5 years ago, Rob Schalker initiated a new funky, outspoken brand with a remarkable name.

The fish started to swim and in the meantime the designs of A Fish Named Fred are sold in more then 20 countries around the globe.

How did you come up with the idea for the brand?

I have been active in sales and marketing for the fashion-industry since 1998 with brands such as MAC Jeans for the Dutch market and NZA New Zealand Auckland which I started 10 years ago with two friends. In 2011 I thought it was time for a something new.

I saw that 80% of the stores were selling 80% of the available brands and that consumers were bored with the “Einheitsbrei”. Life is too short to be average so why not create something to step out of that averageness. Many brands in the fashion industry are looking alike and play it safe. We had to bring something completely different yet sellable to the table. The goal was clear. original with a humorous touch and still commercial for a decent price

The English have a nice word for it; Quirky, which stands for funny, fresh and a bit tongue in cheek.

Can you tell us a bit more about the structure of your company?

We run the company with 14 people in the office for design, styling, back-office and sales. My business partner Martin van den Nouwland takes care of sourcing and finance while I’m responsible for the brand-concept and overal-sales.

It is very important for a company like A fish named Fred to have someone on the communicative and sales side and on the same time a person who is very strong in structuring and organising. We have learned from the start onwards and we are still learning every day. We are happy to say that our Fish survived all the “Kinderkrankheiten” (child diseases) and has become a globally recognisable brand.

How did you get to the name A Fish Named Fred?

My daughter Isabel, who is already 15 years old, had to do a project for school when she was young. The topic was a project where animals could talk. She used a fish and called him Fred. “Daddy, when you are starting a new brand, you have to call it Freddy Fish”: she told me. After I found out that there was already a computergame with this name I changed it into A fish named Fred.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Our inspiration comes from everyday life. Small things around us can eventually evolve into new designs. As an example;  Someone spoiled some wine during a houseparty. This resulted in some messy yet characteristic wine-spots on the table.

Hey, that’s funny, I thought to myself and I quickly made a picture. Our design team started working on it and it resulted as the third best selling pre-order item in next winter’s collection. As a side effect of this shirt with wine spots, we will launch our Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir wine during the next international trade fairs. The wine will be sold to hi-end restaurants and of course we have add a nice marketing action to this in the shape of vouchers for our dealers to give away with the purchase of two A fish named Fred garments. With the voucher the consumer can get a free bottle of wine with a diner at selected restaurants. A very nice example of lucrative cross selling and much more original then giving another discount to the consumer.

What has been your biggest challenge when you raise a new brand?

To get producible quantities at the start.

You have to start small but you don’t want to start expensive. This is difficult because you have to accept a very small margin and all the efforts to create the brand such as production, marketing and sales, cost money. Setting up a brand means blood, sweat and tears!

Of course it is very important that we found a lot of people and companies around us that believed in our concept and were willing and able to support us in the many different ways they could. Starting a concept that makes people smile is definitely very rewarding for us and the ones that sense that A fish named Fred is the next big thing!

My own background in marketing and interest in digital media resulted in creative clips with the logo’s of clients, a very early integration of our B2B portal and an interesting integration of multi media with our own A fish named Fred music on iTunes, Spotify and various other platforms.

Aren’t people getting tired of all the digital content that approaches them every day?

It’s very important that you find the right mix and not over-do it. Your content has to be matching and relevant. This week we have set up our German Facebook page with the support of our good friend Michael Böhm of Augenfänger. We see that our German retailers and consumers like our English page but prefer to have it in their own language. Next step is to set it up in more countries.

Who is your target group?

Every marketeers nightmare.. (laughs)

For our marketing strategy we held a huge survey with our clients and we found out that our customers are basically everyone from everywhere. Our shirts are not only popular with the 18 year olds , 40 year olds and 65+ but also housewives are buying them for their men back home. We also noted that they can’t be classified occupationally speaking. They are students, architects, doctors, artists, office workers, construction workers, teachers and all various groups you can think of. A focus on their behaviour showed us that these “FREDS” are the ones who can change an ordinary party into a night to remember. They are energetic, lovable and often hard to miss. Standing out while being themselves is what they do. Funny to see is that the reason for this brand is recognised by our own target-group. Be proud and stand out is what we say.

What are your next plans?

We have entered the US and Canadian market last season. We have found a good licensee to expand the business to the other side of the ocean. For example, they have reached around 50 Canadian doors of hi-end retailers in their first season. A fish named Fred will be attending trade fairs in New York, LA, Texas, Chicago the next weeks.

In Europe we added new countries like France and Sweden and we have decided to show at CIFF Copenhagen in August.

Upcoming Trade fairs in 2016;

Berlin Panorama June 28/30

Shenzhen SZ Show July 7/9

Modefabriek Amsterdam July 10/11

Project New York July 17/19

Chicago Collective July 31 / August 2

Los Angeles West Coast trend Show August 5/8

Carolina Southern Clothing Market August 6/8

CIFF Copenhagen August 10/12

Source: Metro newspaper,Interview with Rob Schalker 06/06/2016