Local Heroes #12 - Imke De Jong

Imke de Jong, an industrial designer based in Rotterdam, is currently making her mark on the city's street scape with her iconic bags. Somehow they seem to combine function with form, while keeping aesthetics. How does she do it? We met the young designer at her home studio to pick her brain.

Published by Guest on 15/08/2014

An interview with 'bag lady' Imke de Jong in this Local Heroes #12 edition. What does your label ‘imkedejong’ stand for? Functionality, tactility, eye for detail, simplicity, linear patterns and durability. And in term of products mainly backpacks. I think they are ideal because you have your hands free to do other things. But I also offer bike bags, key chains and wallets. The latter have a loop at the back to put your hand through. This way you have a tighter grip and thieves don’t stand a chance. I am now in the process of designing a clutch. I needed a compact bag for necessary items you need to take with you when you go out. Sometimes you want to hold it, sometimes you want to throw it over you shoulder or carry it across you body. So I am looking to design a handle that allows the user to quickly adjust the length, without being too much of a hassle. I have learned a lot working at Doortje, a vintage clothing store. It gave me a different view on products. In the old days people made smarter use of products, there was no such thing as overconsumption. Vintage products often have ingenious details. I was at a cycling event recently and saw a woman with a Freitag handbag that had a zipper on the back. When she opened it 2 loops came out that allowed her to attach the bag to her steering wheel. So simple but yet so smart! IMG_0085 IMG_0094 How did the label ‘imkedejong’ come to life? That was not a very conscious decision. When I graduated the Academy as an industrial designer, I was working in a clothing store where I saw a really nice bag. But I did not have enough money to buy it. I had some leather left from my graduation project, so I used this bag as an inspiration to make my own. I was just playing around on a common sewing machine, but it worked out quite well. My mom loved it so I made her one as well. Via my job at another clothing store I met this cutter who had an industrial sowing machine left. It was only when I bought this that I could really start making quality products. I usually make a sample product for myself without a logo. By using it myself, I discover design imperfections that allow me to improve it, before it goes into the store. IMG_0080 Have you always been creative, even as a child? That’s a tough question. My memory is not that good. I guess my first real memory goes back to the beginning of high school. My parents told me I was a creative child and used to draw a lot. My mom, dad and 2 older sisters all work in the healthcare industry. I am the only member of our family that works in the creative industry, although my father wanted that for himself as well. But when he was younger times were different; you just had to learn a profession and make a living. For a long time healthcare seemed like a logical choice for me too; I wanted to be a surgeon in high school. So I took beta classes and applied for Medicine. But each year my sister and I used to visit the Graduation Show of the Design Academy in Eindhoven. She was the one that advised me to make a portfolio and hand it in. When I did, I was suddenly through to the second round. So I went to my Arts & Crafts teacher and asked him if he could help me out a bit. We made a piece of furniture and all of a sudden I was accepted into the Design Academy because they saw creative potential and liked my scientific approach. Shocker! I mean, I really liked Arts & Crafts in high school, but I never ever expected that to happen. So I decided to go do the Academy for one year, and then switch to Medicine. But I liked it so much at the Academy; the mentality, the people, being creative. I made me start doubting. Should I be doing this instead? It was not easy to make that decision, because I had set such a clear path for myself, but I am glad I did. IMG_0070 Where do you get your inspiration from? Most of the time my starting point is functionality. When I decide to make a product, I usually comes from the face that I am missing something myself. I once realized my bike frame got damaged from wrapping my lock around the seat post. So I made a bike bag to prevent that. I received a lot of positive feedback on the products I was making for myself, so I made some for my friends too. This is how it started growing. I then moved to Rotterdam and Groos came across my path, a store that only sells products by Rotterdam makers. This was the second or third store that sold my product, and all of a sudden that makes you a label. But I don’t make a collection every 6 months, I don’t believe in that. Why would you want to buy a new bag every six months? You buy a product hoping it will last for years. You might want to try a different colour but in terms of functionality it should last. That’s why I use durable materials of robust quality. It extends my product’s life cycle and enables me to give a warrantee to those who purchase it. I use sheep leather for my products because it is soft pink in the beginning and it comes alive when using it; it basically transforms the user’s handwriting onto the bag. One of my friends owns one of my backpacks and leather piece on the bottom of her bag tells you that she rides her bike without a mudguard; it shows a trail of sand and rain in the middle. I just love that. One of the owners of Groos has one of my wallets that he always puts in the pocket of his jeans; it is now completely fading, turning dark blue and you can tell the imprint left by coins. That’s beautiful to me. I always show that to customers, because if you don’t want that, than this is not the product for you. Robust, strong, waterproof materials add to my philosophy that product should last to make you happy for a long time. IMG_0087 IMG_0086 Why the love for the craft? I think it is some kind of nostalgia. I have dedicated an entire semester to crafts at the Academy. I just think is such a shame some many crafts are disappearing. There are so many people with an abundance of knowledge, that won’t be able to pass it on. I once spoke with a man that owned these gorgeous printing presses. He did not have any children and his interns just worked from 9 to 5 and did not have their heart in it. So the craft and knowledge will eventually die with him. It’s just the saddest thing. But it inspires me to deepen my knowledge and to specialise in a certain craft. I am currently teaching myself to braid dog leashes with saddle leather. Bought some old books that explain the craftsmanship. And I did a course in metal-smithing not too long ago. I would love to be known for being a modern craftsman one day. IMG_0074 IMG_0076 Ready-made or custom made? You can buy my bags ready-made, but I like doing custom design the best. I like catering to special needs and requests. I made a diaper bag a while ago. And I have adjusted the format of one of my bag-designs because the client wanted to use it for his laptop. Can you make the zipper yellow? Sure! I wil take upon any request as long as I can support the design. That’s important to me. You won’t see me making a neon pink bag; that does not suit me. I say no to custom requests, but I will always try to offer an alternative solution. IMG_0078 IMG_0079 You also work for The Boyscouts. Yes, I do. The Boyscouts is a jewellery- and accessory brand from Rotterdam. I design bags for them and support the overall design process. Zelda, the owner, also studied at the Design Academy. Although our characters are quite different at times, our way of looking at the design process is very much aligned. We have the same view on linear patterns and proportions. We can serve as a critical sounding board for each other and do not need many words to come to a design that is aesthetically correct. That is a lot of fun. And it is cool to see a young company grow bigger, to contribute to this and learn what it takes to get there. At the same time it made me realize I do not want that for myself. ‘Imkedejong’ should stay small. I have spoken to people that wanted to invest and look for production techniques. But I want to be able to do it myself by hand and should not cover 100% of my day time occupation. I would like to be able to focus on different projects at the same time. IMG_0072 Where will ‘imkedejong’ be in 5 years? My brand stands for design, illustration and bags. I will always keep making bags and functional products made of leather and quality fabric. At the moment illustration is a bit more at the background, but in the future I would like to do more with it. And I can also make furniture. So the brand will stay quite divers, because I have more than one craft and I like too many things. I would like for the brand to grow, but not to a point where I cannot make my own products by hand. I hope that 5 years from now I will have my own studio and a regular stream of requests for custom made bags. We would like to thank Imke for warmly welcoming us into her authentic home and studio. Could not get enough of her beautiful bags and other products? Check out www.imkedejong.nl or send her an e-mail at info@imkedejong.nl. IMG_0098 Thank you Imke for the great conversation. We're happy to have your interview here on our Journal. - Cathalijne -

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