Not long ago, entrepreneur Michael Wilkens found himself touring Denmark’s Egeskov Castle, when he spotted an old leather suitcase on display. Falling in love with the aesthetic and wanting a modern version for himself, Wilkens soon discovered that such a product didn’t exist in today’s market, so he set out to make it himself. That ancient weathered bag—once belonging to the castle’s former owner—ended up becoming the inspiration behind an entire business model that is dedicated to bringing affluent buyers the products they actually want.
Called WILKENS (naturally), the company was officially founded in 2014 and recently launched their first big piece, the W1 Suitcase. By using a crowd funding model— WILKENS calls funders “patrons”—the company is concerned with only bringing consumers stylish luggage that they want, and is listening carefully to trends and demands. Highly customizable, the W1 hearkens back to the glamor of the 1920s, all while meeting modern needs—a trait apparent in details like the addition of wheels. What’s really cool is that unlike other luxury brands, WILKENS isn’t concerned with branding and doesn’t even put their own logo on the design. If that’s not letting the product speak for itself, we don’t know what is.
We recently spoke with Mr. Wilkens himself to find out more about his business model and WILKENS' signature product, the W1 Suitcase.
JustLuxe: What truly sets luxury luggage apart from standard designs? Is it just the materials used or are there other key factors that may not be as easy to guess?
Michael Wilkens: Of course the materials are an important element, but I would like to add three more:
JL: What sets the W1 Suitcase apart from its competitors?
MW: Primarily, the design sets it apart—no other piece of luggage looks like it. It is a classic vintage design yet built in both classic and contemporary materials. As far as I know, only one or two other companies in the world produce luggage with a structure in carbon fiber. The options for choosing your own design (color, hardware and wood) and personalization are quite unique. Finally the fact that there is no logo on the piece sets it apart—the owners initials will be our logo.
JL: What does the affluent traveler want most from their luggage? What isn’t very important?
MW: Our studies show that they want a personal piece—a piece where they tell the story and not where they are defined by a brand universe. They want luggage that is reliable and functional—which will last for 25 years. They want to stand out and show their good taste without needing to flash their wealth. They are tired of their piles of gadgets with an expected lifetime counted in months.
JL: The W1 brings in Mauro Bianucci for the overall look and Ryan Motley for customized leather; how did you choose the craftsmen to work with?
MW: Most important, Mauro Bianucci is a personal friend and I was convinced we could do great things together; second, he had the experience and the skills to do the job.
Also in the cooperation with Ryan, the personal connection has been key—I like the guy. However what has set Ryan apart from all other producers I have met is his ability to work outside industry standards—combine a carbon fiber structure, with 90 percent custom-made hardware and natural wood, and I promise you the field of craftsmen in the world who can do the job is very narrow.
JL: Why did you choose to use a crowd funding concept and what sets it apart from what other businesses have done?
MW: When I had the idea of the W1 Suitcase and the first sketches in my hand I had to decide on a business model. I realized that I was not the only one with a great design and no direct access to customers, so I decided to create a business model that would not only help the W1 Suitcase to the market but could be a channel to any great design that a designer or innovative soul had in his drawer.
This business model has three major strengths for designers:
For the customers the upside is that they can shop exciting new products at the concept stage and be part of the business through the WILKENS Patron Pay Back Program.
JL: The W1 Suitcase and W4 Brief Case have different deadline dates set; are they on track for production?
MW: The W1 Suitcase is on track and we do focus our energy on this, our signature product. The deadlines are different because the product development is in different phases. Regarding the W4 Briefcase, we do not yet have a working prototype we are pleased with, but I am sure we will catch up.
JL: Do you have any plans in place if full funding isn’t reached for your products?
MW: If full funding is not reached, the products will be dropped; that is the concept. We do not want to launch products that consumers do not want. It is brutal because it is a product you are passionate about, but the decision has been made by the only one who counts—the consumer.
JL: Where do you see the company going in the future? Ideally, what other products would you like to put into production?
MW: My vision is for WILKENS to become the most exciting place to shop for luxury products at the concept stage and at the same time, become a recognized road to market for the best and most innovative designers around the world.
Regarding the products I will put into production, my answer will be in the format of a small anecdote:
You have bought a WILKENS product and 25 years from now you die. When your friends and family have to clear out your stuff then there are a few things they all want and they will fight over them. Those are the things we have put into production and they will fight over them for three reasons:
Those are my criteria for the products that will be launched on WILKENS.