Where the old handwritten cash books at the entrance are reminiscent of times long gone, Donders 1860 has now grown into a major European player in leather jackets and Outerwear fashion jackets. Which are marketed both under their own name and private label for very well-known brands
We talked to Bart Donders (managing director), Bas Bouwman (commercial director) and Myron Gardien (financial manager) about their history, Dutch craftsmanship, sustainable production, innovative software, data and ambitions.
A nice piece of history
Bart Donders (58), general manager and the 5th generation of the family business, immediately upon entering takes us through a nice piece of the company’s history. Where, next to the old newspaper article of April 12, 1860 about the foundation of Donders, the family portrait and the first handwritten receipt, the super modern warehouse is visible.
“We started as a cloth trade to bring fabrics to tailors who made suits and jackets. With its own shop in the center of Arnhem. After the cloth trade we went to manufacturing, first in Venray and later in Geleen. Around 1964 we were one of the first companies to go abroad. First to Croatia, where we had our own production companies, then we mainly made jackets, suits and trousers. Someone came by with a company that made leather jackets. And then my father thought: “Nice leather jacket, let’s see what I can do with it.” He immediately sold 1000 leather jackets, an incredibly large number for that time, to C&A.”
Passion for leather
While confection became more and more difficult in those years, the company grew rapidly in leather clothing. When Bart takes over from his father in 1992, he makes the rigorous decision to fully focus on leather jackets. A specialism in which there is little competition and which fits well with Bart’s background.
“I worked for a tannery in France, which is where my passion for leather started. The special thing is that an animal is slaughtered for the meat and not for the skin, leather is actually a waste product. We give it a second life. We have started to focus on sustainable tanning by using vegetable and synthetic agents instead of heavy chemicals and also the reuse of, among other things, these salts and vegetable agents.”
From design to sales
Donders 1860 makes a collection consisting of leather jackets and Outerwear fashion jackets at least twice a year. 80% of this collection is sold abroad, mainly in Europe. Via retailers, online, and via platforms.
“Everything is conceived, developed, drawn, and styled here, under the Donders label, private label for chain stores and for brand names. That is really our strength, there are very few companies that can do all that in the field of leather.”
Donders 1860 is committed every day to improve the textile and leather processes with quality products that are produced in a fair and safe way. Production with the least possible impact on nature. Together with the suppliers and suppliers, Donders 1860 ensures that no damage is caused to employees and the environment.
“Our clothing is part of your comfort experience as an extension of the body. Your experience is our passion. That is why we innovate and produce our products in a sustainable manner, with attention to the materials. We feel responsible for you as a user and for the entire process. Our responsibility extends from the individual to our employees, suppliers, transports, and ultimately society as a whole. Donders 1860 is aware of the impact on nature and gives leather a second life. That makes our products sustainably crafted.”
Streamline processes and collaborate with retailers
With so many different production lines, sales channels, and labels to produce for, keeping insight and overview is becoming increasingly difficult. Fortunately, Bart has found a very good financial manager in Myron Gardien. Myron started six years ago as an intern and eventually accepted the challenge of tackling and streamlining the financial processes. This also included the consideration of the right software. How long can you use your current software, and when will you run into limitations?
Myron: “What we have seen at Donders in recent years is that fashion is changing, and the way of working within fashion is changing as well. New needs are emerging at the software level and in terms of planning systems. We used to work with Exact Globe, which was oriented toward wholesale. But of course not on the development of your articles. You put your product in as it is, with few items and few layers of information. While a fashion article contains many layers of information that can be used for many purposes. Our retailers also needed this. Being able to discuss the item with the retailer at a detailed level was not possible for us. Or we had to write it out completely per article in an Excel and then forward it to a retailer, that is also a possibility, but that would be very labour-intensive.”
Bart: “In the end I made the decision, I want to get rid of this software. It is getting old-fashioned and we are being limited too much. And then I started talking to Myron, because he also saw the revolution, that we really had to do things differently. We decided together: We have to change our software now. And don’t wait too long, but now.”
The choice for industry-specific ERP software from Itsperfect
At the end of 2020, Bart and Myron therefore invited three software suppliers for a pitch.
