Jun 29, 2023
After a 10-year presence in the cashmere sector, French label Kujten is planning to grow the number of its stores abroad. Its founders, businesswoman Carole Benaroya and designer Stéphanie Eriksson have talked to Olivier Guyot, editor-in-chief France of FashionNetwork.com, in the new LuxurynsightxFashionNetwork podcast (in French). It was the opportunity to assess Kujten’s hiring policy, sourcing practices, and diversification plans.
Benaroya and Eriksson are two childhood friends who decided to leave their jobs in order to set up a brand together in 2012. Benaroya, who proudly hails from a family of retailers and entrepreneurs, had an international career in finance, but eventually left the industry, exhausted. Eriksson instead comes from a family of ready-to-wear retailers. After a stint at IDEM, an academy for the creative and digital professions, she joined the staff of British label Joseph, where she worked for 15 years.
After several months of planning, the two women decided to take the plunge and founded Kujten, a cashmere label distinctive for its original colours and silhouettes. “An avenue into relaxed luxury” opened up for Kujten since, at the time, classic cuts and muted colours were predominant in the industry. Benaroya and Eriksson were keen to disrupt the prevailing notion that cashmere is reserved for an elite.
“Nothing will replace the retail trade”
The adventure began with a Parisian store in rue du Commerce, where Benaroya and Eriksson spent their days behind the counter, initially serving friends and relatives attracted by their products. When the first customers began patronising the store, the two women’s enthusiasm was a success, and word of mouth was soon keeping the store busy. Kujten was founded at the same time as many DNVBs, but went down the physical rather than the online retail road. An approach that is part of the founders’ own legacy, and now of the legacy of the label itself.
As soon as Kujten began experiencing strong growth, it needed to hire new personnel. But Benaroya and Eriksson took a long time finding and training new staff that would maintain their levels of hospitality and service. And sometimes, they weren’t sure of their choices. “Maybe it’s because of Covid?” wondered Benaroya. Struggling to find employees who met their expectations, they decided to train new hirings internally. The company now has 130 employees, most of whom work in the Kujten stores. Thirty-five of them work at the head office and logistics hub, but this figure will soon rise to 50, according to the founders.
Kujten’s cashmere comes, unsurprisingly, from Mongolia. It is produced by nomadic breeders and sold to the label’s main supplier, with which Benaroya and Eriksson are very well acquainted. The supplier has been working for more than 20 years with Benaroya’s husband, a former cashmere wholesaler. A leader in the region, it always has first pick of the raw material, making its business relationship with Kujten enduring. The yarn is processed locally, without the intervention of external contractors.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Kujten’s suppliers helped the label, working with its founders remotely. Benaroya and Eriksson used to receive samples at home, and negotiations were done by video-conference. The supplier was familiar with Kujten’s style, and was greatly supportive of the label, never missing a production deadline. Kujten enjoyed a “privileged position” during the pandemic, according to Benaroya and Eriksson.
Diversifying is a necessity
During this delicate period, Kujten was able to count on the support of its financial partners. The company opened to outside investors four years ago: Ian and Ségolène Gallienne, heirs to Belgian billionaire Albert Frère of the GBL group, are now minority shareholders. They remain discreetly in the background, meeting Benaroya every quarter to take stock.
Kujten operates 36 monobrand stores, including two concessions and five stores outside France, in Luxembourg, Belgium and London. It is planning to open a store in Geneva next month. Benaroya and Eriksson’s idea is to diversify their business. This will require more extensive international operations, a major challenge, but also a broader product range. The label is planning to enter the leather goods segment, and to extend its menswear range.
At the same time, introducing new products can be done through collaborations. The latter always originate from an idea, a meeting, or an opportunity engineered by Benaroya or Eriksson. For next winter, Kujten is developing a box set in collaboration with Arizona Love, a brand specialised in footwear and bandannas.
Eriksson has also worked with Harpo, a brand of Native American jewellery and accessories, a world that she very much likes. Finally, last winter’s collaboration with designer Géraldine Saglio will be repeated this year, having been extremely successful. These joint efforts are an opportunity to complement Kujten’s product range, with items the label cannot produce by itself.
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