INTERVIEW by Lena von Zabern – TRANSCRIBED by Philipp Kleiber
Behind the Brand
Behind the Brand
INTERVIEW by Lena von Zabern – TRANSCRIBED by Philipp Kleiber
LENA Congratulations to the official launch of FRNKOW! I can’t believe it’s finally happening – we had to wait too many years for this. For how long have we known each other now? Is it 17 years already?
FRANK Yes, it was the first year of high-school. We were little 5th graders back then.
LENA Well, you sure never ceased to surprise me through all these years. But we are not here today to talk about our friendship. Frank, Nadja, tell us a bit more about the label. Where did the journey of FRNKOW begin?
NADJA Maybe school isn’t a bad place at all to begin with this story. It actually started as a reverie. When I was in school, I always said for fun, “One day l’ll have a fashion label with Frank.” Even when he started studying fashion design, and I business administration, it was still rather a dream than something realistic. And then it became more and more concrete.
FRANK I always wanted to have my own label. I’ve never seen myself as a designer for another label. When Nadja finished school, we always joked that it would be practical if she studied business administration, because I’m super bad at math. I also think that that’s the real reason why you studied Business Administration and since then it was clear to me that we would do this together.
“I always wanted to have my own label”
NADJA With this goal in mind, I was able to complete my studies very quickly – unlike my fellow students.
FRANK We talked a lot about the label during our studies and planned in this direction. For example, when we found this studio here, I involved her in the decision whether we should really rent it. It was actually too early at that time, because Nadja didn’t come until half a year later. But the studio was basically the starting signal.
NADJA I was still in Lisbon at the time and the studio made me realize that we’ll get started right away when I come back.
LENA From a reverie to the launch of your first collection. How does it feel to turn an idea into reality? Was there a moment when you realized: this is really happening?
NADJA When I came to Stuttgart and we made the first major investments. We met a big sewing machine merchant, it was our first appearance as entrepreneurs.
FRANK Although I myself have many experiences in business relationships, it was still very unusual to act as a company or as business partners and not as siblings – they even thought that we’re a married couple. Shortly after that we went to a big trade fair and it was very frustrating, because we had the feeling that we did not perform well and that we were not taken seriously at all. We were really down-casted after that and briefly doubted ourselves. Starting your own business right after studying felt a bit stupid back then. But over time, everything has become more profound and we have learned a lot by simply doing things. And now, half a year later, everything feels different! When you see how products develop, how all this builds up and ideas become tangible, then it’s a very nice feeling.
LENA You are siblings and have known each other all your live. Now you are business partners and cofounders. How did that change your relationship?
NADJA A difficult subject! At the beginning, it was very difficult to separate private life and business. I think that is never easy. But it’s getting better!
FRANK Better? I believe that in the beginning we tried too hard to separate it. Everyone says that you have to separate private and professional life. But it’s not that easy when you’ve known each other for a lifetime. In the first few months I often doubted if working together was such a good idea, because I was afraid that our – good and close – sibling relationship would suffer. That is why we talked about it at an early point and it has improved since then. And I have the feeling that it’s a much more natural relationship now, precisely because we don’t separate our sibling relationship so much from the business relationship anymore. We see each other every day and, of course, talk a lot about business, but I don’t see why we should talk about it in a different way than talking about private things. Sure, when you’re sad or annoyed, it shouldn’t affect our business relationship and me in my role as a business partner. But we know each other very well so we can considerate it, if that’s the case.
“We don’t believe in the idea of separating private and professional life.”
NADJA It would also be strange to pretend to be just colleagues during work, and then say: “Will we see each other later at Dad’s birthday?” But sure, our biggest worry when we started was that it would affect our relationship negatively.
FRANK We know, of course, that families can break from something like this. That’s why we had great respect for this, because there are patterns that shine through the sibling relationship into the company, for example that I am the big brother. The sibling relationship always has such a disparity.
NADJA I’ve always looked up to you.
FRANK That’s right. You just have to be careful that this doesn’t rub off on the business relationship. Honestly, in the beginning I had the feeling that you saw me as a boss and that you were working under me just because I’m your big brother. If you’re aware of that, you can work on it.
LENA What is the greatest strength that this family-relationship brings to the company?
NADJA That we can trust each other blindly.
FRANK Absolutely. Being able to trust one another blindly or – that’s even more important – rely on each other is extremely important and helpful.
LENA You once mentioned that you two are very different and take over different roles within the company. What do you appreciate most about the other – and what do you sometimes get upset about?
NADJA I appreciate Frank’s creativity, his style and especially that he achieves everything he wants to achieve. He is so focused on this one goal that he always reaches it. It’s admirable what he has done in recent years all by himself. At the age of 23, Frank had achieved a lot more than I have now. What annoys me? Not much, actually. He’s very, very stubborn. And he likes to harp on details when someone makes a mistake.
FRANK I’m just doing that because I’m sure that it makes it easier for the people to learn from their mistakes.
NADJA Sometimes that’s right, but most of the time one thinks: Is that really necessary?
FRANK You’re not the first person to tell me that. Philipp can sing a song about it.
But thank you, Nadja! I don’t think I could have done all this without you. She was my very first fan. I’ve always been a dreamer, and when I planted something in my mind, I did everything I could to achieve that. And it was much easier to achieve it with someone like Nadja or Philipp who really believe in me and completely support me without pretending.
