Varsity Headwear is a leading international cap specialist hailing from Oslo in Norway. With a penchant for pop-ups and quality collaborations, the brand is a versatile new-wave label that is happily reactive to its surroundings and global trends. Robin Clementson recently spoke to its founders and brothers Seb and Alex Adams about the journey so far, the trials and tribulations as well as what’s coming up next.
You celebrated 10-years of the brand this year, how did that feel on reflection?
Seb: “It feels really strange. It doesn’t really feel like it has been 10 years, but at the same time it feels longer because we have done so many things in that time and we’ve been so busy. You know, we are very proud that we have been able to make our idea work and to build a really strong team.
Alex: “It’s weird because I don’t really remember doing anything else. What we have done, is to build a solid foundation so that we can survive and grow as a business, which will take into the next 10 years.”
What has been the key moments in the journey so far in terms of learnings and successes?
Seb: “There have been so many that I don’t really know where to start, but perhaps opening our first shop, where we are sitting talking to you now, without any marketing. We didn’t want to tell anyone, even friends.
“I would also say the first time we saw someone wearing our product, it was in a gas station outside Oslo, which was crazy and we called each other, then the same thing happening abroad. Seeing someone in a foreign country wearing Varsity was mind-blowing.”
Alex: “I would have to say opening the Saint Tropez store, it took all our savings and it was a very high risk part of our strategy. However, we wanted to see if there was an international market for our product. We still remember and talk about it today. We are also humbled to be aligned to International key retailers like Bergdorff Goodman, perhaps one of the biggest retail names globally.”
What are you most proud of regarding where you have come from?
Seb: “The thing that we are most proud of is that we have stayed true to our strategy and vision. There has been plenty of opportunity to doubt what we are doing and of course there is an element of nervousness and being unsure, but we have stayed true to our vision.”
Alex: “Every single day we get asked what we are going to make product-wise in addition to the caps. It’s really hard not to doubt yourself – but we have to stay focussed and for now that is solely around caps and cap accessories.”
Navigating the last four years must have been tough, how have you managed the business through those times to where you are now?
Seb: “The pandemic was such a unique situation. As a business we are always trying to learn while running and we always have a feeling that we have to adapt all the time to the market conditions and trends, trying to make good choices, so we run an agile business, which was really put to the test at that moment.”
Alex: “We have always had the feeling of being in control, and thererby to a large extent our own destiny, but this was different and threw some obvious curve balls for everyone in retail globally. Those Government decisions to lock-down really were out of out control and that was tough.”
What are the plans for 2024 and the journey ahead?
Alex: “To make even more effort in the US market, as our product seems to have a great fit there across all regions of the country. We have always been aiming for the North-American market, the home of the baseball cap, but it has taken us 10 years to get ready to enter. There is currently more optimism there than in Northern Europe for sure.”
Seb: “We strongly believe that retail in combination with ecommerce is the way for the future. We are also set to open our French flagship store in Cannes in March 2024, which is currently a pop-up for Xmas, then we will renovate in January ahead of opening.
“We have feet on the ground in the US team-wise, and we are working hard to progress in the North American market with a pace that suits the Varsity brand.”
You are an entrepreneurial business. Any new fun pop-ups planned or partnerships?
Seb: “We have the really cool, creative pop-up space coming in NYC next year, which is next to the Prada store so we are really excited about that, some cool brands have been in the space. We are aiming to make a concept that we can succeed with over in NYC and the States, that’s the dream.
Alex: “ Then we have a lot of smaller partnerships and a larger brand collaboration coming, which we can’t talk about right now.”
What is your favourite cap in the collection and why?
Alex: “You’re asking us to choose between our children! It’s interesting because trends change and our tastes change as well. Then the new products come in and we favour them. But I guess we always go back to a classic. I’m wearing a dark grey cashmere cap. Iconic.”
Seb: “It’s difficult as we have caps for different purposes. I know what I wear when I’m playing sports or for a more lifestyle, stylish occasion. At the end of the day, what we love is what our customers love I guess in terms of timeless classics. I’m wearing a navy wool tech with a membrane at the back. I like it because it’s clean and weather resistant.
“The real answer is. It’s complicated.”
How do you come up with a new cap and fabric. What’s the process?
Seb: “ The more international we’ve become as a brand, the more we discover the differences in our
customer needs. We thought for example that we were making the classic baseball cap, but when we went to the US they were saying ‘but that’s not a classic baseball cap, the classical baseball cap looks like this’ and that’s where the Cruz came from, taking our aesthetic but then adapting to local preferences”
“We have effectively made the same cap in different colours and materials for the last nine years, so only last year did we start to play with different shapes, so we’ve barely started.
Alex: “We always start with what the goal of the cap is and who we think will want to wear it? Then we try to be creative within those limitations. The more we learn about materials and craftsmanship the more ideas we get.
“There are so many ways to go with a cap. To explore the 3D shape means there’s lots of room for creativity.”
Describe Varsity in a sentence for us?
Seb: “It has slightly evolved as the team grows, but it hasn’t changed a lot, which is testament to our vision. I would say Varsity is a brand that delivers timeless, high quality caps – that is our ambition.”
Alex: “I would add the word ‘honest’. We are cap specialists with a transparent refined offer.”
Find out more about Varsity Caps here