Happy International Women Day

O My Bag is a company of women; we mainly design for women, we work with women in India and at the office you can find 8 women and one man. Today we’re celebrating women in business by shining the spotlight on 3 special ladies in our lives; Marieke Eyskoot, Swapna Das and Ipshita Wadhwa.
by Martijn on Mar 7, 2018

Fair fashion ambassador Marieke Eyskoot

Marieke Eyskoot
Marieke Eyskoot

What inspired you to become an advocate for fair fashion?

I’ve always loved fashion, but used to be quite surprised of how proud we can be of a huge bargain. If you ask someone ‘Where did you get that amazing top?’ rather often ‘It was only ten euros!’ is part of the answer. But that’s not something to celebrate, surely? Something being cheap doesn’t mean it that it doesn’t cost a lot, rather that someone else is paying the price. Our abundant lifestyles are subsidised by invisible people, far away – in the fashion industry mainly women, who are exploited to dress us. From a young age I’ve been aware of the fact that I was born here by chance. I could have easily ended up in Bangladesh, sewing our jeans and bags. I’ve just been dealt a really good hand of cards. I didn’t do anything to deserve all that I’ve gotten: women’s rights, democracy, a stable economy, relative wealth and so much more. So I wanted to use what I was given, to try and bring that unfairness a bit more in balance, even if the difference I can make is only small.

Clothes and accessories make our entire life possible. We can’t actually function in this society without them. Still, we barely stop to notice where they’ve come from. We attach little value to the manual labour they have taken, buy them by the dozen and throw them away just as easily. My grandmother was surprised at how this has changed so rapidly in the last fifty, sixty years. She only bought clothes if she needed them, chose quality and often made them herself. Clothes can mean a lot, and sustainable ones even more. You definitely feel better about yourself, putting on something that has exploited nobody. What we wear doesn’t only determine our style – it’s also a statement. When you wear sustainable fashion, you can give a good answer to the question where you got that amazing bag, not only to other people, but yourself too.

“I aim to put ethical fashion and lifestyle on the map and make it

attractive and accessible, so that together we change the industry – and we can.”

What were the main challenges you faced accomplishing this?

When I started over fifteen years ago, not many people were aware of the problems in the fashion industry. When I told them my new job was with the Clean Clothes Campaign, they were quite confused about the idea that I would be working at a dry cleaner’s haha! So in the first few years, education was very important. Luckily, now most have an understanding of the issues around our clothes and much of what we use, such as phones, chocolate and beauty products. If I now say what I do, they start a conversation about collapsed factories or chemical ingredients. Many people want to do something, but just don’t know where to start. So this is the next challenge: getting them from awareness to action. This is why I try to provide tools, information and motivation, to make it doable and fun to take these steps. A sustainable lifestyle isn’t just good for other people and environment, but for you too: it opens more doors, makes you healthier, gives more value for money… There have been quite some preconceptions about a sustainable lifestyle, but the amount of stylish, modern and credible brands has grown immensely recently. We can really show that being ethical and green means being fashionable as well. I also don’t want to only do good, but look and feel great, too. Because of the rise of so many wonderful brands, I was able to make a book such as This is a good guide – for a sustainable lifestyle.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Louise van Deth is the director of Aidsfonds, and one of the smartest women I know. I am really lucky to be able call her my ‘coach’. A couple of times a year I get to sit with her, and talk about what I encounter, what I’m mulling over and where I’m stuck. Her advice is invaluable, sometimes she’s tough and sometimes she’ll console me – and for some reason she always knows which is needed when. I met her around ten years ago at a women’s gathering, where she on stage asked what she could do to help young women advance. I replied we could use advice of women who’d already encountered what we would, and learn from their journey. Afterwards she came up to me and offered her time and experience. Amazing! Also other women have of course been very important to me, very closely or from a distance, as role models or friends or both, such as (but not limited to) Thekla Reuten, Emma Watson, Abel’s Frances Shoemack, Livia Firth, Katharine Hamnett and of course O My Bag’s Paulien (Editorial: heart heart)

We are curious about your favorite books, websites and films?

Books: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by the legendary ex-astronaut Chris Hadfield. I’ve always wanted to become an astronaut and love the sky, clouds, stars, the universe (such a magical, massive, beautiful canopy above us, wow, it always makes me wonder and take a step back). But this is so much more than a book about what it’s like to fly a rocket or live in space. It has taught me many things, about perseverance, about really dedicating yourself to something and about developing into the smartest, most contributing and humble human being I can. I read it regularly, to remind myself of who I want to be, and how to live a useful, fulfilling life that I make the most of. But also The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, Hallo witte mensen by Anousha Nzume, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s The Cloudspotter’s Guide, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman and many more.

Websites (Women’s Day special): clara-wichmann.nl / ecowarriorprincess.net / everydayfeminism.com /everydaysexism.com / gurlstalk.com / seksisme.tumblr.com / stellingdames.nl / straatintimidatie.org /stopstreetharassment.org / stoptellingwomentosmile.com / thinx.org / timesupnow.com /  wayofgray.com

Films: So many, gosh, it’s so hard to choose! Beperkt Houdbaar, Dancer, Dear White People, Forks over Knives, Her, Hidden Figures, Men in Black, The True Cost, What the Health

What are your hopes for the future?

