Denise Ruigrok van der Werven started her handbag line, Ruigrok van der Werven, in 2016. The brand is based in The Netherlands, and the bags are made in Italy. Prior to launching her line, Denise was a freelance stylist. I was immediately struck by the bag design, and think they bring something new & different to the market. Learn about her brand and background below:
Walk me through your background.
I attended Artemis Styling Academy in Amsterdam where I was introduced to the fashion industry. Before Artemis, I studied Graphic Design, so the fashion design and technical drawings were not new for me. At Artemis, the focus was more on styling, but not only fashion: we also had lessons in interior styling, food styling and media styling. For the fashion lessons, we learned about photoshoots, but also drawing, painting and designing. I graduated with a fictional fashion collection that I designed for MUJI.
Describe your time as a stylist.
Because of the contacts I’d made during my styling studies, it was a logical way to continue my styling career after I graduated. I worked for young Dutch designers, like Martijn van Strien, and also I worked as a styling assistant to get more experience with fashion shoots. My work was featured in Sicky Magazine, for example. Besides that, I also worked as a freelance graphic designer for model agencies.
Did you always want to work in fashion?
When I started my Graphic Design study in 2006, I didn’t plan to work in fashion. In the second year of the study, we had to choose a direction. It was clear to me that I wanted to choose Fashion and Trends. When I was a child, I was always busy with styling and putting outfits together, but I never knew it could be my job!
How did you learn to start and run a company?
I had some experience from my freelance work, but starting my own brand was new for me. Previously, I had done the creative part of the job, but now I was also a ‘business woman’! I still learn everyday, and get a lot of help from friends, family and my boyfriend. My Italian manufacturer is really committed to me, and helps me when needed. He works for big Italian fashion brands and has a lot of experience in the fashion industry.
What does your day-to-day look like?
At the moment, my days normally start by checking & replying to e-mail. In the afternoon, it changes day to day; sometimes I have appointments in Amsterdam or at some of my stockists, or updating my social media/website/etc. I currently do everything on my own. Sometimes, I draw for the whole week when I have new ideas for designs (this what I love the most), some days I plan business trips to foreign countries, or I’m folding boxes to fulfill orders for days! Everyday is different, and that’s what I like about having my own brand.
What was the decision making process behind using vegetable tanned leather for the bag material?
The choice to use vegetable tanned leather is because it’s better for the environment. The bags are sustainable and all made in Italy. There are no chemicals (no chrome) used during the tanning process. It’s important for me to be part of a fair process.
How do you choose your color palettes?
I have some colors in mind while designing a collection. When I draw a bag, I see the color in my mind that will best fit the shape. I think it’s my photographic memory. When I see an outfit and really like the color combination, I note it and use it in collections. It can be an outfit, a beautiful photo, a flower or artwork.
Do you travel often?
I travel mostly within Europe. I usually go to Paris twice a year. Paris is my favorite place because I like the style of the city, the architecture and the fashion.
How did you design the shape of your bags?
My first idea for a bag collection was the handle, which is now my trademark. It was not easy to figure out which shape would work best under the handle. I made a lot of sketches and it was about finding the perfect balance. As you can see in my collection, I like round shapes and round corners, not too austere and straight, but still clean. By sketching and trying different sizes with my manufacturer, the shapes were formed.
Did you always dream of having your own company?
Yes! I have freedom that I wouldn’t have unless I had my own brand. I can always design using my own style and make my own decisions, which is what I prefer.
What is your distribution plan?
Some companies came to me on their own. I’m working with a big Japanese company that sells my bags in Tokyo and 3 other cities in Japan. I also have stockists in Kyiv, Ukraine and Panama. I have some distribution in The Netherlands, and once more and more people know about my brand, I hope to have shops around the world. Right now, I’m working on opening distribution in New York and France.
How did you design the logo for the brand?
Because of my background in graphic design, it was lovely to have the chance to design the logo for my own brand! For me, it was important for the logo to be clean while striking and recognizable. I think the logo is successful because of the / which is especially recognizable in the light grey. I like to combine two tones as you can see in my collection as well.
What was the process of designing your website?
I wanted to design a really clean website. The bags (and the photos) have to speak for themselves without too much distraction. The focus has to be on the bags and the color of the leather.
Do you ship to all countries? What shipping issues have you faced?
I ship to all countries. I’ve found a good company who will ship my parcels. So far I haven’t had problems, sending inside or outside EU. There are some shipping costs, but I’m always willing to find out the best way for both parties for shipping and insurance.
Inspiration, where do you get yours?
I get my inspiration from a lot of things. Not directly to look at other designers, but mostly from daily things like, architecture or visiting museums.
How did you find factories to work with?
In the beginning, it was difficult to find a good and trustworthy factory. I looked at factories in Spain, Sweden and the UK, but the manufacturer that I chose is in Italy. They have a lot of experience in the leather and fashion industry. My manufacturer communicates well, which is important to me.
What advice do you have for someone interested in starting their own company?
My advice is to just do it, but first do a lot of research and write your business plan to have everything on paper. It’s important to follow your dreams and do what you love. When you’ve found your drive and passion, it’s easy to run your company, even when it seems unattainable.
What challenges do you face as an emerging designer?
It was important for me to introduce a new idea in the world of fashion, and furthermore, accessories. There are a lot of bag brands, and it’s necessary to stand out and have a unique vision.
Where is your brand today, and where do you see it in the future?
My brand today is still in it’s infancy. I just introduced my first collection, and I can’t wait to continue making them. I am thrilled when I get to design a new collection and start fresh, make a new color card, meet new potential clients or have another photoshoot. For the future, my brand will continue to grow, and I will still do the designs myself. It’s important for me to do the creative part so it will always be my own style. I would love to work with a PR agency in the future.