Eleven Paris finds its tone of voice in direct sales
Eleven Paris’ online and brick-and-mortar stores turn a new page. For the past two years, the Parisian streetwear label has been rethinking its business model to better target a 15–25 year-old clientele and regain good financial health. A success, one must say, since the brand claimed a global business volume of nearly €20 million for the 2021 financial year. Three quarters of this was generated through eyewear licensing agreements and from international distribution, particularly in the United States where it retails in numerous department stores. The French company, led by Dan Cohen (its founder) and his partner Ilan Amar, reached more than €4 million in sales via a direct sales model and, according to its managers, has returned to profitability in 2021.
This fruition did not come easy, however, and was achieved through hard work from the fashion company’s part after having experienced two long decades of ups and downs and was even almost discontinued.
"The years 2012-13 were the strongest for the brand, with a superb presence in the United States," recalled Cohen. “We almost reached €50 million in sales with about 30 boutiques. But as we grew, we lost what made it great. I created it in 2003, I was 23 years old with a state of mind that can be best described by the slogan ‘life is a joke’. In 2015, what we were offering no longer represented me. We expanded the collection with too many products, a range of categories that were too wide, wholesale collections for different targets. Many say it was the image copyright lawsuit that hurt the brand at the time, but it wasn't. It happened at the same time, but it was mainly the direction chosen that damaged the brand.”
So much so that the sales, and especially the profitability of Eleven, collapsed rapidly; and in 2017, the brand was placed in receivership. Cohen did not give up, however, as he retook the rights of his company together with Amar and with the help of the Vog group, owned by his father Jean-Jacques Cohen and Dan Arrouas.
"We have the brand awareness and name, but we are restarting from scratch and creating a new structure,” said Amar. “The idea is to focus on targeting a clientele of 15–25 year-olds. We have to retake over the business and get back in touch with our suppliers, all while continuing a first line that does not correspond to our current brand. As a result, we got tangled up in production at the beginning and had some issues with delivery... It’s not fun".
The company did not take off at that moment, however, and continued making a series of losses for several years as the French retail industry got very complicated due to Yellow Vests and pension reform protests.
“For the past five years, banks have not supported us. Fortunately, Vog did. We talked for a long time about the functioning of the brand. We could have stopped everything. In the end, everything started because of the product. We decided to focus on the 20% of products that constituted the core business of the brand, a selection of T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants and our signature graphics. We did all this while also stopping our wholesale in order to reduce the risk of decreasing our turnover. Right after we had decided on that, we encountered problems with deliveries on our Spring/Summer 2020 collection due to the Covid pandemic, which helped confirm our decision.”
For the past two years, the brand has been offering its collections online as well as in its five boutiques in Europe, the latest of which opened last summer at 31 Rue des Rosiers in Paris. With a mostly unisex product offering and focusing on a few key products, such as T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies, the brand is gradually yet successfully connecting with customers who are on average 17 years old. "Digital sales have gone from 10% to 50% of our accounted sales and have doubled in the last year and jumped by almost 150% between 2019 and 2021. Retail has also fully recovered with +34% compared to last year. It's a very pleasant feeling to receive our first profits since our recovery," announced Amar with satisfaction. This means that after applying for a safeguard procedure in 2020, the company has just validated its plan with the Paris Commercial Court at the end of 2021.
The brand is also aligning its marketing approach to its new strategy with transparent social media content revealing the other side of the company's operations. "In the past we were one of the first brands to do muses, to be present in the newsstands, to do wild posters. At the time, we hid behind the brand. But things have changed, customers want to know what's going on with us, to interact with us and receive answers. We think it is an essential axis and therefore we hired a community manager for Instagram and another one for Tik Tok. We want to be able to generate content and tell a story about the clothing that convey our values."
This in-depth work is in the forefront of the objectives of the Eleven Paris team for 2022, along with the installation of dedicated studios in the brand's premises. The label also intends to renew collaborations with artists and influencers and is preparing to open a new Parisian boutique on the west side of the capital but is nonetheless working on its product offering. Accessories are gradually entering its selection and the brand has developed a printing know-how in Paris. This offer already represents 30% of its sales in 2021 and allows the brand to respond to trends quicker (as it did on a t-shirt announcing the Paris Fashion Week schedule) but also allows it to manage its production quantities as close as possible. Through this means of production, the brand could soon offer products for pre-order.
These multiple upcoming projects and positive prospects for the brand make Cohen and Amar smiles' resemble that of their No Snitch logo.
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