Designing clothes suitable for someone who serves and volleys, while also creating coats, shirts, V-neck vests, tees and caps that look good off court, weren't skills that featured on Nikolaj Hansson's CV a year ago.
‘I'd worked for a design firm in communications, so I knew about branding, but nothing about making clothing – let alone something that could perform on a tennis court,’ says Nikolaj, the founder of Palmes Tennis Society, a line of menswear made from organic or recycled materials, that takes inspiration from classic tennis apparel, while aiming to be both practical on the court and stylish enough to wear off it.
Serving a win
The workaround to this problem saw Nikolaj engage friends and acquaintances who knew about the clothing industry. Not only did they get him through the door to meet factories and companies, where he pitched his new take on tennis apparel, but they also taught him a lot about design and production. ‘I think I'd never have been this successful in the business if I hadn't embraced my weaknesses. It's about telling yourself: OK, I can do this much but, from here on out, I haven't got a clue. Then approach people who do. Ask yourself: who do you know who'll help you bridge whatever gap?’
Nikolaj only picked up tennis in 2020 during the pandemic, but the life-long skateboarder soon fell in love with the sport and began meeting his mates at local courts in Copenhagen. It wasn't long before he realized that something was missing in the world of tennis: a clothing line representative of the modern recreational player – someone not interested in wearing the high-performance brands, nor the legacy brands with their country-club vibes. ‘That's tennis 30 years ago,’ he says.
‘Tennis suffers [from] a culture problem,’ he goes on. ‘I thought that I could never play because I didn't come from the right socio-economic background. Palmes Tennis Society is about showing another side to tennis culture – a more modern one.’
Be a team player
Nikolaj has also demonstrated that speed can still deliver a quality, sustainable product. Within just three months of committing to the project and quitting his job, he was showing his first collection to buyers. Within the year, Palmes' products have hit select stores around the world and are also sold direct to consumer.
‘Palmes is still very much just me running it but, to get here, collaboration has occurred at nearly every stage. The great thing about collaborators is that they can give you energy and teach you things you hadn't considered before, if you're open to it,’ Nikolaj says.
He adds: ‘Master your pitch for when you're meeting factories. You need them to believe in you and your vision – after all, you're a team.’
For our ‘25 big lessons from small business’ series, we scoured the world to find inspiring people to share the lessons they've learned from running their own companies. Click here to read the other stories.
This special feature was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.