Can you introduce us to Nikben and what you do as a brand?
Nicklas Abrahamssons: So we are Nicklas and Benjamin, which we abbreviated into Nikben. We launched roughly six years ago now, in 2014. We started off making men’s swimwear. The idea arose when we both identified that the offering on the market at the time was very traditional and predictable. Men’s swimwear was either covered in cute, small flower patterns or was plain. We wondered why nobody was going a bit more expressive with prints – why they weren’t putting eggs or sushi on there. Because when it comes to swim, it’s probably the only apparel where men dare to express themselves a bit more.
We launched just when Instagram started to pick up and were able to get good momentum and exposure there – reaching out to markets and influencers all over the world. I think it’s because what we did was unique at the time. From there, we started to grow into new product categories. After the first two or three years we started doing a bit of terry clothing, then matching sets of resort shirts and pants and now we’re doing streetwear as well. We’ve just launched a women’s swimsuit collection because what we noticed that we have a lot of women customers who wear our T-shirts, shirts, sets and pants so our next step was to go more unisex. We don’t want to label ourselves as a men’s or women’s brand, we’re for everyone.
How did the two of you meet?
NA: We met back in 2007 in Marbella through a mutual friend of ours. They had started up a restaurant there and Ben designed the interior. I was working in finance and after six years I got a bit fed up. I was keen to start my own business but wasn’t really sure what to do. Then that’s when the idea for Nikben came up and I thought of Benjamin as someone who could cover for my weaknesses. I had a pretty solid idea of the concept, but I needed someone to do the soft values, branding and all the design. The funny thing is that when I met Benjamin and told him about the swimwear idea, it turned out that he had a similar idea just a few years before, so we got started straight away.
Ben, you studied at Central Saint Martins, is that right?
Benjamin Lega: Yes, I studied graphic design. I was always kind of into fashion so I did a few courses at the King’s Cross St Martins at that time too. I create pretty much all the Nikben prints myself.
Can you tell me about the recycled materials you’re using in your collections as well?
BL: For the for the past 12 to 14 months we’ve been using fabric made out of recycled plastic bottles in the swim trunks. It’s from an American company that collects plastic waste from the oceans, make it into small pellets and then make it into micro polyester. And then we also use another company, who follows the same technique for our new women’s swimsuit collection. We try to do everything we can in a recycled way – from our labels to even the threads that we use, to the materials. We’re trying to reduce as much plastic as we can in everything we do from now on.
Can you introduce us to a few of your favourite Nikben styles?
NA: I would say the Paradisium set really appeals to me. And then all the terry sets, I like to be a bit more conservative in my style and they are a little less flamboyant and work for every occasion.
BL: We have a shirt, pair of trunks and a T-shirt called “I was in the pool”. I think we are now a resort and streetwear brand and there aren’t many who can play in both teams. When we created that pattern, I really felt that it was a perfect match between a resort style and streetwear style. It works really well just trunks, as a set and on a T-shirt too. Plus it’s based on a Seinfield joke and I’m a huge fan of the show.
Who is the Nikben customer?
NA: I would say someone who is 25 to 40 and loves travel, food and drink and wants to find their own style and not follow mainstream trends – Nikben appeals to those people are looking for change, for something new. At the same time, we have 60 year olds buying our terry clothing because they’re very classic garments.
What are your ambitions for the future of Nikben?
BL: I would say that we want to be better in our environmental point of view. It would be great to be top of people’s minds when you talk about the sustainability in our category. I think we’re working towards that goal every day or in everything we do. Also to be known as a fantastic streetwear and resort label and try to conquer that category – even though it doesn’t really exist.
NA: I would say just add to that, to grow in the women’s market as well. Today even though we label ourselves as a unisex brand, we’re known mostly as a men’s brand. We’d like to change that in the next five years. At the moment we’re a big player in Scandinavia, especially Sweden and we’d like to find one or two markets where we can have a similar market share moving forward as well. We’re looking at the UK and obviously the US, it would be a dream to gain a substantial market share there as well. But it’s tricky because things are really changing in the retail environment today, going towards more direct to consumer and online business. I think in a few years, the majority of our sales will be probably through our own sales channels, as opposed to physical retailers around the world.
How has Covid-19 affected Nikben?
NA: It has been very good and very bad for us at the same time. In terms of the physical retail environment and B2B business it has been catastrophic, especially as lockdown came in March when all our deliveries were going out for spring and summer. The majority of our orders were cancelled and that was a nightmare, of course. Next year we’re expecting maybe 30-50 per cent of our retailers to not be around, so it’s been very, very bad. On a positive note, however, online sales nearly doubled from May and June from last year, so that’s been amazing.
Our target consumer normally travels, or goes to nightclubs and restaurants and now they’re spending more time working from home, sitting by their laptop and shopping instead of going out. So that’s been good for us. And we’ve leveraged social media successfully to market ourselves during this time in a cost effective way. There have been pros and cons.
Who are your style icons?
BL: When we start to design new collections we look a lot into to the archives of 60s/70s beachwear and what was popular at the time. It is difficult to pick one person but it’s easier to take an era of the European Riviera during the 60s and 70s, for example: Lake Como, the Italian Riviera, old play boys. The SS21 collection also has a bit of a Western touch to it so I’ve been watching old movies. And the styles, cuts and colours of Mick Jagger and the early Rolling Stones.
Is it unusual to be a swimwear and resortwear brand from Sweden?
BL: A lot people when we when we started off were like: you are Swedish? Do you even have sun in Sweden? But Swedish people are very well known as being travellers. When you travel around the world, you hear Swedish people everywhere. Swedish people live in a very grey climate with a lot of rain. They dream of the sun so every time they get the opportunity to travel, they do. I guess we are selling a dream to the Swedes of sun, beaches, the sea, palm trees, and it worked.