We speak with the husband and wife duo behind Mismo about the history of their brand, going against the typical fashion brand story and growing intelligently.
Timelessness is an oft-misused term, but it applies to Mismo. After all, its product hasn’t changed much since the brand's founding in 2003 and it’s still as desirable as it was when it first started. In fact, you could argue that, like a classic shoe or a perfect white shirt, the only way to ruin it is to try and fix it. In Paris, we got a chance to catch up with Adam Alexander Bach and Rikke Overgaard -- the husband-and-wife team behind Mismo -- to find out everything we’ve wanted to know about the brand.
The duo first met at business school, which they started back in 2001 -- but Bach notes that the foundations for Mismo started before that. "My father is an engineer, Rikke’s (father) was an architect," says Bach, implying that the mixture of the architectural and engineering backgrounds in their families laid the foundation of Mismo. Neither had a background in fashion; Bach had worked in marketing and selling magazines while Overgaard was taught as a tailor in Denmark’s National Broadcasting Company. “I was actually taught in the wardrobe department,” she says. “So it was a little bit about styling, a lot about craftsmanship; the historical part of clothing and making menswear for historical programs.”
Despite their relatively disparate backgrounds, they both had a desire to create something of their own. “The focus on the marketing and economist program that we both did was entrepreneurship. So both of us knew that we wanted to go out and create something of our own.”
The Launch of Mismo
“We graduated in 2003 and it was so perfect” says Bach of the timing to launch Mismo. Back then, the landscape for men’s accessories was a barren one. When we asked about who Mismo compared themselves to when they launched, Bach replied, “there wasn’t really any brand to compare yourself with at that time. You’d have the luxury brands -- Vuitton, Hermes, Mulberry -- [and] they were the ones that had a full line of bags. Below that, it fell all the way down to something like Samsonite. There was nothing really in between.”
Even the types of computers used then was very different, with desktops being the computer of choice. But the Mismo duo noticed a trend in rise of laptop sales and a decline of desktops, and moved in on the market. “If you’re gonna have a laptop, you’re gonna have a need for something to carry it in -- you’re not gonna use the [standard issue] IBM black case.” Bach says that “[Mismo] was based on a hole in the market, compared to what you see in the fashion business, where people start up a business because they need to express their own creativity. This was more business-orientated.”
The brand’s aim was to fill the gap in the market in opposition to the logo-centric products that were being produced then. “Our core is just the opposite,” says Overgaard. “We build in a Scandinavian design philosophy so we strip a lot, stripped down to the basics. Good fabrics, good materials, just functionality.”
The Right Factory & Materials
While the idea of starting something based on a hole in the market can sound cold in the world of fashion, that’s not to say they didn’t focus on creating good product. “Getting the supply chain right -- that’s where we put a lot of focus and attention over the first few years,” says Bach. Overgaard notes that “every [factory] said they had quality but it was not the kind of quality that we were asking for.” They eventually started working with Limonta, the Italian fabric producer founded in 1893. “We were small fish there,” says Bach. But they’ve since developed a relationship, with Limonta giving them the fabrics they need and often allowing them to use some of its newer fabrics that larger businesses might not want to take on yet. Overgaard notes that “we were allowed to play, so that’s a good experience. [Limonta has] the most amazing archive from the 19th century. That’s the nerdy part of Mismo.”
The Right Retailers
When Mismo first launched, it originally aimed to sell its products in design and furniture stores. In today’s climate, that may seem like a bizarre move, but back in 2008 when they launched its new line, it made sense. “That [time] was tough,” Bach says, laughing. “It didn’t really work to be honest.” Mismo found that the production timing of creating bags didn’t suit the longer-lead furniture and design schedule. “That was when we transformed the whole business into following the fashion [schedule], which is good in a logistics way, but from an image point of view, difficult because we do classic pieces.”
Fashion, but Not Fashion
We often hear the "We’re not a fashion brand" spiel from menswear designers. It’s usually designed to coddle men who are slightly, or not so slightly, insecure of their masculinity. But, in the case of Mismo, it makes sense, simply because it doesn't create seasonal goods. “What is a winter bag and what is a summer bag?” says Overgaard. “Exactly,” Bach says. “When we [first] did these fashion shows and trade fairs, I remember all these buyers would come asking, "Whats new? Show me the new stuff!" and that’s changed a lot. Now they come back to the basics and maybe add one or two things, but there’s not that focus on the new.”
Aside from the lack of focus on The New, Mismo has been careful to avoid prescribing a lifestyle to its products. “We want to make bags that speak for themselves,” says Overgaard. “We want to make a blank canvas and we can be supported as a person wearing the bag but it doesn’t…” Bach finishes Overgaard's sentence, “dictate your style.”
Partners in Business
Bach and Overgaard are kind of couple who complete each other’s sentences. We asked how being partners has helped the business: “Believing we’re working on the same level and same direction.” Bach says that there’s “a common understanding that to do this it requires a lot of work so we give each other the freedom to live that dream of having our own company and being able to create.” This bond can make it difficult for newcomers -- Overgaard says, “It’s like we’re together in tandem. It’s difficult getting employees in because so many things are unsaid.”
When asked about plans for growth, Bach says, “We’re at the point now where we’re happy with how things are.” The brand states that it's still a relatively small company: "People, when they approach us, sometimes think we are a whole lot bigger than the four people we are at the office now. Our bags aren’t crafted in a small studio but it’s not mass-produced either; it’s a carefully limited production every season.” They’re currently between 60 to 70 accounts worldwide, and although they acknowledge there’s still potential for growth, they're "not looking to have 300 plus accounts.”
Part of the reason why they’ve always gone after what Overgaard calls “organic growth” is that Mismo is a self-financed brand, only using its own money with some help from the owners' families. “We’ve been self-financed ever since the beginning and up until this point,” says Bach. “Step by step by step has been healthy for us, seeing how we wanted to do our business.”
Now that Mismo is firmly established as a brand, its next challenge is to subtly introduce lifestyle through campaigns while not dictating the bags' aesthetic. It’s a fine balance. “[We’re] transforming it from being totally product-driven into portraying that feeling that we feel we have put into the bags,” says Bach. “Showing a bit more of where Mismo [is] from, where the inspiration [is] coming from -- nature, furniture, industrial design.” To do this, Mismo has started working on campaigns, the first one taking place for Fall/Winter 2015, shot by Overgaard's older brother, Anders Overgaard.
Growing pains aside, the reason Mismo thrives is simple: there’s a need for a variety of bags now. Bach says that “there’s no recipe on exactly how a bag for work is nowadays. It can be anything, because people live such different lives; they can work off the cafe, then they go [to the] gym, then they go back home, then they go shopping. Which bag do you need for that?”