Mieke De Winter - sustainable entrepreneur
When did the click come for you to start your own business?
It all grew very organically. I was studying painting at Sint Lucas. That didn’t go as I expected and I started making things myself. That was the first step, Mieke 1.0. A kind of off-line Etsy. Nice stuff that you couldn’t find straight away in Belgium. At that time I was already making clothes myself, but that was mainly aprons. An apron is something with a practical use, but you can also go a long way in terms of styling and design. There were some really crazy things there. At the time, I wasn’t afraid to fall flat on my face. I thought “what’s the worst thing that can happen – that this doesn’t catch on?”.
What is the most important lesson you have learned? What was the biggest challenge you faced?
That’s a hard one. I tend to put everything, especially the less good things, in a box and put them in the attic of my mind. The reason for this is because I don’t want to get lost in worrying after the fact about things that have happened. That, in my view, is lost energy.
There have often been times when I thought: now the light is going out, it’s done. And then something falls out of the blue or Thierry and I manage to continue until the weather improves. But that can also strike back at you. I am able to have extra energy in periods like this (during the coronavirus), because I feel I can’t stop now. But I can still have a serious hangover afterwards.
Our recent move was also a very big challenge. I still don’t get how we stayed on track then. There was a lawsuit with the old landlord and in the space of four months we had to find a new shop that was free straight away, renovate and move, all while keeping the old shop open. And to make the situation completely desperate, we also had to look for a home for our family. At the time we put a lot of energy into informing everyone of our move, but we still meet people now who thought we had stopped our business.
In short, you need moments when you are really completely knocked down to be able to feel lighter afterwards. If it’s really not working any more, then that is really bad and there is no layer of gloss you can put on it, but you just know that it will not last.
Which woman do you look up to and why?
Of course, I look up to my mother. That goes without saying. But in addition, I mainly look at women who don’t function like I do. Like Marina Abromovic. She never looks back to see if Ulay can still keep up. She only takes herself into account. I am much more concerned with how people see me and whether everyone still finds me okay. Marina Abromovic probably never wonders about that. Another such woman is Ingrid Bergmann. She was a Swedish woman who started acting on a different continent and who continued to go her own way, despite the scandals. These are women who teach their children that it is really okay to choose for yourself. And I hope that Kat (Mieke’s daughter) remembers that too. That her parents do something that they really chose for themselves.
Our Instagram feed doesn’t look mainstream either. We really go for images that we stand behind. Not only beautiful polished images of models in the brands we do. But all kinds of women who visit us. We really choose to make fashion fun for women of all sizes and shapes. And we remain true to our ecological message.
What advice would you give to your younger self and why?
I will soon be forty and I have never travelled alone. I would advise my younger self to do that, but I would certainly like to do it myself. Just to see how I am without other people around me. I often adapt my behaviour to the people around me. For example. If the group around me is too serious, then I’m going to make a joke to lighten things up. I think it is interesting to discover who you are when you are not with others. What thoughts you are going to have. What are you going to think about, what are you going to do? I am in constant contact with other people, so I always have an inner train of thoughts linked to those other people. It would be nice to see what I would think if they aren’t there.
In addition, there is also the fact that I feel that I haven’t yet reached a point where I can give good advice. I still make mistakes, I still have the feeling that everything is on shaky foundations and that everything can still go wrong. Maybe that’s good advice. That you shouldn’t be afraid. That it’s not so bad to fall on your face. Everything is in flux, a human mind is always on the move. For example. If something seems insurmountable or bigger than you can comprehend, if the situation doesn’t change, your mind will adapt to it. I am deeply impressed by the human mind. It is incredible what a person can endure without going completely mad.