The Good Things in Life

Ready for More! An interview with Rene Strolenberg Part 2

This is part II of the 'Ready for more' interview with Mr. Chuck Taylor All Star: Tenue de Nîmes' Rene! Enjoy part 1 here.
Interview by: Margot van der Krogt
Pictures by Jordi Huisman
Tell us about Tenue de Nîmes. How did it come about?
Menno and I actually go way back. We both worked at a denim store when we were 17; I worked at Bendorff in Amsterdam and he worked in The Hague. We met at a company party one night and as drunk as we were, we remember telling each other, “When we grow up, we’re going to open a store and change the world!” It’s quite strange that it’s one of the few things we’ve actually followed up on in our lives. So when I was working at G-Star, Menno showed me his business plan and once I read it, I told him that although I would be happy to advise him, I actually wanted to join him as a business partner. People told us that we could never work together, that it would never work out. We’re complete opposites (night versus day, really, when he goes out for a run, I head straight to the bar!) but really complement each other.
So you had this business plan. Then what? 
We showed up at several banks and they wouldn’t even open the doors for us. We were told over and over again, “I don’t know if you realize but it’s 2008 and the world is about to collapse – you’re not getting any money from us!” We ended up borrowing money from our families and had to be very creative with everything from the renovations of the first store space to the interior and everything in between. At the time, stores had to be polished and white. They were lacking good customer service and there was no time for anything. We wanted to do the complete opposite. We wanted to create a living-room setting where you could come and have a coffee or a beer and stick around all day if you wanted to. That was, and still is today, the reason for the success of Tenue de Nîmes. 
Is that the reason why you opened a second store in Amsterdam?
The first store on the Elandsgracht was really seen as a guys store; we like to call it the ‘manhole’. Even though we had a few women’s collections on display, we thought it was time to create a store that would appeal to women – that’s the store on Haarlemmerstraat. We’ve also opened a store on the Reestraat in the Nine Streets for Red Wing Shoes, the handcrafted leather boots. Just like Chucks and Levi’s, Red Wing Shoes are about 100 years old. We figured that if they have lasted 100 years, they’re sure to last another 10. That was 2010. 
How do you choose the products you sell or support? 
We think it’s important that they are sustainable in some way. Your dirt-covered Lowlands Chucks carry a little bit of history with them. Your Levi’s jeans can be patched up to have even more soul. You can send your Red Wing boots back to the store and get new soles put on them, because loving them means repairing rather than replacing.
Would you say the same goes for Chuck Taylors?
Ha, I was literally born with Converse on my feet. They were my first pair of shoes, and I’ve literally never taken them off. That huge basket over there [points to a basket of shoes in the hallway], those are all my Converse shoes. I wake up in the morning and put two pairs of shoes on. They’re never the same. It really frustrates some people, but that’s my life. 
Why Chucks? 
They’re classic. People complain that they’re not very comfortable; I’ve basically never worn anything else so I wouldn’t be able to tell you if that’s true or not. They re-crafted them a few years ago and released the Chuck Taylor All-Star ’70, but I honestly couldn’t wear them, they were too comfortable. I’m used to the original ones, you know, the ones that get holes in them and eventually fall apart. But I recently received the All Star Chuck II sneakers – they really went back to the old model but added new cushioning, a padded tongue and suede lining. It’s the first new design in 98 years. And honestly, I like them.
So you’re saying it is possible to redesign a classic? 
Yes, I think you can. That’s actually what we’re doing right now. We’ve already launched three pairs of jeans under our own brand, and we’re currently creating a whole line of basics, think t-shirts, sweaters, dress shirts, etc. We don’t have the technological know-how of how to design a pair of jeans, or a dress shirt, but we know what we want. The tables have turned; we’ve always told our consumers that when they walk into our stores, we’re there to share our knowledge of denim. Now, we’re expecting our producers to share their knowledge when it comes to making these basics. It’s quite intense. It takes time to build up that trust. But we’re forming a bond with our producers right now and that’s very cool. 
Are the items you’re producing also made to last? 
As a brand, we want to be transparent. We want to show our consumers, this is Manuel from Italy who makes our jeans, this is his mother who runs the factory where the jeans are made, and this is the factory where our jeans are made. Then the product has a completely different value. Is it sustainable? Is it organic? Not at all, but it’s transparent. 
When can we expect the Tenue de Nîmes basics? 
We hope to launch in the fall. We’re traveling from Japan to Portugal to Italy to get everything done. We’re working with Martelli, the most well known washing laundries in the world. It’s really an incredible place. The place carries so much history: they did everything for Diesel and Replay back in the day. When we got there they asked us, “So what do you want?” And we basically said that we want to wash denim like they did in the old days. One man almost shed a tear. That was really beautiful. 
What does Tenue de Nîmes mean to you? 
We say that Tenue de Nîmes stands for “The Good Things in Life”. I think that really does say it all, as simple as it is. I was recently in Paris and once again realized that the true Parisian doesn’t dress in a very outspoken way. They wear timeless basics. They might buy an expensive trench coat but they’ll wear it for a long time because it’s a quality product. I think that’s how the two of us see Tenue de Nîmes. For Menno and I, Tenue de Nîmes is like coming home. You don’t know how many times we have told our girlfriends, “I’m going home, I’ll see you tonight.”
Is that how you approach your life too? 
Definitely. I remember when I had just finished fixing up this place and a few of my best friends came over. One of the guys said, “I really feel like I’m at home, man.” That’s exactly how I want people to experience my home and our stores; it should feel like a warm blanket. Yeah, a warm blanket, that’s definitely it. 
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