When Helga invited Meersmans, Ine Verhaert and her partner for dinner at her home five years ago, a pleasant evening turned into an elaborate business-plan. Both women agreed: there was no chic laptop bag for women. All bag brands seemed to target the male gender. A gap in the market, the two thought business-women.
So she designed a bag that looks chic and luxurious on the outside, but is fully equipped on the inside. It has twelve compartments, including a special compartment for a laptop. Kaai was born and is blowing out five candles this year. FashionUnited has a virtual cup of coffee with Meersmans and Verhaert and talks about the past five years, the focus on the American market and a brand new product: the
*Where is Kaai now?*
“When we started Kaai, we immediately opened our own store in Antwerp and launched a webshop. A physical point of sale was important to us, because we were starting a new brand and we had to get to know the Kaai customer. Moreover, consumers had to get to know us and could thus easily provide feedback. Feedback is very important and valuable, especially in the beginning. We applied this in subsequent collections.”
“Thanks to our first store, we quickly ended up with Belgian retailers. We think this has to do with the ‘Belgian brand meets Belgian people’ idea. You still have an advantage over others [buitenlandse, red.] to notice.”
“Things got exciting in 2020. Then the corona crisis came, but luckily we had no employees other than the two of us and the webshop was already fully operational. We benefited a lot from that.”
“In the following years, we opened a second store in the Brussels King’s Gallery and the Kaai team grew from two employees to ten in total. In addition, we started online marketing abroad, such as in the Netherlands, Germany and England. This quickly caught on in the Netherlands and we received more orders from England. Kaai has been available at De Bijenkorf since 2022 and we are very proud of that. We are surrounded by bags from Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Prada, it is a dream come true. In Germany we work together with Breuninger, an online marketplace. That also goes very well. And we have nothing to complain about England.”
“When we started to scale up online marketing, we also noticed that we suddenly received quite a few American orders. We then found out that we were included in a ‘Top 15 best work bags’ in an online luxury magazine. It was already within us business– wrote a plan to move to America one day, but not so soon. That was our first introduction to this large market.”
*Would you like to share a financial update?*
“Unfortunately we don’t share that. We can report that Kaai is profitable from the third year onwards. We think that is quite fast for a new brand on the market.”
Expansion in the American market is now on the agenda. What can we expect?
“We have invested a lot in the American market in recent years. We have also been working with one since September business developerbecause we want to strengthen our presence in this market, both physically and online.”
“We are currently at a retailer on Broadway [een weg in New
York, red.]. But the thing is: anyone who works at a multi-brand store can never tell the story one hundred percent. So, we decided to organize trunk shows in America. These are events where female customers and retailers are invited to view our bags. The retailers must of course sell like-minded brands, so that they connect with our target group.”
“Our focus is mainly on the big cities: New York, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles. That’s where the working women are. We try to introduce American customers to Kaai step by step. Over the next two years, we will mainly focus on creating brand awareness and will look for the right multi-brand stores. Perhaps some smaller boutiques. Later we certainly want to make the step to Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, for example. We hope to add one of these prestigious department stores to our list of international distribution points.”
“We also launched a separate American webshop a few weeks ago. The American customer has a different profile than the European customer. We see that Americans dive very deeply into the story behind the
work bags so we gave these bags more attention on the US website. We notice that this is what the customer in America is looking for. In addition, we share more content here about American events that we have organized, so that the content feels more personal for the American customer.”
Are there more expansion plans on the agenda outside America?
“We have only just started in Germany with Breuninger, so hopefully physical sales points will follow soon. In addition, we will participate in trade fairs again next year, because this has come to a standstill due to Covid. Now we think it is the time again to participate in the fairs. We are now working on CIFF, because we hear that many Dutch and German customers also go there. In addition, we will certainly be at the Tranoï fair in Paris. This way we will automatically encounter new international customers.”
Is there also a plan to open more Kaai stores?
“In 2018 we wrote in us businesss-plan to open a store in Amsterdam, Paris and London. Covid has changed that plan. We then started focusing on the online market. But online marketing is extremely expensive, the online retail landscape is expensive. Now that the corona crisis is over and we, as old hands in the fashion industry, see the value of physical stores, we are thinking about opening more stores. There is no better customer experience than in your own store. A flagship store is still a beautiful and strong sign. In addition, the Kaai store serves as a showroom for wholesalers. They also want to hold the product and see the color plus the material.”
What can Kaai enthusiasts expect from the bag brand in the near future?
“In November, Kaai will launch the mom bag, a fashionable diaper bag. We also found the bag world very boring and we are going to change that. This bag is also our first bag made of fabric, so not leather. The
mom bag is of course equipped with various compartments that keep the bag organized. The bag will be launched in four colors: Beige, khaki, terracotta and black and will be available for 265 euros.”
“We are currently busy approaching children’s fashion retailers. They are very enthusiastic.”
“We have also had the idea for a long time travel lightcollection on the market. We also want to make the bags for this collection from fabric instead of leather. Now we have the mom bag
have designed, we have been able to gain a lot of knowledge about fabrics, so who knows, this collection may follow soon.”
What is the ultimate Kaai dream?
“The dream is that we can create that strong community feeling in all other countries where Kaai is active, just like in Belgium. Of course it is also a dream to be present everywhere with the webshop, a flagship store and to see Kaai in the most important department stores all over the world.”