How to build a business out of a hobby? How to earn money while travelling?…
The inventor of a brand of professional barista aprons B.SMOCK
Her friends think she’s very brave. She says that she is rich in ideas and visions that she wants to put into practice. Isabelle Rogenmoser is a qualified fashion designer, who works primarily in sales and marketing, is the founder of her own label and the inventor of a brand of professional barista aprons B.SMOCK. She does it all in parallel, yet manages to travel to exotic countries, take part in beauty contests, shoot commercials and climb mountains.
We met at Isabelle’s home, and over a cup of aromatic coffee we talked about how to combine so many different activities, how she gets inspired for her projects, how important is the support of people and how the coffee industry differs from everything else.
Isabelle, thank you for taking the time for this meeting! When I look around your apartment, I see how many different hobbies and interests you have in your life. It’s hard to imagine how to combine all that. But let’s talk about that step by step. How did your career begin?
My career started in haute couture fashion cutting. I did my apprenticeship as a clothing designer specializing in women’s clothing and then studied for two more years at the Fashion Design School in Zurich. My first education taught me to go into details and to technically work on complex cuts, and the Fashion Design School helped me develop my creative talent, find inspirations and create something unique. After graduating, I got to apply these skills in the bridal fashion industry.
Sounds very interesting! What kind of work was that?
I worked in a big bridal shop called Principessa in Cham. It was a 300 square meter retail store that offered a wide range of clothes – not only wedding dresses but also evening dresses, men’s suits, accessories. There I worked with the “Haute Couture Collection,” where everything had to be done very precisely. I sewed wedding dresses and designed evening dresses.
So you made your own designs already then?
Yes, but not all of them, of course. The main part of the assortment was purchased, and a small part was our own design. It was a very interesting and intensive time in my life, because between the end of my studies and the beginning of the job in bridal fashion I also founded my own label.
In the beginning it was all a hobby, but it started to evolve very quickly.
Tell a little more about this label. What kind of project is it?
It’s called Isabella Rocci. I created this label to offer tailor-made fashion designs, evening dresses, and casual fashion. The brand is an Italian interpretation of my name as I have Italian roots.
What style does the label pursue?
Festive, elegant, and a little futuristic. In the beginning it was all a hobby, but it started to evolve very quickly. Over time, I have also lead larger projects, made collaborations with other brands and interesting cooperations.
In other words, your first experiences with your own project can be described as successful?
Yes, you could say that. And I also enjoy developing my own project, watching how it grows, how the products are sold, and how people enjoy my work.
When you just started, did you have any doubts, or did you always believe in success?
Many people say that I am very courageous, imaginative, and creative. As soon as I see potential in something, I pursue the idea. With the label I primarily created an offer which mainly my acquaintances could use. I designed something exclusive for them.
Courageous, that’s for sure. For example, I saw you in an ad for Zuger Kantonalbank. How did that happen?
Oh, that’s an exciting story. It all started in 2013 when I took part in the Charming Zugerin competition. I applied for it, and in the end, I was the winner. I had the opportunity to wear the title for one year. At that time I received offers to work with various companies and took part in several advertising projects. A few years later I was contacted by the bank’s marketing department and asked if I wanted to participate in their PR campaign. I went through casting and was lucky enough to be chosen for an advertising campaign that I still remember with pleasure.
And what was going on with your career at that moment? You had already left the wedding field, right?
I was lucky enough to enter the exciting world of sales and marketing. The opportunity arose to take on responsibility for sales and marketing at a start-up. I was also able to complete internal training there and was very committed. Then I continued on this path and worked for various companies. For about seven years, I have been involved in brand development, consulting and customer care as well as the development of marketing concepts. So I found a way to find and use my creative potential (which I could not always apply in my craftsmanship) in marketing.
I am sure that this experience might also help you to develop your own projects – for example, your new brand B.SMOCK, where you create aprons for baristas. How did you actually come up with this idea?
The idea came out of my hobby. I am a passionate coffee lover, and this love is also shared by my partner. One day we decided to replace our capsule coffee machine at home with a strainer. The proper equipment to grind and prepare really good coffee. This is how we started to get to know different ways and technologies of making coffee.
At the same time, I researched the trends in the Swiss market and asked myself what directions were actively developing. I found out that the coffee industry of certain coffee culture is a rapidly growing market with great potential for implementing new ideas. As a fashion designer, I paid attention to the barista uniform and thought that more modern and professional aprons would find their audience. Accordingly, I immediately started working on this idea.
Did you just follow your intuition, or did you research the niche more closely?
I surveyed baristi. I was lucky because until then I already knew some great people from this industry and was able to contact them directly. In the survey I was particularly interested in what functionality an apron should have, what it should look like and how much a barista would pay for it.
So your potential customers told you what they might need?
Exactly. And I was very interested to know if this idea had potential and if it was relevant for the people working in this area. I did the survey in February this year and started the project in March. So everything developed at an incredible pace.
Did the baristi’s answers help you improve the concept?
The idea and the prototype had already been developed by that time. My goal was for the collection to be modern and colorful. The survey helped me refine the details. For example, I wanted to make aprons with a minimum of pockets, but I found that they were necessary for a barista to accommodate a notebook, pen, and other barista equipment. It was also important to me to use high-quality materials and create a unique product.
What materials do you work with and why?
