How did a brand that launched with a poncho come to be one of Scandinavia’s biggest fashion exports, breaking the Paris Fashion Week schedule and counting Virgil van Dijk as a friend and fan? We travel to Jutland to meet with Rains co-founders Philip Lotko and Daniel Brix to find out
Standing in the middle of a muddy field somewhere on the tip of Jutland, looking up at a building site, Rains co-founder Daniel Brix has a gleam in his eye. You can practically feel the pride emanating from him as he stares up at this mighty structural work in progress.
Walking into the bowels of the beast, we pass through what appears to be a hangar for jumbo jets. Up the stairs, a huge open-plan workspace. The building, set to become Rains’ headquarters when it opens next year, is still a skeleton of its future glory, but the message is clear: Rains means big business.
Rains is the Danish fashion success story rarely spoken of, but what it lacks in headlines, it makes up for in growth, impact and sales. The brand counts the US as its biggest market and boasts supporters such as star footballer Virgil van Dijk – tapped via personal text to feature in this editorial – and Justin Bieber. Look along your local shopping strip and you are likely to see a Rains store, their futurist-dystopia meets city explorer interior gleaming from inside out. Hit the 8am train at your local subway station and count how many Rains roll top or clip backpacks you see on the backs of folks making their way to work.
Today, Rains boasts 30 stores across the globe (with 10 more planned for this year), plus sales channels through wholesalers such as SSENSE and Matches Fashion, 120 employees and, in 2022, had a net turnover of 563,244,000 DKK (a cool 75 million Euros). Plus, the brand has held a coveted slot on the Paris Fashion Week schedule since January 2022. And to think it all started with a humble, all-purpose rain poncho.
Founded by three friends, two of them students at the time, Rains is a case of second-time success. Brix and Philip Lotko had initially established another brand that didn’t quite take flight before landing on the concept for Rains. The duo sensibly took lessons from the first failure rather than bruised egos. “We had some learnings with the first company together, and we really experienced what it would be to hit some big challenges. I think the motivation to keep on going and to take us into a new place was also a massive fuel,” says Lotko. “Seeing us doing something that really worked was one of the first steps that really motivated me personally to jump along on Daniel’s energy and motivation. When seeing people’s reaction to the first products we brought to market, that was also something that really kickstarted the fire.”
Driven by the power of simplicity, Rains tapped into the holy trinity of success that, when done right, is the golden ticket: one key product at a mid-tier price point that carries a wide market appeal. What’s notable about Rains is that it is not founded by kids straight from fashion school – creative dreamers ill-equipped to face the tough realities of starting a brand. “I think the main driver has always been to build something unique and build a business,” says Brix. “I do consider myself as a craftsman and being able to execute things, getting them done. We are not design-based, either of us, even though we are very passionate about our product, manufacturing and quality. I think that is a strength for us, that we have been looking at the business from an overall perspective.”
At the start, Brix and Lotko – students at TEKO, a leading Scandinavian design and business college – were joined by Kenneth Davids. Fifteen years their senior, Davids had more experience building a business than his two co-founders. “We have very different competencies,” says Brix. “Philip, from my perspective is very outgoing, has a huge network and is moving the brand towards the future. I am more the driver, the executer, and a creative when it comes to product. Kenneth was really the backbone, making everything happen.” Davids left the operations side of the company in 2020.
Rain jacket, €175, Rain trousers, €120. Both Rains. Knitted turtleneck, €280. John Smedley. Photo: Angelina Mamoun-Bergenwall
For Brix and Lotko, the crux was working within the confines of one product and building a solar system around it. “We were really fascinated with the idea of building a universe, creating an expression, building concepts,” says Brix, noting that somewhere along the line, Lotko relocated to Copenhagen while he finished up school in Herning. Inspired by a project some students at school were working on, Brix and Lotko worked together to develop their product with a “very strict, very clear aesthetic”. “We came up with the one product concept of creating a utility-driven but stylish rain poncho. We got really fascinated about this idea of taking a retro associated fabric and bringing it into a modern context,” says Brix. They approached a local manufacturer to make a small batch of the ponchos and sold them to some local shops.
They may not have been two clueless kids blindly diving into the world of design, but they weren’t business savants either. “There have been a lot of people that have been saying how we really identified a gap in the market with product, price point etc. – we had no strategy!” says Brix. “It was based on no commercial ambitions except whether we could make a living off it. We were motivated by creating something unique and the business aspects have come along.” What’s more, the ambition was not to build an international brand. “We would have never imagined the rain poncho idea would have brought us into this comprehensive universe,” says Lotko.
