In 2013 Alexander Gram and Nikolaj Dylsing founded the menswear brand AN IVY. The company draws its inspiration from the Preppy fashion movement from the 50’s, creating contemporary ties and accessories. This interview examines the challenges of building a brand in a niche market, as well as taking your ideas to a national stage.
With AN IVY, you have managed to build a success around casual ties and tie accessories. How do you build a successful brand in a narrow niche market?
First of all, there are no blueprints on how to ensure success in launching a brand in any market. It is often a complex journey that relies on a wide array of different factors, where new obstacles, as well as opportunities arise every single day. Yet, the fundamentals will always come down to creating beautiful products of high quality, that are desired by your target customer. Then comes the challenge of building an inspiring conceptual universe across your product platform, that people want to engage with and tap into. Essentially, you need to create a narrative that means something to your audience and customers. To represent something. And that is what we try to do with AN IVY.
Even though ties have a firm foundation within the history of menswear, it is still an item, that very few men carry every day. To change that, we seek to inspire as many as possible through great content and a solid presence on all platforms. As the market for ties and accessories are not overly saturated, there is ample room for us to supply our followers with a good deal of material, like tie-guides, styling tips and other editorial content from the domain of fashion and lifestyle, all contributing to the AN IVY universe. Additionally, we participate in style consultations, where we make ourselves available for our customers and followers, who seek advice and inspiration regarding their wardrobe.
All efforts that create value for the customer plays a role in a niche market. There is a certain trust to be built and upheld. Our ambition is to become the go-to brand for Danish men, when it comes to everything surrounding the tie. And in the long run, we are taking AN IVY to the international stage.
Given the tie’s status as the symbol of the corporate world, why did you choose the tie to be the centre of your venture?
For a long time, there has definitely been a tendency to associate the tie with the corporate world of bankers and lawyers. That is true. Yet from day one, our mission has been to break these connotations and change the public view on this iconic menswear item. We want to show our followers that the tie is not to be reserved for formal occasions and conforming office suits. We believe that a tie can be the centrepiece of any outfit, style or event. The tie looks equally great paired with a varsity jacket, a dad cap and pair of Chuck Tailors, as it would with loafers and a well fitted navy suit. It is all about styling and embracing the possibilities.
AN IVY was established through our shared passion for the wave of Ivy League Prep that dominated the online world of fashion in the beginning of the 2010’s. We were fond of wearing ties, as it signified something new and exciting and was a great way to effortlessly change your look. However, finding ties of good quality, there were both aesthetically pleasing, as well as within an appropriate price tag, was quite hard for a couple of students with a tight budget. And here we found a gap in the market. Out of passion for the product and lack of suitable alternatives, we decided to take matters into our own hands and start our own brand.
Describe your creative process. What does the universe of AN IVY look like, and what makes a successful product for you?
As we are constantly channelling and reinterpreting the era of Ivy League prep school fashion, namely the 50’s and early 60’s, there is a lot of inspiring material to be found in old magazines and books like Take Ivy. We spend a staggering amount of time browsing through the web, looking at pictures of past style icons like John F. Kennedy, Andy Warhol and David Hockney. In order to create something new, you often have to look to the past. There is a reason why these men have maintained their legendary status and transcended through time. This aura is what we attempt to manifest into a product.
With a product catalogue of over a hundred ties, working with colours and colour combinations is taking up an increasing amount of time. We often look towards the world of fine art for inspiration. The colours adorning the ties reference our adoration for the works of great painters like Hockney or Legér, as well as our personal acquaintance; Fredrik Sologub. Artists have very distinguished eyes for putting together colours, and these arrangements often work just as well on tie, as on a canvas.
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A bit over a year ago, An Ivy participated in the Danish instalment of Dragons Den. How did it feel to put your brand on national TV? And what happened afterwards?
Entering the show was in many ways a highly educational experience, as we had to rethink and sharpen every aspect of our business plan. Yet, it was enormously terrifying. Suddenly you are standing in the spotlight in front of five highly influential entrepreneurs and countless cameras. You expose yourself in a surreal way. And you have to be sharp and in control.
All in all, it went great. We had confidence in our concept and brand, and we were sure that we had made the right decision in participating in the program. This was a unique opportunity to reach out to a broad range of potential new customers, as well as mentors who could help us develop our company. Subsequently, our web shop exploded. Our product was in demand and the company to a big leap forward under the supervision of experienced entrepreneur Jesper Buch. With new knowledge and an expanded network, AN IVY has become wider known, and that has given us a platform to expand our portfolio into new product categories like shirts and other menswear staples; like caps, belts, wallets and so on.
From a personal perspective, what is the most important thing this venture has taught you?
The first thing that comes to mind, is to dare to believe in your passion. That you can build a career on something you care about and enjoy doing. AN IVY embodies all the things we are passionate about and inspired by in life, from fashion and art to entrepreneurship. Our company is a testimony to the fact you can start something from nothing. That you can create an audience who are genuinely interested in what you have to say. That feeling is immensely fulfilling.