How Ganni’s founders became Copenhagen fashion royalty
Following our Ganni fashion party at Soho House Copenhagen, we meet the creative visionaries (and Soho House mentor) behind the coolest brand in Denmark
Friday 18 November 2022 By Soho House
Beloved by fashionable women from Copenhagen to Canouan, Ganni’s off-kilter yet directional aesthetic has become a byword for Scandi cool. The visionaries behind the brand’s success are husband and wife duo Nicolaj and Ditte Reffstrup. Before joining Ganni, former CEO Nicolaj (he stepped down in 2018 to focus on responsibility within the company) worked in the tech industry, investing in small and mid-size businesses, and now he has signed up to mentor young fashion designer Nana-Adwoa Osei as part of our Soho Mentorship programme. Ditte, who remains creative director of the brand, cut her teeth working at Bruuns Bazaar. Here, Soho House speaks to the hardest working duo in Danish fashion to learn how they got to where they are today.
Ditte and Nicolaj, where did the Ganni concept come from?
Ditte Reffstrup: ‘Without sounding like a cliche, it came from the heart. We felt that something was missing on the Scandinavian fashion scene, but the reason we went for it came from a desire to create something that reflected how me and my friends dressed, instead of the dominating boho or minimalist aesthetics of the time. We wanted something with lots of personality and contrast that didn’t take fashion so seriously, but really made you feel like a kick-ass version of yourself. The rest is history.’
What were your first jobs?
DR: ‘I’ve loved dressing up since I was a kid and always had a dream to become a designer, but my first job in the fashion industry was as a trainee buyer with Danish brand Bruuns Bazaar. It wasn’t exactly the traditional route to designing, but it really helped me to understand a lot about how and why people dress the way they do.’
Nicolaj Reffstrup: ‘After graduating from the IT university in Copenhagen, I started out working on my own projects because I knew I wanted to help create a business from scratch. That led me to co-found Spleak Media Network, an early attempt at creating commercial chatbots. I never thought I would work in the fashion industry, but Ganni came along at the perfect time when I was kind of fed up with tech.’
What keeps you both motivated?
DR: ‘My colleagues. Sometimes I find myself missing them if I am away from the office for a few days. It’s this feeling of being a part of something bigger. When I come in, it’s like stepping into the local football club. It’s all about team spirit and comradeship. We all believe we have a common mission that’s larger than the work itself: seeing it grow from nothing to what we are today. Back when we started no one believed in us, but look where we are today.’
NR: ‘Going to work and working with our teams to make Ganni a little bit better every day keeps me motivated. We’re not perfect, but we’re committed to making better choices, and we see it as our moral obligation to set an example for the industry. We recently received our B Corp certification, which was truly a testament to the hard work and dedication everyone puts in every single day across the entire company. It makes me want to do even better and continue to raise the bar for ourselves and the industry.’
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
NR: ‘It’s less about those big moments and more about just facing the daily grind every day. There have been so many challenges along the way, but you need to find the motivation to keep getting through it. It comes down to having the right people around you who share that attitude. ’
DR: ‘We are always faced with a lot of creative challenges when it comes to designing our collections – from changing our drop structures to working with new materials and reinventing ourselves while staying true to who you are. I am so lucky to have a team around me that loves a creative challenge and thinks outside the box. We always try to put a positive spin on everything we do.’
What are the most essential traits to have as leaders?
NR: ‘I realise that Jeff Bezos is a slightly controversial name, but he did once say about Amazon that they had to be “stubborn on vision but flexible on the details”. I think mindset makes a lot of sense when you are building and leading a business, because it’s about empowering your team and leading at the same time.’
DR: ‘You need to find the right people who are not just talented, but team players as well. You have to be able to put your trust in them and let them run with it, because you share the same vision.’
Nicolaj, you are a mentor for Soho House Copenhagen – can you say why you decided to be a part of Soho Mentorship?
NR: ‘I love engaging in mentorships and have had the pleasure of doing so for several years. Ironically, I learn so much from the talents I work with, as I get to see the world through their eyes and understand their business models, projects and visions. What I can provide is typically more toolbox-orientated ideas on scalability, frameworks and guidelines – or goal setting for how to infuse ambition into a project. But it’s always up to the mentee to do the work and decide whether they want to subscribe to that way of thinking, and figure out how to transform that advice into momentum. Success rarely comes from one golden ticket idea or a mentor’s rationalised and tried experiences. It’s about hard work and the daily grind. It takes a lot of grit to get there.’
What have been your career highlights?
DR: ‘Creating Ganni together far exceeds anything we ever thought we would do, but it’s never been a matter of reaching that point where we could look at each other and say, “we did it”. For us, It’s the journey up until now that matters with all the high and lows that comes with building a company like ours. We’re the type of people who ask what we can do next – and we’re definitely not done yet.’
'We’re not perfect, but we’re committed to making better choices, and we see it as our moral obligation to set an example for the industry.'
Have you had any career pivots?
NR: ‘I never imagined I would move out of tech and especially not into fashion, but when the opportunity arose combined with seeing Ditte’s passion for building this brand, it just lit a fire inside me that’s still burning. We both spotted an opportunity to fill a gap in both the Scandinavian and international market, but most importantly our hearts were in it from the beginning. My one condition for stepping into fashion was that we would be adamant about creating a brand with global awareness. Being a local hero was never attractive.’
If you could go back and speak to your younger self, what would you say?
DR: ‘Trust your instincts. Just go for it and believe in yourself more. The traditional route isn’t always the right route; trust the process and let yourself experiment along the way. And remember to have fun.’
NR: ‘Don’t get set in your ways. Allow new and exciting influences to impact your journey, you can’t learn everything from a book or rely on a concept to guide your life. The only constant is change, so embrace it.’
If you had not set up Ganni, what would you be doing now?
DR: ‘A football player, for sure.’
NR: ‘I would probably still be in tech, but who knows.’
Soho Mentorship is run in Europe in partnership with Routes In, a non-profit creative industry mentorship project based in Amsterdam.
Sign up to be a mentor or mentee in our next cohort here.
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