I’ve always been fascinated by inspiring women and the path that they have chosen. While blogging and working in fashion, I’ve encountered quite a lot of these women. Women who have started their own companies, are running mayor fashion labels or have turned their life upside down to pursue what they love. To inspire myself and you, I decided it was time to start asking some questions. In this series we will find out what motivates these powerful women, important lessons that they have learned and why you should follow your dreams yourself. I’m so excited to see this series come to life and really hope you like it just as much as I do!
While developing this series, the first women that came to mind was Paulien Wesselink, the owner and founder of O My Bag. You’ve probably seen this brand on the blog before because I’ve been craving their Sleazy Jane bag for ages. For those of you who don’t know the brand, O My Bag is an accessories label that produces all their products out of eco-leather. Meaning that they use leather of cows that have died of sickness or old age and that the leather has been treated natural dying products. While producing this way they are also supporting the local Indian economy and women’s rights. And even better, their bags and smaller leather accessories (both male and female) are very ingenious and gorgeous. Pretty impressive right?
Hello Paulien, I love your product but most of all, I really admire the brand ethics behind O My Bag. Was this important to you?
I wanted to set up a social enterprise that would not only make profit but also give back by undertaking business in a fair and sustainable manner. Every bag means fair work and thus a better life for somebody who really needs it. All our leather is locally sourced from cows that worked on the land of local farmers. Also holy cows die, thankfully regardless of the fashion industry.
What inspires you to create new collections? Are there any elements that every OMB bag must have?
Friends, street style and the missing pieces in our collection inspire new collections. I always have my eye on people’s style and bags when biking around Amsterdam. Currently I miss an in-between bag. Bigger than the Betsy, smaller than Little Frankie. Also we could use some baggies that are fun for festivals!
Being an ecological brand, are there any challenges that you feel that OMB had to overcome that other brands might not have to deal with?
Challenges are plenty, but they arise in every business. Maybe we take more responsibility than some other businesses by making sure our supply chain is fair and clean. But I do not see that as something to overcome, why would we want to exploit people and destruct our environment?
Did you always want to own your own company? How did you decide this was the right path for you?
It is funny, because I did not see myself as an entrepreneur at all. A friend from school encouraged me to start this business together. After travelling and searching for producers, it really clicked for me. Even though it suited me so well, it didn’t for my partner. That trip motivated me, but it didn’t have the same effect on my partner. She decided to do something else after we came back.
What does your typical day look like? I can imagine that it involves juggling a thousand things at once. How does your role change as the company grows?
It is about trying to juggle many different things. The company is constantly in development; so many things have to do with progress, which is always thrilling. There is production, operation, creation, administration, sales, marketing, and communication. Now that the team is expanding, it is also more about managing and leading. It’s new turf for me, but I really enjoy it.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge in starting your own brand/company? Are there any challenges that you have to overcome because you are a female entrepreneur as opposed to a man?
The big secret to starting your own company is that there is no secret. You can achieve anything you set your mind to if you’re willing to work. Definitely women can achieve the same things (if not more) than men. I have not received any gender discrimination yet, also not in India. They’ve been very friendly and always taken me seriously, something I wasn’t sure of when embarking the first production trip in 2010.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
So many goals to reach! I’m really lucky to get to do what I love, so that is very motivating as it is. Present-day society does provide so many impulses that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I do try to keep sane, by taking enough downtime and making sure I refuel. I learned this in the first year of trying to get O My Bag of the ground. It was just me, so back then it was challenging to stay motivated. I had to be aware that not my whole life consisted of only O My Bag. Now I make sure I take enough breathing room. I recently got really interested in meditation, something I might get into more in the near future.
What’s the favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is being busy with something adventurous that also helps other people. I love travelling, being creative and interacting with clients and our challenging our team forward.
Did you have a mentor? If yes, what was the most important lesson that he/she taught you?
There are many advisers in family and friends. Oprah Winfrey had a great influence on me as well. Her message to live your best life and use your energy to lift yourself up, your family and the people around you resonates with me.
What advise would you like to give to your just-graduated self if you could travel back in time?
I feel that that is only such a short while ago! (4,5 years) I would want to take away her doubts about starting a business. There will be skeptics along the way, but don’t be fazed. Positivism is such a force multiplier!
Thank you so much for your time Paulien!
All photos by O My Bag