A monthly interview feature, between THRDS and that of the influential menswear designer; from designing to marketing to creating a brand identity, there’s a lot more to being a menswear designer. THRDS sits down with Nik Thakkar, one half of the design duo Ada + Nik, to discuss the business side of a fashion brand, social media, and his advice to aspiring designers.
Hi Nik, tell us a bit about the brand and how you got started?
I started out as an intern like everyone else, I was in a creative marketing agency, and there were certain areas of what I was working on that I was more attracted to. If someone was talking about baked beans I would be like “No, not for me babes”; but if someone was doing the advertising campaign for underwear, fashion or music, I was more inclined to just work on those projects. I started a blog and realised that I didn’t need to have a full time job. I just wanted to create, so I got involved in doing more creative things. I started with video content, just shooting things, and I also started painting. Ada and I met five years ago in Paris, we met and instantly bonded, but it wasn’t until two years later, when we were at dinner, and I asked her “When are you going to start making men’s clothes?” and she fired back “Why don’t you do it with me?” So I said “Fine, let’s do this!” It was a fun, natural progression.
There are two of you involved in the brand, what roles do you take on and how much of the business side of the brand are you involved in?
Technically, we both design every piece together. We have a really good flow creatively and good mutual understanding when we work on wider concepts, like ‘SYN’. When we started we had nothing. It was just the two of us in a studio. We had to bring in these male models and neither of us knew what to do with them, but we learnt, she learnt menswear and I learnt how to design. We bounce off of each other, she’s my teacher from a product point of view, and I’m her teacher from a brand point of view. Basically, me and her are the business through and through. We’ve found someone to help accelerate this because neither of us have a financial background.
Separately you’ve both been in the industry for a while, but as Ada and Nik you’re a relatively young brand, do you think that your previous experience has given you a bit of an edge over other young designers?
Yes, if it wasn’t for our hustle pre Ada + Nik, the brand wouldn’t be where it is today. If we were two 22-year-old kids who decided to launch a brand, we would never be able to achieve what we have in the past two years. We have achieved it through really great product and by being smart with the resources that we have. We’ve never had money and we still don’t have money. As a brand Ada + Nik doesn’t turn over the same as Givenchy, we don’t have that volume of business; we may have credibility but not that volume of business.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice or the most valuable thing that you have learnt over the years?
Be humble, work hard and be nice. Don’t be greedy, and don’t be horrible to anyone – your interns, your assistant, because you’ll always meet them on the way down.
You’ve produced and directed two fashion films ‘Syn’ and ‘Noir Desir’, do you think that you will be producing more fashion films in the future?
Yes, I love directing! I’m basically a director.
Fashion films have almost become a thing of their own, so do you lean more towards using fashion film as advertising as opposed to traditional forms?
It’s not about fashion films; it’s not about film films or music films. I think all of these things play a part in creating a visual identity. I would never pay for a print ad; my budget will go into digital before it goes anywhere else.
So fashion films and social media?
Yes social, because that’s where people are right now, look at H&M x Balmain’s launch this week. All of their money has gone into digital; they hired digital influencers from across the board. It’s really smart; you have to admire what they did.
It’s a lot easier though isn’t it? To sell yourself how you want via social media…
Yes, I believe in control of your coms distribution (What does it mean?)
When it comes to sales you’re only stocked in Harrods and Q Men in London, would you say that you’re really selective in terms of where you’re stocked?
I wish it were in more, it’s the way the business is and it takes a long time for retailers to trust you. You’ve got to have a proven track record; they want you to have done five seasons. They have their own internal rules; it’s hard and it takes ages.
You’re also stocked in a few places abroad, would you say the market is easier abroad?
For us, America likes us a lot, Asia likes us a lot, they don’t really stock us but they buy us. We’ve had more support from New York Fashion Week and American stores. Some British press get us; foreigners like British culture, they like that we’re a bit punk and a bit weird. If we had a lower price point we’d be a mainstream brand.
Regarding the business side of things, what do you find most exciting and most challenging?
I like that creativity in business, and that’s what’s exciting. For us to sell online we have to create the right mood, the right imagery, and the right tone. It’s not all about doing some maths; it’s about creative side of the business. Being a CEO at a young age is challenging.
Lastly, what advice would you give to an aspiring designer?
If you think that you can do it on the merit of your design skills in 2015, you have another thing coming. If you want to do something under your own name you need to be smart and creative. You need to be a pioneer in your own right; you have to be an entrepreneur, but don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Be smart and be creative.
Photography by Natalie Winter