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“If I lived in Barcelona, I would never work”, Anton Janssens exclaims as he enters the fashionable room that was reserved for our interview; “all I would want to do is be outside in the sun”, he concludes. His rebellious and carefree attitude fit seamlessly with the identity of his brand, Komono, which aims to bring accessible luxury eyewear and watches to the world. With the opening of their store in Barcelona, in addition to several others in Europe and one in Tokyo, the brand is certainly well on its way. In a no-nonsense manner, Anton Janssens enthusiastically tells us everything about Komono’s early days, the importance of keeping an open eye and the irrelevance of the Internet.
Before starting Komono, you owned your own fashion distribution centre, why did you make the step from distribution to founding and designing your own brand?
Like with many life-changing decisions, there were multiple reasons. Firstly, I noticed that my way of approaching the brands I worked with was different from other distributors. I was always questioning the brands, trying to go further than just distributing. I got the feedback that I was not a normal sales guy and brands started to fly me into their board or strategy meetings. Of course, I was very flattered at first, but after a while, it got me thinking: “why am I doing this for all these people when I could be doing it for myself?”
Then, of course, the moment had to be just right. The idea of accessible luxury was just introduced into the fashion industry, but only in terms of clothing brands. There were no accessory brands doing it and I saw a gap in the market there. Lastly, I have a passion for watches and eyewear, so altogether led to Komono.
You founded Komono together with Raf Maes, how did your collaboration start and how has it evolved from there?
Maes is a good friend whom I met long before my fashion days. Back then we were both professional snowboarders. One day, we were seated next to each other on a flight and, voila! We directly bonded. At one point, I started my fashion distribution company and we both went our separate ways until, at some point, I was playing with the idea of starting a brand. The two of us got together and had a (rather drunken) night after which we said: “let’s do this!” The next day, we were on a flight to China. We had no idea what we were doing but figured that if it all failed, at least we would have a fantastic story to tell. Nine years later, here we are.

Komono is Japanese for “small article”. Could you further elaborate on this name, and the choice of Japanese as language?
Actually, the name was quite a discussion point. I didn’t want to use a Japanese word, as it has nothing to do with who we are. We are a Belgian brand deeply rooted in Antwerp. Ultimately, we set on Komono for aesthetic reasons: the first two O’s represent the glasses whereas the last O represents the frame of a watch.
Being so deeply rooted in Antwerp, do you feel like the city inspires or even dictates your design?
Absolutely! Antwerp is very orientated towards fashion; just think of the Academy or the Antwerp Six. On the other hand, the city is so small that the fashion scene is very accessible unlike other cities such as New York or London, where everybody hangs out in their own circles. In Antwerp, everybody mingles together, and this aspect really inspired the identity of Komono.
Speaking of the Academy, did you study fashion or anything related?
Not at all, I’m an industrial engineer according to my diploma. So creating a fashion brand and especially designing the products has really been a self-discovery.

If Komono was a person, what would he or she be like? 
They would be positive, energetic and driven. And passionate, maybe? These are cliché words but, ultimately, they form the key to any new brand, whether it’s fashion or anything else. I don’t care if they are male or female, but I do care about it being young – possess a mental youth rather than a physical one. Lastly, I think they should be open-minded and rebellious. Komono is a very personal brand so I think these words also describe me a little.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Contemporary – that covers it basically. I want to keep our design aesthetic as rule-free as possible so we can remain contemporary and innovative, letting go of the past and pushing things forward. For example, some people say our style is minimalist, but I disagree because it is only a small aspect of Komono. If we want to go for a bombastic style next season, we are free to do that.
You mention a desire to keep up with the current trends and the zeitgeist, whilst you simultaneously aim to design timeless pieces. Is it a challenge to balance the two?
It’s all about balance, and yes, that often poses a challenge. I think that’s where my engineering and business background comes to use. Sometimes, we design riskier pieces simply because they fit our brand’s DNA, so we don’t care much if they sell. But we have to think more strategically as we are getting bigger and more and more people rely on us. In the beginning, it was just my partner and me but now we have about sixty employees to think about, not to mention quite a few retailers that also depend on us.

Is there any difference between the design of your glasses and the one of your watches?
It has grown into a different approach after we learned that the watch world is more conservative than that of sunglasses – or fashion in general. The people who were buying our watches were more rooted in the fashion world because the watch world is far more conservative and poses more rules to follow. When it comes to sunglasses, you are basically free to design whatever you want and there will be an audience for it somewhere. But we also notice that this gap is becoming smaller as time passes and people are embracing more innovative accessories.
You are quite a global brand, is it hard to cater to all these different markets whilst maintaining your own brand identity?
It is not that much of a challenge because we really stick to our brand identity. We serve our audience Komono and they either like it or not. Of course, there are aspects we have to keep in mind, like the differences between faces of different ethnicities. By that I mean, for example, that an African face has a different structure than an Asian face. Another adjustment I notice is that we are slowly moving away from the Belgium idea of ‘let’s not go too crazy’. The style here in Antwerp is quite sober and when designing a daring frame, people here would be the first to say: “that’s insane, we are not buying that”, whereas people in China might find it the most normal, almost toned down idea. In a way, becoming more global has motivated us to stand our ground, believe in our own style and not change for anyone. So far, the results have been good! (Knocks on wood).
One of the main objectives of Komono is to create high-quality products for a good price. How do you make this possible? What are some of your design or production secrets?
In a way, that is more the secret of our competitors. In my opinion, we just try to make things fair. Many businesses around us are driven by huge margins – fake margins. We work with the same factories as they do to ensure the quality is not compromised. The only thing that differentiates these companies from us (other than the price) is their marketing approach. Think huge global campaigns featuring Hollywood stars that are pasted on billboards everywhere. Here, we are a bit more limited. In order to maintain our accessibility, we will often have to cut a huge advertising budget. But ultimately, it was not a challenge to create a low price point because, honestly, there is a fake idea of price.

Let’s talk about your campaigns. You have done a few guerrilla ones, most recently to promote the Marine collection. Could you tell us a little more about this campaign in particular?
We noticed that if people got to know Komono, they would often fall in love with the brand. From this starting point, we thought it was relevant to create a more all-encompassing and global campaign. We wanted to reach people out not only online or through posters on the side of the road, but also on a more physical level. That’s why we had models located at busy landmarks of major cities. The feedback we got was very good, a lot of people mentioned they liked and even related to it.
Do you notice a different response to the more personal and local part of your campaign, opposed to a more global part?
The good thing about a local campaign is that you can collect direct feedback, people connect more to it. I believe that the Internet has lost its soul a bit, it got corrupted to an extent where people have started to ask money for anything. In addition, online campaigns have also lost a large part of their credibility. People are less trusting towards an influencer who is wearing a different brand every day compared to what they see on the streets.
Where do you hope to see Komono in five years?
I am very happy with who we are, so I wouldn’t want to change anything there. Of course, we are always trying to grow, trying to get in contact with more people and letting them know what we are about. I really hope to do more collaborations and projects to become more involved with the fashion luxury aspect of Komono, to focus more on it.

Marjolijn Oostermeijer
Viridiana Morandini

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