Ahead of our Amsterdam Trend Event, we posed a crucial question to the city's inhabitants: Can big Dutch brands be redeemed?


Image sources in order of appearance: Citinerary, EUtweets, Fairphone, The Post

This month, TrendWatching is partnering with Citinerary, an international network of passionate citizens who observe and share, how we live, how a city functions and how it continues to evolve. This blog series is part of the upcoming TrendWatching Global Trend Event series landing in Amsterdam on November 23rd. Mio van der Mei, an Amsterdam-based Citinerary correspondent, explains how big and local brands redeem themselves or the industries they’re operating in, and the impact it has on the city and its local communities.


‘Corporate’ is often used as a dirty word, tainted with connotations of pollution, exploitation, of risking people’s health for the sake of profit. Amsterdam is home to many major multinationals that have been criticized for one (or more) of these practices at some point in the past. But, as a city, Amsterdam has great ambitions to become a green metropole and embrace the circular economy, and is keen to become an attractive location for sustainable companies to set up shop.

Brands are helping people to help others

Not only is the government pushing for a greener and more prosocial corporate climate, citizens in Amsterdam want brands to go beyond conventional CSR. Mark Woerde, co-founder of award-winning Amsterdam-based advertising agency Lemz, conducted a global study that showcased how people are waiting for brands to help them help others. Woerde is helping businesses to transition into prosocial brands, and believes big brands could win Nobel prizes in the near future. His research became a bestselling book called ‘How advertising will heal the world and your business’. This city in particular, has the people, the expertize, the creativity, and the wherewithal to make the transition to sustainability and ethicality.

Take G-star for example, a company that was criticized for human exploitation back in 2007. The brand has since signed an agreement ensuring the safety of factory workers. But G-star truly redeemed itself two years ago with its ‘RAW for the oceans’ line, produced in collaboration with Pharrell Williams. It’s a sustainable jeans collection made from recycled plastic soup. G-star used over ten tons of ocean plastic to produce its first RAW line meaning that simply by purchasing a pair of jeans, people could help to keep the oceans clean.

Although a brand like G-star is from Amsterdam, it has little direct impact on the local communities within the city. So who are the ‘big brands’ in Amsterdam?


The societal meaning of the rise of startups

As mentioned above, the capital city of Holland is home to countless corporate brands, but it’s also home to hundreds of innovative startups. Despite being a relatively small city, with a population of just 800,000, Amsterdam is well on its way of becoming the startup city of Europe and was named ‘startup hub to watch’ in 2014 by Inc.com.

The difference between regular corporate brands and startups? Startups can have an idea today, process it tomorrow and have the result the day after; whereas corporate brands often consider ideas internally for relatively long periods. Startups have the ability to make positive changes now. According to serial entrepreneur and founder of Rockstart, Oscar Kneppers: “it’s easier to start your own company and change the world than to exercise influence from within the government.” Many startups in Amsterdam rely on their communities, and the customers’ inclusiveness is key.


Take Fairphonefor example: an ethical and sustainable smartphone brand that’s been made possible through crowdfunding. They are offering a solution to consumers who don’t want to buy products that are manufactured through exploitation and child labor, and sourced from conflict minerals (as 99% of electronic companies do). Fairphone integrates materials in the supply chain and supports local economies. They invest in factory workers’ wellbeing, safe working conditions, and pay fair wages. Fairphone was established in 2012 and is delivering 150,000 smartphones this year. The backers of Fairphone have a sense of ownership by fighting the often unethical and unsustainable electronic industry by purchasing a counter-product. Fairphone has an engaged online community, including many young successful city dwellers.    

Then you also have Moyee Coffee, the world’s first Fair Chain brand, superseding Fair Trade. Coffee farmers earn very little money from their beans alone. Coffee beans increase 99% in value once they are processed and roasted in the West. Moyee Coffee is tackling this economical disproportion by roasting the beans in their country of origin and equally sharing the added value of the beans amongst the local communities. Buyers are aware that they’re joining Moyee’s Fair Chain revolution with every purchase they make, and feel like they contribute to a fairer world.

Although there are many more examples that I could elaborate on, I will leave you with a short list of startups that already are, or are still on their way to becoming, the new big brands in this city:

Tony Chocolonely, the only chocolate available that’s 100% slave free (and whose Marketing Manager, Pascal van Ham, will be featuring on the 'Do Brands Have a Future?' panel at TrendWatching's Amsterdam event - editor ;)


Vandebron, who offer wind, water, sun or bio energy, directly sourced from local farmers.

Roetz-bikes, durable designer bicycles made from recycled discarded bike parts. Around 1000,000 bikes are thrown away each year in the Netherlands.

The new big brands

You could say that startups are the new big brands in Amsterdam; they contribute to a sharing- and circular economy, but also help people to help shape a better world. Startups are redeeming certain industries by being the solution themselves.


TrendWatching's 2016 Consumer Trend Events head to Singapore (27 Oct), Sydney (3 Nov), Chicago (10 Nov), London(16 Nov) and Amsterdam (23 Nov). Ready to unlock and experience the trends set to shape 2017 (and beyond)? Find out more here.