Every start-up will probably recognize it; the first year feels like 1 long roller coaster in the dark, where you never know exactly when the next turn will come, and you move through the peak moments full of adrenaline. But if it grows as fast as Aime Balance, it is worth the ride. We spoke to Kimberley Chantal and Max Veels about their successful Travelwear brand, which is in more than 225 stores within a year. How do they look back on their first year, what are their lessons learned and what are their ambitions for the coming years?
The creative brain behind Aime Balance is Kimberley (33), determined fashionista, who graduated from TMO and then immediately started in fashion. First at a production company, where she soon noticed that she wanted to create or develop something. In her second job, she was allowed to do this for Costes and Sting. But she gained most of her experience at Tramontana, where she was involved in production from start to finish and traveled extensively to the Far East.
Looking for a job closer to home in Rotterdam, Corona came. The moment for Kimberley to realize her dream of really creating herself and to set up her own brand: Aime Balance, fashion that moves with you. Kimberley: “I wanted to bring the American look to the Netherlands. Many people started sports and worked at home. They wanted to dress a bit comfy, but still look nice.”
Aime higher with Aime Balance
That is exactly what the brand stands for: Items that make women feel beautiful, provide confidence and body positivity, and at the same time sit comfortably, so that they become the best version of themselves.
Or as Kimberley herself describes it: “Aim is beloved, and to aim for something, to be able to achieve something. And aime higher matches our Active collection, to take that extra step during exercise. Aime Balance is therefore a round story, that you feel good about yourself and know how to find the balance between work, sport, and household, all in the same outfit. With beautiful quality and trendy prints for a wide audience, women from 25 to 60+, up to size 3XL.”
Short lead time and the right people
In the summer of 2021 she started Active wear, with only a Shopify webshop. That went well, but soon the wish arose to expand the collection and also to sell via B2B. It became the Atelier line of Travelwear quality. While Kimberley was drawing and designing, she met two agents looking for an additional brand.
“Just at the right time. The samples were designed in October, then we immediately produced Sales Men Samples and we could start selling from January. Within 1.5 months we had already acquired 150 stores. That really went like crazy.”
The brand is growing so fast that partner Max steps in to support Kimberley with the back office and logistics. Max has his own engineering firm and a commercial background.
Max: “Over the past 10 years I have gained experience in setting up a company. How are we going to build it up and what does it take to keep it healthy, so that we don’t become a one-hit wonder. We both have the vision to build a brand for the long term. That is mainly what I am concerned with.”
Innovative software that grows with you
After just two weeks of Excel, it becomes clear that at this rate of growth more is needed to keep everything running smoothly and to keep an overview. So one of the first projects that Max starts working on is looking for the right software. In doing so, they came across Itsperfect.
“I am used to working with a good software system from my construction company, so I did have my requirements and criteria. What I find very important is the user-friendliness and we actually saw that within 5 minutes in the demo. And in particular all the possibilities that you can get started with. Itsperfect is also very innovative, always developing and that was very important to us, because we do that too.” says Max.
Kimberley: “During the demo, I immediately saw that it had the basis for us to add steps every time, such as B2B or to register the entire production process. Everything is in it for the future.”
“And of course, the financial link with AFAS that could be made very easily. Actually, from sample to sending invoice, it is in the program and that makes it very nice, you only need 1 system for everything. It can all communicate with each other, but the basis is completely from Itsperfect and we work on that platform. That just works very well, so we are completely happy.” concludes Max.
Race against the clock
The delivery of the first collection took place in a very short period of time, says Kimberley.
“It was a real race against time, for production in China, for fitting, it had to be flown in, but we saw how much potential it had, so we really worked hard to arrange it all. We needed everything, including the right software, otherwise, we would have no idea whom to deliver what to. Then it would have become one big jumble.”
Fortunately, the implementation can start immediately after the signature and everything runs very smoothly.
“Vera, Itsperfect’s implementation consultant, has a lot of experience in fashion and therefore also a very practical side. She also gave us continuous advice, for example about colors and delivering in drops. You can tell from everything that the team behind Itsperfect has a lot of experience in fashion. And that it was built in consultation with brands. Things that you would not have in other ERP systems because it is really fashion-oriented, you can find in Itsperfect. That makes it unique.”
“The support is also just perfect, you don’t see that with every software company nowadays. The support team is easily accessible, responds quickly, and thinks along. And that is just very valuable to us at the moment.” adds Max.
Roll up one’s sleeves in the warehouse
The first moment of delivery follows fairly soon after implementation, which is also a memorable moment for Kimberley.
“We didn’t have our own warehouse yet, we used space in the warehouse of a relation. He still had room for a new brand. Once the shipments arrived, it turned out that there was a shortage of space. With might and main, family and friends, we ensured that the first collection was delivered.”
In the end, all the effort was totally worth it, with a resale of 95%.
“I had a few more items made and they were also sold in no time. I think we only had 200 pieces left at the end of the season, almost nothing really. That was really cool.”
There wasn’t really much time for Kimberley to give this some more thought, because then the new collection started again.
“We started with 50 styles, we delivered 90 styles in September, and already 130 styles this spring. And we ended up doing that in 2 drops. All customers were also very happy with that, this way we always offer something new.”
It was certain that a real warehouse had to be built for the next delivery. While Kimberley and her designer Sanne were working on the new collection, Max is looking for a warehouse that also communicates well with the ERP software.
“We spoke with three warehouses and Itsperfect was, fortunately, able to connect well with our preferred warehouse, Modexpress. That was also all set up very fast, we now have a very professional warehouse that houses many major brands and is prepared for the peaks of delivery.”
Continuity and structure
After all the hecticness of the first year, Kimberley and Max are eager to really start to structure things and to be able to follow the right timing with presales and purchasing. Good software also helps to take steps and continue to grow.
Max: “It doesn’t matter whether we have 10 or 10,000 articles in Itsperfect, and 1 customer or 10,000 customers, we are very free to do so. And the connections that we make externally, for example now with Fashion Cloud. All reports and analyses that we can extract from the system as standard to get an overview. The possibilities are actually unlimited for us.”
Kimberley adds: “And the B2B, that is a really great tool because it takes away so much pressure from our sales, but also from our retailers themselves. We are now in the right flow and that is why we have chosen to be at the Modefabriek this year. There we were able to show for the first time what we stand for, who we are, that we really are a very young and dynamic company. And it was mega busy, really a great success!”
Challenges and ambitions
Finally, when it comes to challenges, according to Max, it is mainly about having production and numbers in order.
“Of course, we started at 0, then it grows very fast, everything has to be right, the company, the financial picture, and everything around it. It’s all very positive, but it also poses a challenge to keep everything manageable and feasible with the numbers that we are now running. We are now building structure on that.”
When asked if she still has bright plans for the future, Kimberley firmly replies: “Certainly! We want to establish our name in the Netherlands and join the top 10 of Dutch fashion brands. We have the ambition to become big with Aime Balance, but with the Dutch personal touch in it. We actually just want to establish a global brand, but for the next 5 years we will focus on Europe and that would already be a great accomplishment.”
It’s great to see this strong combination of dreaming, the creative, and going for it on the one hand, and the realistic, down-to-earth, and structured on the other. A good balance with which the young couple will have a great future.
Kimberley: “Over the past year I have regularly fallen asleep with it, because I had it in mind, left or right, it just has to be there, I just want to do is and we have to get there. But when I see what we have achieved in that short time, I am really very proud of it.”
And that is Kimberley’s advice for anyone with the ambition to start a brand: “If you believe in something, and you really go for it, with passion, you will eventually get there. I truly believe that.”