Global Affairs is an international company of children’s toys, accessories and home décor. It was founded in 1998 by world traveler Annette Klein Bog (see picture). Kids a la Mode spoke with Annette to learn what is her vision for the company and where would she like to take it in the future.
“From the start of the company my vision was to develop, create, produce and import my own sustainable collection. We try to distinguish ourselves by producing products that are original, colourful and of high quality. Most of our products are handmade and fairtrade. Our suppliers are based in rural areas in China, Sri Lanka, India and Peru, which means the workers do not have to migrate to big cities for employment. Many of these companies we work with are led by women and also most of the employees are women. This is what we strive for within Global Affairs and what is definitely part of our vision: Fairtrade and social awareness.We also want to respect the environment, so we try to use recycled material and packaging.”
The company features a wide variety of children’s products in bright colours and sophisticated, clean-lined designs. Please describe the essentials of the unique Global Affairs look, and the progressive design strategy that animates your products.
“The variety and bright colours within our product line is part of our concept. We believe bright colours enlighten children’s spirits. I fell in love with the colourful craftmanship during traveling. Traveling in Central America, Asia and working and living in India has been a great influence. I got inspired by the people and the colourful scenes around me. Actually, it does not matter where I travel. I can be inspired by every kind of environment and people. And therein lies also the essence of our style and design.
For the last seven years we are happy to have a great creative director, Marije. Together we form a strong team. Not a day goes by that we don’t brainstorm about new ideas for products. We really get our inspiration from everywhere. In addition to creating our own children’s line, we work together with external designers to develop high-quality products. One of these designers is Christian Borstlap, an Amsterdam based designer who works on different kinds of project with clients such as Swatch watches, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. With him and also with other designers we strive to make innovative and imaginative kid’s toys, accessories and kid’s lifestyle products. One of our bestsellers at the moment, which we have created with Christan Borstlap, is our Plentimals collection. The collection includes of a set of handpainted wooden blocks from which 120 different animals can be built. This set of blocks is designed to encourage creative play in children and adults. In addition, the rubberwood blocks are 100% fairtrade certificated, sustainable and toxic free.”
How does working and living in Amsterdam inspire your work?
“I love living in Amsterdam, wouldn’t know where else to live in The Netherlands. The city is small, but all is there. History, parks, nice restaurants, creativity, a lot of new things going on all the time. And you are within half an hour in the countryside or seaside. Our office is situated right in the center of Amsterdam, only two tram stops away from the famous Museum Square. The office is on the top floor of a beautiful old hospital, which gives a very nice atmosphere.
At this moment we have quite a new team consisting of two account managers, a creative director, sales and a marketing manager. We work with distributors, also for The Netherlands. The contact with producers is mostly done by Marije and me. She does the creative part, I do the rest. This is also our expertise for 20 years. We can develop a product from sketch until it is barcoded and packed in the stores.”
Some of your products are handmade in China, Sri Lanka and in a Peruvian cooperative in the Andes Mountains. What are the benefits of working with these locales? Please explain how ethical dealing and fair play are integral to the Global Affairs way of doing business.
“For us it is very fulfilling to help people to live better lives. This is even applicable to the family run companies in China. The biggest advantage of working with local producers is that we have more control over where the raw materials come from and whether it is made in a fair way. We visit our producers on a regular basis in order to build and maintain a strong working relationship, based on dialogue, transparency and mutual respect. As a result, we have established long-term relationships with our most valuable suppliers.
Certainly in these countries it is important to communicate clearly and well with each other about the production and shipping of the products. The shorter and more transparent the link, the easier and more enjoyable the communication is, which benefits the quality of the products.
The reason we choose for women-led companies is because it leads to independence, which is essential in all countries, but especially in developing countries. Our suppliers are based in rural areas, which means the workers do not have to migrate to big cities for employment. They can care for their families and they do not have to work unfairly long hours or travel long distances. Many of the employees are farmers who work on the farm during the harvest season and work for our suppliers for the rest of the year. This provides them with a year-round income to support themselves and their families.
Ethical dealing and fair play are integral to our way of doing business in order to garner a respect for honest creation and production, development of trust and a sense of fair trade.
In addition we think that corporate social responsibility has moved up the corporate agenda and into the minds of consumers. We notice that Fairtrade has a trendy appeal among most of our customers who like to be seen to buy particular products for ethical reasons.”
Where does Global Affairs do most of its business? What is the marketing strategy for a diverse worldwide company such as yourself?
“95% of our business is in EU, some in Asia: Japan, Korea, and beginning now in China as well. At this moment we don’t have any presence in the USA. We are open to a new partnership with a North-American distributor who would love to represent our brand.
What we strive for is that our products radiate Dutch design and global design. We want to reach all consumers and children from all over the world with our products. We do this by positioning our products as qualitatively high and innovative in the market. We prefer to focus on the middle and higher segment as independent stores, small chains, and also exclusive department stores and museums such as TATE, Rijksmuseum, Centre Pompidou and the Louis Vuitton foundation.
Participating in international fairs is also an important marketing tool for us. We try to present the collection as well as possible, and we have the opportunity to tell the story behind the products to our worldwide partners and potential partners.”
Do you use different marketing techniques for different countries?
“We are not afraid to celebrate cultural differences in an effort to strenghthen our international presence. Social media is a great opportunity for us to gauge how consumers from different countries react to our products. For example, consumers from Asia love our Miffy collection. We are now developing new bronze and silver Miffy hangers. In addition, we make use of foreign distributors who are experts in their own markets. We discuss with them frequently about how and what kind of products sell well and why.”
Please tell us more about your special projects done with museums and educational associations.
“We were approached by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to make some special items for them, and over the years this has been extended to other national and international museums as TATE, Van Gogh Museum, and Musee D’Orsay.”
What are your bestselling products? What do you see as the strongest trends of the season and beyond?
“Some of our top selling items are our crochet animal rattles, these really are a bestseller since we launched them, and the necklaces are really picking up. The strongest trends include mermaids and unicorns, rainbows and pineapples, Kawaii and other Asian influences.”
What’s next for Global Affairs?
“What is next? We hope to continue for this, and we hope we can help people to live in a positive and bright world.”
Is there anything new upcoming?