For this the second part of our agent series we talk to Birgir Birgisson, owner of Rhubarb Republik, a Brand Agency which in their own words “creates social platforms between conceptual children brands and conceptual retailers all over the world”.
Rhubarb Republik was formed on April 1st, 2011. The agency focuses on relationships that are personal and honest.
Brands represented include:
Do you work in a specific geographic territory?
We work in all corners of the world. We represent some brands on a wide scale and some other brands on smaller markets in certain areas. We have on a yearly basis of over 500 retail partners in over 50 countries.
How did you become an agent?
It was a business idea that was not focused on kid’s fashion. It simply kind of happened and since the start we have been lucky enough to work with amazing people, brands and retailers all over the world.
What do you enjoy about being an Agent?
The relationships you develop throughout time. This is a very enjoyable factor to meet people at fairs that are from all over the world, and some you have been speaking to through e-mails for months, or even years and then you finally meet them. Always nice and enjoyable.
What is it that attracts you to a brand?
Uniqueness and freshness. If the people behind the brands are as interesting and nice to work with you know you are on to something that can be built on.
How do you approach the curation of the brands you represent – do you focus on a specific look/style or seek out complementary aesthetics to offer your buyer a complete option?
It varies. As stated before, this depends on the freshness and uniqueness of the brand and the people representing the brand.We try to seek brands that give us diversity yet still within reason. They need to fit into the conceptual concept we are aiming for.
Do you have to reject brands despite liking them, because they are not a good fit with your existing portfolio?
Yes too often actually. We are being approached by new brands on daily basis and as we are fully booked and in full capacity we need to remain focused on those who are on your team already, and the ones you have built a relationship with. The brands we sign up, need to perform within our platform within a 6 month period. If they do, we build on that, if not we move forward and try new things. It is not beneficial for them or us to keep moving on just for the sake of it, we need to find new ways.
When is a brand ready for an agent?
When the credentials are there. If you fill in the blanks and have a good brand with a good story (brand presence) a brand is good to go. This refers to not only the designs, but marketing, production and overall concept needs to be in place to take the next steps.
What creates a good relationship between an agent and brand?
Honesty. Sometimes you know a brand is good but the retailers (buyers) want to see the brand survive for few seasons and then they take action. For a shop taking on a new brand is an investment. The shop needs to know that the credentials are there to build their presence in their product portfolio. Once a brand establishes a good presence in a given market it can grow pretty fast. If the relationship is honest and mutual benefits are guarded, you can build a relationship that lasts.
How do agents balance their loyalty between the brands they represent and their customers? How involved do you get when orders don’t go as planned?
First of all an agent is working for a brand. This needs to be clear. All in all the balance is all built on a relationship with a store or a brand. You can not approach a store with a brand that has no credibility as you are also building a relationship with the buyer (shop). So if you are honest and have a relationship that is true to both the brand and buyers then you are capable of building the bridge for the future. On a daily basis you have to break the news, good or bad to either side to build a healthy relationship.
What are the pitfalls to avoid for agents/ brands looking to work together?
Start with big ideas, but small short terms goals. Build it with time and foreseeable outcome. Things can happen over night, but that is not realistic. Building a brand takes time. I have worked with several brands over the years and some take off within the first season. Then they drop. Some take off after few seasons and then grow slowly with time.
Does an agent’s job extend further than driving sales?
In some cases yes. Different markets have different needs so in some cases this has additional monitoring as well.
How involved do you get in providing qualitative feedback to brands from the market to help them develop stronger collections. How do you see your role here?
We try to bring in the overall experience by a given retailer if they have something to say or criticise. If something is off, we try to approach this with the brand in question and so on.
Can you describe the relationship you have with your buyers?
As we have so many accounts they all feel different. Some of them we speak to few times a day. Some on only during the buying period and some we meet for dinner or drinks around the fairs. As stated we have had few buyers for a long time and we have a very personal relationship with some of them. I have even met a few in my hometown in Reykjavik, who are visiting Iceland and we go out for dinner and drinks.
Finally what piece of advice would you give to a young label looking for an agent?
Be true to what you stand for and be patient.
Thank you Birgir!