Christiane Brunk stops to think when asked to name her favourite Braun Büffel collection. “There are so many it’s difficult to tell,” she says. Brunk is owner and managing director of the business started by her great-grandfather Johann Braun in 1887.
“It’s everything to do with leather because my heart beats for leather. I have a leather passion and whatever the bag, it has to have a good tan feel and a smart touch. And it has to be big because I’m always carrying my things with me.”
Another question — her proudest moment after helming the brand for 15 years — had her pausing again before casting a quick look around the brand’s redesigned store at ION Orchard in Singapore. “I think this is a proud moment — I’m here giving interviews and acting in such a global way. My great-grandfather could not even think of it.
“Last year in Germany, we won the leather goods Oscar [the ILM Award for Best in Basics at the In ternational Leather Goods Fair in Offenbach]. Ours is a made-in-Germany collection and we focus very much on sustainability. We are very proud that leather is so well accepted in concept because we put much more effort into the packaging so it is ecologically friendly and recyclable. Proud moments? I hope every day.”
Great-grandpa would probably be astounded by the colourful and trendy spring/summer 2020 collections on the shelves, launched in Singapore on Jan 9.
There are bags for today’s mobile urbanite in pastel colours and different tones of green and blue, with creative design elements that draw from the past, present and future. Lightweight materials, leathers embossed with exotic prints and fun reiterations of the #BBMonogram in both the collections for men and women entice visitors to reach out and feel the products.
As the one responsible for setting the design principles for the brand, Brunk is excited about how it has evolved. “You see it here — we have [moved] from a very traditional and maybe slightly conservative brand to one that is much more modern and open. I really like it. We operate on a very stable basis, which gives us room for more adventures like this,” she says.
It has been a continuous adventure for Brunk, who joined the family business in 1992, bringing her experience in consulting. After taking over the helm from her father Karl-Heinz in 2005, she concentrated on Braun Büffel’s Asia-Pacific expansion strategy. She was behind the launch of its eyewear in Singapore and Malaysia in 2006, and timepieces in 2014.
Her focus now is on steering the brand forward, using new materials and colours and a more modern design philosophy to stay relevant with the younger generation of customers who lean towards sustainability.
More shades have been introduced in Germany, where buyers tend to favour black or brown. “We started it earlier in Asia and it’s really fantastic to see the candy colours for ladies in our SS20 bags. Our theme this year is individualism — you can find your companion here from each collection, whether you want something formal or for leisure,” says Brunk.
The basic staples, such as briefcases and messenger bags, are still there, but standing alongside them are backpacks, crossbody bags, pouches, accessories that can be attached to bags and carryalls with slots and space for the gadgets necessary for work and play — products born from the brand’s keeping its ear to the ground.
“We listen very closely to our consumers. Social media makes it easier for us to be close to them and talk to them. I love this direct contact. We get good comments, which are used by the design team. We can test things and get fast reactions.
“Sometimes old brands tend to focus on the past and say it was better [then]. We are looking to the future and trying to implement new things in our products,” Brunk says.
The Asian market is more fashion-forward and moves faster, and there is a good exchange of ideas and trends, she finds. Also, the product range for men is more interesting than that back home, where “it’s very conservative — black, black, black, light black. I like that we can do design experiments and get good responses here. This encourages us to do the same in Germany — maybe it takes a bit longer”.
She lauds the brand’s design team headed by Fabio Panzeri for listening to what consumers want. For the current season, the creative designer collaborated with US brand Klean Kanteen to produce an insulated water bottle — another nod to sustainability — that sports Braun Büffel’s iconic buffalo imprint.
Brunk’s specific input in the brand’s product design, she adds, is to ensure that its logo is used correctly, “to control it a little bit and see that it’s according to our brand philosophy. But I’m quite open-minded — sometimes you see interlocking logos, which show the buffalo looking to the past and into the future. This is an ongoing discussion and I see myself as the brand mind”.
The company’s biggest challenge is to attract new consumers and meet the expectations of the younger generation. “With this store concept and our new collections, we are in a good place. We try to give them a showcase, a stage for our products because they want to have the experience. You can buy many bags; there’s nothing special about them. Our challenge is to give some emotional aspect to the bag, some experience,” notes Brunk.
As a result, Braun Büffel will continue to maintain and expand its bricks-and-mortar stores while working on an omnichannel marketing strategy. “We need a showroom where people can touch, feel and experience our products,” says Brunk.
With millennials, there is also the matter of communication and discussion. Besides talking about sustainability, they should think about what it means and decide what kind of products to buy, she says. “Our challenge is to find a good way to communicate these issues to them.”
Brunk considers Singapore and Malaysia her second home, after 20 and 10 visits respectively. Food aside, she loves fast-developing Asia’s openness to new ideas and the wide roads to the airport!
Is there a fifth generation waiting in the wings?
“Wish her good luck because the fifth generation is sitting in school at the moment, doing her final exam in German. When she passes she will be able to go to university. She should travel a bit,” Brunk says, referring to her only daughter, Lina.
Brunk has a sister who left the company one-and-a-half years ago to care for her two children. Just as she joined Braun Büffel by choice, Lina can decide what she wants to do. “Who will helm the business in the future? Let’s see. I’m working hard,” she says.
This article first appeared on Jan 20, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.