We sat down with Adam Lewenhaupt, founder of the Swedish brand C.QP and asked him some questions about the mission of the company and their forthcoming projects.
portrait of Adam Lewenhaupt by Jamie Ferguson
Name of the company / brand
CQP (Conversations & Quintessential Products)
Why this name?
When we first launched the brand it was under the name “Coloquy” which more or less means informal conversation. We really liked the word, it had a different and very independent ring to it and also related directly to our series of interviews, “Conversations”, that we continuously conduct with individuals who inspire us. We had to change names for legal reasons (long story) only a few months into the company’s life and then we opted for CQP as a description of what we do and the products we aim to offer.
When was the company founded and where are you based?
I founded the company in 2013 and launched in 2014. We are based in Stockholm, Sweden.
Who owns it? and who designs the products?
We are a small independent brand currently owned by myself and two partners who both work in the company. We have no external investors and have always tried to grow organically. I design all our products from the ground up which some might fine odd as my background is in finance and not retail or design..
Where does the inspiration come from?
I always find it very difficult to pin down only one source of inspiration. To me it is the sum of many small parts that I can rarely define. That said, most of my ideas tend to come when I focus the least on creating; when I travel, read, watch movies and discover new things.
How would you describe CQP in few words?
Confident, balanced, honest, tasteful
Why you opened up? what’s your background?
CQP really started as a passion project and still is. I was working in finance for around 10 years and felt an urge for a long time to do something entrepreneurial. I decided to pursue something I felt strongly for; and I have always been very much into shoes. I also felt I could add something to the niche.
How many people are currently employed?
Currently we are a small team of 6 people, of which half work full time.
Are you so far happy with the results had so far?
Retail is a tough business and I think we have done pretty well with limited resources. That said, there are of course many things we could have done differently.
What’s your business model looking now today ? own stores, wholesale, ecommerce (managed by whom?)
We sell through our own store in Stockholm, online and through selected retailers. We are also about to launch a seasonal three month store in a more central location in town, where we will invite brands we love to partner up for two-week periods. We handle as much as we can of the e-commerce in-house to ensure the best possible customer service and quality control.
What are the most important markets for you right now?
Sweden is our home market so will always be important, but most of our revenues come from abroad with the UK and US as our main markets. At the moment we are very focused on establishing a stronger presence in other European markets such as the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland etc. Japan is a long term focus, but our resources force us to be focused.
What is your approach in regards to social media platforms? Do you use any to promote your business?
No one can deny the importance of social media today and there are a number brands out there that can thank clever use of Instagram-marketing for more or less all of their success, and we are also quite active with our own profile. We prefer Instagram and do not use Facebook actively for various reasons. We are not active on Snapchat and imagine most of our customer are not either.
How good you rate your corporate website ? do you track the visits ? and do you interact with your clients there?
I think we have a nice website visually and graphically and hopefully also in terms of functionality. We track traffic and traffic sources but are quite inactive when it comes creating sponsored posts or links. Our communication with customers is mostly via email.
How would you describe your strategy in regards to “communication”? do you invest in print magazines ? do you prefer to go thru a digital communication approach?
As a small brand how we communicate is critical, and online and social media is extremely important. I think print is very important too still and I also think it has higher credibility. Being featured in an online post in Esquire naturally gives instant traffic and hopefully also some sales, while being featured in their print magazine is more about building the brand recognition in the long term. And the magazine will also lie around for a long time, while the online post is quickly on the bottom of the website.. Our focus is mostly to generate editorial content through continuously updating our offering and stay interesting.
What is your approach when it comes to Influencers/Ambassadors?
We have always found it difficult to find “influencers” that we feel deliver consistent quality and style and who speak to people who we see as our target audience. Our products are also quite expensive and these two reasons have meant we have done quite little promotion via “influencers”. Today, I think brands are beginning to ask questions – what does a “like” really mean? What does an “engagement” mean? I also think it is more difficult today to generate interest via Instagram than it was 5 years ago and people are probably generally less likely to follow new accounts, there is just too much going on. I also think many influencers have ruined their own credibility, by accepting to be “bought” or sponsored by a too wide variety of brands and products. In other words our approach will be to continue to focus on improving our own channel and be very selective when it comes to “sponsoring”.
Where do you manufacture your products? Has it been difficult to find the right production companies?
