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Twelvepieces - Aarhus, Denmark
I first encountered Twelvepieces in the summer of 2016 when the website was bare, save for "TWELVEPIECES" text as a placeholder. Amir seemed pretty sure at the time that he was about to launch a brand a cut above the rest. However, each month I checked the website for an update, I was greeted by the same placeholder text from the previous month. This was until January 2017, when Amir finally unveiled his opus. Since then, in less than twelve months, his reputation has transformed from that of unknown to revelation. I caught up with Amir to discuss his perspective on Twelvepieces' meteoric rise.
hs = HYPERSUPPLY – AH = Amir
hs: Can you tell me a bit about your background? Where are you from originally?
AH: I was born and raised in Denmark, of Egyptian ancestry. I graduated from the fashion design school VIA Design in Denmark last summer, and in December 2016 I started Twelvepieces. The website was initially a style blog that I worked on as a school project during my two years studying. I had also been working on the fashion brand during school as a side project, and then developed the concept further after I graduated, relaunching the website on the 12th January.
Twelvepieces is a unique concept, because we only create 12 pieces of 12 styles, each piece numbered 1 to 12.
hs: Why this infatuation with the number 12?
AH: When I was a kid I made a drawing of 12 styles of clothing. A couple of years later I found it, and noticed I had written “12 stykker” – Danish for “12 pieces” – on the page. You could say that this is the starting point from which I later developed the basic concept for Twelvepieces. Now, the concept is really focussed on storytelling, and every piece must be unique: cut and sew. The first collection, “The Spring” was telling the story of the Arabic Spring, what was happening in the Middle East during 2010-11.
It was just a start for me, but it sold out. We got this hype and became a “brand” pretty much by about half a year in.
hs: How did you decide on the style of clothing you wanted to produce? When I look at your garments, they’re quite different. They hang from the body.
AH: I use a lot of draping-like styles, I like that. I had two primary objectives mission when I was at school: it was to learn the design process, and how to sew. I already knew how to draw because I love drawing – I had a dream when I was a kid to become an architect – I always loved to draw. And my dad was an artist, so I always observed him when I grew up. That learning process was passive for me.
For Twelvepieces, there wasn’t this concept that I had to produce something ‘new’; I just didn’t want to start any “t-shirt brand”; it had to be complicated, exclusive.
hs: When I look at your first collection, I see the word “Freedom” being the most prominent on the clothing itself.
AH: Exactly. I only used four words in my first collection: Freedom, Brotherhood, Rebellion and Justice – and these are the words that came up when I interviewed people in Egypt during the Arab Spring.
hs: How did you manage to interview people during that period?
AH: I love this process of taking people’s reactions and emotions, and inspiration, and embodying them in my collection… It’s a long process for designing a collection…
I didn’t interview people for a collection though; I was just interested. I have family there, I’m from Egypt. I’m now 23, but up to the age of 18 I was going to Egypt every single year to stay for a month because my whole family is there. So I have a big connection with, and a lot of feelings for Cairo. That’s why I based my collection and inspiration on the Egyptian people, and Egypt as a country. The first collection was about the rebellious side of Egypt; the next one is going to be a more beautiful side of Egypt. We took the photos for the new collection in the Sahara.
hs: How will his approach evolve for the third collection?
AH: My story of being born and raised in Denmark. I grew up as a young boy in the ghetto in Denmark, and there are a lot of stories from that time that I want to express in my clothes. You will be able to see it in the colours, the materials, and in the patterns; and in artwork. This will come out around May or June.
I’m trying to always improve the production process. The first collection was produced in one country – India – and the second was made in five. We now have quite a few different places that I travel to because I want to see where production takes place, and to have a true and honest connection to the worker: they must truly understand me; I don’t want to just communicate by mail. They have to see my face. I did that with the first company I used, and I gained a good connection this way, so I’m aiming to continue using this approach going forward.
hs: If you need to make visits, how long does it take you to make each collection?
AH: It depends… We have a pretty quick production time because we only make 12 pieces of each style. After pressing the start button, I should generally be able to have the pieces in my hands within three weeks.
hs: Earlier you said that you reflect your story in the materials that you use.
AH: The first collection was primarily cotton, and soft materials to drape with, with some viscose there too. The next collection is going to be a bit more luxurious. We have some cashmere, some pure silk, and a special fabric which has been made specifically for me. This latest fabric reminds me of the streets of Cairo, so that’s why it’s in this upcoming “Roots” collection.
hs: Going back to your current first collection, what is your favourite piece?
AH: I like the bullet bag. The bullet bag was our best seller – it sold out in just over two weeks from release. I got the idea for it during leather class at VIE. We were tasked with making an item, and I remembered the movie Rush Hour. The characters always had to drop their guns on the ground because they didn’t have any holsters at their sides. It was a great statement piece for the collection because it was about freedom – the bullet bag isn’t a holster; it’s to hold everyday items like your phone or wallet. It’s a pretty nice piece, and in the new collection we’ve got a crazy new bullet bag made from faux fur.
hs: How did you design the hooded scarf, and what’s your design process in general?
