At this year's edition of Baselworld, we sat down with Stockholm watch brand TRIWA to discuss the changing watch market, Sweden's global influence on design and much more.
Founded in 2007 by four friends, Stockholm-based watch and sunglasses manufacturer TRIWA has set out to breathe fresh air into the wristwatch industry. Largely replaced by cellphones as a method of telling time, watches have mostly become status symbols, to be kept like jewelry and passed on to one's heirs.
While G-SHOCK has long been a player in the more functional end of the market, they have mostly been confined to a conservative interpretation of streetwear. Since its birth, TRIWA has been looking to fill a void around the same G-SHOCK price point, except for a more amorphous wardrobe. To learn more about how they've planned and managed to do this, we sat down with Ludvig Scheja, the Creative Director at TRIWA.
Please introduce yourself.
I'm Ludvig, one of the founders of TRIWA, and currently its Creative Director.
What does your job entail on a day-to-day basis?
Basically I deal with anything concerning the brand, from product design and development to art direction and marketing. I am in charge when it comes to the brand.
What does TRIWA stand for?
Transforming the industry of watches.
Do you think you've reached that goal?
Until now we have, but now there is a new generation of transformation in the industry, brought on by the advent of the smartwatch. We have been part of a transition away from the conservative take on the watch. It used to be a product that was kept under lock and key – nothing more than a gimmick. Thanks in part to our efforts, people see watches more as an element of style than a status symbol. It is more accessible now.
Before we started the company, we looked at the watch industry, and came to the conclusion that fewer and fewer people were wearing watches. Our mission was to make younger people want to buy and wear watches again. There needed to be changes in marketing, distribution, and design. In tandem with many other brands, we have made those changes.
By accessible, do you mean with respect to price or design?
Both. We're present in fashion and lifestyle stores that didn't sell watches prior to their partnership with us. People don't really go to watch stores anymore, unless they need a repair. Selling a watch next to other accessories makes it seem less complicated.
So it's more about curation. Is that how you presented your product to these stores?
Yes, the watch business has always been very protectionist, making sure that people buy their watches where they will later have them serviced. Today, it comes down to the design. Then you pick the movements and choose the materials. It's much like the car industry. You can buy really good movements from suppliers, and then you put them into a well-designed watch.
Do you think of yourselves as a particularly Swedish brand?
We think of ourselves as a Stockholm brand. When you talk about Sweden, a lot of people think of countryside and cleanliness; Astrid Lindgren stories and whatnot. Stockholm is important to us because it is a much more urban environment. It has a good fashion scene, a good design scene and a good music scene. For us, that is more inspiring than the country.
Stockholm does boast some very influential brands now, like Acne Studios and Our Legacy. Do you feel like you are part of this wider movement to bring Swedish fashion to the rest of the world?
We started selling our watches at fashion stores, so we started following their release schedule. We had a spring/summer collection and a fall/winter collection. We would show at Bread & Butter, or Gallery in Copenhagen. That is in our DNA. Now we are at Basel though, which is tailored more towards our industry.
What are the major differences between presenting at a fashion trade show and something like Baselworld?
People are a lot more aware of what they are buying here. They are more keen on sales figures. They know the product. At fashion trade shows people only want to buy what is new. They care only that it is on-trend. It's a dangerous way to do business.
So people here pay more attention to the mechanics?
Yes, they understand how much quality we put into our materials and construction. They speak the watch language. In the fashion industry there is also an understanding of the product, but it is an understanding based on the design of the watches. They never go technical.
TRIWA divides its collections between seasonal products and ongoing offerings. Is that a conscious effort to appeal to both sides?
We are in both worlds. For the fashion industry, we have the collections. But we also have certain models that are ingrained in our DNA. We cannot just take them out when we launch something new. There is a turnover of about 30%, where we replenish our line with new watches and allow some models to become obsolete.
Looking at your social media platforms and the way you market your watches, it looks like TRIWA has an ingrained sense of humor. Does that reflect the internal personalities behind the brand?
