As a growing fashion label, how do you ensure that you can continue to invest in the right places and keep a focus on creativity? With a smart vision of your back-end systems and a streamlined process, we learn after a look behind the scenes at Fabienne Chapot. Fabienne celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2021 and is experiencing enormous growth, averaging 40% per year. How do they handle that? In short: Being sharp and simple, so that investments can be made in the sides of the company that really add value for customers and consumers. A great mission for Jorrit Weekenborg, CFO/COO at Fabienne Chapot. We spoke to Weekenborg (33) on a sunny afternoon in the beautiful building on the Herengracht, between the colorful new collection. About Fabienne Chapot’s growth path and making the right choices. About investing and maintaining balance. And especially about simplicity in a complex fashion world.
From corporate career to daring to trust your intuition
Weekenborg started his career in the fashion world six years ago, when Fabienne Chapot was still
called Fab. and only made bags, purses and shoes. After studying Business Administration and
starting at Unilever, he looked for a job where he could make real decisions that matter. Exactly at
the moment that Fabienne took the step to start her own clothing brand and set up a large
professional organization. Weekenborg was in the first wave of new hires when Fabienne launched
her first collection, SS17. A nice combination of intuition, luck and daring to make the right choices,
because it was not necessarily a logical step. From the corporate job at Unilever to a start-up
clothing brand in Amsterdam.
Weekenborg: “I really saw the potential; in Fabienne as an entrepreneur, in the brand, in the ideas
and in the people she had already gathered around her. In retrospect a very good choice. Now we’re
starting to have some success, so it seems kind of a logical path, but it wasn’t then.”
It soon became clear that Weekenborg could immediately make the impact he was looking for with
Fabienne Chapot. In the early days there were very few systems. “It is very special to have a clear
vision on all processes and systems at the age of 27. Where do you actually want to go? Over time, of
course, that vision will become increasingly clear.” Again, intuition plays a major role here. Although
you might not immediately have a vision, you already make certain choices based on feeling.
Lightning-fast migration to smarter processes with Itsperfect
One of the first decisions Weekenborg made in 2018 was the choice for a new ERP solution. For this
he is still grateful to his colleague Michel Strooij, operations manager.
“Michel gets all the credit for suggesting Itsperfect. A good find. We signed very quickly because I was so sure. The pace is sometimes so high.”
With a ‘We’re gonna do this’ mentality, Strooij and Weekenborg, together with the Itsperfect team,
ensure a lightning-fast migration within three months. In doing so, even the outstanding orders were
migrated. A huge professionalization step. “When we started implementing Itsperfect, we changed
quite a few processes to the Itsperfect model, because it triggered us. We found that how they came
up with it was actually smarter than we did. A good ERP system also instills discipline.”
Choosing Itsperfect for all back-end processes lays the foundation for Weekenborg’s vision for
managing a fashion company.
“The funny thing is that Itsperfect has contributed quite a bit to my vision for the backend of a
company. It’s been a bit iterative. Itsperfect has implemented the best and most logical way to run a
fashion operation. So I am a satisfied user.”
Keep it simple where possible
Weekenborg can confirm like no other that the fashion industry is extremely complex. “You have an
incredibly beautiful and large collection. With a lot of different fabrics, colours, designs, prints,
incredibly complex. And three sales channels: E-commerce, own retail and wholesale. Thousands of
consumers and a thousand plus retailers. So there is already a lot of complexity in the system. You
have 250 pieces in your collection, times as many sizes, times two collections per year, times 5
Weekenborg therefore has a clear strategy: “Keep it simple where possible. For me it means that you
have to think very carefully about what kind of systems you buy, because you can go crazy.”
Invest where the difference is made
Weekenborg is now implementing the ‘keeping it simple’ principle in many more aspects of business
operations. For example, on the wholesale side, a conscious choice was made for a limited number
of customer types. And where many clothing brands work with intermediate collections, Fabienne
Chapot opts for two order seasons, with five chapters in the winter and five in the summer.
Weekenborg: “I want Itsperfect to do the work, automatically. It just has to fly all the way through,
with no one touching it. We add value for customers on the design and development side to make
the collection. And on the sales and marketing side by helping the customer to select the right items.
The rest should flow blindly through the system. And then of course you have people who keep an
eye on the system, but you have to be very careful with that, otherwise you will quickly find yourself
with ten people in the back office. That is money that you cannot invest in your collection and on
your customer or consumer. And that is where the difference is made.”
The magic touch
Of course, working with so many creative people comes with challenges. But Weekenborg has also
found its way into this. “It is important to move along at the right times, and to explain well why we
do things a certain way. But especially by embracing complexity where it is in the company’s interest.
And to rely on expertise. We have guidelines and common goals, but no rules. Of course you
sometimes have in-depth sessions, for example about margins, which is now an important topic due
to inflation. Then we dive into that together. To see how we can influence this, without losing the
‘magic touch’. But I try not to infringe on the really creative parts.”
The same goes for the customer perspective. “At the moment there are fashion companies where
really skilled fashion account managers are being exchanged for more business analysts. Because it
would all be about resale and numbers and data. But I just don’t believe that. I think that many
retailers, but also consumers in our stores, want to be helped by someone who breathes and
radiates the brand, who knows the collection very well. You build up so much credit when
you are really working with your customer. This is a very complex process and you should not skimp
on it. And that space is also there, because of the choices we have made. Precisely because we can
say: Listen, the commercial agreements that exist, how our order flow works, has all been recorded.”
It sounds like a pretty well thought out strategy that brings a lot of balance to the brand, even in the tumultuous past two years. Between 2016 and now, sales have increased tenfold, to more than 30
million this year, and from eight employees to a team of 100 colleagues. With the ambition to grow
and become a global brand. A great challenge for Fabienne Chapot’s team.
Weekenborg concludes: “Because all processes are standardized and integrated, I can focus
qualitatively on the places that matter. And I think that for me as a CFO is also key in this industry.
That you really have to understand that, where that value is added. For us, but especially for our
consumers and customers.”