Vera de Ruijter | Brainy Days
Nestled in the Jordaan, just off the busy Elandsgracht, is the unique concept store
, an initiative of Vera de Ruijter.
Every three months, the store undergoes a transformation according to a chosen theme (up until now 'Let's be adventurers' and 'Be blooming'): new products, makers and brands take the
stage, the window displays are redone, and a
dedicated to the theme is published online. The current theme, 'Enjoy
Your Rainy Days', a hint to the storm that is brewing (and new plans ahead!) boasts Rainfest ponchos, cutting boards in the shape of raindrops, Kiyoko organic lip balm, and limited
edition prints from illustrator Sanny van Loon, among others. We talked to Vera about the adventure that has been Brainy Days so far and her plans for the future.
What is your background?
I first studied a very practical study in Utrecht where I learned things like how to showcase products and the basics of graphic design. I then went to the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) to study fashion and branding. When I graduated, I couldn’t find a job that really fit with my ambitions so I started freelancing. I was a great way to find out what it was that I really wanted to do, as I worked on many different things, from photography to social media to marketing. I worked at sustainable brands like reusable water bottle Dopper and Brrr scarves and O My bag.
How did Brainy Days come to be?
I never planned to start my own shop. I worked out the store concept for Brainy Days on the beaches of Sri Lanka when traveling there earlier this year. When I got back to Amsterdam, I took over a store space from Brrr and it really took off from there. Before I knew it we were celebrating the opening of the store in April. I had built up quite a network of interesting people and brands through my work as a freelancer, and Brainy Days already existed in the form of a blog - I posted daily for inspiration and motivation. With the store, I was able to bring these brands and these people together.
And how did you do it?
I went into my storage and pulled out the furniture I had inherited from my grandfather, like the closets and the chairs, and painted them all white. I really just kept to what I already had and tried to be creative - I stacked crates on top of each other to make a counter, for example. I then chose the themes and started finding the right products to fill the space. I decided that I was going to create a space where I could really push myself creatively and really show people what I’m good at. That was more than six months ago and it has been going really well.
Can you tell us more about the themes?
I knew almost immediately that I wanted to work in themes. I wanted to keep people surprised and by working in this way, I could continue to develop my skills in styling and photography. The first theme was ‘Let’s Be Adventurers’, which came about when I was traveling in Sri Lanka, which was an adventurous journey in itself, but it was also when I decided to start the shop. I was really embarking on an adventure in that sense. I didn’t want it to be a clichéd collection of travel-related things, so I found vintage suitcases and travel alarm clocks, mugs with bearded men, etc. The second theme was ‘Be Blooming’, which was kind of the next step after the adventure had started – we’re growing and blooming! It was also summertime, so it matched the brighter colors of the days and the abundance of flowers and plants. Now it’s ‘Enjoy Your Rainy Days’, with raincoats and cutting boards in the shape of raindrops, water bottles, lip balm, etc. But it also refers to the idea that there’s a storm coming, something is about to change in the near future.
You have a web shop and magazine in addition to the physical store. Do you think the two strengthen each other?
I think they really do. In the magazine, I can flesh out the themes presented in terms of the products in the store with text and imagery. Some people don’t know that I have a magazine, while others who known the magazine and the web shop don’t know that I have a physical store space. I think it’s important to tell the stories behind the products I sell and the brands we support, and it’s important to create a visual identity. These are two things I can do online. We have created magazines for every theme, so one every three months. They might be more frequent in the future while we continue to expand the store, but we’ll look into broader themes based on perhaps colors or patterns.
Tell us about the statement, ‘Think, Collect, Create’.
Those are the three steps I go through when working out a new theme for the shop, the online magazine and web shop. ‘Think’ is about brainstorming that new theme. ‘Collect’ is about bringing together the brands and the people that fit with the theme. And ‘Create’ stands for how I develop the theme in terms of the styling and layout of the store, the magazine, etc. It’s really serves as the basis of how I work. And ‘brainy’ of Brainy Days is really quite a funny word. It gets people thinking – What is brainy? What does it mean to me? I think it’s quite accessible to a lot of different people. And it’s authentic, like the products in the store. Recently an older man happened upon the store and picked up a vintage alarm clock. He bought it because he used to have one just like it when he was younger. At the same time, a young girl walked in to buy a good quality leather bag. I love that contrast. Brainy Days is about bringing together brands and people.
Would you say that Amsterdam inspires you?
I really would. Since I’ve started the store I’ve noticed that there’s really so much happening. I’ve met so many inspiring people through the shop, like writers, illustrators, designers and makers… I’m not just selling great products but I’m creating an inspirational network of brands and people. I first realized that during the opening of the shop. I had invited a lot the people in this network and it was great to see everyone meet and interact with each other. Some then continued to work together on new projects, and that’s incredibly fulfilling.
Do you have a few favorite places in the city?
My boyfriend and I have this rule that we never eat at the same place twice, which pushes us to try new places, even if we have to bike to the east of Amsterdam, or to the south. But I really like De Laatste Kruimel for a great sandwich. Or Paviljoen van Beuningen for a delicious shakshuka, one of my favorite dishes. I like discovering the gems in the city, and shopping for vintage at the Noordermarkt, the IJ Hallen, or the small shops off the beaten track. I find new brands and products through blogs or through Facebook. And I can spend hours on Etsy or the online market place, Marktplaats.
Can you tell us about your average day?
On Mondays and Tuesdays, the shop is closed (for now). On those days I answer my emails, like requests from people who want to sell their products in the shop. I also pack and ship orders from the online shop. During the week I’m at the store but I still try to make time to meet with friends for a coffee, or to grab that dinner with my boyfriend. And I'm currently working on the future plans of Brainy Days. This is really my dream, and everyday I get up with a smile on my face.
Thanks Vera for this interview! Be sure to check out Brainy Days online to browse the great magazine and many products in the web shop , and follow Vera on Facebook , Twitter , Pinterest and Instagram . The store, located at Hazenstraat 33, is open from Wednesday until Friday from 11.00 to 18.00 (Thursday until 19.00) and Saturday from 12.00 to 18.00.