A conversation between Silas Adler and Jacob Kampp Berliner
Photography by Sascha Oda
November 06 2015
This interview between Silas Adler and Jacob Kampp Berliner took place in Copenhagen just before we sent Human Being Journal 6, In Plain Sight, off to press. Silas and Jacob, who co-edited the issue alongside us, talk in free-form without filter about the chance beginnings of the brand, its roots in Scandinavian craftsmanship and the importance of adventure, friendship and the pure joy of creation.
Jacob Kampp Berliner
Silas: Do you remember when you became a part of Soulland? I think we’d only met each other a few times before that. We didn’t know each other that well and it seemed like we didn’t really sit down and make a plan for the whole thing. What made you want to take that step?
Jacob: It was about the contrast to the other things I did. Soulland was‚ and is‚ about the energy. Soulland took action rather than just thinking about doing things. That was interesting to me. You had already opened and closed a Soulland store. Looking back‚ Soulland was a mix between being a company and not being a company.
Silas: Exactly. Things were happening‚ there was a history and some stockists‚ but it wasn’t anything really.
Jacob: It’s not because I thought it was nothing. But it would’ve been easier to ask someone‚ “Do you want to make a company together?”
Silas: Had you thought about working with clothing before I presented the idea of Soulland to you?
Jacob: At that time‚ there was a certain dynamic energy in Copenhagen. If people wanted to do something‚ they did. I think it came from that energy. You started Soulland and rode a skateboard.
Silas: There was an energy back then that I don’t think has been here since.
Jacob: You had a lot of initiatives. Everything was new and exciting. I was looking for something a couple of days ago and I found a contract that we made years ago. It said that Soulland had been bought for 1 danish krone plus VAT by YBE.
Silas: That was our abbreviation: Young Black Entrepreneurs.
Jacob: There were so many people doing things. From my own point of view‚ it wasn’t only about the state of Soulland but also about buying into something where I neither could contribute with something besides money nor wanted to contribute with something. You were 100% in charge along with your sidekick‚ Kristian. We wanted to have a plan but it was quite impossible.
Silas: You were only in Copenhagen from time to time at that point and I wanted to set up a meeting. I remember that you came to that meeting and on your way there‚ you ran into someone you knew and just brought that person. We were supposed to have a meeting about business things and you were like‚ “Oh‚ I brought this guy as well.” And you only had five minutes or something. You were all over the place and wanted to do everything. You had that forever-young mentality. Your apartment was called Frederiksberg Wu-Tang Museum. It was quite hectic. I had a stage where I wanted you to engage more. We’ve been doing this together for quite some years now. I can’t really remember how it was before that.
Jacob: You’ve learned a lot from doing many things on your own: manufacturers that were impossible to work with‚ a messy organizational structure and a partner who was rarely there. It was almost easier without a partner. I earned money with people I didn’t find interesting. To compensate for that‚ I engaged in things that I found interesting. I wanted to be in your world‚ the fun world. DJ at night and drunk in the morning. I remember a sales trip you and Kristian once did.
Silas: One of the strengths of Soulland was that we made things happen. Problem was that things became last minute. Kristian and I decided on doing the sales trip the night before leaving. We had to call and ask you for money for that trip. We had to catch a ferry. You waited for us on a street with an envelope of cash. We rolled up‚ got the envelope through the window and hit Europe for a three-week trip. We drove around‚ visiting stores and riding our skateboards.
Jacob: I remember that we had a meeting with your mother. I think the company was registered in her name?
Silas: I had borrowed some money‚ which I lost and had to pay back. The company was transferred to my mother’s name.
Jacob: I just remember that meeting—you‚ your mother and me. We didn’t really know what we wanted at that point. But you made the decisions and made things happen. I doubted it sometimes though. I once thought‚ “This is the worst thing I’ve ever spent my money on.” I came by the office and you were doing something with sticks that had paint running off of them or something like that.
Silas: That was because we wanted to do shows. Everyone was doing crazy shows and creating universes. I wanted to do that. It wasn’t about the clothing or the designer but rather about creating a universe. It might’ve become a tad too creative for Soulland. We’re good at taking off the layers rather than stacking them.
Jacob: You didn’t draw a lot back then.
Silas: My mom always advised me to draw when I started becoming interested in design. I thought everything I drew was ugly. I remember a point where we became a team and started hiring people. That was when we became close‚ both as friends and on a professional level. One of the most important things about Soulland is that we agree on what we want and that we trust each other. It was crazy going from being chaotic to knowing that we both wanted the same things.
Jacob: It was during the first production trips that you earned a lot of respect in my book‚ with regards to your work ethic and because we worked together‚ got drunk together and shared a bed together. Those trips were rough. Even though you’re in charge of the creative aspect‚ one of our major strengths is that everything across the company can be discussed. Not many people have that structure. If we want Soulland to grow‚ we need both our skill sets. We’re completely in sync.
Silas: We had a trip to New York some years ago‚ where a bunch of Danish brands went over. We had been on some production visits and had developed a common understanding that we had to work hard to achieve what we wanted. When we arrived‚ we decided to work as much as humanly possible. You ran around the city and met with agencies and other business-related things while I had a bunch of press meetings. I can’t remember sleeping on that trip. Whoever was available for a meeting‚ we met up with. We were running 24/7. That’s when I realized that we had a common understanding‚ being that when we’re on the road‚ there’s no limit to how much work you do. And you want to do a lot of work. You’re good at constantly working while having fun at the same time.
