By Olivia Quiniquini
Co-founder and vice president Ketty Koutsolioutsos charts the Greek brand’s success over the years and explains its return to silver
Success stories like Folli Follie are few and far between. Ketty Koutsolioutsos started designing her own jewellery lines in the early 80s in Italy where she and her husband Dimitris were both pursuing successful careers. They returned to their homeland, Greece, in 1982 and officially established Folli Follie. The brand has since grown from a single store in Athens to a “full fashion” brand of jewellery, watches and accessories with over 670 points of sale in more than 30 countries. Today, the Folli Follie Group designs, produces and markets its own brands, Folli Follie and Links of London, and maintains strategic interests in travel retail and fashion distribution. While Dimitris Koutsolioutsos heads the Folli Follie Group as president, Ketty as vice president is responsible for the group’s corporate image and supervises the designs for the two jewellery brands as well as her premium Kk collection. For over 30 years, Folli Follie has been synonymous with affordable luxury, switching from gold to silver then eventually to stainless steel. This season, silver is making a big comeback in its portfolio, with the launch of the brand’s Silver Summer campaign. Folli Follie is also refreshing its image with a new corporate colour and concept store design. Ketty Koutsolioutsos (KK) updates SILVERSTYLES (SS) on developments at Folli Follie and shares the secrets of the brand’s success.
SS: You founded Folli Follie with your husband nearly 35 years ago. How has the journey been?
KK: Hard work has definitely been the passport to our big dream – to conquer the world. All inspirational success stories start with a creative vision that is followed by drive. After we got married in Milan, in a crazy moment of destiny, we decided to combine our strengths – an entrepreneurial force and a creative one – to follow our dream. After several years of wholesale success in Italy and Europe, we returned to Greece and established Folli Follie, which means “crazy craziness” in Italian. The collections met with great success and then in 1995, we exported the brand with the opening of our first boutiques in Japan. A year later, Folli Follie expanded from a jewellery brand to include watches and leather accessories. Now, we have a presence, among others, in New York, Hawaii, Guam, Korea, Hong Kong, China, France, the UK, Spain, Taiwan and most recently Australia, building a truly global network. Behind the international expansion of the brand is my son and CEO of FF Group, George Koutsolioutsos. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined we would be where we are now. I am very proud of what we have accomplished. Folli Follie is still very much a family business: my husband, my son and me – and a family of 5,000 around the world.
SS: What is the essence of the Folli Follie brand?
KK: Folli Follie is an international lifestyle fashion brand that designs, manufactures and distributes jewellery, watches and fashion accessories that uplift the style of women worldwide. The Folli Follie woman looks at the bright side of life, is full of joy and always in the know about fashion trends. We target women who are seeking modern ways to build their style. Accessories and jewellery can do all the “hard work” and elevate an outfit either for work or for a formal occasion. When it comes to Folli Follie, always expect the unexpected. We wish to enhance and maintain our leading position in the international fashion world with the primary goal of being one of the world’s most recognisable and coveted fashion brands. Folli Follie from head to toe? Why not? Everything is possible.
SS: The Folli Follie story is rooted in your passion for jewellery design. What fascinates you about the process?
KK: To me, it is all about creativity. The whole process is about expressing myself through the different aspects of my life – a wide variety of images that I collect from my trips all around the world, a lifetime experience in the fashion industry along with my love for the diversity of different cultures. All my creations have a special meaning to me. From the first jewellery piece I ever created made out of silver with Murano glass to today’s Tropical Spirit line for the Kk collection, every piece I have ever designed is unique. I put so much love and emotion in all my creations that it makes it really difficult for me to pick a favourite.
SS: Please describe your design aesthetic.
KK: My personal memories from my visits to Asian countries have deeply influenced my design aesthetic; Asian elements are evident throughout my creations. Of course, Greece could not be missing from my inspiration map; my aesthetic sense is shaped by the Hellenistic era, a historical period where the Greek element and culture interacted harmoniously with that of the Orient. All these interact with each other in my mind, resulting in my signature multi-ethnic flair that is reflected in both my personal Kk collections and some Folli Follie lines, which are under my creative supervision in collaboration with our talented design team.
SS: Why did you introduce the Kk collection?
KK: At a certain stage, I felt the need for a personal creation. Folli Follie’s premium jewellery collection, Kk collection is a line of unique, limited edition hand-made creations made of silver with natural coloured gemstones and/or other innovative materials. For the upcoming summer season, Kk collection is travelling inside the African Savannah through the launch of the new Tropical Spirit line with vibrant animal designs that promise to add a dynamic touch to any look. African style is very much in fashion now; Valentino’s Spring 2016 collection was full of tribal touches. My love for ethnic elements spurred me to create a safari-inspired collection for summer.
SS: Folli Follie focused primarily on stainless steel jewellery in recent years. Why are you moving back to silver?
