3 questions for ... Jean-René Bouton, Managing director of Koché

Three questions for Jean-René Bouton

Jean-René Bouton is the Managing Director of Koché, the brand founded in 2015 by designer Christelle Kocher. He’s also a committee member for Talents, an acceleration program for fashion brands run by the Fédération Française du Prêt-à-Porter Féminin with support from DEFI. Let’s catch up with a believer in sharing experience, passing on knowledge, and peer support.

How long have you been a member of the Talents committee?

I’ve worked with Talents since the very beginning. The Fédération’s Business Division Director Priscilla Jokhoo, who runs the program, asked me to be one of the mentors for the 2017 debut session. She was interested in my experience as Risto brand CEO and associate, and she wanted me to share my expertise with one of the businesses chosen to participate in Talents. So for a year I mentored Proêmes de Paris, helped the young brand grow, and answered their questions. Those are great memories, and, in fact, I’ve stayed in touch with the team.

After that mentoring experience, I joined the committee. My role there is different. We’re a group of around 10 fashion professionals, and three times a year we meet with the Talents entrepreneurs. At the first meeting, they present their projects to us in a very business style, mostly using PowerPoint. That can be a bit complicated for creative types who are more used to working with inspirational images! But this is an opportunity for the detailed questions, for them and us. The next two meetings are for checking in on how their strategy is moving forward and how the brand is maturing. Our conversations are conducted with the utmost goodwill to nurture the teams’ working methods, to advise them, and sometimes to point out certain errors – but always in an environment of communicating and listening. Sharing knowledge isn’t, however, a one-way street. I also learn from these young entrepreneurs! I’m not a digital native and their vision and use of digital technology inspires me. I benefit a lot from their ideas in this domain.

In your opinion, what are the strengths of the Talents program?

Talents makes concrete knowledge available. The program’s participants find very practical solutions by consulting with experienced professionals with different profiles who have had to resolve problems and overcome obstacles. Everything is based on real-life experience. This operational approach lets us formulate precise questions and provide real answers. Talents is also an opportunity to create key development tools – which, due to lack of means, are not always accessible to young businesses – such as a brand platform. Participants can also consolidate their collection plans and better define sales and export strategies, for example. I wish that when I started with Risto I had had the benefits of a program like this! Talents helps brands keep their heads above water and be challenged.

The other exciting aspect of Talents is that it brings together entrepreneurs who are active and energetic. By applying for this accelerator program, they prove they’re curious and want new ideas for growth. This is a very positive attitude, especially in fashion, a world made up of relationships. A network and support system are essential for success. Talents helps participants create a strong community built on the values of working together.

What advice could you give to a young fashion brand?

I graduated from the ESCP business school and am currently the Managing Director of Koché. Before that I managed Risto and also advised other labels on development. I know that a creative person can’t manage brand development alone. Negotiating with a banker, following up with clients who don’t pay their invoices, managing the employees on a team … these responsibilities can compromise inspiration. The role of a stylist or designer is to create (at least) two collections each year. They don’t have the time nor the energy to also ensure a manager’s functions. So ideally there needs to be a duo behind a fashion brand – two people, each with their own responsibilities, who create the business together. And if that’s not possible, getting help from an external consultant for support on administration questions, or having a part-time collaborator should be considered. This is the solution for freeing up creatives from every-day concerns and business so they can concentrate fully on their duties.