Out walking one morning on the Prinsengracht, I stumbled across an interesting looking place and went inside to see more. I met with the owner Martin Johnston and he told me an amazing story over a coffee and I thought you too should hear about it. Martin is a British guy that has lived in Amsterdam for a long time and has a long history in the fashion business. His showroom and fitting room has an interesting purpose and so I did a Q+A with him to get more depth about him and his project and here it is.
1.Please tell us where you are from and for how long you have been in Amsterdam.
Originally, I am from a small city in the North West of England, called Chester. In 1999, I arrived in Amsterdam after previously having spent 4 years in the USA and 2 years in Russia. I came to Amsterdam at the end of the 90’s to work for a small American Fashion company. Tommy Hilfiger is not so small anymore! The best thing about Tommy, was that I met my wife and business partner there.
2. Please tell us about your business.
My wife and I started our business 2 years ago with the intention of producing handcrafted luxury products, in the country that is globally recognised for luxury; Italy.
When we set out on our journey we knew exactly what we wanted to make, we just didn’t know by whom. In fashion and especially luxury, most brands talk the talk of fine or exquisite craftsmanship, but they never disclose who these talented individuals are. We took a negative and turned it into our brand’s purpose. Because the master artisans are systematically hidden from plain view, the power resides with the producers or luxury brands. A detrimental effect to the livelihoods of these artisans is that the majority are continuing to struggle to identify and onboard the next generation of artisans so that they can pass their knowledge on. When they are categorically hidden, it becomes logic to understand their struggles.
We wanted to do something about this and set about redefining what a luxury brand is and should be in the 21st Century. We use the power of transparent craftsmanship to inspire, empower and educate the next generation. Our primary suppliers of goods become our primary impact focus, thus creating a closed circle.
Throughout our almost one year journey through Italy, we decided we wanted to preserve a Crafted Society; hence our brand name.
By looking at what constitutes a modern brand for a socially conscious consumer, we identified 4 key values which we embodied into our DNA, namely Transparency, Ethics, Sustainability and Social Responsibility. Most brands pick one of the four values, we decided to focus on all 4. The most important however, was that we decided to embrace a completely transparent modus operandi as this is the only way to platform and return to the limelight, the master artisans we are proud to work with.
We give every artisan who makes our finished goods their dues by applying their name alongside ours on every product they produce for us. If you visit our website, www.craftedsociety.com we also platform every artisan and share their story and skills in the hope that others can also find them, start new projects with them, give them more work, which will ultimately mean they will need to hire and train the next generation of youngsters to carry on their craft. In addition, we also communicate openly who our Italian component artisans are and who the Italian raw material artisans are. By openly sharing our supply chain, we can credibly stand behind our statement of 100% Made in Italy – and we are happy to verify this.
When a business embraces transparency, it is also forced to produce and operate in a sustainable manner. As one of the world’s worst offenders for human and environmental damage, fashion needs to clean itself up. Luxury; the pinnacle and most aspirational part of fashion, is traditional in many aspects and often scores poorly on sustainable brand indexes. We wanted to do something about this, but we also wanted to democratise luxury – make it more accessible and not, as it has traditionally been, for the elite high net worth individuals. there is a focus to source materials from certified partners who share our vision and values. We are putting people first in all aspects of how we run our brand, ensuring that ethical trading standards are stringently upheld. Finally, we believe all for profit businesses should give something back as a good global citizen. We pledge 1% of our annual sales (not profits) towards non-profits who focus on providing access to quality education for the next generation.
We clarified our mission in a simple form. Simply put, we are using Luxury for GOOD™.
Lise, is our Design and Creative Director and I handle the business. We have a team of people in Italy who are our liaisons with suppliers, as well as additional support here in Amsterdam.
3. Typically who are your clients and where are they from ?
We have clients from all over the world, but the majority of them share some similar characteristics. They all have a high appreciation for handcrafted goods, they are socially conscious consumers meaning they buy less but choose to buy quality. Our products are for men and women alike. We make sneakers, leather bags, cashmere scarves and accessories and make them available for anyone to purchase.
We started as an online only business in 2017. First customers were actually premier league footballers. It’s a funny story.