AH: It’s so cold in Denmark! I wanted to make something long enough to wrap around my body, without being too bulky. I like wearing hoodies, so I wanted to have one in the collection. I merged a scarf and a hoodie, took the base off, and then this product emerged.
I start off by drawing the concept. I like to draw the whole outfit being worn by a person – so I can visualise it fully – then I make the illustrations and technical drawings on computer, after which I make the patterns.
Next, I will sew a version of the idea. I’m not the best at sewing; I learned it in just two years, but I can make a piece or two. I can’t sew a whole jacket, but I can get help for that. I can save a lot of money by making my own prototypes, and then giving them to the producer along with the patterns. They can give me the whole collection three weeks later.
hs: Looking back, I remember seeing your website pre-launch during the summer of last year. It was just a bare homepage; the only thing there was the text, “TWELVEPIECES”. Your progress since then has been rapid.
AH: It was super-quick. We’ve had three shows: one at Berlin Fashion Week, one in Paris, and then a capsule presentation in New York. As an upcoming brand, we had no budget for marketing. We started the company with 50,000 kroner, which is about 8,000 dollars. To see the brand become known pretty much by itself has been was very, very crazy!
I have done four presentations since launching. I just want to feed the interest in what I’m doing, so I take every opportunity I can get. When we started doing this we began to get press coverage, and everything was like a domino effect. A lot of celebrities started to become interested which was awesome, even if that wasn’t my goal.
I can see it in my emails and DMs, and I’ve sold to customers in 60 different countries. The response has been simply amazing! We’ve picked up a lot of media hype as well. I had a two-year plan to reach a certain level of exposure, and we’ve blown through those aspirations in less than 12 months… A good start for sure!!
hs: Speaking of plans, how do you plan to keep improving?
AH: I have a partner, but I’m doing everything myself operationally, from the marketing and designing process, through to packaging. However, things may change due to a situation which is developing…
I got an offer to pitch my concept to a small group of investors. They liked my pitch, and we’re now discussing potential terms for an agreement, so the next half-year may turn out to be quite interesting.
The pitching process was quite introspective: I don’t see myself as an artist, but I like to make ‘pieces’; it’s up to the customer how they want to see it. You can see on the website that I have added a new project: a few art pieces made from papyrus. It has gone very well, and we have sold eight of the twelve so far.
It’s a new product line, because I don’t see Twelvepieces as just a clothing line, I see it becoming a lifestyle brand. I want to be able to create anything from furniture to lifestyle products, and accessories as well as clothes. I see clothes as the main line, but I view the future evolution of Twelvepieces including exclusive collaborations with other brands, through which I will extend my storytelling through products. That’s something I’m working on right now.
I have a three-year plan for Twelvepieces. Within the next two years we will hope to have released about eight collections. I would want to have a core product that will always be in stock, and have two yearly twelve-of-twelve collections with which I will tell my stories. I plan to complement this with two yearly collaborative collections with other brands and with people such as artists. We see a lot of opportunity in this space, though doing this won’t be simple.
I can see that I slightly limited myself with the original concept, because there is too much demand.
hs: Does this mean that “Roots” will be the only collection for which you produce 12 pieces of 24 styles?
AH: Yeh, it was a test. This strategic three-year plan is brand new. We formulated it for the investor pitch, but I also think it’s a key direction for us to limit these pieces to 12 of 12. Earlier, we had a plan to slowly increase the range of each collection by 12 – so 24 styles, then 36 styles and so on – which fit in with my idea to expand into areas outside of clothing.
I don’t see myself as a brand like Supreme, but I do like the way that they can produce any product. That philosophy is similar to how I see Twelvepieces becoming a lifestyle brand; just more exclusive.
hs: What reaction do you want your clothing to provoke?
AH: I hope that when someone sees my clothing, they ask the wearer where they got the clothing from, and that the wearer will tell my story, and about who I am as a designer. Certain pieces get strong reactions on social media, with people telling me that they love the story behind the piece.
For example, with the hooded scarf. Emblazoned with the word “Freedom”, there is a natural resonance with the Arab Spring. Also, people just love to be unique. I remember getting a call from a Danish TV host; he was thanking me for making him one of the twelve pieces, and said, “now I don’t have to look like a thousand other people”.
With my clothes, because there are only twelve, that’s how some of the hype built up. I know of a few people who have turned some of my pieces into grails, framing them to hang up on their walls like art pieces, and it works because each piece is numbered. It’s great to have customers who believe in me like that. I’m thankful for it.
hs: Finally, what is the underlying motive behind your storytelling approach for Twelvepieces?
AH: There are a lot of people who see things in the media, and think that what they are seeing is reality. I mean, here in Denmark, there are a lot of people who have a certain view of immigrants in this country. They don’t see our beautiful side; they only see this terrorist portrayal from the media. I’m trying to show the beautiful side of my culture through clothes.
The "Roots" collection will be available from 12th December here: http://www.twelvepieces.dk/shop