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Nicola Formichetti Reveals Nicopanda Expansion Plans

Armed with funding from investors including Agent Provocateur co-founder Serena Rees and CAA, Formichetti and business partner Kevin Kollenda share their plan to create the 'punk Hello Kitty.'
Nicopanda World Autumn/Winter 2016 | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Lauren Sherman

NEW YORK, United States — It's the day before Nicola Formichetti's Nicopanda presentation and his Tribeca studio is humming. There are spray-painted purple and green bikes being carried up the stairs — perhaps for the set — and club kids sewing samples. Formichetti, the company's chief creative officer (and Diesel's artistic director), is here. So is chief executive Kevin Kollenda, Formichetti's business partner for nearly 15 years.

On Wednesday, the duo will unveil Nicopanda World, a full-fledged second line, designed to complement Nicopanda Fashion, the playful apparel collection inspired by an animated character developed over the past five years. Now in its third season, Nicopanda’s wholesale revenue was approximately $1 million in 2015, with Asian sales making up 51 percent of the business. China is the company's biggest market. (Europe, the Middle East and Africa made up 39 percent, while North America drove 10 percent.)

The first Nicopanda World collection will encompass more than 100 skus, with retail prices ranging between $50 and $400. (Nicopanda Fashion is also accessibly priced, with items hovering around $500.) The new line — which Kollenda believes will lift the company’s revenues by 400 to 500 percent in 2016 — includes tees and sweatshirts, but mostly accessories: keyrings, bum bags, clutches, backpacks, all in the likeness of Nicopanda, an adorable panda bear. Some are scribbled with Formichetti’s own doodles, decorated with faux fur and designed in mock python, which the designer likes to call dinosaur skin.

“There was more, but I didn’t want to overwhelm people,” Formichetti says, wearing one of the collection’s panda-grommet sweatshirts, the face of his Nicopanda tattoo peeking out from one of the holes. “We have big ambitions for this brand. We want to create the next generation of Hello Kitty. It’s a punk Hello Kitty. We have a big dream.”

Nicopanda World Autumn/Winter 2016 | Source: Courtesy

The collection, like Nicopanda Fashion, will be sold at third-party retailers and via the brand’s own e-commerce site. But this is just the beginning for Formichetti and Kollenda, who recently raised a 'friends-and-family' round of funding in order to help scale the brand. The unusual lineup of investors includes Serena Rees, co-founder of Agent Provocateur, real estate titan Eric Hadar and Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which also represents Formichetti. “We are lucky to be mentored by a couple of big banks that are watching us right now,” Kollenda adds. “They’re around to offer guidance.”

The company declined to disclose the size of the round and the terms of the deal, though Formichetti and Kollenda did reveal elements of their five-year roadmap, which goes beyond product alone. Next year, the company will launch a beauty collection with a strategic partner. But a video game and feature film are also in the works, though the latter will likely take four to five years to materialize. There are plans for physical retail as well.

Each investor offers the company a specific strategic advantage, as well as funding, says Kollenda. Rees, a longtime friend of Formichetti and Kollenda from their days living in London, is a valuable advisor on brand building. CAA offers a deep connection to the entertainment industry. And Hadar, who owns Manhattan’s Citigroup Center and LVMH Tower, will advise on retail expansion. “Many of our properties [are rented by] creative young companies that have become successful. 568 Broadway, for example, has given birth to numerous start-ups with current valuations in excess of $1 billion,” Hadar says. “As landlord, I've come to recognize the common denominators that make these companies so successful: a unique combination of classic business discipline with a thorough understanding of what makes the millennial generation tick. Nicopanda has all of the ingredients.”

The decision to expand the Nicopanda label was inspired, at least in part, by the licensing queries Formichetti and Kollenda have been fielding about the character. (Inspired by Formichetti’s nickname, the duo developed the moniker in 2011, launching a series of trinkets and novel products at “Nicola’s” pop-up shop in New York City.) They have spent the last year organizing all the associated trademarks and copyrights, and are still in the process.

But why not broker a lucrative deal with a company that has years of experience in licensing? One look at the company's revenue projections — which they hope will soar to $75 million by 2020 — make it clear that Kollenda and Formichetti believe they have something bigger on their hands. “What Nicola and I have learned over the years is that it you offer people mediocrity, they’ll accept it,” Kollenda says. “If you offer people greatness, they will rise to it.”

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