We are proud of our heritage. Our company is very transparent, and we find that we attract customers through our accessibility. If there is humor within the organization, that will become apparent to the consumer.
How many are you?
How is it divided?
Half of the team concerns itself with the design, branding and marketing of the product. The other half is involved with production and sales. Then we have a product council that brings the heads of all the departments together. It's a dynamic creative environment where we can add commercial features that still carry our DNA.
Does the sales team always test the waters for you?
No, but they do give us input. Many of our models have features that were agreed on during a council meeting. Even though we are a small organization, it is important to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
And what about your collaboration with Tärnsjö tannery? How did that come about?
The guy who owns the tannery is a friend of ours. He inherited the business from his father. In the beginning we had to figure out how to make it work. We first thought of them because they are one of the very few tanneries in the world to still organically tan their leather. We value that dedication to tradition. They have delivered leather to the likes of Jaguar, so we were very happy to start working with them six years ago. The advantage is that the leather ages naturally, giving it a signature patina. Most leather these days is aged with chrome, so you don't have the same visible quality.
You recently expanded into sunglasses. How was that the logical next step?
It was not. We are doing it because we are confident in our ability to succeed in sunglasses. It wasn't the logical next step. We like to decide what we want to wear, and we realized that there were silhouettes we wanted that were not on the market. The first collection we made was alright, the second one was really good, and now here we are. We continue to do it because we like it, and it allows us to express ourselves creatively.
It's the same way with hats. Every year we design them. We aren't able to sell them but we give them away to our friends.
Are there any other quirky products that you want to make?
A lot of things. We've done sweaters. I'd love to do furniture.
I read that Kanye West wore one of your watches a while back.
Yeah, it was a long while back. We have a friend who spent some time with Kanye West, and allegedly he asked about one of our watches that he was wearing at the time. I am not sure how official that is. We don't have any pictures or anything.
Earlier you mentioned smartwatches. Do you think we're entering a new era of watches? Particularly with Apple now in the game.
It's hard to predict, and it's hard to predict how it will if it does. I think it will change things. I am constantly distracted by my phone, and to wear that distraction could prove annoying. On the other hand, there seem to be people who want that constant exposure.
We are constantly looking to see how it will evolve. Our consumers are not the first to run off for Google Glasses or Apple Watches. When you get increased functionality, it can be interesting. You needn't neccessarily get phone calls through it but some features that increase functionality might be enticing for us. Our design is still quite analogue. If we can do a nice design, and add smart functionality, it might prove more interesting.
For Spring/Summer 2014, you guys shot your lookbook in Istanbul. Are "city" or "environment" lookbooks something you plan to do in the future?
Our idea was to go to different cities across the globe, and find the creative souls who know the city best. When you are in Berlin, or Istambul, or Stockholm, you want to find the people who know that one perfect cafe. We found those people, and in every city we went to they wanted to be a part of the campaign. It's something I would like to return to in the future, but for now we will go back to concentrating on Stockholm.
How do you envision the brand's future? Did Baselworld change your perception of the industry?
Yeah, because the watch industry has changed so much in the last five years. A lot of watch stores are opening up to newer brands because they realize that they will have to adapt to a changing market. So we have entered into a couple of new relationships with established stores, especially in Japan and Norway.
Any shops in particular?
Of course, in terms of fashion retailers, we are selling at colette. In terms of watches, we have a partnership with TIC TAC in Tokyo. They have a really modern retail concept.
Is there a certain person you envision wearing TRIWA?
Gwen Stefani has been running around in our sunglasses. She is a very colorful, well-dressed person. It sounds old-fashioned but I really like John Malkovich and Jeff Bridges. They're older than our target audience but they still have strong character. I would love to see them wearing TRIWA. Paul Stanley came in to our store once.
Was he in make-up?
Sadly not. He came in on a Sunday. He was there for a half hour, got like five pairs of sunglasses. I told him that I was a big KISS fan, and that he needn't pay. He said, "Everyone's a fan of money," and put a wad of bills in my hand.