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Brand Manager of the Year FOND OF GmbH Sven-Oliver Pink, Florian Michajlezko und Dr. Oliver Steinki
(f. l. t. r.) Sven-Oliver Pink, Florian Michajlezko, Dr. Oliver Steinki

With FOND OF, Sven-Oliver Pink, Florian Michajlezko and Dr. Oliver Steinki have managed to conjure fantastic, successful brands from scratch and consistently develop them. New ideas, openness, persistence, sustainability and gumption speak for this former startup and show that it is possible to accomplish a good deal in markets that are supposedly exhausted and dominated by established big players.

Interview with Sven-Oliver Pink, Florian Michajlezko and Dr. Oliver Steinki from FOND OF

As enthusiastic founders of FOND OF you have experienced how difficult it is to establish a brand on the market. You have now launched seven independent brands already. How have you achieved this, and to what extent did established brands like Porsche serve as a model for you?

Der ergobag
ergobag – it all started in 2010 with the first ergonomic school backpack. Today, 7 brands belong to the FOND OF universe. © FOND OF GmbH

Sven-Oliver Pink: Porsche is of course one of the really great and fascinating brands. It embodies German engineering like hardly any other brand, and it gets many hearts beating faster. Even though we are in a completely different field with our bags and rucksacks, with ergobag we have also brought a brand to the market that people really love. It all began with the school bag brand. More than eleven years ago, when we developed the first prototypes – inspired by the idea of combining the ergonomic concept of the rucksack with a schoolbag – people thought we were mad. The school bag market was well established, and no one thought that it could be disrupted. However, in no time at all we managed to fundamentally change the industry with the first school backpack, and in the wake of ergobag’s success, there followed a demand for products for other age groups as well. Gradually, we have added more and more brands. Today our bags are carried or worn by people of all ages.

Oliver Steinki: For us, the further development of our brand universe also meant growing in the background and developing our own infrastructures. For example, we operate our own logistics centre in North Rhine Westphalia, and from there our products are shipped to countless countries all over the world. Furthermore, we have fulfilled the idea of building our own company headquarters – totally in line with our own needs and expectations – and THE SHIP is currently Germany’s most digital office building. In planning the building, we took into account the wishes of our employees and created a location where agile working is possible and well-being and inspiration are also ensured. Our own new Startup Accelerator has also found a place here. On the xdeck we are able to pass on our experience to young founder teams and, in turn, learn from them. So we’re never standing still.

The art of positioning a brand strongly in the long term also involves bringing together two conflicting factors: consistency and change. Which of these two factors carries more weight?

Florian Michajlezko: Our clear goal is to remain an innovation leader. We don’t linger over our successes; instead we evolve constantly by keeping a very close eye on new trends and developments, such as the schools of the future. What I see as a consistent element are our demands on our products, which have been clear since day one and still endure. We ensure functionality, sustainability, customisability and design. As founders we want to remain authentic and not lose our startup mentality – despite our growth and the fact that we now employ more than 300 people.

Knapp 175 Mio. PET-Flaschen wurden für FOND OF Marken recycelt
Almost 175 million PET bottles have been recycled for the backpack fabrics of the FOND OF brands since 2010. © FOND OF GmbH
Leader Status Fair Wear Foundation
Leader Status Fair Wear Foundation, FOND OF systematically audits its production partners. © FOND OF GmbH

The power of a brand – its USP – has to be intelligently communicated. Which communication channels are essential for you, Mr Pink?

Sven-Oliver Pink: We exploit the whole range of communication channels.That’s because we address very different target groups with our brands, so we reach them through different channels. As well as online channels, our employees as brand ambassadors and the retailers we train are extremely important communicators. Customer events, such as satchel parties, where we connect directly with our buyers, are very powerful levers for our employees and our sales force.

Customers are becoming increasingly demanding, not least in terms of sustainability and fair production conditions. To what extent does the concept of a green future influence your two corporate strategies?

Sven-Oliver Pink: When we first went into production with ergobag, we were confronted with the question of whether the polyester we needed should come from crude oil or recycled PET bottles. The decision to opt for sustainable production was an obvious choice for us. These days, our sustainability strategy is extremely complex, and along with ecological sustainability we also focus on social responsibility. We consider our production sites in South-east Asia as an extended part of our team, and good working conditions should naturally also be applied there. We have already been rated in the best possible Leader category several times by the renowned Fair Wear Foundation, and we devote a lot of energy to maintaining high social standards.

“Our clear goal is to remain an innovation leader.”

The Ship, FOND OF Zentrale in Köln
The Ship, over 13,000 sqm total area, Germany’s most digital office building, FOND OF headquarters in Cologne. © FOND OF GmbH
xdeck – the startup accelerator of the founding trio from FOND OF. © FOND OF GmbH

Which distribution channels will become more important in future, in terms of self-assertion on the global market, and which may become less relevant, Mr Blume and Mr Michajlezko?

Florian Michajlezko: Coronavirus has given another immense boost to the significance of online retail. The online world is of course our biggest showcase. However, specialist retailers still play a key role. For example, buying your first school bag is a big, emotional event for many families, and it can’t be celebrated in the same way when done online.

“The functionality of our bags is a key incentive in terms of purchase.”

How important is the haptic experience in the decision to purchase a brand product, Mr Blume and Mr Pink? The obvious thought would be that, with a lifestyle product like a bag, the brand essence is easier to portray online. Or are we mistaken?

Sven-Oliver Pink: Our company is very transparent, and we are able to depict our history, as well as our products, well online. The functionality of our bags is also a key incentive in terms of purchase, however, and here it often comes down to the advice given by the retailer. Kids in particular are very enthusiastic when it comes to trying out different models in the shop and examining all functions, or when trying on their new shoes.

First published in the catalogue of the German Brand Award 2021. Source: German Design Council.

About Fond of

Visit the Visit the Fond Of homepage (in German)

Visit the Linkedin profile of Sven-Oliver Pink, Co-founder of Fond of GmbH in Cologne.

The German Brand Awards 2022

Outstanding brand work deserves to be awarded. Companies, agencies, service providers and marketers from all sectors worldwide can register for the German Brand Awards 2022. Presented by the German Design Council and the German Brand Institute, the awards honour the most innovative brands and best strategies for consistent brand management and sustainable brand communication. Learn more about the German Brand Awards 2022 and register now.

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