“In 1981, we, Ann Berlips and George Cramer, started our business in Amsterdam. We met in high school. We had a shared interest in vintage clothing, and we quickly found various contacts where we could buy beautiful vintage clothing. We sold our finds at the Amsterdam Noordermarkt market, and from 1983 also in our first Exota shop in the Jordaan area. In the 1980’s, we introduced the very first product of our own label: a black turtle-neck that in those days was combined with Levi’s 501 jeans. There was so much demand for black turtle-necks, we could not find enough vintage ones. We have always been passionate about developing clothing that makes people happy. Vintage-inspired clothing, we designed the prints ourselves, with bright colours and a good fit. In the 1990’s, we moved our Exota shop to Hartenstraat in the 9-Streets area in the Amsterdam shopping district, and we are still there today. Some partnerships with other shops have continued for many years; our products are available in the most beautiful shops across Europe. We are very pleased with our partners, and also with the various manufacturers who make our products. We are committed to maximum fulfilment and that’s what we and our team get up for every day!”
Ann Berlips (22) and George Cramer (26) apply for a market licence. Real vintage fans, they start selling their best finds at the Amsterdam Noordermarkt. In between their studies and numerous student jobs, they look for vintage clothing in large halls. Their vintage clothing hits the spot: almost everything they display is sold quickly.
Sales are going well, and the clothing stock does not fit Ann’s attic any more. Ann and George open their first shop in Nieuw Leliestraat in the Jordaan district in Amsterdam. It is full of young Amsterdam entrepreneurs. Ann and George call their shop ‘Exota’, after a lemonade brand that was big in the fifties. Their shop displays vintage pieces, second-hand clothing and designs of their own hand.
It is going well, and their own designs sell so fast that George and Ann decide on setting up their own label: King Louie. The very first design of the name is a black cotton ski pullover. Worn with Levi’s 501 jeans and broad belt, totally jazz (it was the eighties, you know).
Other shops start selling King Louie clothes too, and George and Ann set up their own wholesale trade. Brigitte, one of the shop employees, doesn’t mind posing and becomes their number one model.
King Louie introduces Petit Louie: a vintage inspired clothing line for kids!
‘Why don’t you move to Hartenstraat?’ said Marijke, the owner of vintage clothing shop Lady Day. The pair have grown out of their shop at Nieuwe Leliestraat. The 9-Street district has by now become one of the most fun shopping areas in the Dutch capital. No wonder that Exota is still in the same place!
What’s more, Exota opens its second shop in 2004 - right across from the first shop at Hartenstraat. This space is much-needed with the collection growing every year. King Louie’s children’s collection is launched: Petit Louie. All vintage inspired, of course.
The rise of the internet is changing the world, and King Louie opens a webshop. The packages for Amsterdam are initially still delivered vintage style: hand-delivered with an old-fashioned delivery bicycle.
King Louie continues to grow, also abroad. The clothing gains in popularity in the home markets of the Netherlands and Belgium, and abroad in Germany, Switzerland, France and Denmark, later followed by shops in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Austria. They have about 1,000 customers now. To fulfil demand, the King Louie wholesale trade and the office move into a larger space near Westerpark in Amsterdam.
+ picture wholesale trade Westerpark
In over 30 years’ time, much may have changed, but King Louie is still as committed to its clothing, manufacturers and employees as in the old days. Many employees who joined them at the very start still work for them.
Did anything at all stay the same? Actually, yes. King Louie can still be found at the Amsterdam Noordermarkt every Monday and Saturday, just like over 30 years ago.
Next year (and after)
King Louie aims to contribute to a better world, accepting responsibility for the people making the clothes. They work only with manufacturers guaranteeing adequate working conditions.
This is why King Louie became a member of Fair Wear Foundation in 2015. This is an independent organisation committed to improving working conditions in the clothing industry. Fair Wear has strict inspections on any non-compliance with child labour and excessive working hours requirements, and on the working environment being healthy and safe. King Louie also inspects its suppliers personally every year. They travel to Asia and Turkey, the site of their biggest supplier. The female owner has shown commitment to equal rights for women for many years. King Louie has been working this manufacturer for over 20 years.
It does not stop there. Today, 10% of their clothing comes with GOTS certification. That is short for Global Organic Textile Standard. It means that based on organic fibre and production compliance, the clothing is fully sustainable.
New: the King Louie dresses made of recycled polyester, manufactured from recycled PET bottles.
King Louie is going strong!