Portrait II | Amsterdam
“I wanted to become an example in the industry, as I truly believe in trade vs. aid”
It’s undeniable. There’s something special about Paulien Wesselink. She radiates warmth and positivity, and as soon as she gets to talking, you can see why she’s been so successful with OMYBAG: she’s vibrant and bubbly, and she makes you want to know more.
The first ten minutes of our conversation were actually spent answering Paulien’s questions. She makes you feel as if you’ve known her forever, just as her bags seem like just the sort of timeless thing you’d have passed down from generation to generation. In less than a decade, Paulien has turned a pipe dream into what will likely soon be a sustainable fashion empire. Though they have only two shops, one in Amsterdam and Den Haag, we’d bet you can’t cross a few grachten without spotting one of her elegant leather bags on someone’s shoulder.
With a small team of 17, Paulien makes a hell of a lot happen. OMYBAG produces extremely high quality leather bags and accessories for men and women that are built around the premise of fair trade. “The idea of fair trade and sustainability was something that struck me when I was studying. With a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in international relations, I always kind of assumed I would end up working in an international organisation.” After an internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she decided to create her own brand, putting the things she’d learned about development, aid and doing something good for the world into practice in a creative way. She wanted to do something that felt a little more personal and a little less bureaucratic.
While it may seem like an obvious idea now to build a brand that is as sustainable as it is stylish, it was incredibly novel when Paulien started honing her idea and shaping her craft. “Back in 2010, the fashion industry wasn’t particularly interested in the idea of investing in people in low wage countries or creating a good, fair work environment. I wanted to become an example in the industry, as I truly believe in trade vs. aid,” Paulien notes. She may not have known it then, but Paulien was becoming a pioneer in the fashion world.
“The idea of fair trade and sustainability struck me when I was studying"
Building a strong, conscious community is at the core of the brand, and Paulien is hell-bent on being as transparent as possible. She showcases the amazing family-run, Indian factories she works with on her website and gives them a voice. She breaks down her eco-friendly tanning practices so that her customers feel like part of the process, part of the family. It’s something that’s just not done in the industry, but it’s something that should be.
If you take a look at any OMYBAG, you’ll notice that quality and a sleek, pared down design is essential to the core of the brand.
Unsurprisingly, Paulien approaches her personal style in much the same way. Though she doesn’t exist at the moment, you could even say Paulien is how you’d imagine the TAU COTTON woman: she’s discerning yet laid back and favours a cooler, more neutral palette, though she’s not afraid of a pop of colour. And speaking of TAU COTTON, Paulien often pops into the store to pick up Polos and Pullovers for her brother or her boyfriend. “I really love the minimal, simple style of TAU COTTON. That reminds me actually. I need to go pick up a plain white T-Shirt for my boyfriend!”
So how do you capture this entrepreneurial, engaging woman in only a few words?
You can’t. But what we do know is that she’s really got life in the bag.
Dream person to carry an OMYBAG?
We actually called one of our newest designs Meghan as a wink to Meghan Markle, so I would love if she wore one of our bags. She is a bit of a sustainable fashion icon, as you may have noticed she has a pair of Veja shoes. I would also be really impressed if someone like Lena Dunham would carry one. I think she’s really cool.
Which brands inspire you?
When I initially started, Tom’s were just coming onto the scene. I read Blake Mycoskie’s book, and was really excited by his One for One movement. That inspired me to create a brand that not only sold beautiful products but also was doing something for other people. Another brand I like is Reformation. Their marketing has a bit of humour to it while still being beautiful, so I think they’re definitely a brand to look up to.
What does your creative process look like?
Jessica, the production manager, and I actually go to India twice a year for about two weeks. We do a bit of sample development before we go and then continue working on the product once we’ve touched down in India. We bring the samples back to the Netherlands, and then the whole team gets to test them out so we know what to tweak. We really get input from the whole team so it’s a collaborative experience.
Favourite spots in Amsterdam:
One place that my boyfriend and I love for dinner is Ron Gastrobar at the Amstelveenseweg. We actually went to Ron Gastrobar Oriental for our first date, so that place also holds a special place in my heart. But when I want brunch, I really like Lavinia Good Food. It’s really close to my house, and I think I used to go there just about every weekend for brunch.
Tell us something unexpected about you:
Uh oh, that’s a tough one. So many directions I could go in! I can tell you about a guilty pleasure of mine, though I’m not sure how that’ll make me look haha! I secretly really enjoying watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians…