Fair fashion can be interpreted in many ways as there are different conceptual views. In this theme-of-the-month “handmade in Belgium”, the location of the production and the craftsmanship are crucial parts of course.
Nele Huysmans is a Belgian Handbag-designer, located in Antwerp.
In 2009 she won the finals of the Belgian Initiative ‘Kunstbende’. She started her education in 2010 as a fashion designer at KASK in Ghent and four years later, she presented her own collection ‘Nele Huysmans’. She adheres to the concept of the designer as a very humain person as she is one herself, considering that during her studies she worked for the “Knitting Against AIDS” project.
Her own label NELE stands for creativity and craftsmanship with playful details and every piece is an original one.
Why is your production located in Belgium?
I started to produce in Belgium because that was the most logical thing to do. NELE is still a starting label but is really born out of love for fashion. After 2 years in fashion academy, I specialized in the craftsmanship of leather design. I think it’s very important to have a very good notion of the craftsmanship, after the design skills self of course. That’s important for your insight during the design process: what is possible with my materials? How will they react on some specific actions like stretching or stitching?
So, for me, producing in Belgium fitted nicely in the process of a starting label : making a few purses myself and trying to sell them close by in Belgium on little design markets. Giving me the opportunity to test my models, colours, etc. out and learn the most important thing : Does anybody even like my purses?
I do realize that when the label grows, that it will get impossible to produce everything myself and then maybe, I have to go elsewhere. That will be a very difficult decision for me. But I do think it’s important to keep the knowledge within the community. That’s how job creation works. Though it’s important to realize that every country has his owns craftsmanship style and it’s also important to go to the right place for the right things. But I’m not denying that –as a young designer- the financial bit is also a important consideration..
So you feel my pain, I think.. 😉
Do you make every handbag yourself?
At this moment, every bag is made by me and with love of course!
In my heart, I’m a designer so it’s wonderful for me to stand by the whole story of the bag.
It’s still doable now but when the production grows..
The ideal way would be that I still design the prototypes and search for the perfect balance between all the features and then give the whole production to a manufactory. That would be ideal because then there is a division between the creative process and the production process.
How do you choose which leather to use?
Each time, I work with a theme and during the design process, it quickly becomes clear which leather will be a good choice for that particular bag. The properties of the leather, such as the thickness and suppleness, are very important but in the end, it is the right presentation, the visual component of the theme that gets the final say.
My favorite is lamb leather; it’s soft and often of a great quality. I like to work with the backside, “the bad side”, of the leather because it has a that rare, but beautiful, vain pattern.
I almost never work with exotic leather but when I do it’s only for small details like bows and it’s always recycled leather or leather that’s otherwise not going to be used anymore (zero-waste-method!).
I admire that you –even at such a young age- already knows what you’re doing and where you’re going. I find that determined attitude in your Collection too, so I’ll take it that you find the inspiration simply in your yourself?
But I’d like to tell that what happens in my head not always seems to fit the image that everyone else gets. I did not graduate at the academy of Ghent. After 2 years, I was in a place where all the (creative) energy seems to have left me. So, I had to take some time off to get back my courage and trust in myself to start creating again. But I realized soon that I have to create. It’s an essential part of me, I can’t switch it off.
I’d like to get inspired by social situations; the soul of a person really intrigues me. All the little but significant differences between people..
For my line ‘Keep dreaming things’, I did some research on dream patterns; how they can be comparable and completely different at the same time with different meanings for different people.
That inspirational flow still ongoing so you can expect a sequel of the theme in the summer collection..
What does fair fashion means to you?
Fair fashion exists where there is a balance between social, ecological and financial values. I can understand that companies choose to produce elsewhere when the main reason is the craftsmanship in that particular region: I do believe that you should go to the place where it’s best.
But I’m not naive; I know that the financial part is the most important consideration in the moving-process.
I’d like to say here that for me, even more important than the ideal craftsmanship, is undoubtedly the circumstances where the production takes place, how the employers are treated.
I’m worried about how only a few people have only a little knowledge about these bad circumstances.. but in our society, where people are thinking it is normal to buy a t-shirt for €5, it’s very hard to grow a fair fashion conscience..
Do you work ‘fair’ in your opinion ?
Yes I do believe that I work “fair”. There’s not much in my working process that I don’t control because I do everything myself 🙂
A point of improvement for myself is the selection of my leather. At this moment I can make a really good and informed selection but I often find myself in a situation where I can’t get enough information or at least not enough for my own ecological standards but I cut myself some slack here because it’s very hard to get this information.
I noticed that you don’t work with models so the bags are always photographed as a stand-alone product. If you must change that, who would you choose as a model for the bags?
It is indeed an explicit choice to work without models but I do realize that pictures with models can create a very creative and inspiring campaign shot. They can add personality and a special kind of attraction to the product. If I would choose for a model, it has to fit right in and on this moment there’s only one model who gets my attention in that way : Chantelle Winnie. I know her from this article and, actually, you have made me think in that direction now..
Thank u so much for this lovely interview, Nele!
I wish you a lot of inspiration and much more beautiful bags 🙂
More info about Nele and her wonderfull collection can be found HERE