How does a 130-year-old leather goods manufacturer that prizes craftsmanship and dependability among its brand’s timeless strengths appeal to today’s fickle millennial customer? The answer, says Christiane Brunk, Managing Director of Braun Buffel, is to embrace the world of colours – bright and bold ones. “Braun Buffel used to be known for its safe black and brown bags,” she admitted during a visit to Jakarta last November. “Two years ago, we went beyond that to add bold colours to our collections, like yellow, quartz purple, azul blue and deep rubino red. We have a new brand image, and new product design assortments to expand our target market to appeal to a wider range of customers, including the younger segment in Indonesia.” Brunk is the fourth-generation CEO of Braun Buffel, which remains an independent family-owned business. Her great great grandfather, Johann Braun, founded the firm in Kirn in 1887. Kirn is to be found in the Bad Kreuznach district of Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany.
It was known as the “Town of Leather, Stones and Beer” in the 19th century. “The Braun family transformed German leather making into a modern fashion statement and ignited a worldwide passion for fine leather goods,” said Brunk, who was born and brought up in Kirn. “At its height, the town employed 3,000 people in the leather industry. Today, it has only 100 leather workers, all of them skilled artisans employed by Braun GmbH & Co. It’s a declining industry in Germany, but we are one of three or four firms that are still training young people and offering apprenticeships.” Brunk holds an MBA from the University of Saarland in Saarbrucken.
She joined the family business in 1992 and took positions in various operational functions to gain an overall understanding of the leather goods business. She became Managing Director in 2005, and immediately put her focus on the brand’s Asia Pacific expansion strategy. She was responsible for the launch of Braun Buffel eyewear in Singapore and Malaysia in 2006, as well as the introduction of Braun Buffel timepieces in 2014. “The European market is mature,” says Brunk. “That’s why we have shifted the focus to Asia, because this where the music is playing. It’s a way for us to show that we have changed in the last two years. We are an old brand, but this doesn’t mean we should stick to the strategies and ideas of the past. We must be ready for the future. Fortunately, listening to our customers has always been part of our DNA, and we are continuing to do this.” Braun Buffel’s links with Asia go back four decades. “I was only 14 when David Liao visited us in Offenbach,” Brunk recalled.
“I translated for him when he sat down with my father to negotiate their first business deal.” Liao is a Director of Singaporebased Lianbee-Jeco, which is the exclusive brand representative of Braun Buffel in the region, including China. Another way that Braun Buffel connects with millennials, said Brunk, is to support good causes they identify with. In conjunction with the house’s 130th anniversary, it held the Braun Buffel Art Project from November 16-18 at Senayan City. This event was attended by Sophia Latjuba, Eva Celia and other celebrities. For each transaction made between November 16 and December 31 at Braun Buffel boutiques in Indonesia, the company donated Rp 130,000 to Unicef Indonesia. “The art project serves to empower underprivileged children and youth in Indonesia who are denied the entitlement of education,” Brunk explained. “We hope to raise social awareness and inspire goodwill via community building and fundraising efforts. As a responsible and privileged society, we must work together and never inhibit a child’s future. No child should be told or feel that education is a privilege or a far-fetched dream.”.