Benjamin Li
Sep 6, 2013

Evisu strives to reverse the wheels of fortune after five years in the red

HONG KONG - Japan's premium denim brand Evisu—named after the Japanese goddess of prosperity—has gone through turbulent times, but 34-year-old chairman & CEO David Pun is determined to reverse the company's fortunes and make it into a global fashion icon.

David Pun
David Pun

Evisu had been in the red for five years in a row until two-and-a-half years ago when Pun took over. Since then, Pun has made the drastic move of closing all retail outlets in the United States and Europe and concentrated his business in Asia. He now has 120 stores in China, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

The former finance and hedge fund executive has now opened his first 'funky' five-storey concept store in Hong Kong's Central district, just a stone's throw from Hong Kong's vibrant nightspots of Lan Kwai Fong and Soho.

In an interview with Campaign-Asia Pacific on 2 September, Pun (pictured) provided a sneak preview of the new store, which houses the brand's retail unit, a denim bespoke business, an art gallery and a members-only whisky bar.

“As we continue to expand the retail footprints, we want to offer our customers not just a shopping experience, but perhaps a way to communicate with them about the Evisu story and lifestyle,” Pun said. “We want a place that really challenges the norm, and we don’t have to be the traditional cookie cutter. A concept store has to be different, it is not just about the merchandise, it is about the experience.”

There's no better city in the world to open a concept store, according to Pun. “Hong Kong is one of the most transient cities in the world, it is a fashion capital and a gateway in Asia and more importantly Lan Kwai Fong is just next door. What better place is there in town?"

About 50 per cent of Evisu's clients are tourists from China, Thailand, Indonesia and other Southeast Asia countries. “Everyone loves to come to Hong Kong, you get all the brands in one place, and it is tax-free," he said.

More importantly, Pun says he wants a place that is accessible to his loyal and core customers. If the concept store takes off, he intends to use it as a template of platform to expand to other cities, possibly Shanghai and New York.

Instead of doing a big launch party to drum up the buzz for the concept store, Pun opted for interviews with the news media. “We don’t want to do the standard launch parties like everyone else by inviting celebrities, we thought the message would get lost and everyone would just focus on the celebrities.”

The art floor, where the interview was conducted, showcases the works of graffiti artist Insa, whose artistic creations are more in line with Evisu’s spirit, which is all about authenticity, craftsmanship, yet with a playful side, Pun said.

The brand plans to work with other designers including Alex Noble, who has designed outfits for Lady Gaga.

Pun acknowledged that his niche customers are denim junkies who are obsessed with details and craftsmanship, and that's why the brand's top collection, Private Stock, has a retail pricetag of HK$5,000 for a pair of jeans.

Pun came across Evisu while working in the private-equity industry in 2006, two years after the brand opened its first store in Hong Kong. Initially he was a silent partner in the company, but when things turned bad, he stepped in and bought out the other partners.

“It was actually one of our portfolio companies for the fund," he said. "For many different reasons, the brand was not performing that well, the brand was making lots of stupid mistakes, trying to be expanding way too fast, and trying to be all you can be.”

He believes the brand has a lot of potential, it had just executed in the wrong ways.

Pun said that he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Even while staying at Brown University in Rhode Island, he was the franchise manager for a painting company. “I always want to try something different or new, started my own business, one thing led to another from finance, saving up the money that you made. Obviously finance can let you to have more freedom to do what you want.”

Evisu presented the right opportunity, he added. "I went crazy, I mortgaged my mom’s house and rolled the dice and invested in Evisu."

The company went into the black during his first year and is now a strong franchiser, Pun said.

Despite the brand being quite well-known worldwide, Pun took the tough decision of "retrenching" the business back to Asia. "At the time, we were distributing in US in Barneys, in UK with Selfridges," he said. "We thought we were not focused enough at that time, we thought we were trying to be everything. When you do that, the story and message get lost."

The company has been focused on the product side, but Pun said he's exploring different global PR and creative agencies with an eye toward investing in brand marketing in a stronger way starting in 2014.

"Next year, you would see a much bigger push as part of our relaunch that Evisu is back in a big way," he said. 

What are Pun's long-term ambitions? "My dream will be Evisu potentially a real global icon," he said. "We are spending a lot of time going to India, US and Europe to forge new partnerships on wholesale and retail partners to expand the brand."

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