Bart: “We immediately received a clear answer from Itsperfect to the questions we sent after the second interview, they were able to show us immediately how everything worked, very user-friendly. With a team of purchasing, logistics and finance, we finally made the decision: We are going for Itsperfect. That really is the most optimal system for the industry, especially because it is the only one specifically built for fashion. Everyone has to deal with the same processes, sizes, and colours. And you get something like EDI within the package at Itsperfect just as it is.”
After the lightning-fast decision, the important question quickly arises: When do we migrate? In the end, Bart and Myron choose to split the implementation, especially for purchasing and the initial phase of product development.
Myron: “Because you work quite far ahead in fashion, we were already working on SS’22 at the time, so that collection actually had to be included, so that when we start the sales, we could already get all orders into the new system. And that is something that should start immediately. We then decided to actually migrate from 1 July 2021 and to run the combination of Exact Online and Itsperfect from there. The whole implementation was a super fun experience, but there is a lot involved. Actually from an Exact Globe, an old-fashioned package in terms of design that is not entirely in line with fashion, to the transition to Itsperfect.”
Bart: “The fact that we then received the data we wanted was a total relief. But the way the whole process went was also a blessing for me. I saw the implementation as a very big thing, but I am very satisfied with how it is now. I’m very happy with how it’s built. I can confidently recommend that to any other brand.”
Eye for data
While Bart was taught the finer points of the Arnhem family business from an early age, his three children have consciously opted for other careers. And because he actually loves to be involved in the design, Bart recruited Bas Bouwman as commercial director and shareholder in early 2022. With his international background and view on data, Bas is a great addition to the team.
“I left the Netherlands at a young age and have lived in Dubai for the last 9.5 years. There I worked for a large Retail organization, first marketing and then purchasing. I am very focused on data analysis, Itsperfect helped us to take a step with that as Donders. Gaining better insight into what it does and does not do well, and developing a strategy based on that. Besides implementation and entering sales and purchase orders, managing stock and profitability has also helped us a lot. As a commercial director, I always look at the whole picture, how we can do the whole process better and more efficiently. In terms of purchasing, logistics, marketing, sales. My experience in Dubai has taught me what to look for. And I also apply that here.”
From Vendor Portal and B2B to reports, planning and control
Donders 1860 has now been running on the new system for about two years. And it is becoming increasingly clear what the added value of Itsperfect is.
Bart maintains intensive contact with foreign producers and is very pleased with the Vendor Portal: “Suppliers can log in to it and get everything out of it in terms of product sheets, follow-up, and changes. You just notice that when you work with different facets (own label, private label, and for brand names), there is a lot of history in the whole story that we can fill in, I think that’s fantastic. Really a nice way of working. This is also experienced as very pleasant abroad. They think this is one of the best systems.”
Bas is mainly concerned with reports: “For me, the most valuable thing is that we can extract data from it in a good way. But also be able to register purchase and sales orders properly at the same time. I still see opportunities to take the next step, because I think we have now made a very big step in terms of systems. For example, we used to have someone who was entering all sales orders, which now go through the B2B shop via the agents themselves. We have started working more efficiently, and we get many more reports out of it. But I think we can take 1 or 2 steps further to make it even better in terms of processes.”
For Myron, the most profit is in more options for planning and control: “Exactly what Bas says, we have more data to work with. Also with a view to the future, you can plan better and know what the trends are. We have now reached the stage where we have to look at how we can optimize this. So that we can forecast even better what we expect to make in terms of sales and purchases, and from which articles we can expect better sales. A bulk of data is coming at you that you didn’t have before and now it’s important to structure it properly. And to ensure that you can further the continuity of the business.”
Challenges and ambitions
When it comes to the ambitions of Donders 1860, Bart doesn’t have to think long.
“It’s very simple, we want to become the largest seller of jackets in Europe.”
Myron adds: “We want to market our own label even more strongly, and from there we can plant a nice, meaningful company.
“Which you might also be able to hook up with other companies. You can see that a concentration is taking place, and as a company, you will also have to anticipate on this. Even if you are the 5th generation, that doesn’t mean anything for tomorrow,” concludes Bart. A nice portion of sobriety from a real craftsman, with a lot of love for the family business in which he grew up from an early age. A special Dutch company with a beautiful piece of history and a beautiful mission. Dutch Designed, Sustainably Made.