When we started, we didn’t know many of the technical details of how to run an online store – in my previous corporate roles, I hired people with that knowledge to come in and build the ecommerce side of things. So, here we are 4 months after launching our (online) store and no one was visiting us……hence a crash course in SEO, google ads, instagram, facebook etc. I decided at the end of the summer in 2017 to fill the car up with sneakers and visit my home country. I knocked on the door of my boyhood football club; Everton. I had a chat with the then trainer Ronald Koeman, told him what we were doing, and he graciously allowed me to set up my products in the canteen at the training ground and show the players. We sold a lot of sneakers that day, but I was able to get pictures of each player with our shoe box. That’s when our social media started to take off. No sooner was I back in the car than my cell phone rang. Hi, is that Martin? the voice said. “I heard you just sold some of your sneakers to my friend at Everton. Well I play for Stoke, would you like to visit us also? and so one club became 16 over 3 months. That really helped to get the buzz out, sales and bringing on brand ambassadors because people could touch and feel the product.
For our next phase of brand experiences, we decided to open a pop-up store in Amsterdam in the Spring of 2018.
We ended up doing 6 pop-ups during the year in 4 different parts of town to see what was better for us. After the 3rd one, we started to notice a pattern. International customers were coming in, trying product on, paying for it and leaving the store without the products? They were all asking us to ship their product to their home address. This lead to the formation of our now, new experience concept.
In December 2018 we opened a permanent office/photostudio/showroom on Prinsengracht 475h in the heart of Amsterdam’s canal district and 9 streets area. Customers can email us ahead of time to fix an appointment to see our products and learn more about our brand. Transactions do not happen in the store but via our online e-store, but having a physical space really engages new fans to learn more about who we are, what we do but more importantly why we do it.
4. Please tell us more about where your products and the people that make them.
Best in class Italian master artisans produce all of our products . Familia Grassetti produces our sneakers. Mario has been a cordwainer for more than 45 years. His son Giacomo joined the family business 10 years ago to continue the family tradition. Our best selling sneaker so far is our Mario Low – we only produce 12-24 pairs per style colour. When they are gone, we move on to the next thing. This ensures a unique product offering which has seen customers go onto our waiting lists for new product introductions because they know there may only be one pair made in their size, anywhere in the world. We use the highest quality leathers, sourced ethically and sustainably from the premium leather tanneries in Italy. Mario hand crafts our sneakers in the shoe region of Italy, in Marche.
Ales Pelletterie makes our leather bags and small leather goods. Ales produces for some of the most recognisable luxury houses and has been honing their craft for the past 25 years. They are based in a small commune in central Italy. We name each of our products after one of the artisans who has played a key role in the process. Our Edy Weekender is a big hit. It is made from Organic military grade canvas and trimmed with high quality safiano calfskin leather from the famous Italian tannery Gemini in Abruzzo. We added canvas/safiano leather backpacks, safiano leather wash bags, and a selection of small leather goods.
Our cashmere comes from the leading cashmere weavers at Lanificio Arca. Cino Cini started Lanificio more than 77 years ago. It is now run by the third generation Cini, Marco. Lanifico produces cashmere scarves, plaids, throws, blankets for the cream of the luxury industry, but to this day, Crafted Society is the only brand who has co-branded its products with the company’s name. Our cashmere scarves are arguably the best quality to price product on the international market. This is because we sell direct to the consumer so all of the middle man markups have been eliminated and passed onto the end consumers in the form of fairer prices. This is how we can offer a true luxury product but without the traditional luxury price point.
We will soon launch the first products in our Crafted Society homewear collection. 1.8m by 1.4m completely upcycled 100% cashmere throws. The prices are a fraction of the price of traditional wholesale/retail brands.
5. What other things should people know about Crafted Society ?
It was started by a husband and wife duo, hugely passionate about the industry in which they have worked for more than 35 years, yet wanting to do something with a real purpose and help change the industry for the better. Today we have donated to more than 9 different global non-profits but our ultimate goal is to launch the #luxuryforgood foundation so that we can set up the programs whereby we pair people in need with our artisans to close the loop on the single biggest threat to craftsmanship – the inability to identify, train and onboard the next generation of artisans.
When someone buys Crafted Society they are really buying into a new mindset. Some of the finest craftspeople available in Italy make these products. It really is a purchase with a purpose.
Thank you Martin
So there you have it. the inside story straight form the founder of Crafted Society.
The next time you are in the 9 streets pop in and have a look. It is just a lovely boutique and a great story behind it all.