Sit down with: Jessica Kallenburg
Hi Jess, tell us about your journey at O My Bag?
Hi there! Before O My Bag I was working for a multinational company and noticed that it wasn’t my place. I did not feel happy in a large company with long lines of communication, and no sustainability vision. So I was looking for a job that was the opposite. My friend saw the vacancy on Facebook and sent it to me. I fell in love with the job description and company, so much so here I am 7.5 years later! That’s how much I love it.
My favorite part of the job is definitely working so closely with the factories and sample men in India to work out a design from an idea in your head to an actual bag. Creating new designs from sketches to a bag in 2 weeks with them in India, but also the enthusiastic reactions of the team when we get back to Amsterdam makes me smile.
We work with a core collection of designs that are constant each year, and occasionally add a small selection of new products. Why did we choose to work this way?
From the start in 2011 O My Bag has been all about two things: eco friendly and fairly made. When we just started most brands worked with seasonal collections. The downside of that is that a lot goes to waste: Products will end up in the sale at the end of the season and will eventually end up in the trash.
We wanted to change that cycle, step away from fast fashion. By making timeless designs it's possible to keep a core collection, without having to change it per season. We occasionally host sample sales or archive sales, where we offer a discount on several items that deserve a loving home, as well as sample items and pieces with small but unique imperfections.
Good things take time. So what's the average time it takes to make an O My Bag from start to finish?
Our producers usually ask us to take into account a production time of 90 days. But we've learnt (sometimes the hard way) that that's only the case in the rare occasions that nothing in the whole process is delayed. Once we place the order, the producer orders all the materials with their suppliers. They provide the leather, fitting, lining, webbing straps, dust bags, and so on. Our producers keep some stock of most of the materials, based on the forecast we have sent them at the beginning of the year, but that's usually not enough for a whole new order.
Since it's very humid in India, for most materials it's not beneficial to keep them in stock for too long. Production of the leather can take up to 8 weeks, so a lot of time goes into that. A bag is made of a lot of components; front, back, bottom, sides, straps, the frame around the inside zipper, zipper pullers... When the leather comes in at the factory there is a team that checks the leather and decides on how to cut the leather.
Not all parts have the exact same colors, and our customers prefer stretch marks and tick bites on the back or bottom side of the bag, so this team makes sure that the leather is cut in such a way that all the separate parts become one perfect whole. These components all get their own treatment before the bag is stitched together. When you see a bag, you almost forget how much work has gone into it.
Where do you get the inspiration for our new designs?
Oh, everywhere! From the team, tips and ideas from our customers in store or via our customer service channels (last seasons Bobbi Bucket Bag Maxi and the Harmonica Wallet were inspired by our customers for example), 'ommetjes' on the streets of Amsterdam (since I work at O My Bag I always look at peoples bags), from our sample men in India, vintage bags, but also from natural and geometric shapes and forms.
Do you have any favorite steps of the production process
Yes! That's definitely our India visit. Two weeks of full focus on our bags and bag makers. And the first time we see the idea that was in our head in the form of a physical bag. When we arrive our producers have a first version of the sample ready, which we'll improve during the two weeks visit. I love being in the factories, discussing the details with Paulien, the local sample men, our quality checkers and even our team at home via Whatsapp the changes we want to make. And the great thing is because you're there, you see the changes happen in front of your eyes.
What happens to products that leave the O My Bag collection?
Our designs are timeless. We work with a core collection of designs that are constant each year, so we don't work with seasonal collections. Our Pixies Pouch for example has been part of the collection and a bestseller since 2013, and Lucy has been one of our most popular bags since its introduction in 2016. But that doesn't mean we don't like to add new styles every year. To keep our collection manageable and to prevent overstock, we look at our collection with a critical eye every year. For items or colors that don't sell enough and for which the risk of overstock becomes too high, we can decide to discontinue them. This means that we keep on selling them as usual, but we won't reorder them. And after that, they become collector's items. ;)
What's our relationship like with our producers in India?
Good! Of course, we talk about business a lot, but our relationship goes further than that. During our visits to India, we have been a part of their family dinners, private Puja celebrations, weddings and even funerals. A few years back we were also invited to Rita's home, one of the ladies working in the finishing department of EMA. We hardly spoke each other's language but it was so special to be a part of her life for one afternoon.
Both Paulien and my parents have also visited Kolkata, I love that our producers also met our families. I really miss our visits and meeting up with them and their families.
What's your must have from the SS21 collection?
For me, that's Kate. So much time and love has gone into the development of the bag. We've tested and changed it until it was perfect.
2020 hasn't gone like anyone expected, due to COVID-19. Has this changed things in our production process?
Yes, it has changed a lot of things. The lockdowns all over the world have caused delays in production, mainly due to supplies from other countries being slow, and our factories partly closing. We usually visit our producers twice a year, and we were lucky to have visited in January and February 2020, but since then we have had to miss two visits already. The fact that we can't do sampling together with the sample men at the factories has made the sampling process a longer, less efficient and therefore more difficult process.
It's also a big miss to not be able to walk around in the factories, talk to the workers, and look each other in the eye when talking about issues, social and sustainability goals and new products. COVID has not been easy on anyone of us, especially not on our producers, who see their orders from several markets decrease but also have a responsibility for the incomes of a large group of workers. I'm proud to see how they're coping.
Team OMB x