  • Let’s talk about the pay gap, not the thigh gap. Equal pay for women.
  • That we can no longer purchase products that are made through exploitation. Only ethically produced clothes, accessories, food, gadgets should be able to enter our markets: we need legislation for that pronto. It’s unacceptable that we are able to profit from commodities that are made elsewhere in a way that we would find illegal here.
  • That this work I do is no longer necessary, and therefore so am I – to make myself redundant is a life-long aim.
  • Freedom and equality for everyone, irrespective of gender (or lack thereof), colour, sexual orientation, body shape, age, etc. An end to oppression through media, advertisements or any other way, based on how you should look or who you should be.
  • The invention of chocolate that is actually and truly good for you.

General Manager of EMA Swapna Das

Swapna Das
Swapna Das

EMA is the very first producer of O My Bag. Paulien and Swapna know each other since her first visit with her mom and dad in 2010. After all the visits to producers with men in top positions, it was a breath of fresh air to see a women in charge. I’ve a lot of respect and admiration for the way Swapna leads EMA, Paulien.

What inspired you to become manager of EMA?

I always wanted to do something for the society as I think our society has given us a lot and it is our duty to do something for the society in return.

EMA and its management decided to promote me in this position as General Manager. They believe that I am the most suitable person to take this responsibility.

“Being accepted in this position was a challenge for my male colleagues. I had to compromise a lot to overcome this situation.”

What were the main challenges you faced accomplishing this?

There were a lot of challenges when I took over the responsibility. The first thing is to know my work well. How to source good quality material, buy an competitive price and to know the quality requirements of our buyers. I had to work hard to know all these things and to give our buyer a good product with a competitive price. I got full support from my colleagues and buyers. Another challenge is that the men colleagues had to accept me in this position. I had to compromise a lot to overcome this situation.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

My mother always inspired me to do do something which would give me respect and power and that would fill my desires. My mom suffered a lot as she was always dominated by my powerful father and in her later life by my brothers. She always had to compromise with their domination and could never express her wishes.

What are your favorite books, websites, films and resources?

Books: I am not a good reader, I only read bengali novels..

Websites: I am very fond of searching new websites to know the new trends which are coming in the Market.

Movies: I live to watch movies, specially the Art Films which give some message to the society.

What are your hopes for the future?

  • My first hope is to see my Son in good health and success. He is the light of my life, if he is unhappy I cannot do my work properly.
  • My second hope is to see EMA as a biggest Fair Trade Organization with all happy producers and employees

Relations manager at STC, Ipshita Wadhwa

Ipshita Punwani
Ipshita Punwani

Ipshita takes care of our account at STC, another one of O My Bag’s producers. Besides this, she’s also a small business owner. She has her own bag brand Gripp and she’s around the same age as Jessica and Paulien. All this makes it easy for us to work together.  We have fun together outside the office too; Ipshita, her family and friends are very warm and welcoming to us. We share dinners, drinks and even family weddings!

What inspired you to become merchandiser at STC and owner of GrippDC?

I think it was a very natural thing for me to do. I had seen my dad grow the factory from one floor to the unit it is today, and I used to visit the factory often during my growing up years. In fact I don’t think I have ever bought a bag throughout my school or college days, but would just end up getting something made in the factory, in the color or design that I wanted. Once I was done with my schooling, I joined STC. At the same time I knew I wanted to make a business of my own, and GrippDC was the result of that.

What were the main challenges you faced accomplishing this?

Working as a merchandiser happened very naturally to me, and I learned on the job. However, establishing my own brand was a very different thing altogether. From having to create the brand identity, designing the products to all the legal formalities, I had to do all of that on my own, and it would not have been possible without my dad’s guidance and help. After all being guided by someone with almost 30 years of experience in the industry does have its advantages.

My mother is my greatest inspiration”

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

It has to be my mother. Growing up, I’ve always seen her doing things for herself and by herself. Whether it was to run a very successful boutique, or to build a manufacturing brand selling kids clothes from scratch. She used to design the clothes, handle her own manufacturing unit, and even export the finished goods. While doing all this, she also made sure that all our needs (my brother and I) were taken care off. Our schooling, homework, other activities, everything.

What are your favorite books, websites, films and resources?

Books: I like reading fiction books, I guess I have always been a dreamer, hence. But by far my favorite book series has to be Harry Potter. I like reading Dan Brown, and other mystery thrillers as well.

Internet: I think the internet is a huge source of resources... anything and everything can be a source of inspiration! I do spend quite a bit of time on Pinterest as well, to keep upto date with the latest trends across the globe.

What are your hopes for the future?

Currently all my energy is devoted to GrippDC. With the help from Roli, we both wish to make it a brand recognised domestically to begin with, and then lets see what the future holds.

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