I’m in the Superette Café in Amsterdam East, and I’ve got a date with Klaartje [de Hartog]. She started Keecie fifteen years ago, and I want to know how it all began.
“I kind of made it all up as I went along,” she laughs. “I was fresh out of art school, and decided to sell homemade bags out of recycled leather on the queen’s birthday holiday.
“I already had a job, and I began selling bags with my colleague Caroline Borger. We made them out of leather from old chairs and jackets that we bought in secondhand shops and found in the street.
“It was actually an immediate success, and we used the money to buy new leather and create our very first design, the Window Shopper, which is still in the collection today.
“I also screen printed T shirts for a band that some of my friends were in, and I liked the idea of printing a living room inside the bag so you can take your home with you wherever you go. So screen printing was a Keecie unique selling point right from the start.
“Soon afterwards, we opened a pop-up store at the Modefabriek fashion trade event, and various magazines noticed our bags, which led to orders from shops. We were absolutely delighted.”
Did Keecie bags look like they do now?
“Actually, they did, because the Keecie concept immediately became very clear: functional designs with a vintage look that last a lifetime, and screenprinted on the inside.
“We realized that Keecie could be successful when we got thirty orders at a German trade fair, when we had only five products in our collection. We were so excited. And the great thing is, some of those shops are still Keecie customers.”
Is the location where you work important to you?
“Yes, it’s very important. After about three years, I started running Keecie on my own and realized how important it is to share ideas with other designers.
“My studio in the old Volkskrant newspaper building was an ideal meeting place. We moved twice to newer and bigger premises with our neighbours, a bedding and bedwear company called Snurk Beddengoed. We still share a space, us upstairs and them downstairs, and it’s great to pop down there and ask for advice or share experiences.”
What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
“The creative side: the photoshoots, the exhibition stand, and designing new prints and bags. New designs usually buzz around in my head for a while, and the final version is often quite different to the initial sketch. Sandy and I work it out and produce a prototype.
“Quite a lot of other things change during the development process, as you’ll see on our blog. For example, we might decide to use a different closure or put the stitching outside rather than in.
Do you have a favourite Keecie?
I use the Elephant Joke a lot, because you can fit so much in. But I also have a soft spot for the Picking Flowers, Lunch Break, and Wish Tree. And of course the Window Shopper is close to my heart because it was the first real Keecie.
“But I actually think all our models are special. It gives you a really great feeling when you see someone walk by with a Keecie bag. The last time was in a little back street in Paris. And I’m also very proud to have designed special collections for the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.”
What about plans for the future?
“After fifteen years, Keecie is still going strong. It’s synonymous with timeless, sustainable Dutch design: bags, purses and accessories with a vintage touch that last a lifetime. And a screen print on the inside, of course.
“We’re also looking at where we should be focusing our energy. The international market is definitely one of those places. We had an inquiry from Japan last week, which is always really exciting.
“I really fell on my feet fifteen years ago, and I’m sure the next fifteen years will be just as eventful for the Keecie team.”
Interview by Kim Daalhuizen
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