21 July 2022

We hit mark with the dot, says the founder of the fashion brand VUCH

Architecture taught me to think about the whole, explains Martin Kůs | Autor: Vuch company archives

The first collection of polka dot wallets was designed by Martin Kůs during his studies at the FA (Faculty of Architecture) BUT (Brno University of Technology). They were sold out in just two days. Today, the Chrudim-based brand of women's wallets, handbags and backpacks, which he founded with his childhood friend Ondřej Hyrš, has almost 50 employees and an annual turnover of CZK 140 million. According to Kůs, fashion design is not so different from architecture.

What does the name of the brand – Vuch – actually mean?

That's such an obligatory question (laughs). It has no specific meaning. We liked that it was short, punchy and wouldn't get confused with other brands. At first, we pronounced it phonetically “vuch”, but people changed it to “vush”. All domains with this name were free, which is crucial for e-commerce. But we didn't think much about it. When we started the brand 7 years ago during our studies, we never thought it would grow like this. We were naive, but we tried very hard to fine-tune everything graphically and aesthetically. The first collection of our Vuch polka dot wallets sold out in 2 days.

What do you explain this instant success?

Luck and good timing. The polka dots played a big part. It was a hit and miss. It's a cute and playful motif and we've reached a target audience of younger women. Today it looks like a normal assortment, but back then the fashion scene seemed grey and bland. The market lacked a segment of playful mid-range women's wallets and handbags. Something between a luxury brand and a market piece. We correctly identified a hole in the market and after the first success we went full steam ahead. It also helped that Facebook was running on more organic algorithms at the time. We reached a lot of people for almost free just by clever creativity and copywriting. It wouldn't be so easy today.

So you never pursued the profession of an architect?

I'm a kind of passive architect – I follow trends, I keep in touch with my classmates and once or twice a year I take charge of a renovation. I only worked in an architectural studio during Erasmus in Paris. But the profession of fashion designer is not so far from architecture.

There is no difference between designing a house and a wallet?

It's more about the process. Architecture taught me to think about the whole. It's not just about making a house and quitting. I have to coordinate with other professions, with the actual implementation. One learns management – whether building or creating and running a business. The steps are actually similar. The school showed me how to think about it – to pay attention to precision and tighten up the details. This is what I learned in college and have now put to use. It's in a different field, but it's similar.

Founders of the brand Martin Kůs and Ondřej Hyrš | Autor: Vuch company archives

How hard is it to start a successful fashion brand in the Czech Republic?

It would be a bit more challenging today. The market is much more competitive than 7 years ago when we started. Starting a fashion brand from scratch is a long haul. Unless you have an investor or wealthy parents behind you, aggressive marketing can help. It is not easy today, the market is oversupplied. But I still encourage everyone to give it a try. At most, it's not gonna happen.

Vuch operates on the Slovak, Hungarian, Croatian and Polish markets. Is Czech fashion taste different from the countries mentioned above?

We don't notice it. Unfortunately, monochrome and black products reign everywhere. In recent years, burgundy has also come into its own. We try to incorporate some playful element into our products – for example in the form of a coloured lining. But the greatest interest is in subtle things in darker and muted colours. Especially with handbags, women prefer something more versatile. When buying a wallet, however, they get discouraged.

What is the current flagship of your brand? Are they still polka dot wallets?

We still have them on the menu, but we're trying to move on a bit. Urban and elegant backpacks are coming to the fore. It will be the best-selling segment next year. Handbags are getting a little out of fashion. It's a way of life – women living in big cities put a laptop in their purse and go to work. But they prefer comfort over elegance – rather than dazzle with a handbag, they prefer to throw on a practical backpack. Wallets remain the next best-selling segment. But our range is wider, we also produce jewellery, watches, clothes and shoes.

Do you strive for a sustainable and ecological approach?

Last year we launched a collection of eco handbags that are made entirely from recyclable material. And we've figured out how to make the most of defective products or returns from complaints. This is the overall problem of the textile industry – where to go with the tons of textile waste. We now grind the defective handbags into pulp and use it to make the filling for the seat bags. For every one sold, we donate one to a nursery. We take the issue of ecology very seriously, and we were awarded the Responsible Company of the Year Award.

Have you thought of moving production to the Czech Republic?

This is not possible for us with such a volume of production – we are not technologically or capacity-wise ready for it in Europe compared to Asian countries. Even the most luxurious brands have also moved production to China or other Asian countries. And I don't see much ecological sense in making handbags in the Czech Republic just so we can put it on the web, when we'll have to import the material halfway around the world anyway. Sometimes I find sustainability to be a marketing game for some brands and the bottom line is not very green.

Where do you get inspiration for new designs after 7 years?

We've launched so many handbags and wallets in that time that it's not so easy for me to come up with something new anymore. That's why I'm focusing on business strategy and passing on some competencies to younger designers to keep a fresh perspective as a brand. We follow the trends in the fashion world set by the most famous fashion houses. And then we try to replicate them or apply them to our products. That's how the fashion world works and it's similar to architecture – you can take inspiration from everywhere in the environment, from history and from world-famous creators.



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