introducing belia and susanne from by b+k.
Even in a time when the ability to produce more, quicker and cheaper gets easier every day, there are still those who prefer to work slower. Belia van der Giessen started her bespoke leather accessory brand by B+K in 2016 because she valued this way of working, of taking time to source materials close to home and making her products here in the Netherlands.
Susanne Chevalier then joined by B+K this year, and together Belia and Susanne have continued their commitment to making beautiful, functional, leather products that last a lifetime. Yet whilst their refined, practiced way of working is the foundation of the quality they’re known for, they’re equally eager to innovate and discover new processes and materials.
We talked to Belia and Susanne about the importance of making locally, leather alternatives, the value of color and balancing art and business.
Belia, you started by B+K back in 2016 and then Susanne joined this year. How did you meet, what was the connection between you both and why did you want Susanne to be a part of the company?
Susanne and I have been friends for a very long time (since high school) and have stayed in touch ever since. We’ve always shared a passion for beautiful things and many times in the past we’ve come up with various business ideas.
Both of us, however, went our separate ways and had very different careers, but after a few years running by B+K on my own, I wanted a partner. The business was becoming more successful and I needed someone who could drive the potential of the company and who could take care of sales and marketing.
Susanne was, of course, always in the back of my mind. She was busy with her work as an interior designer, so I had no idea she was interested, but asked her anyway. To my pleasant surprise, she was very enthusiastic. And she has quickly completed Belia in the way I needed someone to.
And Susanne, what attracted you to by B+K, what sparked your interest?
For me, all my interests and former work experience came together in by B+K. As Belia said, I’m a designer, and in the last few years, I’ve focused particularly on color – in interiors, fashion and art. By B+K was another way for me to use my experience and explore my interests. It became a new creative outlet where many strands of my practice came together.
You also both run individual companies as well as working on by B+K. How do you balance the needs of each company?
Whilst having our own companies as well as by B+K is a kind of luxury, allowing us to work on different projects, products and ideas, it’s incredibly difficult to balance. We’re aiming to phase out our other activities so we can fully focus on by B+K.
Why is it important that your products are made here in the Netherlands?
One of our main focuses with by B+K is the footprint. We don’t want to make products that have traveled half-way around the world before reaching the customer. That does come with a cost, but we believe our customers are conscious, and they find it just as important as us to keep the environmental footprint as small as possible. Offering value isn’t just about price but other considerations too.
With rising environmental concerns and increasing consumer awareness about materials, do you ever feel the pressure to not use leather?
Absolutely. Leather is a beautiful material but unfortunately, its impact on the environment isn’t sustainable. Because of this, we only use leather that is the waste product of cows that are used for meat, and we’re always looking for alternatives. We’re really interested in the new developments in alternatives such as fruit leather. The ideas are there, but these materials are just not yet developed enough to be viable for us. Of course, when they are, however, we’re excited to see what they can do.
What role does color play in your products?
For both of us, color is very important. We couldn’t imagine a world without beautiful colors. And when it comes to creating products, the same feeling applies. Color is part of how you experience something, how you relate to something and is part of the enjoyment you get from something. That’s why our slogan is ‘Color your life’. Color is inseparable from life. We take great pleasure in searching for the exact right color combinations for our products.
Could you talk a little about the balance between art and business?
We design beautiful products that make you happy. But part of that happiness is its use, its functionality, so we would never design something beautiful but not useful. So, beauty, happiness and function are all wrapped up together, and seeing our work in that way means that we are both creating art and business at the same time. They work together.
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
Creative freedom and the space to create products that people want, value and use.
And what’s the hardest part?
Coming to terms with what we have done, are doing and want to do, which sometimes are more different than we would like.
How have you adapted to the changing consumer behaviors caused by the pandemic?
Producing locally used to set us apart – both positively and negatively – but there seems to have been a real shift towards local products because of the pandemic. So, strangely, we now fit in, and that characteristic of our business is more evident than ever. Also, by creating products that are focused on high quality and longevity, we seem to have aligned even more with what consumers want. It hasn’t been about us adapting necessarily, but consumer behaviors changing to match our values more.
What’s next for by B+K?
More diversity. We’d like to expand into ceramics, stationery from recycled materials, explore leather alternatives and see where we can push ourselves to. What won’t change, however, is our style and our commitment to locally produced, high-quality products that will last a lifetime.