In the bag
Today, I have the opportunity to write about Rotterdam designer Susan Bijl and how together with her husband Vincent, they inadvertently created a business out of a bag. The story began so. Susan started sewing her first bag in 2003. What she had in mind was not to start a business, but to just make a bag. Eventually, she made more bags and started giving and selling them to family and friends.
2003 Bag: “You can sell many more of me, you know.”
Susan: “Well, I’d have to make you more efficiently.”
2003 Bag: “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. China will do it, but they need to make a bit more.”
Susan: “Alright, let’s do it.”
So, she had the bag made by the thousands in China. It was going to be a business.
2013 Bag: “Yay, 10 years!”
A bagful of brand
To commemorate its ten years of successful existence and unmistakable flash trademark, Susan Bijl decided to use this year to redefine their brand identity.
Reducing waste and functional design play important roles in the brand’s beliefs. With a design inspired by a regular plastic bag, The New Shoppingbag makes itself indispensable to anyone who’s trying to save the planet in a simple, functional manner. And the fabric is so strong that you can keep it for a long time– well, at least 10 years – hence reinforcing the “reducing waste” belief. No pun intended.
You’d think it’s almost poetic injustice, that because the product is so good, you don’t buy another one. There goes the repeat business.
But wrong. Those mad colors complement the strength of the bag. As adding color to life is another of the brand’s principles, Susan designs her own colors and is responsible for the unusual color combos that we see flashing around the city. More than 200 actually. So it happens regularly that a customer who’s in love with more than one contrasting duo ends up buying a few more.
The color combinations are all possible thanks to the iconic flash in the bag. That was also a product of Susan’s creativity. When I ask her why the flash, she tells me how she experimented with different patterns. The final word she came up with to answer me was “logical”. So beautiful. So Dutch.
Enters Dutch Design. The lines, the angles, the colors, the style, the functionality. All these elements combined, make the bag a fashionable yet functional must-have. It’s no coincidence that it attracts two specific types of clientele, the conscious fashion elite and trendsetters.
As we flip through their new brand book, I’m privy to new color schemes, pictures of fans with their bags, brand values, words of vision. I also see that Susan and Vincent are the epitome of their biggest target market, modern parents. And when you see that a brand makes something as if they are making it for themselves, it gives the product a kind of authenticity. As if it’s saying, hey we use our own stuff too. And it makes it personal because they design for people they know. Just as they did when the business began.
As we breach the topic of personal, I ask why, by the way, does the new website speak less of Susan and Vincent’s personal life. Although we wanted to keep it friendly, says Susan, we wanted more professionalism at the same time. We want to make the website and brand more accessible and
open to everyone. So to keep a personal touch, we decided to incorporate our fan pictures as much as possible on the new website and social media. It’s a different approach at being personal.
This is a common conflict when a small, charming and personal brand has to make a decision about growing the business. Do we keep the “personal” or do we go for “business feel”? Or both? And this is one of the many times when a business identity proves once again its indispensability. Listen to your identity. If personal is in the core values, then expand all your want, but don’t lose the personal touch. Ever.
Black is the new color
Another aspect of the brand got a bit of a makeover. The previous logo’s wild color combo has left the stage. Where have all the colors gone? The wordmark is now entirely black. We decided to leave the color for the bags, says Vincent. Also, before we sometimes had the problem where the color of one or more letters would fade in the background, he continues. It was more difficult to chose one on which all colors had a good contrast. Now, we can use it well on any kind of background.
Sorry, but rather not. As business is growing in several locations simultaneously, maintaining visual consistency is important. It continues to show that yes, we make functional and colorful products with spirit. But we also know what we’re doing. Again, something Susan Bijl wants to express with the new website and visual identity.
Global but local
“I want more bags,” says a fashionably dressed woman who walks by us as we’re having coffee. And she seems a friend, because their exchange comfortably switches from business to personal.
One question remains. You can take the bag out of Rotterdam, but will the Rotterdam come out of the bag? We’d have to see how it goes, says Susan. Everything started here, because that’s where we live. Our friends, who are also suppliers, and our family, are here too. And they’re also a big part of the bag’s success. So a lot of Rotterdam is in the bag. But at the same time, the Dutch Design element is very strong. The style of the bag, the bright colors, the lines… If Rotterdam doesn’t stay, the Dutch element certainly will.
The story is out of the bag
This local brand is a story that’s just beginning. It’s got its heart in the right place with a contribution that helps the planet, a fan base made up of friends, family and people like them. Values such as spirited, colorful and functional that define their star product and future ones.Great things really come in great bags.
We chat about daycare, nutrition, kids. Then, as we switch locations to Spirit (Groene Passage), we slowly move to the topic of the bag, then the new website and the brand. Back to about them, back to the bag, the colors. We’re kind of all over the place.
But we still continue chatting. A this point, it’s not really an interview. Although I sneak in a few questions, I’ve accepted that the Q&A format it’s going to happen. Not because Susan and Vincent don’t want to, but because talking together comes so naturally that we just talk. And hey, on the up side, there’s no awkward pause. So instead of an interview, it turns out to be a fun coffee conversation.