Charlotte van Waes & Marieke Vinck | Charlie + Mary
In the middle of de Pijp, you'll find concept store
Charlie + Mary
, a great mix of international labels and local makers with a
focus on sustainable fashion. The Amsterdam power duo behind Charlie + Mary is Charlotte van Waes and Marieke Vinck. Since 2009, they have taken Amsterdam by storm, setting up
that represents some of the fashion industry's most innovative and surprising ethical labels. Last year, they also
launched the side project
, connecting the universally recognizable and important theme ‘Happiness’ with
sustainable living. We talked to Charlotte and Marieke on a stormy winter day to find out more about their passion for sustainable fashion and their plans for the future. -
Interview and photos by Margot van der Krogt
Tell us about yourself.
Charlotte: I studied fashion management at the AMFI and then went on to work at Oilili in product development. I then started studying Culture, Organization and Management at the VU before starting up Charlie + Mary with Marieke.
Marieke: I also studied at AMFI and that's where we met. We got to know each other during an internship in Australia. When I returned to the Netherlands, I studied Policy, Communication and Organization at the VU. The course was very much focused on conducting business in a socially responsible way, which I thought should go hand in hand with fashion. I’d also been involved in product development for fashion accessories for a few years.
When did you know you wanted to start something together?
Charlotte: In Australia! Our internship was with a woman who had a few stores in Sydney. We saw these great things happening and had the chance to visit interesting concept stores in the city. At the time we were more involved in ‘true’ fashion. We knew we wanted something for ourselves, but weren’t sure what until we realized some of the interesting things we saw happening in other countries weren’t happening in the Netherlands yet. So we jumped at our chance.
Marieke: We were living in Paddington, a really great area in Sydney. You had all these really inspiring and innovative concept stores that we didn’t have in Amsterdam and we knew we wanted something like that for ourselves. Now they may be popping up all over the place, but a few years ago it was hard to find them. But it really wasn’t until we decided to do something with sustainable fashion that we finally had a goal. We had a concept, something we completely supported.
What happened next?
Charlotte: It took a while. Even though we’d first had the idea during our internships, we continued studying and working. Over the years, the idea kept popping back up and at some point it became really obvious that we wanted to do something together. So we started by writing a business plan and Marieke took a business course over the summer. That took us a while but as soon as we found a store space, we were open within two months. That was September 2009.
How’s it going?
Marieke: It’s been quite a rollercoaster. We started with the concept store in de Pijp on de Gerard Doustraat, which was very different to how it is now. It was quite a challenge to establish ourselves there but people were really supportive of the concept and kind of happy that we opened our doors. Quite soon after, we became an agency . That just kind of happened because we were working with a few brands that weren’t available in the Netherlands or were just starting out. They wanted to expand their reach, and more and more stores in the Benelux area were looking for sustainable fashion brands. Now, we also do other projects like our own label Harry, which we launched in April 2014. We’re very focused on true fashion and Harry widens that by pairing sustainability with happiness.
Are people becoming more conscious of what they’re wearing as compared to a few years ago?
Charlotte: Yes, definitely. We’ve noticed this happening within the context of the store, with our customers, but also with the agency. There are several shops that only sell products from sustainable fashion brands, but we’ve also noticed that more and more retailers, who previously weren’t too concerned with sustainable fashion, are realizing that their customers are asking for it and are taking the steps to find out more about it for themselves. The consumer is definitely becoming more conscious. It is also more present, new brands are popping up and there’s greater diversity in them.
Marieke: Luckily, yes! Which makes it easier now. Five years ago you really had to search for great sustainable fashion pieces and now it’s quite easy. You can dress from head to toe in honestly produced (and fashionable!) clothing. That’s quite unique.
Is that an international trend?
Marieke: Amsterdam is quite a strong community in that sense, with Strawberry Earth and quite a few shops that sells sustainable clothing. For a while, however, we were lagging behind other international cities. London used to have quite a few great shops, and some have survived, but many haven’t because of its high street culture. So I think Amsterdam has definitely taken strides in the right direction. It’s also a small city so things can move quite quickly once they start.
And the brands you work with are primarily international?
Charlotte: It’s very diverse actually. We work with the Dutch brand Studio Jux but also with People Tree from London and L’Herbe Rouge from Paris. We’ve also worked with brands from Germany and Scandinavia and the US, like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps that date back to 1948 and are now made by the fourth and five generations of the Bronner family.
Do you have favorite places in Amsterdam?
Charlotte & Marieke: We really like working at the Volkshotel . Olive & Cookie is also a great place with delicious food, and of course there’s de Pijp; there’s so much happening here, it’s enough to just go for a walk through it.
And what are your plans for the future?
Marieke & Charlotte: We have so many! We would love to open a few more shops in other cities, like London and Berlin. And we want to further our own fashion line. The agency is continuing to grow, too. We have built up a solid team of colleagues who give us so much energy, which already makes us so happy – just think what it would be like to expand more on that!
Thanks Marieke and Charlotte for this interview! Visit the concept store Charlie + Mary at Gerard Doustraat 84 on Mondays from 1 to 6pm, Tuesdays to Fridays from 10am to 6pm, Saturdays from 11am to 6pm and Sundays from 1pm to 5pm. Find out more about the agency here, and Harry here. And be sure to follow their adventures on Facebook , Instagram , Pinterest and Twitter .