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CEO of Robert Kalinkin fashion house - Indre Viltrakyte

Co-founder and CEO of Robert Kalinkin fashion house, Indre Viltrakyte, discusses how she got into the fashion world, what it takes to start a fashion brand, and Lithuanian design in a global market.

Baltic Bridge: What inspired your interest in business? How do you think your legal background prepared you for your current work?

Indre Viltrakyte: Actually, I've never worked as a lawyer a day in my life - from my first year in university and onwards I always held jobs related to the management of cultural events, public relations or marketing. This was always my calling. Nevertheless, my legal background always helped me to understand the "boring" side of any kind of project - I could understand the contracts much better and negotiate the terms. I also developed the ability to think long-term and see beyond immediate effects. And fashion, or I should say, luxury business is a natural continuation of my interest in "soft" industries, such as music, art and theater.

Luxury industry fascinates me because of its ability to add value through storytelling, heritage, branding. People are not buying just things anymore, they buy experiences and luxury is the ultimate experience. Also, luxury has a very fine balance between business and creativity - I have to work with artists who are chaotic and unpredictable, but at the same time I have to keep the balance sheet in order. It's a bit like a complex strategy game that requires both soft and hard skills.

BB: How did you meet Robert Kalinkin? How did the fashion house develop?

Indre: The whole story is actually very organic - I started working at LOFTAS, one of the biggest music and arts venues in Lithuania around the same time Robert joined. I was a CMO and Robert did all the scenography, set designs, interiors - that was 2010. LOFTAS hosted many major local and international music stars and eventually they started asking Robert for styling help or simply clothes. Robert always wanted to do fashion full time, so after a year of working together we both quit and started his namesake label. We knew already that there was a demand for his type of designs, all we needed was to develop a full collection and start selling. So we did just that!

BB: Many, including aspiring designers and businessmen, have been leaving Lithuania to work abroad. What inspired your decision to stay in Lithuania and to set up the fashion house in Vilnius?

Indre: Lithuania is a wonderful country for fashion an design. First of all, we have a world-famous textile industry and our factories produce collections for such international fashion names as Burberry, Acne, Marella, Lacoste and many more. You'd be hard pressed to find a better price/quality ratio anywhere else in the EU. Because of that, we can offer EU-made clothes that are superior quality for a very competitive price. Also, Lithuania is very well known for its linen - and we have dedicated an entire summer collection for this material. It is truly unique - extremely durable yet soft and gentle, perfect for those unpredictable Northern European summers.

We have so many design talents here in Lithuania, as well. Each season we welcome around 10 students for internships and every time we are amazed by their ideas and skills - it is easy to build our design team time. And, of course, our biggest market is still Lithuania with a steady interest from neighboring Baltic and Scandinavian countries. So these are only a couple of reasons why we decided to make our base here in Lithuania.

BB: Given that the base of the Robert Kalinkin Fashion House is in Vilnius and your clothes are locally made, how important is your Lithuanian identity to you and the brand? How do you balance this with your global audience?

Indre: We are very proud of that fact and try to stress the "locally made" fact every time we get the chance. Our brand is in the affordable luxury range and that means certain quality and ethical standards. We can vouch for every single factory that we work with, and maintain a 5-people design team in-house. When we go to Paris Fashion Week, we always, always receive compliments about the quality of the clothes and this is extremely important to us - we have the opportunity to showcase Lithuania as an advanced design country and potentially help it become more attractive to foreign brands that look for a production hub. "Made in Lithuania" is now a sign of quality and even some level of luxury, I could say.

Our international clients are always eager to know about the origins of the clothes they buy and we are completely transparent here. I believe the Baltic region has the potential to become an acknowledged design center, something like Scandinavia, only with its own focus and aesthetics.

BB: What’s next for the business and for you in the near future?

Indre: We are very excited to participate at Tranoi Paris tradeshow (30 Sept. - 03 Oct.) during Paris Fashion Week this season - this is the most prestigious tradeshow in the industry and we hope that it will be our next step into international markets. Also, we have just launched a huge collaboration with the biggest sportswear manufacturer in Lithuania called Audimas. Robert Kalinkin x Audimas collection is our first venture into the athleisure market and so far it looks super exciting.

Ah, and we are also opening a brand new flagship store in Vilnius where we'll introduce a second line for Robert Kalinkin - it will be much more affordable, but the quality and design direction will stay the same. The store is due to open by the end of this year, so this season is super crazy for us, but very exciting at the same time. We believe that good design can come in all different price points, so to be able to offer lower prices means more opportunities for us and more people who can enjoy Robert Kalinkin collections.

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