Belgian textile designer Olu Vandenbussche founded her design studio Manel in spring 2015 as her answer to Fast Fashion.
Olu: My aim is to promote Slow Textiles through projects, workshops and my own line of sustainable fabrics. To me Slow Design means a continuous search for quality, sustainable fabrics to print on and eco friendly printing processes. It means building meaningful and lasting relationships with my clients, suppliers and partners. It means taking the time to explore new ideas, draw prints by hand, translate my clients’ wishes to prints that fit their personality. For this ‘slow’ approach Manel was awarded the Bizz Buzz Award for Social / Sustainable Entrepreneurship last December.
How important is it to focus on building a strong team?
I recently launched my own fabric line. Not an easy decision with all the competition! And when you look at it superficially, my fabrics have a few ‘disadvantages’ over other ones: they’re printed on demand to avoid waste which means customers need to have a little patience. European production in small quantities also makes them slightly more expensive than your average fabric. On the bright side, they’re gentle to your skin (toxin-free), to the environment and to the people who make them. But, in order to make people change their buying behavior, you need to inform them properly. That’s why I founded the Slow Ambassadors, a group of talented sewing bloggers who review my fabrics, enabling me to make improvements and ensure my clients only get the best. Their enthusiasm keeps me going. This dress (photo 2) was made from my fabric called ‘Meanwhile below the Surface’ by Slow Ambassador Sylvia from the beautiful blog Lily & Woody.
I got my first freelance job as a textile designer through another entrepreneur and I’m currently partnering with designers from other domains to co-create diverse ‘slow’ products.
I strongly believe that future entrepreneurship will be all about collaborating and sharing: knowledge, tools, contacts, workspace etc. Especially in these times when it’s hard to get a loan from the bank, or get noticed by the media.
Do you want to start other businesses in the future or do you want to keep growing this one as long as possible? What’s the dream?
I’ve always found it hard to do just one thing for a long time, but I’m currently combining so many different activities inside Manel that I can’t imagine getting bored with my business any day soon. I hope to see it grow in an organic and sustainable way and attract many interesting projects and partnerships along the way. One thing I’d really like to do one day, is set up design workshops with special needs groups, using their designs to develop products which are then sold for their benefit. Teaching textile design abroad is another dream of mine as is licensing my artwork to (textile) companies worldwide.
What does success mean to you? Can it ever be fully achieved or is it something that comes and goes?
Success for me is making a living doing what you love. It’s inspiring people through your actions, rather than through your words. In the words of Gandhi: ‘Be the change you want to see.’ It’s having the means to travel, to study, to grow as an entrepreneur and as a human, to be lazy now and then without feeling guilty. ;-)
I believe success is fleeting and I think that’s ok. Everyone is entitled to his/her ‘moment de gloire’, no one should have to be successful all the time. That’s something I dislike about social media and our society: you’re pushed to believe that some people always succeed or have instant success and you should too. Some quotes that were real eye-openers for me are: ‘don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle’,’ don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside’ and: ‘sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’. I also enjoyed reading the ‘cv of failures’ of Johannes Haushofer, a professor at Princeton University.
Do you set goals or is it better to go with the flow? What’s your strategy?
I do both. I set different types of monthly goals for myself such as: which courses do I want to take, which ideas do I want to follow, which projects do I want to launch, which companies do I want to contact etc. But I also allow my business to grow in an organic way and I try to follow my intuition. My monthly newsletter and blog force me to make new work or launch new initiatives on a regular basis and I work with a timeline to keep track of busy and quiet periods so I know when to plan new projects or prospect potential clients.