Meet the fashion brand ISNURH created by two cellar people from Kolding who dream big and honestly, learn from their mistakes and battles and doesn’t take no for an answer. Two cellar people and a brand, who wants to shine.
Underground darkness is exclusively struck by a bombastic white neon sign, at the end of a tunnel under a fashionable address in the inner heart of Copenhagen. Overground, the marble tiles are placed straight in the magnificent, sunbathing backyard at Silkegade, where companies like Apple and others, in the same class, houses the part of the cadaster that has windows. But not ISNURH.
-It is an amazing location, right?
The obvious rhetorical question is formulated by the same black-dressed man, who a few seconds earlier, opened the double glass doors to the previously mentioned backyard. He opens a door to the right of the glass doors, leads down a staircase, then one more, to finally push the door up to the darkened corridor with the neon sign at the bottom.
-Welcome to the cellar. Actually it´s not even the cellar -but “the tunnel”.
What is it with that name?
The handshake is just right. Not like the uncle, you have not seen in a long time, shake your hand at the family celebration, where he feels urge to emphasize the hierarchy. It’s comfortable, but firm. Despite the slightly ambivalent feeling of voluntarily to walk in the dark below street level, the hospitality and the relaxed atmosphere are not to be missed. The holder of both handshake and the tunnel is Kasper Juhl Todbjerg. One part of the young fashion brand ISNURH, who also counts partner Oliver Sand Abrenica. Oliver became a father just before the interview, and often holds a real baby in his arm, instead of their common “baby” -the brands upcoming collection, but that is very understandable, Kasper Juhl Todbjerg says.
“We started ISNURH as friends and we will continue to be. Having said that, there is no doubt that it is hard work, he explains. We might as well get the name sorted out right away. ISNURH means absolutely nothing. It is a hardly a word, he says, and explains that ISNURH is an expression the two entrepreneurs used about each other during their childhood in the Kolding-area.
“The name should not be anything like OLIKAS or CASHOLI as a contraction of our names. So, it became ISNURH. It does not mean anything. But while ISNURH as a word has no meaning, it soon becomes clear that it still means a lot.
KJT had to die when ISNURH was born
Even though Kasper Juhl Todbjerg has started a fashion brand before, the youth still shows in the faces of the young men behind ISNURH. Kasper started his own fashion brand KJT for a handful of years ago but buried the brand before it became fully grown. It was also with KJT, he participated in the Nordic Buzz project at Lifestyle & Design Cluster, only KJT became ISNURH.
I got a lot of useful advices by joining Nordic Buzz, but as with many companies in this industry, creating a formula for creativity can be difficult. My way has also crossed contacts that can be useful later on, says Kasper Juhl Todbjerg, and explains how he proceeded from KJT to ISNURH.
“Like most other entrepreneurs in the fashion industry, I needed money. I got in touch with an investor who saw a huge potential in KJT. It was amazing for someone like me who had built it from the bottom, he explains.
The investor offered Kasper Juhl Todbjerg to put a lot of money in the company, so it could grow. But he also demanded something in return. “Of course, he would like a part of the ownership, which was just fine. Until I read the contract with a lawyer”. It soon became clear that Kasper Juhl Todbjerg and his girlfriend did not have to continue the hunt for the dream house in Los Angeles, where the investor otherwise planned to move them. He had even made a bag of money available for the house purchase.
The problem was simply that the offer from the investor did not reflect the verbal agreement that existed between Kasper Juhl Todbjerg and the potential investor.
– He had added small passages here and there. These small changes meant that after a few years I would be out of my own company, if he had to invest money in the company. Which he obviously had to, if we were to grow. In fact, he tried to buy KJT under me, says one part of the ISNURH duo.
It became a no, to the investor, which also allowed Kasper Juhl Todbjerg to consider things one more time. He would like to continue working with fashion, but he would like to have a partner -and not anyone.
The crash paved the way for the breakthrough
It all started well with the KJT brand. Kasper Juhl Todbjerg got the staff at the nightclub “Sunday” in inner Copenhagen dressed in clothes from his own brand and also held two parties at the nightclub, where he was a bartender at that time. “Sunday” was the it-place at that time. So obviously it got a lot of attention when both picker, doorman and bartender were dressed in KJT. From this moment it already started to go well, but I was young and naive. Then the failed investment came, and I decided, that I would not do it alone anymore. I cannot sew, so Oliver was the obvious mate, as his skills in craftsmanship are very good, and it is nice to work with my childhood friend, who I share many memories with. The role distribution in ISNURH is fluent, because the two always make the decisions together anyway.
-It is busy. As an entrepreneur, you never only have one role. Even though that would be nice, he laughs. Now the two young men have much to do. Because even though the agreement with the investor fell through, it brought good things.
“The irony of faith would be that another investor would show interest, when ISNURH was established. Of course, I had been very close to get my fingers burned, but this time it was a completely legitimate investor. Long story short, we started ISNURH, and after a while he showed up. The fashion industry is often perceived as a glamorous place to be. It may be that, Kasper Juhl Todbjerg admits, but it is not something he currently feels, now that most of his waking hours are used underground in the inner city. Fortunately, it is worth it.
