Bold, refined, adventurous. The three words Pig & Hen uses to describe itself hint at the naval spirit that inspired the business. The name of the brand is a nod to a Dutch tradition from the 1600s when sailors would tattoo a pig and a hen on their feet before sailing into unknown waters – the animals were considered a symbol of good luck because, being transported in wooden crates, they were often the only creatures to survive a shipwreck.
The brand’s signature bracelets are handmade in Amsterdam using real nautical rope and naval-strength steel. This authenticity and craftsmanship have made them popular with people all over the world, yet Pig & Hen’s existence as a fashion accessories brand happened almost by accident, evolving from a hobby.
“It all began with my business partner Dominic” explains Stefan Textor, Pig & Hen’s Co-owner and e-commerce Director. “He was a sailor and started making handmade bracelets with nautical rope in his spare time. Friends began asking Dominic to make bracelets for them too. His friend Rutger had a commercial background so encouraged Dominic to turn his hobby into a fashion accessories business. They went to a fashion fair and promoted some of Dominic’s designs. After the first day, they had over 35 deals with retailers.”
The team realized that they had tapped into something special and created a unique product. From there, things moved quickly – they came back from that event on Monday, had acquired premises by Thursday, hired two members of staff by Friday, and went into production on Saturday.
The brand now has a flagship store in Amsterdam, which is also home to its headquarters and workshop where each of the bracelets is lovingly handmade by a dedicated team. Currently, with eighteen designs in several colors, a new collection is released twice a year and a special edition collection twice a year.
From Salty Steve, “his favorite drink is seawater and he drinks it by the gallon,” to Gorgeous George, “all the shipmen rely on his deep knowledge of the sea.”
Storytelling has played an important role in distinguishing the brand as truly unique and has made the bracelets something of a collector’s item. “The average customer owns three to four bracelets, but we have many people who own more than ten”, Stefan shares proudly.
In its early days, it was by sharing images of the bracelets on Instagram that Pig & Hen inadvertently made its first e-commerce sale. “Initially, just friends and family were following, but then a British guy sent Dominic a DM [direct message] and asked how he could buy it. He transferred money online and that was our first B2C e-commerce order!”
Today, Pig & Hen's online presence is a carefully curated operation, with a dedicated e-commerce website helping the brand to grow its identity and story. “In 2018, our online sales were 25-30% and the rest was B2B [retail stores] – now it’s the other way around. 70% of our current revenue comes from our e-commerce channel, and 75% of that is from non-Dutch customers.”
The e-commerce website is supported by social media channels including an Instagram account with over 60,000 followers, on which they post photographs in line with the brand identity: weathered coastal landscapes; an older model with a long white beard who looks like he has seen many adventures; and even shots of Amsterdam’s beautiful architecture – all reinforcing Pig & Hen’s homegrown, authentic feel.
Despite so much of its heritage being tied to Amsterdam, when it comes to customers, the brand has reached shores much further away. It has strong market penetration in the United States, Germany, the UK, France and Belgium. Partnering with DHL has enabled the brand to reach these markets with ease, removing much of the hassle that comes with cross-border trade – such as customs paperwork – leaving it free to focus on the fundamental elements of production; namely, ensuring quality is prioritized above everything else.
So confident is the brand in this quality that it repairs or replaces any bracelet that breaks for free. Such customer service is particularly important for a young brand where word of mouth is integral to getting noticed. “It is such a transparent market; if you fail, people will post negative reviews about you, so make sure the quality is there and pricing becomes secondary,” Stefan advises. “Get the basics right and then scale based on success.”
DHL’s experience has helped Pig & Hen navigate some of its biggest e-commerce hurdles. “We’re often subjected to seasonal and promotional peaks. This presents challenges for operations and production to meet customers’ expectations and ensure that every package is delivered perfectly on time. Usually, we have a higher peak than expected.” Preparation is the key to managing this; “For Christmas, we have everything in place already – sales are forecast on a daily level. We started producing for the whole winter collection back in summer to prepare for the last two months of this year. We see a shift in sales from November to December because of Black Friday and Cyber Monday." In recent years, these two events have become leading dates in the e-commerce calendar, with many businesses seeing an increase in sales that match those experienced at Christmas.
DHL’s support also helps the brand manage one of fashion e-commerce’s biggest problems – returns. Everyone knows their shoe size or clothes size but doesn’t always know their wrist size. Pig & Hen’s website features tips to help customers measure and pick the right bracelet size, but inevitably there will still be some returns. DHL has ensured this process is as smooth as possible for both the brand and customers – incredibly important when considering how highly customers value an efficient returns service when deciding whether to shop with an e-retailer again.
Of course, there has been one challenge for the brand to manage that no amount of planning could have anticipated: the unwelcome arrival of the pandemic of 2020. Like so many other e-commerce businesses, Pig & Hen saw a sharp rise in sales as locked-down consumers all over the world turned to online shopping. “From May or June or so, the growth was increasing really fast in B2C. Usually, June is not a busy month for us so it was pretty amazing to see this amount of growth; we compensated for the loss in B2B sales and it prompted a change in our strategy.”
The brand made itself agile to respond quickly to trends at a time when things were changing almost daily. “The great thing about selling online is that you can track everything – we could see the sales being affected as the pandemic moved across the globe. We saw a big decline in US orders, so we moved our online marketing budget to Germany, the Netherlands and France to reach our sales targets.” Such flexibility saved Pig & Hen from losing “thousands of euros”.
Stefan believes the pandemic has transformed digital commerce. “It definitely gave people more trust in e-commerce. Now it’s online or nothing.”
As the brand has grown, it has reached the point when many other businesses start to think about selling on one of the leading online marketplaces – the obvious choice being, of course, Amazon. Yet, for Pig & Hen, it didn’t feel the right fit.
“Data is king to us; without data, we can’t personalize [our offering] very well. Amazon doesn’t share buyer data so we wouldn’t be able to target through email marketing, which is still an important channel for us. If you’re not owning the data these days, you’re not owning anything. Also, the margins are not great on Amazon.” Pig & Hen’s decision to ‘do it alone’ and manage its own online store has allowed them to collect market data which is invaluable for understanding and retaining its customers. “Our average customer is urban, aged 35-50; modern guys who like good design. If someone buys from us, we will be able to retarget them on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Google.”
With strong sales growth online, Pig & Hen soon had its sights set on selling to additional international markets. And to help it meet these goals, DHL was there once again.
“Most of our growth comes from non-EU regions, and DHL Express is the perfect partner for that – the success rates of their deliveries are very good. They focus on quality and that’s something we can relate to ourselves.”
So successful has the partnership been, that Pig & Hen has a special DHL bracelet in the works, following the likes of fashion brand Vetements who created a limited edition DHL-inspired collection. “We wanted to design a bracelet that is cool to wear if you work for DHL or not” explains Stefan. “With DHL, it was an easy fit because we’re very much aligned in terms of design. The bracelet must be close to our existing designs – with the D shackle and the stitching – that was number one on our list. Secondly, the colors had to reflect DHL. Revenue wasn’t our goal with this, it’s about brand awareness.” The bracelets are available exclusively through Pig & Hen’s online store.
As the brand’s success continues, fans will be eagerly awaiting the next addition to join Salty Steve and Gorgeous George in the Pig & Hen family.