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Evolution of Kipling and its targeted push into travel

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Kipling is best known for its innovative use of crinkled nylon, monkey mascots, as well its air of 90s nostalgia, since the accessories label was one of the biggest brands of the 1990s. However, in recent years Kipling hadn’t been evolving with the times, until Vera Breuer joined as global president. The Belgium- born brand has seen a revival as well as a modernisation under the new global creative vision - ‘Kipling Live.Light’, which embraces the brand’s heritage whilst also targeting millennials.

Kipling is part of VF Corporation since 2004, a global leader in branded lifestyle apparel, footwear and accessories, with global iconic brands, 50,000 associates and $11.8 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2019. While VF is highly diversified across brands, products, distribution channels and geographies, our company culture and approach to doing business provide a unique and powerful competitive advantage.

Vera joined Kipling to replace Richard Macey, who retired after 18 years at the head of the brand. In addition, Denielle Wolfe joined as vice president of product and design, which Vera explained invigorated the brand with a ‘design-led approach’. Together they worked on the creative vision concept to future-proof Kipling.

“When I started, we established a very collaborative spirit across all the regions including marketing and design, using the new creative vision as guidelines to revamp the brand,” said Vera. “Kipling has been on the market more than 30 years and has been building progressively across the regions at different kind of speeds but didn’t translate into a unified brand message globally. The idea was to create one vision that aligned the brand forward with one global message, as our customer nowadays is a global customer, with directions set under global guidelines but Glo(bal)lo(cal) implementation.”

Kipling’s Live.Light vision for the future

At the heart of the new creative vision was making the brand more design-led, Vera added: “When we looked at the DNA of the brand, we saw the design, but we asked ourselves how do we push it further? This was a great process, where we worked across regions, marketing and design to develop our new direction, Kipling Live.Light, which takes a lot from the heritage of the brand from the 90s, as well as the light material, and the art of self-expression. Kipling has always been known for its avant-garde approach, in terms of the use of pretty casual, cool materials like the crinkle nylon, combined with a love of colour, fun and casual style.”

Self-expression is at the heart of the new creative thinking at Kipling, helping consumers “tell their story” with their bags. Customisation of tags, pins and monkeys is available, from the iconic fluffy variety to the more subtle metal monkey, as well as monogramming that can be applied across a wide range of its products from shoulder bags to mini-backpacks and travel totes.

This is all central to the brand’s plans to make itself more inclusive, by offering more bags and accessories for a unisex and male audience and redesigning their stores and online space.

“We wanted to develop a brand that targets more than one customer. Integrating that message into the store means using colours that are more neutral. It feels like an urban environment, more inner city with an Upper East Side feel that has also been translated into materials and focusing on live light, so we have more metal, light woods and plants. And, of course, the brand’s iconic monkey plays a part, with an artist making its own interpretation of the current city.”

Kipling in 2020: focus on travel

2020 is also going to be the year of travel for Kipling, with the launch of a new range of polycarbonate ‘hard case’ luggage for spring/summer. The Curiosity range launching in bold red, yellow and blue colours, has been developed to embody Kipling's 'Live.Light' philosophy by being “extremely robust yet sleek and lightweight” while being unique with the interior featuring a map of Antwerp, Kipling’s birthplace.

The brand’s first foray into polycarbonate luggage will be showcased alongside new innovations, including hybrid cases and rucksacks, which allow travellers to zip off the front to reveal a backpack. “When you search Kipling you find travel, it’s really a natural route, so travel is definitely a focus because like our creative vision says - ‘Live.Light’ - we want to power our customer’s curiosity with our light high-quality bags, as well as tap into one of the biggest growing segments that will be guaranteed to grow in the in the years to come.

“While we have had to catch-up we wanted to be perfectly happy with the luggage so it was ready to launch, we really wanted to get the details right. We’ve changed all of our wheels, and of course we wanted to do it the Kipling way, something more colourful but sleek, as well as unisex.”

The hard luggage launch will also be at the heart of a full push on its rental scheme, www.rentyourkipling.com, which Vera stated had received “positive comments” since the trial launched in September in London, with people loving the concept, but did add that more work needed to be done on the adoption rate. “We have a lot of people landing on the pages and leave lots of positive comments about it, but it's something which is also new in the luggage market, so we expected it to slowly take off,” explains Vera. “We didn't want to go out full blast with a soft luggage but really support when the hard luggage launches.”

Kipling redefines its customer focus

The new products, stores and website have also been part of the brand’s shift in customer targeting, as well as a push in Asia, where consumers continue to show a preference for smaller bags, such as cross bodies and mini backpacks.

The brand has a strong, younger ‘Back to School’ consumer, as well as a more mature audience, both of which Vera explains have “strong emotional connections” with Kipling. However, future-proofing the company has led to increased efforts in targeting aspirational, young, active consumers.

Kipling notes that it needs to be inventive in targeting this new customer, so not to alienate its loyal shoppers. Authenticity is key: highlighting its strengths, with its use of light materials and strong design elements such as bold, big zippers and bright colours, as well as its functionality, with many of its bags convertible or foldable, and offering numerous pockets.

The brand has seen significant progress since rebranding, including increased recognition in Asia, and the accessories brand has a positive outlook for 2020 with its strategy to continue to improve its digital offering. This involves making both offline and in-store work in unison, focusing on travel, as well as aligning its storytelling and communication across all regions, while also adapting to local trends.

In addition, Kipling is also going to push its innovation teasing a number of collaborations with “different designers and foundations” that will be confirmed next year.

Kipling looking beyond 2020

Sustainability is a strong focus and is part of its creative vision to “lighten your step - this isn’t just physical and mental sense, but also to lighten your step on the planet”.

Vera added: “I think this is truly our approach to sustainability - we approach it with humility, but also with a huge sense of responsibility. Going forward this means responsible design, starting from the sourcing of our material, the factories we use, the transportation and the distribution - we have a responsible approach to everything we do.

“Going forward we will also upcycle more - using material that has already been used . In spring/summer 2021 up-cycled material and a higher share of recycled material will be offered in the range. The challenging part is that Kipling stands for extremely high quality. It is not fast-fashion where you buy it and six months later it’s broken and you have to buy a new one : the bag is lasting and can be repaired. We want to create products with value, that consumers will cherish , which is a also big part of the VF Corporation strategy.“

The Kipling success story started in 1987 in the heart of the fashion capital Antwerp (Belgium) with crinkled nylon bags. By injecting our creativity and out-of-the-box thinking into developing thoughtful designs with a casual coolness, Kipling products are created to inspire mobility and enable you to Live. Light. As more than a bag brand, Kipling represents a positive outlook on life, a light-hearted mentality, free spirit, and inclusivity. Today Kipling’s well-known bags and accessories are available around the world in 436 stores in 80 countries and can be found in more than 7500 shops, and kipling.com.

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Vera Breuer
VF Corporation