, it felt revolutionary, in the sense that it offered luxury design-led fashion at a mid price point – something that wasn’t being previously offered. Where did the motivation for that come from?
During my buying years, the biggest frustration I had was when brands would raise prices overnight. I remember customers saying, ‘Why can’t I afford my favourite brands anymore?’ The collections were made from the same fabric and with the same detailing, but the prices went up, and I thought it was such a shame. So an honest price point was an obvious choice for me.
It was also important that Ganni was a democratic brand with a broad appeal, from the young girl saving up to buy a T-shirt, to the woman investing in a bigger piece. The oldest customer I know of was 98 – she used to be a fashion journalist in Denmark. It drives me to create a brand that is something for everyone.
Can you give us an insight into your design process? Where do you draw inspiration from and what’s inspiring you right now?
Normally the team and I would be travelling. We travel four times a year and go all over the world – London, Paris, wherever! We pick up on conversations, music, people, feelings – it’s all very instinctive.
Recently, we’ve been focusing on how we feel and how we think the customer is going to feel. Today we started a conversation about how we think people are going to want to dress for Christmas 2021. We discussed wanting to slow down, be with friends and family, do craft work and read. But at the same time I think we’ll have such a longing to dress up. So it will be about putting on nail polish and red lipstick with a big knitted sweater and pointed shoes. Combining the contrast of feeling homely and warm with wanting to dance!
You grew up in a small fishing village in the Danish countryside. How did your rural upbringing inform your view on fashion and style?
I’ve always loved dressing up. I remember in kindergarten, when my mum tried to dress me in dungarees, I would crawl under the bed and wouldn’t get out until she said I didn’t have to wear them. I was a teen in the ’90s so grew up with MTV and was very inspired by Brit Pop. But we didn’t have fashion magazines or the internet, so my sense of style has always come from the inside. I was always vintage shopping and loved wearing my mum’s old clothes, and I played a lot of soccer so there was always a sporty mix. I have always dressed in what makes me feel good. That is style to me.
How did you get into the fashion industry?
When I was in high school I worked in a clothes store and I really loved seeing how I could help people feel good about themselves. Then I moved to Copenhagen, where I started working as a buyer for the brand Bruuns Bazaar, before joining Ganni in 2009. I’ve been in the industry since I was 14 – I can’t imagine what else I’d do!
What’s on your autumn/winter wish list?
For the Ganni 2020 collection we did an oversized blazer made from post-consumer wool, which is definitely on my wish list. Also, our chunky Chelsea boots – either the black pair with yellow stitching, or the yellow with the black contrast panels. I really hope that I’m going to be able to get some of our new Software loungewear collection too.
What items do you consider staples in your own wardrobe?
When I really don’t know what to wear I will reach for a striped shirt made from our crispy cotton. It has an oversized collar with ruffles and is one of my favourite pieces. Chunky loafers are also a staple for me – I’ll wear them with dresses and denim.
What’s the most treasured piece in your closet?
It has to be my old Converse. I had them when I was 15 and remember saving up for them. I don’t wear them anymore because they are so old, but I think they are still a classic.
You always look so fresh and glowy – what will we find in your beauty cabinet?
I love the French brand Biologique Recherche for skincare. The P50 skin lotion is literally a game changer. It makes my skin so glowy. Throughout the day, my favourite low-budget product is Benefit’s Bene Tint cheek and lip – it always makes me look fresh with cherry cheeks.
What’s your approach to getting dressed in the morning?
My personal style is about not being too serious and not trying too hard. When I was younger, I remember my mum always wanted to put out my outfits for the following day, but that doesn’t work for me. I have to wear what feels right for that day and what makes me feel good. Dressing up in the morning is such a powerful act of self-care; wear something that makes you feel great and it makes the world of difference.