KK: Folli Follie started with gold jewellery in the 1980s and then went into silver after a few years. We were actually the first to combine gold and silver in jewellery, and our collections were very successful. But even though we used precious metals, we made sure prices were affordable. That is the whole concept of the brand – affordable luxury. Folli Follie then established itself as a true pioneer in the market when it introduced complete jewellery collections made of stainless steel. Silver prices are now stable so we are renewing our focus on the metal with our Fashionably Silver collection. This is the right time to return to silver because we have the opportunity to launch it with good prices, embodying our concept of affordable luxury. The collection has already been a great success for us across the globe.
SS: Folli Follie has recently rebranded with new colours, concept stores and campaigns. What brought about these changes?
KK: We actually never stop innovating. My husband and I are very dynamic; we can never stay quiet. As a brand, we have to keep innovating more than ever before because there is a lot of competition, a lot of trends. So Folli Follie has to always keep evolving, stay on trend and lead the way. For more than 30 years, the brand colour, orange, made Folli Follie instantly recognisable to people. We recently introduced our new concept stores in rose gold and colonial white colours, with a more open and welcoming look and using mirrored and transparent surfaces to project light and vitality. The new concept store is being rolled out in Athens, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, Honolulu and Beijing. Our brand message and our aim to offer a feel-good experience to our customers remain the same though.
SS: Tell us about your new campaign, Friends of the Brand.
KK: Many times when celebrities get involved with a brand, it is a commercial venture. We only work with celebrities who are actual fans of the brand. It is a genuine partnership with people who use our products; it just so happens that they are celebrities. My husband, my son and I want to work with people who believe in Folli Follie, not with someone very famous that we have to pay to wear a Folli Follie product. In Hong Kong, actress and model Jennifer Tse was a fan of Folli Follie long before she became the face of our campaign. It makes us really happy to have these celebrities/influencers who want to represent Folli Follie as brand ambassadors. Some 15 years ago, at an international airport, I saw Brooke Shields wearing a Folli Follie Kk collection piece. I personally felt very proud because she was wearing a piece I had designed! So there are VIPs who are really our customers and like what the Folli Follie brand stands for.
SS: What are your expectations in terms of growth?
KK: We still have a long way to go in establishing a global network. We do have a strategic plan for growth in the Asia Pacific region, Europe and America; we recently entered the Australian market. Our biggest market right now is Asia. China and Japan have been huge for us for many years. In all markets except China, we own and operate our own standalone stores, shop-in-shops, corners and counters. We are also at airports and aboard international airlines. In China, we have a mix of franchisees and owned-and-operated points of sale. We eventually want to expand in China with more franchisees but need to find the right partner. There is still a lot of room for growth. Once you get on that train, there is no getting off since it never stops.
SS: Folli Follie is widely acclaimed as a paragon of branding. What are the secrets of your success?
KK: Honestly, I can’t say for sure. I actually heard that a major jewellery brand used Folli Follie as an internal case study. There may be things we have implemented that they believe are useful to the branding exercise. As co-owner and co-founder of the brand, it is difficult for me to pinpoint what we did right. We just did what we had to do. But to maintain an interesting brand, you have to constantly be interested and put in the hard work. That is why we try to evolve all the time, pioneering concepts and setting the trend. You have to have passion and continually be interested in the world so you can reflect it in your brand. My strategies are dictated by my own experience. I am faithful to brands that always have something new to offer me in my style. I try other things but, at the end, usually wind up with the same brand. It’s the same for Folli Follie. Folli Follie is happy, fun and young, but not necessarily just for the young. It is affordable and beautiful and valuable. I want people to always find something that will fit them and make them feel good about themselves. I want them to leave the store happy – it is not just about the product but also the entire atmosphere and experience that you offer as a brand. The human factor is very important as well – how the sales people deal with the customers. All these go into welcoming the customer into the Folli Follie world.
SS: What advice can you give to those aspiring to create their own brand?
KK: The most difficult challenge nowadays is establishing a brand name. Many unknown brands may have a very good product but get nowhere since the market doesn’t know them. If you have the luxury of having a strong brand name, it is easier to develop new products and be innovative. This is the big difference between the established names and the newcomers. These days, it is very difficult to build a brand – you have to invest a lot of money. The world is suffering from an economic crisis so you have to determine whether it is worth it. Then you have to believe in your brand and provide customers with what they need. For instance, Folli Follie is built as an affordable luxury brand so we insist on providing affordable items, making adjustments along the way to stay true to our brand DNA. It takes time to build a good brand; it took us more than 30 years to get to where we are.
SS: How do you view competition?
KK: Folli Follie is active in three fields – jewellery, watches and accessories – and we have direct competitors in each of these areas. There are also companies that are branching out from silver jewellery to lifestyle products. It’s better to have competition than to feel that you are all alone and the best in your field. You need to have competitors to measure yourself against. When others copy us, I take it as a compliment rather than an insult – it is validation of our success. Competition is also good to survey the field; I like seeing who the best is after me.