Life

This Is Why You're Seeing iets frans… Clothing Everywhere

Its popularity, as a relatively cheap line stocked at Urban Outfitters, is no surprise. But the strategy to achieve that is more complex.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB
January 21, 2020, 9:00am
iets Frans urban outfitters clothes buy bra belt off white
Photos via Urban Outfitters

Like most of her friends, Beth became aware of hyper-colourful street and sportswear brand iets frans... a couple of years ago. The 23-year-old masters student lives in Glasgow and had clocked the logo – a bold, lowercase font, sometimes in a rainbow range of colours – on a range of loose-fitting hoodies and tees in global high street trend shop Urban Outfitters. "Everyone jumped on it – whether buying from the shop, or second hand on Depop," she says. "We were like ‘Have you seen this new brand that’s come out???’" And she's not alone.

The Urban-owned brand has only been around since 2017. You’d be forgiven for assuming it's a stand-alone streetwear fashion house, arranged on a typical UO shop display alongside Adidas trackie tops and Nike trainers. But iets frans… deftly traces the outlines of late 2010s high-end casualwear while pushing down the cost for high street kids – it's essentially a cut-price take on Virgil Abloh's Off-White. No single stereotype can totally group together all of the sorts of teens and twentysomethings who wear it. They may take ketamine, for example, but also aren't so left-field that you'd spot them huffing paint for Satan at a "charity event". They're style-conscious, but careful too never look too polished – a Venn diagram crossover between Depop students and nu-jazz lads alike.

So how did iets frans… get to its current popularity point? For starters, it relied on presence. It's inherently boosted by its in-house placement at a huge multinational corporation like Urban Outfitters. The logo is plastered on a big portion of the sweatshirts and joggers currently on sale in Urban's 43 UK stores. In a big market with big brands, it managed to gain a foothold in the 'teen who wears chunky trainers' market by blurring a line between knockoff, throwback and just the lightest touch of novelty.

The brand’s origins lie in Europe. Specifically, in the styling you see in cult classic French film La Haine. “We were referencing the styling of the main characters in that film," says Michael Taylor, menswear buying director at Urban Outfitters Europe and Asia.. "It was Parisian street culture: sportswear mixed with functional workwear."

In practice, this is a range of technical-leaning sportswear and streetwear. There are vests, track tops, long sleeves at moderately affordable prices; lightly washed mauve tone skate hoodies (£42) and over-dyed joggers in a pastel colours (£35). A quick glance at what's on offer makes it clear why iets frans… has grown massively over the past year or so. Many of its items closely resemble ones from lucrative name brands. Its women’s underwear shares a similar elasticated band logo design with Calvin Klein's classic triangle bra and pants; an iets frans… canvas belt design is near-identical to another first made by Off-White.

iet Frans belt

“They’re a cheaper alternative to Fila and Adidas,” says Beth, who owns a pair of trousers and a scarf, plus a jacket she later sold on Depop. “The appeal is that they have basic items and styles but current.” She touches on a major selling point for the brand: their clothes look older than they are, leaning on derivative 90s lines, but still feel new.

That name is a sticking point, though. Pronounced ‘eeyets franz’, it's Dutch for "something French" – a hint at the La Haine influence. Tim, 27, stopped wearing the brand as soon as he learned what it meant. “Wearing words that you don't understand is generally a stupid move and one I try to avoid – but when when those words transpire to mean something really stupid it’s considerably worse than that.”

Beth agrees. “Before I found out it was Dutch for ‘something French’ I thought it was cool.”

And yet, despite the slightly bizarre name, iets frans… shows no sign of slowing down. It fits into the Urban Outfitters loose mission – one described by Michael as “getting something old with a modern take on it”. You see that stamped all over their current range of tracksuit bottoms dyed colours that look as though they were once bright but have been through hundreds of rounds in the wash.

iets franks… doesn't stray far from the design deployed by brands like Palace and Nike ACG. And that means unsuspecting customers believe they’re getting in on a new brand – a clever move on Urban’s part. “For ages I thought it was its own brand – I assumed it was a streetwear brand,” says 18-year-old Sasha, who owns an iets frans… belt. “If something seems like it’s fairly obviously owned by the shop it puts me off, but I didn’t realise.” That alone speaks volumes. iets frans… have successfully muscled into an already saturated market and subverted the importance of ‘brand values’, all savvily hinged on a loosely 90s feel. It is "something French", in a country leaving the EU.

Me though? I simply can’t get past the name, and the way it's often repeated. The two words haunt me, popping up in shop windows, on socks, on my friends; not really in my dreams, nor my nightmares, but there – omnipresent. It seems they are destined to appear on every pastel-coloured item that I pick up in their store. It's like a weird mantra I never asked for, going around in my head and in front of my eyes, forever: iets frans… iets frans… iets frans…

@ryanbassil