"Morten, Alexander and Johannes Graah are the driving forces behind beloved brand Dr. Denim. The trio has been working together for 15 years now and invited us to their hometown Gothenburg to talk about the evolution of the industry, running a family business and being 'a little extra crazy about denim'".
Interview by Pierre D'Aveta
Dr. Denim has its own fan community and is well known in the industry, but how would you describe Dr. Denim in one sentence?
Alexander: Great jeans, made for living that fit just right and don't cost a fortune. That's just what we do – and always will.
A lot has changed since you started out in 2004. What's the most significant and maybe most positive change you've noticed so far?
Alexander: To boil it down to a few key factors, one enormous thing is social media, which has impacted consumer behaviour like nothing else in modern times. It has levelled the playing filed a lot; small players are able to reach a global audience and disrupt the industry in various ways. Also: the awareness of sustainability. Today consumers are very aware of it and and a lot of players in the industry have changed their approach. Factories, for instance, are structuring themselves completely differently in terms of how they finish garments and how they source sustainable fibres etc.
Speaking of sustainability: is it a big topic for you within the company?
Alexander: It is. We're not yet on top of the class but we do as much as we can, given our position as a niche brand and our price point. So for us it's not necessarily going to be all 100% organic cotton: sometimes we'll use other sustainable fibers or work on the process or the chemical side of it. We find a balance and focus on where it matters the most.
You mentioned the price of your jeans. How is it possible to offer a good pair at a reasonable price?
Alexander: You can't just go into this with a traditional product portfolio perspective. You need to be a little extra crazy about denim, you need to believe that you can do things people say you can't, then you strive to do that and push that every day of the week. It's a challenge and the only way you can get these two things to coexist is to be personally committed.
The European market is well-trodden turf for your brand. How about other markets, such as the US?
Johannes: Yes, Europe is where we have the widest distribution. But speaking of territories further afield, we've been represented in Australia since 2007. We've also been in Japan, New Zeeland and other countries for a long period of time. We don't look at demographics, but ask ourselves: how can we find the right team that can deliver the right Dr. Denim experience in any market, regardless of the market's size? Regarding the US, we've taken a different approach based on a subsidiary with an in-house showroom – not necessarily the obvious step to take when entering the US. It takes time to convince people. It's not the fastest way, but when you get it right, it really flows.
Looking at the denim industry in general, how would you sum it up right now?
Alexander: Interesting question. It's a fast-changing industry and has changed very rapidly over the years, the most recent five years being the most interesting ones. It has changed and is still changing, so because of that we have a lot of opportunities, room and demand, especially for niche players. Now it's just a question of positioning yourself and build off of that. But the landscape is way more dynamic and means you can't just rest on your laurels and assume that because what you did worked ten years ago, it'll work now. That's no longer the case. You have to justify your existence every day.
Let's get a little personal: Dr. Denim is a family business. How do you manage to work with each other and differentiate between being colleagues and being family?
Morten: First of all, all three of us are very passionate about denim. We all have different strengths and need each other's competencies. We manage to challenge each other, have good dialogue and one ground rule: never fight to the extent that we abandon something at work. A family business will always be special. We understand that it can seem like a liability, but to us it's an asset.
What are you excited about in the future?
Alexander: We're actually making quite a lot of changes right now. You'll see something new for the men's collection for SS20. We also removed all legacy products, built a completely new palette of fits, fabrics and washes. So basically, we're starting from scratch. You'll still recognise Dr. Denim in every sense though – it will just be better.