Today Sqetch had a super interesting interview with Ester Leontine Wiersma, founder of Traced Goods Amsterdam. Ester founded her label back in 2011 and directly joined the Fair Wear Foundation (“a non-profit organization that works with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for garment workers”). After a lovely introduction and a good cup of coffee we were ready to talk about the more serious and work-related topics.
Can you tell us a bit more about your background?
After growing up in a little village, I moved to Haarlem and later to Amsterdam where I completed my studies. During that time, I travelled as much as possible as I found it fascinating and mind-opening. Thanks to this passion, I cultivated my empathy for other cultures, their way of living and working and the planet in general. Moreover, it refined my eye for beauty and made me really appreciate good-looking objects. The outcome? A creative personality combined with extensive knowledge on trade and business.
How did you get the idea for your own brand?
After having worked in the cosmetic industry for a while, I decided to move into the world of fashion. I worked for a fashion company for which I travelled to Asia. I met with our suppliers and was responsible for production of our private label & quality control. It was during these trips that I realized how bad the working conditions can be. I came to realize that mass production like this was not in line with my values and ethics. Which made me decide to start my own brand and handle things differently.
What did you bring to market that’s not already there?
Our USP is based on the way we produce. I decided to source and produce my products in remote villages, far from industrialization and keen on traditions. The people I work with love what they do and are really willing to collaborate with brands like us. Additionally, we focus on quality instead of quantity. Something our customers appreciate and helped us to improve the longevity of our products. In general each Traced Goods item keeps in good shape for at least a decade!
Can you tell us more about your manufacturing process?
Because I’m not a designer I closely work together with our factories on pattern and sample making. Together we create beautiful designs out of ideas I come up with. Moreover, some of my prints and designs are made by two AMFI students I collaborate with.
Because I use a lot of wool within my collections, I largely source from Nepal where I can get high-quality standards. We work with three factories, as the maximum order quantity is really low because of regulations. Non-governmental organizations want to prevent big companies to place huge orders and exploit workers just because of the money they offer.
What was the first problem you tackled when starting off?
Our logistics was one of the first problems I needed to deal with. When you start a business from scratch you mostly can’t benefit from any privilege such as discounts. This made shipping and its management pretty challenging. The restrictions set by NGOs only allow companies to place lower order quantities while high prices are set for shipment by air. A bit contradictory
Have you made a mistake that you never want to experience again?
Probably, the investment I made to present at Premiere Vision. The event itself was a really nice experience but closing a deal with buyers was the hardest thing to do. I talked to a lot of people but entering the fashion market is about building and boosting a fair Dutch design fashion label in each way: social media, visuals, packaging and an online platform. Luckily fairs are not the only way of doing business. I would advise to focus on all possible channels, co-branding and sometimes try to create new ones to promote your products or brand!
If you had to advise a starting brand: What are your 3 takeaways to make it successful?
First of all, motivate yourself and/or team as much as possible. Simply organize the stuff that needs to be done with a short “must-do”-list. And even more important, stick to it! Start with the most essential task, finish it and continue on the next one. If you cannot get a job done internally, try to outsource within your own network.
Next to this you should always believe in yourself and keep faith in your goals even when times get a bit difficult. Anything is possible until proven impossible. If you – as an entrepreneur – don’t believe in what you try to do, you can’t move forward.
Last but not least, focus on your customer and keep an open mindset for opportunities around you. This will help you to further develop and sharpen your product and/or business.
What was the most memorable moment since you started your brand?
The green showroom! It is a fashion fair in Berlin organized together with the Ethical Fashion Show. The Dutch Embassy invited me, both as a guest and exhibitor. Together with six other brands I got the opportunity to show my collection on the catwalk. It was a fantastic experience and really rewarding. I hope I’ll get a chance to do it again.
Is there something else you wanna share?
My upcoming project! Together with Trivoly, I am working on implementing wearable technology in my products. For instance, we are developing an innovative scarf with a pre-installed “chip” that allows you to monitor your phone in order to be safe in traffic, social efficient and it has even a remote picture tool. It works more or less like an I-watch, but it is less visible. In other words, you will be able to look fasionable and at the same time check your phone without anyone noticing it!
Pretty cool, right?