There are several key factors in the choice of material. Barista often works in warm rooms, so it is important that the fabric is breathable. I also focus on sustainability. Finally, I choose cotton or jute as the base material for the aprons, which is form stable and easy to wash. As a combination, I use a waxed cotton material, which is intended for “wiping hands.” The main material is processed with an additional inlay, which stabilizes the shape and makes the apron look good even after several washes.
Thanks to this material combination and high-quality workmanship, this apron can be used for a lifetime. By the way: the “Infinity Guarantee” is one of the aspects of my marketing concept. If the button suddenly comes off or something else happens, the apron can be brought to me for repair.
Looks like you’ve thought of every little detail. Now I know what you mean by “brand with personality” in your brochure. And how much room is there for personalization? Which elements can be changed according to the customer’s wishes?
You can put an emblem on it, place your logo, choose the colors. Whether the customer wants a pocket removed or reduced in size is no problem. In addition, there are possibilities for the materials. For example, this model is based on a piece of fabric made of jute instead of denim. At the same time, however, I want to preserve the identity of the B.SMOCK brand, which I have manifested in diagonal lines, some details and visual characteristics.
It looks very beautiful and unusual. Where do you produce these aprons and how long does it take?
All orders are produced in Switzerland. The production of an apron takes about eight hours and requires a lot of manual work. Whenever I need help with leather processing, I turn to a partner. I also work with a specialist who is responsible for B.SMOCK branding. Likewise, there are people who organize the photo shooting. So I am not completely alone. It is very important to have people close to you who support you.
One-to-one marketing is what I use most in the B2B sector. I am constantly on the move in personal contact with people.
Wow, eight hours to produce an apron! And yet you still have a full-time job? How do you manage to combine them?
Yes, I continue to work in my main job, but in general, I can plan my free time well. I understand that it is important to find a work-life balance and so far I have been lucky enough to achieve this.
You have a brand new product: where do you find customers? Where do they learn about you?
To create brand awareness, I promote the project through social media and use regular digital marketing. One-to-one marketing is what I use most in the B2B sector. I am constantly on the move in personal contact with people. From time to time, I visit cafés for a cup of coffee and take my apron with me for presentation. I keep track of café openings and inform the owners about my brand.
The brand was launched at the first Swiss Coffee Festival. For this purpose, I also prepared flyers to present B.SMOCK. In general, this is the best advertising when you can meet people from a branch personally – and present your product on site.
What is the story behind the brand name B.SMOCK? What does it mean?
The letter “B” refers primarily to my target audience, the baristi, and “SMOCK” is nothing but the equivalent of “apron.” I wanted “B.SMOCK – the posh smock” to have the potential to become a distinctive brand, so I tried to find a clear and memorable name.
I think you handled it very well. And what are your plans for the future? How do you see the brand developing over the next 5-10 years?
First of all, I would very much like the brand to establish itself firmly in its niche. The brand also has the potential for further development: for example, we can create other designs or expand the product range with a bistro apron. In general, I would, of course, be happy if I could do this as my main job and in a way pass on my spirit to other people through these products.
You have probably already visited most of the places in the area and are very familiar with coffee. Do you have any favorite cafés?
I’ve already been to some great cafés, but there are many more to visit. I love the Lucerne Café Tacuba, whose owner has his own coffee plantation. This enables them to offer unique types of coffee. The team consists of very cool people who do their work with their hearts. Another interesting place is the new meeting place, Freiruum in Zug. And of course I am always excited to get to know new things and find inspiration for my projects.
The trend is developing actively, and I am developing with it.
Where exactly do you find inspiration? In which countries do you get ideas?
Apropos design, for example, the print for one of the apron models is interspersed with Latin American motifs. It’s colorful, bright, emotional. If we look at the coffee industry as a whole, the number one coffee landscape is, of course, Germany. I often travel to Berlin and other German cities where love and interest in coffee are already widespread. There are many different urban and modern concepts as well as people who know the type of coffee very well and love it with all their heart. In Switzerland, this is not yet the case to this extent, but here it is gradually beginning to evolve. The trend is developing actively, and I am developing with it.
For the coffee market development, does this mean that there are more new cafés or that the culture of coffee consumption, in general, is progressing?
The choice of coffees is growing, and each has its own history and character. Today, coffee production can be traced back to the plantation. Market participants often work directly with the producer without intermediaries and can, for example, deliver green coffee to Switzerland and then roast it locally. In advertising, storytelling is becoming more and more popular; companies show the entire process of manual work from cultivation to roasting, grinding and brewing coffee. And of course there are many types of coffee – it is an infinite universe.
In general, coffee represents a very special message, its own culture. The people who work in this field have a completely different way of thinking. They are passionately interested in the subject; they do it with delight and, very importantly, they prevent excessive influence on wholesalers in the industry.
These were very interesting insights into the world of coffee. All in all, it sounds like you have a lot of interests, hobbies and projects. What or who helps you to make all your goals and dreams come true?
The person who knows a lot about me and my latest ideas is my partner, who is an important foundation for my source of inspiration. Even if I start new projects and work all night, he gives me a lot of strength, support, and is always understanding. Not to forget my close friends who also believe in me. I cannot put into words how valuable and important this support is for me.
Thank you very much for this interesting conversation! We wish you much success with your projects!
Learn more about B.SMOCK