The hype around Bread & Butter by Zalando, which is going down this weekend between September 1 and 3, has been gradually building for months. First came the initial announcement; followed by the 'Bold Minds Speak' videos featuring Aitor Throup, Fergus Purcell and Adwoa Aboah; and then recently more detailed information on this year's highlights and music acts (M.I.A. and FKA twigs are confirmed btw). The Festival of Style and Culture is set once again to give visitors something they've never seen before, particularly as the creative polymath himself, Virgil Abloh, is set to perform a DJ set to close the bill on Sunday night, September 3. It's gonna be pure fire.
Over the last two years, following a takeover by Zalando, Bread & Butter has massively impacted an industry that's typically been seen as closed off and elitist. It might seem like a simple concept, but it's, in fact, the first event of its kind to ignore tradition and make regular people its focus with a packed lineup providing all the latest in fashion, music and food. This year they'll be fashion shows, brand labs, new collections and more from over 40 brands including Nike, Vans, adidas, Converse and Alpha Industries. Visitors don't have to be fashion editors, buyers or bloggers, everyone is invited. And it's even begun changing the perception of Berlin—the city in which it's hosted—which, despite being a hub of creativity and style on the fringe of culture, has often been snubbed by the fashion industry at large.
Almost three years ago, Zalando hired Carsten Hendrich as Vice President of Brand Marketing. Since starting, modernizing Bread & Butter and turning Zalando into a more diverse brand are projects that have run parallel for him. Leading up to the event's September 1 start date, we spoke to Hendrich to find out what the biggest changes have been, what he's most looking forward to at Bread & Butter this year and how he got into the role in the first place.
What’s the main difference between the old and the new Bread & Butter?
The key difference is our target audience. Bread & Butter used to be a B2B trade event. It tried to open up in the last few years but it didn't really work out because interests are different between industries and consumers. For us, it's a completely different event now. We focus on consumers, what's relevant for them, and present products that are available at that time.
As we are an eCommerce company it's not only about the physical event. What's equally important is amplifying the experience so that people across Europe can dive into it from, let's say, their handheld devices. This brings extra complexity because, on one hand, you have a traditional event production, and then you have to organize and synchronize everything in terms of programming, live streaming, etc. We also have the commercial aspect, we need to have the products available so that at the end people can finally get them.
Are traditional trade shows and fashion shows still relevant for people?
They’re certainly not redundant, both directions have an audience. I think the information need is different. There's still a group of buyers and industries such as the press that need the upfront information to plan the season accordingly, inform and provide information to consumers and create demand. That won't change.
The question is, are the established formats still the right ones? Times are moving on, seasonality is moving on, and the industry has to adapt. Digital brings new opportunities. It's more important now to integrate consumers and there is a huge crowd that is really engaging with what we’re doing.
Bread & Butter is getting traction internationally because it is something new and we really think about the consumer first. This doesn't mean that we don't care about the industry but we always start with the consumer in mind. We try to bring together an experience that goes beyond fashion, that provides cultural context.
How else is Zalando disrupting tradition and re-establishing standards with Bread & Butter?
In Europe and in Germany, people still have a certain negative opinion about the commercial aspect, whereas if you look to America it almost celebrates commerce. In Europe, this is still something that people have concerns about and this creates barriers when combining entertainment and commerce.
This is breaking down. People want to have and buy the products they see at these events. It's not about forcing them to buy a certain product, but getting them interested. This is why we decided to have more exclusive products, that you won't usually get, through Zalando and other retailers. Sales are not the primary objective. The primary objective is making people feel inspired, but of course, if they find a product they like and want to buy, they can.
How have the brands involved responded?
It’s been very positive from the beginning. When we were pitching the concept to brands, it was not too hard to convince them because everybody is sensing this change and everyone wants to find new ways to connect with consumers. They also appreciate that we are willing to experiment without knowing actually how it will turn out. Looking at the participation rate from brands that were there last year to this year, 80% are on board again this year.
