How to stand out in the swimwear market? Expanding from Helsinki to international markets, Liljalla Oy shows with its Lilja the Label® brand how growth in fashion industry can also be generated from slow cycles and sustainable production near the core market.

Brand rights_Liljalla_KauloPartners

Founded in 2016, Liljalla Oy and its Lilja the Label® brand share the same values as its founder, Laura Saarinen.

"I have always enjoyed Finland's four seasons and the diversity of nature. Inspired by them, the collection of responsible swimwear, Lilja the Label®, was created. It is designed for year-round use, from winter swimming to swimming halls, not just for lounging on the beaches during vacations. I appreciate slow fashion and well-designed favourite products that last from season to season. The brand name Lilja, meaning 'lily', is also a tribute to nature and its beauty," Laura describes the basic elements of the Lilja the Label® brand.

She summarizes the brand's core and differentiation in four words: sustainable, year-round, timeless, and functional. The swimwear utilises high-quality materials ECONYL® and REPREVE®, which have been processed from plastic waste, and the products are ethically manufactured in a family-ran factory in Portugal, close to the brand's main market in Europe and close to the main target group, i.e., European consumers who appreciate sustainable fashion.

"In the fashion industry, many even artificially age their own products. We want to keep our successful and functional designs in the collection for a long time."

Brand rights_Lilja the Label

Brand rights to support international growth

During the first years Liljalla operated on small scale, because Laura founded her company alongside her studies in economics and business administration, when she wanted a more creative perspective on business alongside her major in accounting. As an entrepreneur, she was also motivated by the opportunity to guide the fashion industry into a more sustainable direction.

By 2022 the business concept was tested, polished and ready for international and bigger growth. Laura became aware of the need to protect the brand name as she was seeking funding for the growth.

"We applied for Tempo funding from Business Finland, and in these discussions the importance of IP protection during the company's growth and internationalization phase was emphasized. While writing the project plan, I realized concretely that the protections should be put in order as soon as possible, because it was possible to include IP expert service in the funding as well", Laura explains.

She started looking for a partner who could help her young and growing company with the protection of brand rights.

"I found Kaulo & Partners through a strong recommendation by another brand owner. After receiving the tip, I contacted Maria Puronvarsi, and since then things have progressed quickly. For us, this has been a smooth process that hasn't taken too much of the limited resources of a small business. We have been able to trust that everything will proceed in a controlled and proactive manner by the partner."

Laura says that she was also happy with Maria's tip to apply for reimbursement from the EUIPO’s SME Fund for the official fees of the trademark registrations.

"Otherwise, this opportunity would have gone unnoticed and unutilized by us."

Brand right strategy and protection plan crystallized in the discussions

The cooperation kicked off with a brand right strategy workshop, resulting in a practical brand right strategy for Liljalla, before starting the protection measures.

“I really benefited from these discussions. I realized how many perspectives and elements are included in a brand right strategy. During the process, many things emerged that I hadn't even thought about. That's why it was a significant and important phase to go through," says Laura.

Based on the brand right strategy, the most important measures were initiated: first, a preliminary trademark search was carried out to ensure that the brand name can be registered and used in the most important markets without the risk of infringing the intellectual property rights of others.

"Fortunately, no obstacles or risks were found for the use of the brand name. Before expanding the international business, it was a relief to get confirmation that we can operate on a secure legal basis and build the Lilja the Label® brand in our growth market in Europe."

After preliminary searches, EU trademark applications were filed to protect the key graphic elements and the brand name. Monitoring was also set up for the brand to detect in time potential infringements or competing registrations of trademarks coming too close, and thus weakening the value of the brand.

"Furthermore, I realized how important it is for the brand value to use the trademark correctly and consistently in the form in which it is registered. We received clear guidelines on how to instruct the use of the brand name not only within your own company, but also externally to retailers, influencers and other partners."

Partnership and brand right strategy help to better manage the entirety of brand rights

According to Laura, the service model where Kaulo & Partners acts like the company's inhouse legal department in all matters related to brand rights and contracts, has been beneficial in many ways.

"I feel that the biggest advantage is that you don't always have to start a new project from scratch, detached from what has been done before. It's clear when all the basic information already exists on both sides, you know who to contact and how things will move forward. The overall picture is more manageable. At the same time, it's a relief when there are fewer things to remember and to take care of on the entrepreneur's own 'to do' list."

Above all, Laura says she appreciates well-functioning communication. The threshold has been low for asking and getting more information, advice or help whenever necessary.

"Maria has kept us well informed about how things are progressing and has reminded if something is expected from us. We have received recommendations on how to proceed step by step, and everything has been rolling well in the background of our own core business. It feels like things are progressing and not crawling, and we have been able to move forward quickly in all issues."

First international influencer marketing contract concluded

In addition to issues related to brand rights, Liljalla has also needed the help of its legal partner in contractual matters.

"Maria helped us draw up our first major international influencer marketing and collaboration collection agreement with a German influencer. The contract is a big investment for us, and Germany is an important market, so we immediately decided that we will not start drafting the agreement on our own. In this same connection, we also received a good template that we can use in our future influencer collaboration agreements as well. The importance of influencer marketing will grow along with the growth of our online sales."

As the company grows, it is important for Laura to be able to trust that the brand rights and the brand value will increase and evolve along with the growth, and the partner's expertise can be trusted also regarding other commercial agreements and legal matters.

"If necessary, we will also actively defend our brand rights."

Lilja the Label® team: Karoliina Hattab, Laura Saarinen, Ella Sainio and Sofia Mähönen

Growth power from the Lilja the Label® brand community

The vision of Lilja the Label® is to be one of the most significant sustainable swimwear brands in Europe within the next ten years.

”Surely we strive for making it in closer to five years!”, Laura excitedly adds.

Despite the slowdown in growth caused by the corona pandemic, international business relying on the online shop has progressed well.

"Internationalization has been launched ambitiously from the beginning, and we have succeeded in our goals. More than half of our sales come from outside of Finland, especially from German-speaking Central Europe and the Nordic countries."

In her journey as an entrepreneur Laura considers her greatest success so far to be the formation of her own team, and the Lilja the Label® community created around the brand.

”It’s a great feeling that the company is no longer my personal project, but has developed into a broader Lilja the Label® community consisting of our small but extremely committed four-person team, all the customers who value sustainable fashion, and our partners.”

In its brand strategy and growth goal, Liljalla wants to rely on the proven core of its business.

”We believe that we have a huge potential in our home market in Europe, therefore we focus on selling ‘close’. We also want to keep the brand very focused on women's swimwear. However, in our brand right strategy we have also prepared for selected new product products which support the year-roundness of the brand. Under our brand, you can already find, for example, sweatpants and sweatshirts made of organic cotton, which can be worn after a cool swimming trip.”