The Amsterdam-born brand that’s making handbags truly yours, Founder Felicienne Bloemers talks to us about her nature-inspired pieces and how she overcame the challenge of transparent production…
TELL US A BIT ABOUT HOW YOU GOT INTO HANDBAG DESIGN?
After leaving a career in consulting and finance, I stepped into the creative world working with several products and fashion designers. That was the moment that a hidden longing to create was awakened in me. I didn’t know by then what to do with it and how to shape it. Not until I started a path filled with yoga and meditation, was I able to truly connect with my inner me. This growing consciousness helped me to let go of stress and get in touch with my strength and creativity. I wanted to make something that was beautiful and meaningful, not only in form but also in spirit. Products that could connect the inner with the outer world and tell this story. Handbags turned out to be the perfect carrier: they are a women’s true soulmate, accompanying her on her journey through life and carrying all she cares for.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START YIY?
It felt like quite a responsibility with so many handbags out there in the world. So I turned to you, as YiY wants to listen to you (YiY = ‘jij’ in Dutch and translates to ‘you’). I asked you through an extensive questionnaire about your ideal handbag and took your feedback to design the bags. One thing became very clear: you all explicitly expressed wanting to have the possibility to be able to personalize your bags, your soulmates. The pieces were falling more and more together. It made perfect sense that a soulmate needed to be truly personal, therewith reinforcing the outer and inner connection the brand tries to grow. The brand name was born: YiY, with a double meaning: You and Your Inner You.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOUR HANDBAG DESIGNS?
My inspiration comes from nature. It is a bit hard to express in words. Nature is always in flow and finds its balance. Its continuing cycles connect life and death. Nature can strike you with its intricacy and yet its simple logic and functionality. And nature embraces organic forms and expresses for me both power and elegance. I found antler a symbol from nature representing this all. Antler is expressing both power and organic elegance; is shed and grows again every year. And while the inside is a very intricate maze, the majestic outside serves female deer to find their best mating partner.
When designing the bags, I combined nature with the learnings from the questionnaire. While the bags are functional, the organic weave is intricate and shows craftsmanship. The GOTS custom lining of the bag is inspired by photography of water and air symbolizing a feeling of freedom. And the custom handler connectors remind you of antler.
Personalization had to be key. I felt this feature had to be a connection with nature as if this could bring you back to your nature. I choose to work with unique tokens sprouted from nature. The weave leads your eye to the central place where you find a special click system that allows you to change your token depending on your moment. The tokens act like a little anchor and reminder to be in the moment – the now – and connect with Your Inner You…and of course it is without saying that YiYis conscious and embraces sustainability.
HOW DO YOU SOURCE YOUR NATURE-INSPIRED TOKENS?
At this point, the collection of tokens is made of gemstones, petrified wood and antler. The tokens are handmade by myself. The gemstones and petrified wood are hand-picked based on their size, shape, colour, meaning and inner beauty and turned into a token. YiY only uses shed antler which stems from European deer. After the antler is handpicked, I go to the workshop to cut, shape and polish the antler into different types of tokens, each with a unique expression.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO STARTING THE BRAND?
There have been many but one challenge definitely stands out: production. When finding my way into the industry, you come across some difficulties and conflicting goals. While sourcing is pretty well organized, the production side is not very transparent. Local production in The Netherlands turned out to be impossible as the craftsmanship and techniques needed have disappeared. After finding and trying to set up production in Romania failed, I had to start all over again and found a highly skilled and very amiable atelier in Spain -near Alicante – that helped me with my first production. And still in the industry – especially for a start-up – it is hard to keep production going as ateliers need minimum quantities and are not willing to deliver on demand. And this leaves us – the industry – with a paradox of not only requiring investments but also evoking the risk of overproduction and waste. This effect is even more magnified by consumers who ask for immediate deliveries. A balancing act that needs continuous consciousness…
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST WOW MOMENT?
From the beginning, I wanted to build the brand true to its own philosophy by trying to be conscious and live it moment by moment. I took the time working on YiY alongside my consulting activities and last winter YiYcame to live! While the website was launched, I celebrated this milestone with my dearest friends and family who have been witnessing my journey and supporting me along the way. It was such a special and emotional moment. Apart from the perfect location, nature itself created the ultimate present: a thick pack of snow created a magic wonderland, making this a true wow moment. And above all, I was very grateful to welcome my first customers. It is so rewarding to see and feel that women are truly happy with my products.
IF YOU COULD SEE ANYONE WEARING YOUR DESIGNS WHO WOULD IT BE?
This should be someone who would embrace the values and story of YiY and I have a strong feeling Doutzen Kroes would be such a woman. She tries to live consciously, is fond of yoga and meditation and loves nature. And with her #KnotOnMyPlanet project to save the elephants, she actually puts her words and beliefs into action. We also have a sort of shared background which makes me feel personally connected as well: we are both Dutch, grew up in the Dutch countryside, gave birth to a girl and a boy and both lived in New York and Amsterdam. And lastly, without a doubt, a YiY bag would look stunning on her! I am curious which token would be her first choice.