THE WWW'S — O MY BAG'S PAULIEN WESSELINK
Have you heard of The WWW’s? Through this section on our website, you’ll be able to get to know our clients a little better, as we’ll dive deep into the WHO, WHAT and WHY of their brands. Intrigued? Enjoy your read.
This Dutch female founder swapped a career at the UN for a chance to make a difference as an entrepreneur. Her aim was to start a business that could bring about social change in developing countries, and we’re very pleased to say that she more than succeeded in doing just that. Meet Paulien Wesselink, founder and head designer of Amsterdam-based eco-friendly leather bag brand ‘O My Bag’.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your background and education?
“My name is Paulien Wesselink, I am 34 years old, studied History and obtained a Master in International Relations. After I finished my studies, I did an internship at foreign affairs. I've always wanted to work at an international organization and always had a lot of interest in development cooperation, but after that internship I thought: ‘No, I would rather start something myself.’
How did you come up with the idea to start O My Bag?
"I came across the slogan ‘support trade, not aid’ quite often during my internship, and it stuck with me. Fair trade doesn’t create a dependent relationship between the one who gives and the one who receives, and it can be very beneficial for the prosperity of a country! There’s an equal relationship going on. After my internship I moved to New York for a year, where I studied Business Administration. What an inspiring city! Americans think bold and big, which inspired me to just try it! As soon as I knew I wanted to launch a sustainable and fair trade leather accessory brand, I knew I had an idea that would catch on… After New York, I traveled to India, an experience that blew my mind! It’s where I learned that the leather tanning industry is very polluting, so I felt motivated to set an example of how it should be done… That trip was really my Eureka-moment! It's when I realized I wanted to invest my time and energy in it for many years to come."
What was it like to be a pioneer in sustainability?
"I had the idea that for my generation — born in the 80s — it was much more evident than for the generation before. For us, entrepreneurship should simply be as sustainable as possible. The book 'Cradle to Cradle' had just come out, a book about sustainable design, and the durable shoe brand Tom's was also very hip, so I had the feeling that everyone was already working on it. The established industry definitely not, but the people who started a business around the same time as me certainly did! Now, 8 years later, I realize it's only just happening now. I guess I started O My Bag at the right moment; I definitely surfed 'the right wave'!"
How would you like to see O My Bag evolve?
"Our BHAG is to become an internationally renowned bag brand by 2025, known for its sustainable and fair production. Because we're strong in Northern Europe, I sometimes think we're already an internationally renowned brand, but we're still very small in the U.S.A., and Japan is still unknown territory... By 2025 we really want to conquer the world and have positively influenced the lives of 100,000 people! That's why we always support many social projects in India, which are mainly related to education and emancipation.
Female entrepreneurs are still a minority. What’s your ultimate advice for those who are considering to start their own business?
Just do it! Women think too much about it; they're already imagining what could go wrong before they even start. Men are generally more bold. I guess I was quite bold too, at the time! I thought: 'Well, if it doesn't work out, so be it! I'll just start working again." Shit happens, all the time, that won't stop once you've started your own business. Just learn to run with it, and turn every setback into a learning opportunity!
Thanks for the inspirational talk, Paulien! Good luck!
Intrigued by the brand? Check out O My Bag and get inspired!
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