Jacob: I think one of our strengths is that we’re one is never jealous of what the other is doing. It can be like that at times. We went on trips together earlier and were both worn out. Now‚ we divvy up the trips. You can go on a fabric trip for two days and go mad. If we have a fashion show in London‚ obviously there’s more on your plate than on mine. It’s all a cycle. But Soulland has also been about taking advantage of the opportunities put in front of us. New York’s also proof of that. I think we were the only ones running around the city‚ in and out of meetings.
Silas: I thought everyone would utilize the opportunity and hustle their way around New York but it seemed that we were the only ones. We had a hook-up via VMAN who arranged the trip‚ so we hustled our way into meetings and that worked out for us. If you do that‚ while being nice at the same time‚ you can get tremendously far.
The next day‚ your girlfriend was mad because you were missing a chunk of hair and my girlfriend was mad as she figured that I’d been just as drunk as you.
Jacob: It became the definition of how the people employed here work. When there’s a big opportunity‚ you work 24/7. If your work is done‚ that’s another thing. We’ve become better at being a team without everyone having a final vote.
Silas: The old mentality of Soulland has been combined with our new and more professional setup. One thing that I’ll never forget was when we went to Paris with the Babar collaboration. Through friends of mine in Paris‚ I had established a contact with Sarah from Colette. Prior to the meeting‚ we were both very nervous as the meeting was quite the deal breaker. We went into Colette during Paris Fashion Week. It was filled with people and we were looking for Sarah. We found her and she had sort of forgotten the meeting. We didn’t really know what to make of it.
Jacob: The whole concept of Colette had become somewhat mythical to us. We’d always send them e-mails and they’d never respond.
Silas: We did quite a professional pitch at the meeting. It was total pro. And then we began to realize that we’d made it. Our reaction to that was to find the closest store‚ buy champagne and beers and go down to a park and get wasted. We had our first dinner with our British agent and his girlfriend. We all went out and got super drunk. I remember that the two of us agreed back at the hotel that it’d be a fantastic idea if I cut off a large chunk of your hair. Waking up the next day‚ your girlfriend was mad because you were missing a chunk of hair and my girlfriend was mad as she figured that I’d been just as drunk as you. Even though we’d just closed an important deal‚ it was still the same mentality that we had when we started. Young‚ dumb and full of cum.
Jacob: Didn’t you also get really sick during that trip?
Silas: No‚ that was following Paris Fashion Week. We had been out on the town the night before. I woke up next morning with a heavy flu and stomachache. I had a meeting with Colette and the owners of the Babar trademark. I entered the Water Bar and it was filled with people and loud music. I didn’t catch much of what was going on. I was so unwell. They started speaking French. I didn’t understand much. I felt as if I was going to pass out. I ran home from Colette to the flat that we rented. When I got home and went on Instagram‚ I realized that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian had been sitting right behind me during the meeting.
Jacob: That evening we had to call the doctor to bring us medicine.
Silas: I also think that both of us having become fathers has had quite an impact on Soulland. I think we’ve become better humans. There’s more focus now. It’s easier to be positive about the everyday happenings of the brand.
Jacob: It’s crazy that our kids are best friends and our ladies look alike. It’s peculiar that even though there’s an age gap between us‚ we still experienced those things at the same time. But it also creates coherence. Your girlfriend shoots all of our lookbooks and so on.
Silas: There’s still a community vibe to it. Even though we’re aware of building a business‚ there are still a lot of friends around.
Jacob: We’ve based the company on business rather than friendly deals. But we’ve still preserved those pillars within the structure. That means a lot.
Silas: We’ve had a lot of focus on the internal organization in more recent years‚ trying to optimize the whole thing. It’s been a challenge and still is. Weaknesses are discovered but that’ll benefit us for years to come.
Jacob: Earlier on‚ we’d go to Portugal for production and talk about starting new projects. I think our strength today is defining some game rules not based on limitation but about improving not only ourselves but the whole company. We haven’t read business books and made graphs and models or anything. Our approach to the company is more based on organic growth. We change things but it takes time. We walk around talking about opening our second store years before it actually happens. It’s about changing small things that have a larger impact. Our profile in terms of design has improved a lot over the years. When we see a new collection‚ we often say‚ “It doesn’t get any better than this.” But it does. It was a challenge finding what I’d wear myself some seasons back‚ when it was quite experimental. It still is‚ but there are the easy-to-wear things as well. It has transformed into a brand that I’d buy myself if I went into the store.
Silas: We’re more at ease now. There was a time where we didn’t really know what we wanted. It’s more focused now.
Jacob: There’s a curiosity to it as well. It makes us enter stupid arrangements that can be a bit of a pain. We’ve grown with it. We always have a lot of things going on‚ that wouldn’t exist if you were solely focused on making money. We meet new people. We do new things. We drive six hours south to meet up with the people doing this magazine‚ going out‚ getting drunk and waking up the next morning‚ thinking‚ “We like these people!”
Jacob: What about the future?
Silas: I think we’re aware of our flaws and weaknesses. We need to find a place to define what we want and focus on that. You’re exposed to a lot of work from other people during this Internet age. You see other things and start to think that what other companies are doing is the right thing rather than just focusing on what you want to do or focusing on the victories.
Jacob: We also took a stand on that some time ago at the office‚ not looking to other companies’ work. We’ve never looked at color of the season or trends or anything.
Silas: I don’t think we’d be good at that either.
Jacob: We’re less friend-based today than we were before‚ but the outcome is more based on our friends. We design for the people we like. It’s not often that we see people wearing Soulland and think‚ “We don’t want that guy wearing Soulland.”
Silas: Pop the wine.