We produce everything in Portugal where we are quite certain we have found the very best factory for the shoes we make. Unfortunately also the most expensive one. Most materials come from Italy, with some leathers from Sweden. Finding good production is extremely difficult, especially as a new brand. Portugal was more open to us than Italy when we started, but now we are being approached by many factories. We may of course begin to produce in other countries when and if we expand our offering.
Where do you see your company/brand in three years?
Hopefully we have managed to become a more well-known brand also in markets where we currently have very little presence. I hope we have managed to stay true to our core and have not changed to much about what CQP is about. We will probably have launched products in new categories. Despite the “death” of physical retail I hope we will have opened up small stores in more places than Stockholm, for example London, where we cleverly combine e-commerce with physical retail and showroom abilities.
What’s the biggest mistake you have done lately?
The biggest and costliest mistakes we have done have been related to wholesale. Eager to grow we have jumped into relationships without properly checking the finances and ability to pay of certain stores and unfortunately some of them have simply not paid us, despite having sold their stock of our products, forcing us to take losses. We are now more selective and say no to unreasonable payment terms, despite facing the risks that we will lose new accounts. In terms of collections, we have not really made huge mistakes but there are of course good and bad sellers among our styles…
What are you mostly proud of?
When I travel to another country and see a complete stranger walking around in our shoes, it makes me proud. Having taken the risk to create something that most told me was a bad idea and getting it off the ground also feels good.
What’s your approach towards seasonal collections/ discount policy?
Our offering actually changes quite a little from one season to another. We continuously make small updates and improvements to our products and also add new colors, but we do not throw everything out and start from scratch every season. That said, we try to bring out new products around 4-6 times per year, which is possible since the majority of our sales is through our own channels. This also affects our discount policy, where we have some styles that we have probably never discounted. We rarely have a sale at all and if we do we typically start with offering our registered and loyal customers “hidden” discounts. We also host 1-2 sample sales in store each year, where we offer outgoing styles, pre-collections and samples.
Which other products / brands / you like to see next to yours?
As a sneaker brand we are pretty conservative and not really into the whole streetwear trend. I prefer brands that are contemporary perhaps but always with classic values, good quality and craftsmanship. I personally like brands like APC, Camoshita, Kitsuné and Barena. For our coming pop-up we will be hosting some other brands we are big fans of.
What’s your 3 favourite specialty stores in the world (where you would like to possibly sell your products to)
Trunk Clothiers in London (also excited to see their new Zurich store), Merci in Paris, Bergdorf Man in New York.
How is CQP reacting to the current massive #uglyshoes hype?
Haha! Not really reacting at all I think. As our brand is not a hype-type or streetwear brand we have not really adapted to this trend. I wonder how long streetwear will have this strong grip on high fashion.
Aesthetically most of the CQP products are clean and simple. How do you react when someone says “well I can buy it at XXX”? why should someone buy CQP and not Common Projects for example?
We get that a lot and I think it is fair to ask. There is a lot out there that look similar to an untrained eye and we were not the first brand to enter the market. It really comes down to whether you as a customer appreciate the small differences or not, or if you care about wearing a certain brand. Do you care that the last is narrower and that the profile of the shoe is more like a dress shoe than a sneaker? Do you care that it has a sleek toe line? Do you care about the finish of the suede or leather, or that the sole has a shank that greatly enhances comfort? If the answers are no, then we are not the brand for that customer. But – we work very hard to do things our own way and if you look twice you will notice that CQP is different; the TARMAC is a “quarter top” that really stands out, the RACQUET is unlined and fits like a glove and the PORTICO is different from anything you have seen before. And CQP are probably among the world’s most discrete brand when it comes to logos and probably have the best comfort on the market.
Why have you decided to open up the pop up shop and why are you inviting some other brand partners?
We still think there is life in physical stores and we came upon a great location and opportunity in Stockholm and decided to create something special for a limited time. Spring is our strongest season so the timing also makes sense. We sat down and talked about how we could make the pop up more interesting for customers and more inspiring for us, and decided to invite some brands we really like that do not have a big presence in Stockholm. This way we can act as curators and add life around our shoes and we can help these brands to present themselves to a new market. The brands we have coming in (The Workers Club, Norse Projects, Private White VC and Thom Sweeney) are all very strong but quite different from each other which makes it even more interesting in our view. Also, we show the variety of brands that CQP works with. I am extremely biased of course, but our sparsely designed space with this tight selection of products will hopefully become one of the more interesting retail experiences in Stockholm. So please stop by Humlegårdsgatan 14!