Inspiring Women: Margriet Meijer, designer and slow fashion pioneer
By Hanna Pumfrey
When I visited Amsterdam this February I had the pleasure of meeting Margriet, founder and designer at Monsak bags. We spent a few hours chatting about slow fashion and our shared visions for a sustainable future and I knew immediately that I wanted Margriet to be part of this series. Margriet’s spark is not only endearing but infectious, I came away from my visit with her with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the future of ethical fashion. As well as two gorgeous bags in production that I had customised myself, such a fun experience and I know already that the experience and process of making means I will treasure these items for ever.
Margriet has just one collection of bags that transcends seasons, trends, life. Her focus is on giving customers the opportunity to create a bag that is unique to them, that is part of their story and that they will treasure forever. For me Monsak is the antithesis to fast fashion and Margriet is a true slow fashion pioneer.
Hear her story here.
Tell me a bit about you. How did it all start?
I have a curious mind and two right hands. When I was younger, I would watch my parents working around the house, eternally inquisitive about things work and are constructed. I even ended up with a cut to the side of my nose once when I had my head in something to watch my father fix it! He warned me but I just couldn’t help but take a closer look.
From being a very young child my mum taught me to sew; on my way home from school I would always stop by her atelier to watch her do her thing. She was a clothes designer, and although not interested in making clothes myself at that time I just liked to hang around there. As I got older, I found my passion for clothes making and started to help my mother make garments.
Age 22 I started pattern making lessons at her school but it was just too much work next to my fulltime job. When you look at someone else making something, for me it’s easy to just copy, I found pattern making quite a different kettle of fish.
Then my mum bought a special leather sewing machine. I was surprised at the need for such a humongous machine for leather sewing and of course this made me curious about how it worked. Could I make a bag? I’ve been a huge bag addict since I can remember, so I knew I had at least try. The not trying is more important to me than the fear of failing. My failings in life have made me such a better persona ando so much better at everything I do. Failing really is key to success.
But back to the bag; it worked out really well. As did the second one too. Then friends started asking me if I could make a bag for them. This is when I started making bags on request. I would collect surplus leather from factories and my friends would pick the colour of their choice. I could that there was something exciting in this concept. I have an entrepreneurial mind; Monsak was born.
What motivated you to start a sustainable business?
Well I happened to stumble upon deadstock leather as a material. I needed small pieces in the beginning so that was perfect for me. After a while, I realised how great it was that were using up all this leather that was lying around, destined for landfill as it was not perfect enough for big brands. For me the fact that these are small batches is perfect because my goal is to make unique bags for unique customers. Everyone is different, so this material is a perfect match. It is important to me to dispel this need for perfection that is driving so much waste in the fashion industry. I am honoured to show customers and the big retail players, that beautiful products can still come from what they deem unusable.
Starting Monsak meant I could combine my conscious lifestyle with my business. It is a topic that is becoming bigger and bigger and I believe many people are now making much more well considered choices. That gives me even more inspiration and motivation to keep on doing what I am doing. For me, working with surplus leather is always the better option to fake leather. It just lasts longer, you wear it your whole life, not a few seasons. Combine this with the slow fashion, unique design element of Monsak and you have a product for life.
What are your plans for Monsak? Where do you want the brand to go?
For me it does not matter if people find our bags because they are looking for a sustainable bag or they just stumble upon them, like the design and an extra feature is that the bag is sustainable. I just want to make people more aware of sustainability issues when they are consuming. I want the brand to grow organically and to be a form of education for people on the need for a slower approach to fashion. I teach people in the atelier, running workshops and courses on how to make your own bag. Passing information through a fun learning space and always growing through each other’s knowledge.
Hopefully through my workshops I can do the same with the all aspects of sustainable lifestyle too. I think that education through fun activities is the key to changing people’s minds about this topic. In the future, I also want to share the story of other Amsterdam based brands that are making products with the planet in mind. Just cool stuff that shows how Amsterdam is a home of leading sustainable brands.
What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs looking to start their own eco-friendly brand?
Do something your heart loves, not something that makes you rich. I believe that is the only way to stay standing in this hectic, super-fast, competitive world. Also, don’t sit on your own island but share knowledge. You can’t do it on your own anyway. Keep it real and honest. And keep focussed. Don’t try to do it all.
Also, perhaps most importantly, get and stay inspired. Read ‘The One Thing’ by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan. It is a must read if you want to start a successful business.
What are your top tips for living a more sustainable lifestyle?
I think awareness is the first step. Be more aware of your habits, the way you are living, the products you use or the way you travel and eat. Take it step by step, otherwise it can become overwhelming. There are pro’s and con’s for everything you will choose to do, every product you will find but don’t let that paralyse you. Doing something is better than doing nothing at all!
Thank you for sharing you story with us Margriet!