“We have now stores in both Jutland and Copenhagen, and the next step will be quite natural to create more stores,” he says, adding that their first collection sells well:
After six days Kul & Koks in Kolding had sold for all three shops. Several styles are already sold out at our newly opened webshop. We do not complain, but this is only the first step. There are always options to be pursued, a new collection that must be designed, manufactured, sold, from the front. It is hard work when I work part-time, Oliver is full time next to it” Kasper Juhl Todbjerg says.
Money generates money – and honesty generates good relationships
It does not feel like Kasper Juhl Todbjerg keeps any cards closer to the body than necessary. Everything is immediately honest, which he himself attributes to a pragmatic approach to being a designer.
Neither Oliver or I have the great, impressive design career or anything like that behind us. We just like to make clothes. With all modesty, we also think that we are good at it. There are no secrets here. We want to be as transparent as possible. We believe that this is the best way to do business.
The above is the reason why Kasper Juhl Todbjerg and partner Oliver Abrenica do not accept a no. Refusal and challenges motivates them. As many others, they had a challenge about their cashflow dump, which is the “midterm” from which a collection is designed, produced and sold, until it hangs out in the stores. Often, there are six months, why a considerable amount of money is out there.
– When we first contacted the bank for a credit to meet the big cashflow dump, they hesitated. However, we had a meeting with a bank advisor who could see something in us. The bank could not lend us any money before we could show a positive financial accounting, which you as an entrepreneur rarely can do in the first few years. But half a year later, we contacted the bank again. We sent all documentation and, as always, were completely sincere, and she said yes to one more meeting, which we have in June, Kasper Juhl Todbjerg tells.
To him, the story is not only a success story he likes to share. It also represents how he and the partner insist on running their own company.
-We are not a big company yet, but every sale is a victory.
Good merchandise on the social media
A skilled photographer, and good clothes is a poisonous cocktail in a world where an Instagram account with delicious material can bring you a long way. Something they quickly discovered at ISNURH.
– We gradually know people in the industry a bit. Not much, but a little. Therefore, we are also very aware that we will only grow organically. No bought followers or likes. Everyone can get so much attention, but we would rather have loyal customers returning again and again.
Loyalty is gradually under construction. The consequences come slowly, as you can see ISNURH´s cloth be worn more and more in the nightlife.
“It is clear that our Instagram account has a lot of traffic on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Then people must show their friends what they think is cool in the fashion world at the moment. If it is us, it is only a good thing. We also like people who are tagging us. It’s nice to see people in our clothes. It’s a crazy feeling. A kick. So of course, we interact with our customers on social medias, he explains.
The social media have brought Kasper Juhl Todberg some of the way. However, quite paradoxically, it was a good old-fashioned letter on nice and thick paper and preprinted envelopes with the brand name and black signature color, that ensured them a visit. During the summer’s fashion week, the stand had unannounced visits by the American department store Bergdorf Goodman’s purchasing manager, who the brand had sent a letter. A purchasing manager from hypede Mr. Porter made his way past the Danish boys as well.
-It makes you proud. We are talking about the super league. If we one day come in with them … well, Kasper Juhl Todbjerg says, and leans back in the office chair in the basement room.
Then I believe, I am close to saying “we did it!”.
The next steps and the artistic integrity
Currently, ISNURH sells a black t-shirt with the brand’s own name on the back, printed on bordeaux red velvet with raw, frayed edges. obviously in black. Although the brand’s signature color has gradually become black, they are not afraid to go out of their own “comfort zone”.
-The idea of the black t-shirt with our logo came because we had the bordeaux red velvet in stock. It was left overs we did not know where to use. We made a t-shirt and added our name on the bag. Now I do not even have one in stock, I can show you, smiles Kasper Juhl Todbjerg.
The t-shirt in black, the brand’s signature color is a bestseller. So why should it not sell in other colors as well?
“We will test whether it actually does. We will launch it in other colors for the summer. Of course, you must stay true to your style but do not turn the blind eye into good business. We always think “will it sell”? If it does, we will do it again. We must maintain the artistic integrity, but never ignore the wishes from our customers, he says.
-We are in an area that houses many heritage brands. Louis Vuitton, Chanel and so on. There is money in this area. That’s why we have also taken care of our bags, so people notice them in the street scene. We believe it might be something, says Kasper Juhl Todbjerg, and continues:
-Now we are working to increase the level of knowledge. It is going very well, so we let people pre order. That way, we also minimize our cashflow dump. People are very welcome here in the tunnel, where we like to showcase and talk to people. It must be real and present, “says Kasper Juhl Todbjerg, adding:
“It is hard work, but it is also really cool. Of course, we miss events with family, friends and our girlfriends. One day we can look back and say that we succeeded with ISNURH, and those we are failing now, will understand everything. We are absolutely sure.
ISNURH was founded a dark December day in 2016 and counts 27-year-old Kasper Juhl Todbjerg and 26-year-old Oliver Abrenica. The two are equal partners in the company. The company originates from Kasper Juhl Todbjerg’s own clothing brand KJT, which he participated in the Lifestyle & Design Cluster’s Nordic Buzz project in 2016, focusing on entrepreneurs in the lifestyle industries. Kasper is an E-designer, while the partner Oliver is a tailor.