What do I appreciate about Nadja? She has the perserverence to work intensively on things, even if they might not be the most fun sometimes. I can’t do this. If I don’t enjoy something, I don’t do it.
What annoys me about her is also the stubbornness, but we are both Capricorns. That’s both, a curse and a blessing. When two Capricorn heads clash it’s often not very solution-oriented. And sometimes she can’t control her feelings as much as I do. But I think you’ll learn. I was no different at that age.
LENA Family and home – a reoccurring theme at FRNKOW. What does home mean to you and how is that reflected in what you create?
FRANK Home is a huge subject for me. Taking it literally, I attach great importance to my apartment – something I especially realized during the Corona pandemic. I love spending time at home, so it’s very important that I feel comfortable there! I believe that the lockdown confronted us all with the question: Do I really feel home at home? As we were forced to stay there. This had an impact on this collection. I wanted to make pieces that are meant for being at home. Because spending a lot of time at home doesn’t mean that you can’t dress yourself up.
“I love spending time at home.”
NADJA For me, the feel-good factor is very important. I used to live in some flats with friends and other people and in some of them I felt more comfortable than in others. That’s why I understand why it’s so important to Frank. The apartment should be a place where you feel good and safe, especially if you work a lot. We have implemented this quite well in the collection.
FRANK And I would say the same for the place where I work. I love our studio and I’d hate to leave it. I also like to be here on weekends because the atmosphere is so beautiful. It’s a different kind of home for me. I could never work anywhere or be creative in a place I don’t feel comfortable in.
LENA Going back to the collection: FRNKOW is a menswear brand. What is your definition of masculinity?
FRANK The concept and the definition of masculinity is currently changing extremely because traditional male stereotypes are increasingly questioned. And I’m glad that they’re questioned! Defining masculinity is therefore very difficult. What does masculinity mean? 10 years ago, as a teenager trying to hide his homosexuality, I probably would have said that a man must be strong. “Real men” have no interest in fashion and beautiful things, they are muscular, dominant, heterosexual. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be exactly like that. Over the years, however, I realized that it limits me too much and that I like myself exactly the way I am. This feeling of “not being a real man” is bad. I know that many boys and young men are still dealing with that. That is why I am pleased that these stereotypes are being questioned more and more.
NADJA I’m also not a fan of gender stereotypes. The fear of appearing unmanly is nothing else than the fear of being feminine and degrading oneself to the “weaker sex”. However, there is no “weaker sex” and being a man does not always mean to be strong and not being able to know any pain. I grew up with Frank and, of course, realized that he didn’t have the “typical interests” that might have been “common” for a young man. I didn‘t know he was gay and it didn’t cross my mind either. Nevertheless, I noticed that he behaved differently when he was with his buddies than when he was with me. I didn’t like that back then.
LENA Is there a muse that represents this new kind of masculinity for you? Who wears FRNKOW?
FRANK There are definitely people who are popular – actors, singers or influencers – who radiate a new kind of masculinity for me. I think it is good that they attract so much positive attention to the way they behave in public. They’re a reason why the traditional image of men is changing. I therefore believe that the FRNKOW man is a man who has come to terms with himself and his masculinity. Who says that men who show emotions are less masculine, just because they don’t fulfill the typical male stereotypes? There are also guys, who fulfill those stereotypes, and that’s completely okay, as long as they don’t exclude others.
“The FRNKOW man is a man who has come to terms with himself and his masculinity.”
LENA 2020 has been a year that will go down in history. A lot of things changed. What is your fondest memory of the last 12 months?
NADJA A year ago, I was in Lisbon, which was very nice. After that, I was in Paris. So travelling carefree when you could is my best memory. But also the last 10 months when we’ve worked on FRNKOW. That was a lot of stress, but positive stress. It was also nice to make the face masks in spring and that we received so much positive feedback for it. That’s when we realized that there are really people out there who are interested in what we do and appreciate it.
FRANK Honestly, it wasn’t my dream that my first product was a face mask. But with only a few days of preparation, we managed to offer the quality and aesthetics that FRNKOW stands for, and we transported the brand’s philosophy with a face mask. And the reactions were really overwhelming, because we really didn’t expect so many people to buy it.
And of course, my engagement was also a great moment. What I found even more beautiful was all the reactions, because many people were just happy about some good news in this bad year. It was a bad year for us too, not just because of Corona. I hadn’t felt that many negative moments in the last 10 years and I think that many people would agree.
LENA Do you have a favorite piece in the current collection?
NADJA Not sure if I can already tell you! My favorite piece is a pink shirt that will not be available until next spring.
FRANK This collection is not just the pieces that are in the shop right now. Over the next few months, new ones will be available. But my favorite part is already in the shop, it’s the sweater here. I wear the prototype very often.
LENA What is the driving force behind what you do. What keeps you going?
FRANK I want to be creative. I want to create something. I want to realize the world that’s in my head. And since I got the first reactions to my collection, I’ve noticed that it encourages me a lot. It is incredibly motivating when what you create makes people happy and helps them to express their personality.
NADJA Maybe also, to make people realize that you can fulfill your dreams if you give everything for it. Even if you’re as young and starry-eyed as we were.
FRANK That’s true. I actually am a very prudential person who thinks everything through and is very anxious about security. But on the other hand, I’ve often made reckless decisions and I never regretted them! Everyone discouraged me from starting my own business, even my lecturers at the university. But as you can see, my lecturers didn’t have the greatest impact on me.