Kipling bags get brighter; more shops planned

Mr John Gearing, vice-president of VF Corp, which owns Kipling, wants to take the brand in a new direction and open bigger shops.
Mr John Gearing, vice-president of VF Corp, which owns Kipling, wants to take the brand in a new direction and open bigger shops. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Bag label Kipling brings in a wider range of products in vibrant colours and prints

Can a bag make you happy? Mr John Gearing, vice-president of VF Corp, an American apparel, footwear and accessories company that owns bag label Kipling, certainly thinks so.

Says the 44-year-old father of two teenage children: "We want to be bright and make people happy."

The brand is recognised by its iconic monkey mascot, which comes in the form of a furry keychain on every Kipling bag.

Mr Gearing, married to a fashion consultant, was in Singapore earlier this year to oversee the brand's revamp and distribution.

Kipling, which was founded in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1987, was distributed in Singapore by Bigcity Fashion from 1997. VF regained the distributorship on Jan 1 this year. The company, which has owned Kipling since 2004, also carries fashion brands such as Timberland and Napapijri here.

  • FUN FACTS

  • • Kipling was started in 1987 by friends Vincent Haverbeke, Xavier Kegels and Paul Van De Velde in Antwerp, Belgium. They wanted to create a range of fun backpacks and chanced upon the brand's signature crinkled nylon fabric when a weaving loom malfunctioned and pulled the fabric.

    • The brand is named after English novelist and journalist Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book in 1894. The designers wanted a brand name that could be easily pronounced.

    • The monkey keychain, which comes with every Kipling bag, was inspired by the playful spirit of the monkeys in The Jungle Book.

    • Each Kipling monkey is named after Kipling employees from all over the world. The brand sells the monkey keychains in different costumes and looks, such as a Thanksgiving Monkey and Hawaii Girl Monkey, but they are not for sale separately in Singapore.

    • The brand's first overseas market was the United States in 1993.

    • At different times in the 1990s, the brand was bought over by a private owner and Swiss bank UBS Capital before coming under the ownership of VF Corp in 2004. Kipling's headquarters were then moved to Bornem, Belgium.

    • Kipling introduced a range of leather bags in 2007.

Mr Gearing, a Briton who has been based in Hong Kong for the past 11 years, says: "Our partner here did everything to our expectations, but we want to take the brand in a new direction and open bigger shops. Those things are not fair to expect a partner to do. Singapore as a market is important enough for us to want to operate it directly."

There are four Kipling boutiques here. The brand is also carried at five Isetan, OG and Takashimaya departmental stores. Prices range from $45 for a small pouch to $469 for a tote bag.

One of the first things VF has done since regaining the distributorship is introduce a wider range of products such as luggage and shoulder bags in vibrant colours and prints.

While these styles are not new to Kipling, they were made available here only recently and Mr Gearing acknowledges that consumers may think they are new as "different categories were emphasised in the assortment here". The previous distributor had brought in bags in more neutral tones such as black, brown and beige.

The brand also unveiled a new store concept - stores are designed to resemble a dressing room, with comfortable seating areas. The look is inspired by the brand's core consumers of women aged 25 to 45, a group it has coined the "Imaginista" - women who are interested in fashion, but "not necessarily strict followers", says Mr Gearing.

The brand's crinkled nylon bags are designed in a way that all components are easily accessible, whether slung across the body or carried on the shoulder. The bags are also designed for different situations, whether for work, at the gym or as a diaper bag.

In March, Kipling debuted a new bag line called Kaeon, which uses the lightweight and waterproof Aires fabric, made with 37 per cent recycled fibres.

Although Mr Gearing declines to disclose sales figures, he says sales in Asia grew more than 20 per cent in the past two years.

"We have an incredibly high repurchase rate - 60 per cent globally and 35 per cent in Singapore," adds Mr Gearing, whose wife and daughter carry Kipling bags.

He estimates that Singapore sales will make up 5 per cent of this year's total sales in Asia. There are plans to increase brand presence and sales by developing more sale channels, such as e-commerce, in the next five years.

There may also be an exclusive Singapore Kipling monkey in the works.

Says Mr Gearing: "Why not? It would probably be wearing fit-flops and linen."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Brighter, bolder Kipling'. Print Edition | Subscribe