A key expansion of that universe in the past few years has been the brand’s Paris Fashion Week presence. With Danish fashion powerhouse Pernille Teisbaek (also Lotko’s wife and the mother of his four children) styling the show, the brand has held its own in a schedule packed with established luxury brands. It has also introduced a new creative outlet for the team. “From creating these physical shows we were gaining attraction from a very powerful audience, but I also think one of the main drivers from the shows was how it affected the internal workings within Rains,” says Lotko. “It provided us with a new progressive and creative energy especially in the design team as we knew that to show in Paris we needed to deliver something quite unique.” Count Nikolai of Monpezat (then the Prince of Denmark) closed out their first show.
With this new platform came an evolution in-house: a new CEO Steen Borgholm (with Jan Stig Andersen as CEO of the North American arm of Rains), a new visual identity, a new logo. “The good thing about being privately owned between three friends is that we can just decide to do stuff,” says Brix, noting that they started showing at Copenhagen Fashion Week before relocating to Paris. “The change in mindset there – changing the business, changing the identity, everything at the same time, was the driver for the step to showcase in Paris. It was not the fashion show that drove us there, but it was one of the steps for achieving the place we are at now.”
After the tour of the new headquarters, set to open its doors in 2025, Brix takes me to the nearby pick ’n’ pack warehouse. Against the backdrop of blaring music, and with little forklift trucks whizzing by, the team handling arguably the most banal part of the business (packing and shipping orders out) are young, well-dressed, and, simply put, cool. Naturally, they’re decked out nearly head-to-toe in Rains.
While the Paris Fashion Week show may have elevated its name in industry circles, Rains’ greatest marketing tool is still word of mouth. It’s the brand’s famous fans and the approval of discerning fashion-forward youth that give Rains its gravitas. “One thing Philip and I are fascinated by is youth and the new dynamics that are emerging. This is really something that inspires us a lot – the newest generation is where we find great inspiration: how they behave, what interests them, how they develop, and I think is very much reflected in everything we do,” says Brix. “We have a rather young appeal which is a strategic choice.”
In fact, Rains has developed so much cache that van Dijk was up to model for this editorial at the brand’s request. The Liverpool and Netherlands star used up a rare off-day for the shoot near Knutsford, England, where he’s based. “Virgil represents a lot of good values and ones I see in us,” says Lotko. “He’s a leader on and off the pitch, a family man and trying to be the best in what he’s doing. To be able to work with Virgil because of the common values we share is a huge and honourable achievement.”
While many came to Rains through their ponchos, van Dijk discovered the brand via a cap. “I’ve always been looking for a nice cap to have when I travel around the world,” he says with a smile. “Obviously I’ve got a nice full set of hair and that doesn’t make it easy to find a nice cap that fits properly, and I felt like that cap was perfect.” Van Dijk only echoes Lotko’s feelings when asked why he and Rains are a perfect fit. “It’s all about having that good connection together and with Rains it clicked,” he says. Off the pitch, design is “very important” to the footballer. “It’s all about the quality,” he says. “I like a lot of non-branded visuals: classic but cool, which is also why Rains was a big match. I really enjoyed working with them. It felt good.”
A decade of change since that first poncho, Brix and Lotko have learnt a lot on the job. Today they balance keeping an even keel at the helm of the brand with being unafraid to chart unknown waters when the time feels right. How have they gone the distance – particularly in harsh conditions? “Consistency has been key,” says Lotko. “It is easier said than done when you are eager to create new things all the time, but stick to your plan, don’t jump from ship to ship and trust the process all the way.”
Van Dijk has the final word on the matter, summarising it simply but with purpose: “Rains combines different aspects into one. It is very fashionable and of its time but it can also go to the next level. It’s there for everyone.”
Photographer: Angelina Mamoun-Bergenwall
Stylist: Alexandra Bickerdike
Talents: Virgil Van Dijk, Philip Lotko, Daniel Brix
Grooming: Sunao Takashi
Digital Operator: Per Nilsson
Lighting Assistant: Harry Gillespie
Stylist Assistants: Brigitte Kovats, Federice Cantarelli, Daniela Suarez
Grooming Assistant: Myuji Sato
Producer: Kate Maidment
Production Assistant: Shaunna Henry