“I think one of the best decisions of my life was to start a brand”, says Anton Janssens, one of the masterminds behind Komono. Together with Raf Maes, they embarked on a journey – which Anton describes as “a fantastic adventure” – full of passion, perseverance, creativity and constant growth and learning. And lots of hard work, of course. “At the end of the day, if we’re here today it’s because of all the blood, sweat and tears”, he says. Taking Komono’s 10th anniversary as an excuse, we took the opportunity to pay a visit to Janssens in Antwerp (Belgium) to reflect on the brand’s trajectory and what’s coming up in the future.
Based in Antwerp, which has the second biggest harbour in Europe, Komono lives according to the city’s best values: endless creativity, constant international exchange and exposure, and avant-garde and pioneering ideas. “I believe in growth and learning”, says the brand’s co-founder. “You go with a lot of energy and, of course, you make mistakes. But you learn from them and also succeed”, he continues. “Everything is part of life and everything is part of growing, and that’s the Komono company culture that I have built. It’s a culture of going off the beaten track doing things differently. I push my team to think outside the box.”
With shops around the world in cities like Amsterdam, Tokyo or Barcelona (and Antwerp, naturally), there is no doubt that this disruptive way of thinking is rewarding. “As a relatively small company in a world of multinationals, I think our strengths are our unique identity and our team, everybody who’s pushing themselves on an individual level”, Anton says. But it’s also thanks to his vision and courage to push it forward that Komono is such a respected brand. “I’m always thinking on what’s next and I don’t hold much onto the part. In that sense, today it’s still like the first day”, he affirms happily.
But it’s been ten years since Anton and Raf were simply friends enjoying some days in the snow doing what they loved the most back then: snowboarding. After an exciting, almost naive (and a bit drunk) conversation about their future and founding a project together, they haven’t stopped working for a more creative present and future. And in a moment of reflection – “I don’t do that very much, I’m always thinking about the future”, Anton confesses –, we ask the co-founder to go through Komono’s history and highlight some of its most remarkable moments.

Komono’s birth
Naturally, the first moment we could think of is the brand’s birth. Founded in 2009, Komono was born after many happy accidents happened. “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”, he told us when we first interviewed him. “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.” The rest is history.
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Print series
“Our first big global success came when we introduced print straps to the watch world”, explains Anton. Even though they’ve now reached a balance between the eyewear and the watches, “the hype or the success was directly linked to the watches” in the first place. From leopard to paisley, to camo, floral and more abstract prints, Komono has presented throughout the years a compelling collection of prints that turn watches into walking pieces of art as part of their Print series, which started in 2012.
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Curated series in collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat
Expanding on the idea of the print straps, in 2013 they walked the extra mile and collaborated with the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. “There, we really changed the idea of watches”, Anton says. “We reproduced the artworks and every strap was unique.” Using Basquiat pieces like Philistines (1982), Museum Security (1983), Tenor (1985) or Pegasus (1987), the collaboration was a global success and, according to Janssens, “one key moment”.
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Black Cognac release
In 2014, after exploring the wild, artistic and creative side of watches, Komono released its Black Cognac model. Elegant, simple and versatile, it worked really well from day one and has now become one of the best-sellers of the Belgian brand. “A lot of people are attracted to the wilder stuff, but at the end of the day, many go for something safer. So us, as a brand, have to look for that balance”, Janssens explains. “Of course, if you ask me, my preferred side is the wild side”, he laughs. “But today, I have sixty people working for me and I have to make sure that we are a healthy company.”
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Curated series in collaboration with René Magritte
After the success of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s collaboration, Komono kept working with artists and their states. In 2016, it was René Magritte’s turn, one of the most renowned Belgian artists, with whom the brand shares ‘the Surrealist humour’. According to Anton, “Belgians sometimes have a surreal sense of humour, it’s what we’re surrounded with. To try and capture that and translate it into the product felt very natural”, he confesses.
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Opening of Komono’s flagship store in Antwerp
“When I was looking at the retailers that we worked with, I noticed that they were expressing only a small side of the Komono universe, so I felt that we needed a space where everything came together”, says Anton. That’s why in April of 2017, the first Komono store opened in Antwerp, its birthplace. “We can’t be dependent on the choice of a retailer”, he says. After that, he noticed how clients and press understood better the brand’s identity, philosophy and vision. “To be able to go and really tell them who you are, that has an impact. Ultimately, it’s about connection. People buy a product but they also buy a connection to a brand I think. And, of course, in opening a store, we felt that people were coming and were interested in what Komono stands for and what we have.”
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International expansion
Naturally, after Antwerp’s shop, others followed: Amsterdam, Tokyo, Barcelona… You name it. “I can’t expect people to come to Belgium to see the store, so we have to go to the people!”, Anton laughs. “Basically, the first step is to open stores where fashion is created, where this creative energy lives. So cities like Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, etc. is where we need to connect with people. And we can still grow, we still have so much to learn.
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Collaboration with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp
Earlier this year, as we told you about, one of Komono’s most important collaborations to date was revealed: four graduate students from the renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp – Grace Hyejin Kim, Quinten Mestdagh, Linus Leonardsson and Nick Haemels – showed their take on sunglasses design. The result? Contemporary, innovative, progressive. “What I always said, from day one, Komono was about”, Janssens says proudly. “It’s exactly our DNA. For me, it’s probably the best thing we’ve ever done”, he says happily. And they caused quite an impact: for example, we saw them grace the runway of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia when Linus Leonardsson presented his collection.
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Nick Haemels
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Linus Leonardsson
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Quinten Mestdagh
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Grace Hyejin Kim
10th-anniversary collaboration with Mirko Borsche
To celebrate the brand’s tenth anniversary, they paired with Mirko Borsche, one of the world’s most renowned agencies with whom they share “a sense of modernity and vision on contemporary design”. To reflect on the past but always looking into the future, they decided to work with the iconic print watch straps and give them a new twist. “I hate to repeat myself”, says Anton. “So it was like, how do we translate or transform this history of print into something that is very contemporary?” After Mirko Borsche’s intervention, the result was more than satisfactory. “In a way, it’s the five best prints modernized and even taken further”.
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The one to come… 
What a better moment than the one that’s still to come? Following Anton’s and Komono’s philosophy, we conclude this review with something that hasn’t happened yet. But the future looks bright and exciting for the Belgian brand as they’re launching, for example, new products, like accessories (cords for eyewear, for example) or goggles for skiing. “We’re kind of going into fashion sports – I was a professional snowboarder before, so for the ten years, we thought of connecting my history and that of my founding partner to what we do now”, Anton says. To finish, he thinks about the future as he’s always done: courageously and excitedly. “As you know, fashion never stops; every six months, it’s a blank page again. It’s a lot of pressure but it’s a lot of fun. If we can do that well, then I’m a happy man.”
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