“Quality prevails” at denim specialist Tenue de Nîmes

With two qualifications to his name, Menno seemed made for his job in the corporate world. Company car, routine work – you get the picture. But it never quite felt right. So eventually he nailed his colours to the mast and followed his heart into retail. Or rather ‘back’ into retail. For he had worked there before: in a sports shop as a 15-year-old sports fanatic and then in a jeans shop when he was a student. Spending time on the floor, selling great products and working with people. He enjoyed it then, he enjoys it today. And now that he owns one of the best denim shops in the Netherlands and is even known internationally: well, that doesn’t change anything at all.

This is a#changemakers story and a long read. In this column, we report on fashion designers and entrepreneurs with their own vision of the industry and who bring change. This article is also available in Dutch.

Interview Menno van Meurs

Co-founder and CEO Tenue de Nîmes

“Jeans as an article of clothing belong to us all, which is really fascinating. Barack Obama wears jeans, but so do the homeless”, says Menno van Meurs, co-founder and CEO of denim shop Tenue de Nîmes. In his mid-thirties, he has a relaxed demeanour and loves talking shop, peppering his stories with one-liners and regularly connecting his passion for retail and jeans to his first love: sport. “It’s like a match that you and your team-mates go out to play on Saturday. The shop’s busy, and you want to give people good service. It’s almost like a workout. You’re exhausted after a hard day’s work, but there’s a real sense of satisfaction.”

Last December, Tenue de Nîmes celebrated its ninth anniversary. To mark the occasion, they launched a limited-edition pair of stone blue Tenue de Nîmes Pablo jeans, made in the country famous for its denim: Japan. And a specially made Tenue de Nîmes varsity jacket, which by definition is more rooted in the denim culture.

“Barack Obama wears jeans, but so do the homeless”

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Menno in front of the Tenue de Nîmes shop at Elandsgracht in Amsterdam. Photography by Lennert Antonissen

A changing market

In 2015, Tenue de Nîmes launched its first private label jeans. The decision to do their own production was mainly down to the changing market.

“Before, brands rang up retailers to see what they needed for in their shop: what was selling, what wasn’t. But in the past few years, brands have started to sell their clothes directly to customers for the same retail price, whether it’s bricks-and-mortar or cyberspace-based. The margins that the retailers and wholesalers would normally pocket are now kept by the brands themselves. So now, not only have the brands become my rivals, but they also earn more on a pair of jeans than I do.” Then he points outside. “And there’s the weather. I’m dependent on when the brands deliver; they send the summer collection in January and the winter collection in June. But because of the shifting seasons, that’s not always the right time for my customers. Thanks to our private label, I’m in charge of production, and there’s more flexibility.”

But the main reason to do their own production was quality. “There was once a time when lots of brands kept on increasing their prices, while the quality of the jeans dropped”, he continues, spreading his hands wide apart to emphasise the gap between price and quality. “That went well until the Zaras of the world also started to sell jeans. Everyone suddenly began to realise they could buy almost just as good of a pair of or, technically, just as bad of a pair of jeans, for the same price.” It visibly rattles the jeans-lover in him. And perhaps for good reason. “Everyone always complains about the major chains, but I think they’re one of the few who deliver on their promise: cheap and fast, in their case. It’s in the higher segment that you get more bullsh*t.”

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Blouse Tenue de Nîmes. Photography by Lennert Antonissen

“Everyone complains about the major chains, but it’s in the higher segment that you get more bullsh*t”

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Denim offer Tenue de Nîmes shop at the Haarlemmerstraat, Amsterdam. Photography by Lennert Antonissen

We’ve forgotten the meaning of quality

So I’m not the least bit surprised when he triumphantly asserts that quality will prevail. “In this world of mass consumption and instant gratification, it sometimes seems like we’ve forgotten what quality clothes are about. At Tenue de Nîmes, I want people to experience quality again. But that experience takes time: the time that you spend ‘living’ in a pair of jeans.”

To sell high quality jeans for a decent price (200 to 250 euros), he works without a middleman and keeps his overheads to a minimum. This enables him to invest as much of that money as possible in great products – not in stuff like a head office. He’s also managed to hook up with the best people and companies in the denim industry. Craftsmen like Marco Bonzanni from Italy, an expert in denim fabrics, and renowned Japanese denim mill Kurabo. He’s open to new techniques that make jeans more comfortable and offer better ways of production. “Our production people in Italy, Portugal and Japan are almost like family to us. The production process and necessary workforce: we’re on top of it all.” The environment is also taken into consideration. Take the washes for the latest trousers from Italy, for instance. They’re all natural, without any chemicals. We also use the ozone technique – no chemicals and almost no water – to give our women’s trousers a vintage look. “My mission is to become the biggest denim export product of the Netherlands, but in a sustainable manner.”

“At Tenue de Nîmes, I want people to experience quality again”

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Levi’s 501 uit de jaren ’60. Fotografie Lennert Antonissen

Iconic 501

Taking your responsibility and doing what you can to make a difference: that’s how he describes sustainability. “I do that by focusing on quality, encouraging people to pay a little more and have their clothes repaired. These are all things that can extend the life of an article of clothing, so that we don’t have to produce as much.” Tenue de Nîmes has been advocating this on social media with #buylesspaymore.

But he still sees sustainability in the fashion industry as a hard topic. “Materials are the big thing now. And they’re important – don’t get me wrong – but I don’t see what’s so sustainable about organic cotton that’s flown around the world to end up being used in just one of the many collections offered by a chain. But it cannot be denied: the word ‘organic’ sells.” And he has a good tip. “If you want to be kind to the environment with your clothes, buy raw denim jeans. They last longer, and treatments and washes always require something extra, whether that’s water, chemicals or energy.”

Then he grabs a pair of jeans to show me: apart from some wear on the knees and a bit of fraying, they still look good. “This is an original Levi’s 501 from the 1960s”, he tells me. Then he has a little chuckle to himself. “People often think I’m joking when I say we should buy less. After all, I make my living thanks to consumerism. But a good pair of jeans lasts for years and years, and the worn patches and fraying that you see here tell the story of the person who wears them. That’s what makes jeans so great. I have no problem if a customer does not come back for ten years, because I sold him a really good pair of jeans at the time.”

Tenue de Nîmes has two shops in Amsterdam, at Elandsgracht and Haarlemmerstraat. You can bring your jeans in to both shops for alteration or repair. Besides jeans, they have clothes from the collections of brands like ACNE Studios, APC and Patagonia. Orders can also be placed online in their web shop.

CV Menno

Work experience

July 2010-current: co-founder Red Wing Shoe
June 2008-current: co-founder Tenue de Nîmes and since 2012 CEO
2001: intern, creative agency….,staat

Education

2003-2005: Commercial communications, University of Amsterdam
1999-2002: Commercial economics, Fontys university of applied sciences Tilburg

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