CULTURE

Luxurious, affordable and Greek

A luxury brand boasting an address book that includes stores in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul, conveys more than just international flair. This is the case of jewelry and accessories giant Folli Follie, a Greek brand featuring 250 points of sale in more than 20 countries. Based on stylish collections made of stainless steel, silver and gold, as well as an assortment of accessible accessories, Folli Follie has built an impressive business empire over the years both in Greece and abroad. «Our motto has always been affordable luxury,» says George Koutsolioutsos, Folli Follie’s vice president. «We are a mass luxury brand, with a luxury goods strategy.» Hence the Folli Follie world of high-end outlets in top world neighborhoods featuring a luxurious environment with quality packaging and after-sale services as well as a long-term advertising strategy on the part of the company. The novelty here, however, is that the brand’s «premium» position (neither at the low nor the high end of the market) translates into average selling prices, ranging from 100 to 200 euros. A team of Swiss, Italian, Greek and British designers work on two annual collections, while the prestigious and exclusive K Collection (featuring one-of-a-kind pieces) is designed by founder Ketty Koutsolioutsos. Besides its signature jewelry items, the company has also ventured into quality leather goods, such as bags, scarves and pashminas, fragrances and sunglasses, while the Folli Follie watch collection, Triton, is currently in its 10th year. Established by Dimitris and Ketty Koutsolioutsos, the first Folli Follie store opened in central Athens in 1982. Today, joined by their son George and his wife Mariza, the Koutsolioutsos family continues promoting the original idea, namely the development of branded, trend-conscious and sensibly priced top-quality jewelry catering to a 20- to 40-year-old group of increasingly big-spenders. «Our culture has always been set on high standards, never confined to local boundaries,» says Koutsolioutsos. It is this healthy corporate mentality which quickly took the brand abroad – the first challenge being entering the Japanese market. Folli Follie did not get lost in branding translation and today the company ranks among the top 10 luxury brands in Japan, supported by 65 stores (in Greece, it has been listed in the Athens Stock Exchange since 1997). «If we talk about established world brands in the jewelry realm, we can only talk about high-end jewelers, such as Cartier and Bulgari,» says Koutsolioutsos, who adds that, compared to other fashion sectors, jewelry is a fragmented sector where only 20 percent is branded. «The field is defined by the kind of anonymous jewelry shops one finds in all cities,» he continues. «We felt that the market lacked a jewelry brand with good-quality materials at those prices. There was a gap on an international level and there is no doubt that we would not have ventured into the global market had we seen that we would have competition from 300 similar brands. You might be leader in the Greek market, but when you cross the borders, you are very small.» These days, and a with a track record to prove it, Folli Follie comes across as an innovator, offering something different in a variety of markets with distinct mentalities. It is now, according to the company, that the brand is set to evolve into a truly global brand. Brand history shows that a label needs 10 to 15 years to be established at home says Koutsolioutsos. And once it begins traveling abroad, it might take another 10 to 15 years to become established in global markets. «Being a world brand name means going into any big city round the world and asking someone who is not within your target group about the brand,» says Koutsolioutsos. «This person might not know what we sell, but he knows the name, that is what we refer to as brand awareness.» While in Greece – a mature market – the target has been achieved, in other countries, such as the United States, for instance (where Folli Follie items are available in just six points of sale), brand awareness still has a long way to go. Yet before establishing a larger network in the US, Folli Follie is making good progress in key cities such as Paris and London, while maintaining a strong focus in Asia – where, according to Koutsolioutsos, spending on luxury brands continues to be strong. «In Asia, there is great esteem for Greece,» says Koutsolioutsos. «They respect our history, and as for us, we are considered unofficial ambassadors of our country.» In Japan, the company caters to local demand by developing limited editions – where consumers buy through popular waiting lists – while in China, already the new giant player, Folli Follie’s current strategy includes opening two or three shops every month. «Consumers have a special relationship with brands,» says Koutsolioutsos. «In the luxury sector, it is very important for consumers to interact with the brands. It’s something you have to constantly cultivate, to offer them the sense that they are buying a dream.» While Folli Follie customers around the world continue purchasing what turns out to be an «affordable» dream, the mother company cultivates its own. «Our greatest satisfaction and the biggest challenge for us, besides the company doing well financially, is the fact that we have succeeded in establishing a tightly controlled network where we unite people and mentalities and cultures under a Greek banner,» says Koutsolioutsos. «We are a very closely knit family. We want a member of staff in Hawaii or China to know who he or she’s working for. To know the company and that it stands for a Greek cause.»