Last year it was mainly about brand experience, but this year we talked to the brand's and explained that while it's great to create content, consumers really want to have something completely tangible. Now, we have an RFID wristband solution where you can collect content, information and products.
It's something that has never been done before, usually you only use RFID for, let's say, entrance, or you use it just for information. We're combining different RFID uses so that by tapping the wristband at over 350 sensors spread around the event you get information, process fees, and shop. It's providing convenience but also a physical experience that people appreciate.
I suppose this is what, Zalando does for Bread & Butter and what Bread & Butter does for Zalando; it gives you both a physical and digital manifestation.
How does Bread & Butter represent Zalando?
Bread & Butter is just one part of it. Zalando is a broad platform and Bread & Butter is a more curated offering.
Zalando has a strong history, in the beginning, it was very loud and that shaped the perception quite heavily. It also made Zalando successful. After almost 10 years, it's changed a lot but some people's perception from five years ago remains. At Bread & Butter, we can present a new perspective on Zalando and the offering that we have. Some people aren’t even aware of the brand, or it wouldn’t typically be their favorite shopping destination, but Bread & Butter is an opportunity for us to educate people on Zalando. We really have a strong offering for people that are engaged with fashion. It's not only about the average consumer, we are very open and this is something that makes us special.
Bread & Butter is all about the latest in fashion, music and food. Can you name some highlights we can expect this year?
Looking at last year, my highlight was the crowd that we attracted and the atmosphere, because I think this is something that you can't control. At the end of the day, you never know who's coming. Actually meeting the people we were able to attract was something that I was personally very, very happy with.
The music lineup is still the key to getting people's attention but it is important to balance it out because we're not a music festival and we don't want people to come only to see a certain artist.
What’s your role within Bread & Butter and Zalando? Why did you get into e-commerce and fashion?
In school I worked at a denim shop for two years, this is how I made money while studying. I studied business administration, but then went into advertising and did 10 years of planning for BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Then I got the chance to move away and started at Breuninger, which is like a fashion department store, where I was responsible for visual merchandising and window displays. Everybody thought I was a creative director, which I actually wasn’t, but by doing this job, I realized fashion was something I am fascinated by. It was easier to engage with fashion than with the car industry.
After two different jobs in the industry, I decided to move to Berlin and Zalando was the only big player. I got to meet David and Robert, the founders, and we discussed and discussed and all of a sudden they asked me to join without having an actual role for me at that time.
The culture here is so different from what I was used to in the industry because I can make a decision and then just go for it. This is how I did my first campaigns.I was able to combine what I'd learned over the last 20 years and put it into the Zalando system. The first Topshop campaign with Cara Delevigne was something that came out of a late night brainstorming session. Being able to be daring is so rare and I really appreciate what’s possible within this culture.
It’s organically evolved over the last three years and now I'm very much representing the brand. Still, it's the team that actually puts things together and it depends on the team that you have and I have an amazing international team that is truly dedicated. Personally, I am really proud of what each member of my team is able to deliver.
What do you see Bread & Butter doing for Berlin? Can it reinstate the city as being a relevant fashion city?
Last year brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Topshop were questioning whether we were really able to deliver to the standard that they expect. They both have a lot of experience with international events but the crowd we were able to get in Berlin was something that the brands were really surprised by.
Bread & Butter is shaping the perception of Berlin in the industry because it is so international. Berlin is still very different to other cities because it's more down to earth, it's more street, it's more real. This is a very nice fit for the Bread & Butter concept because of its approach to being less elite and more open.
What do you say to smaller, more upcoming brands who’d perhaps want to show at Bread & Butter? Would there ever be a mechanism for them to get involved?
It's not easy for them because they might not have the experience. They'll need far more support and different approaches that provide solutions. This is something we want to look into for next year. It’ll be a nice surprise for visitors to discover new brands. We should be enabling new, upcoming brands to actually connect with consumers.