People who inspire us: Liesbet Bartholomé

Some people think the Belgian designer Liesbet Bartholomé is crazy hand sewing all her products. However, she thinks it is worth it, making sustainable and timeless products of high quality that customers can give to their grandkids one day.

When did you launch your own brand and why at this time?                                                 

I launched my brand Studio Bartholomé in December 2015. I guess the main reason it happened then was because I was ready for it. Besides my fulltime job as an architect, I did a lot of evening classes through the years, like fashion design, sewing classes, textile design and so on. I always wanted to do something with it, but at the same time, there was always something new to learn, something else to update my skills with. I guess you can keep learning until forever and still feel you’re missing something somewhere, so there comes a time when you have to let go of your insecurities and just dive in. December 2015 was that time for me.

What did you do before the launch?

At university, I studied to be an architect and since my graduation in 2003 I worked as one too, I still do today. Besides my job, my evening classes, occasionally sewing clothes and bridal dresses for friends and family, I also worked with a local fashion designer for a short period to learn the ins and outs of having your own brand. I also assisted a well-known Belgian fashion stylist for a television program.

What kind of products do you design?

I design leather bags and accessories. I currently work with fish skin, combined with other leather that I hand pick myself from leather stock firms in Belgium and the Netherlands. Because I don’t produce big quantities, I can still do that. I think it’s really important in this day and age to not overproduce and work with materials of great quality so you can deliver sustainable products. I love the fish skin for its texture and feel and it’s a waste product from the food industry that’s been recycled into a very strong material. It’s a great alternative for the exotic skins mostly used in the leather industry, where animals are specially bred for their skin. The fish skin also adds another dimension to the design process because it’s so small. I find it a nice challenge to place and puzzle them into my designs.

Can you describe the process from an idea to the final product?

Whenever I have an idea, I try to put it down on paper, wherever I am. My sketchbook is a bit of a scrapbook with all sorts of pieces of paper like post-its, cardboard or pieces of an envelope I noted something on. Then I try to put the ideas together and start sketching. Whenever I’m pleased with the sketch, I start making the pattern and a prototype. The design is getting altered along the way until I’m pleased with the result. While I’m developing one product, I’m also thinking about the other products of that collection so that there’s always a coherence and several items can be combined. Once the prototype is finished I start to reproduce it. I’m still making all my products myself because I like the craftsmanship so much. The new collection that’s coming, the products will be all hand sewn as well. It’s very time consuming, people think I’m crazy to do it but I think it’s worth it.

What kind of customers are you targeting?

I don’t like to put any age or type on my customers, I guess my products are there for people who appreciate craftsmanship and sustainability and are willing to pay the right price for that. As a small designer, I can’t compete with the big fashion chains so I try to offer something else. Instead of the flood of fast fashion with items that you have to throw away because they’re broke after a few weeks or already ‘out of fashion’, I’d like to offer products that are timeless and decent, that goes a long way so you can give them to your grandkids one day.

What have been the best and worst parts of starting your own business?

The best thing is the satisfaction, to get something out there that’s been in your head for so long. Being complimented by your customers, making something that makes other people happy and proud is very fulfilling. The worst thing for me right now is the shortage of time. Because I’m still working as an architect, to have the cash flow to buy materials, tools, machines and so on, it’s sometimes frustrating that I don’t have enough time to work on my designs.

What is the future plan for Studio Bartholomé?

 I would like to grow bit by bit, just enough so I can say goodbye to being an architect and make a living out of my job as a handbag and accessories designer. I don’t dream of a big company or big runways, I just want to do what I love and earn a living from it. Maybe I will answer this question differently in a few years, who knows?

What is your best advice to people that want to start their own business?

Don’t be afraid to start, we all have to overcome insecurities, that’s what makes us human and as far as my experience goes: Everyone, no matter what level in the industry, has them.

I heard the fashion designer Alber Elbaz once say in a lecture that his main drive was the fear of not being good enough. I guess that’s the right way to deal with it. Let your fear be your motivation. Also, the art critic Robert Hughes said that “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize”.

If you want to see more of Studio Bartholomé’s design, check out their Instagram profile @studio_bartholome

As told to: Synne Krogstad

Images: Liesbet Bartholomé

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