Local Heroes #15 - Granny's Finest

Meet social entrepreneurs Niek Hengel and Jip Pulles from Rotterdam. They have set up a fashion brand with a very surprising production force: 300 grannies.

Published by Guest on 23/09/2014

Granny's Finest is fashion brand that combines the craft of grannies with designs by savvy young creatives. The brand brings a collection of scarves, beanies and mittens with a social DNA. The best of 2 generations combined in cool fashion products. On our radar for a while, but finally we had time to interview them for a Local Heroes #15 portrait. sjaal_met_kaartje Photography: Jiska Milet "The social edge is part of the DNA of our brand," explains Niek. "Every product is sold with a small card that contains a message by the granny who made it. We ask our buyers to send them a postcard as a thank you.” thank_you_card How did the idea of Granny's Finest come to life? I went to visit my grandpa in his elderly home in 2010. I talked to a an old lady there who was knitting. She told me that she did not have anyone to knit for, so she didn't know what kind of item it would become. Later that day I asked my granny to knit me a winter scarf, which she thought was a great idea. That's when the idea caught me. And Jip joined? Jip was finishing his studies and looking for a subject for his final business plan. I told him about my meeting at the elderly home. He started doing some research about loneliness of the elderly, crafts, the uprise of sustainable products. Also most government subsidies were cut at the time, which forced creatives to a more commercial mindset. In addition, Jip’s sister was a attending Willem de Kooning, a renowned fashion academy in Rotterdam, and she had a clear vision on what the products should look like.

"Designed by the new, produced by the best, worn by the greatest."

So it all just came together at one point. Jip successfully graduated, after which we participated in The Enterprize, a contest for inspiring entrepreneurs with a businessplan. We got such a positive response and useful feedback, that we started our business that same winter by handing out flyers to grannies on the market. They were so surprised by 2 guys wanting to start a fashion brand with grannies, they did not know how to respond. Niek_Jip Photography: Christian Kalse for CitizenMag So what does Granny's Finest look like nowadays? We now work with 300 grannies divided of 6 Dutch cities. In each city we work together with a health care facility. They are really happy working with is, because most of them can not sustain a quality program of activities due to persisting budget cuts in the health sector. We try to attract both grannies living at these institutions, as grannies from various neighbourhoods. finest_family_meetthegrannies_BW granny_met_sjaal_BW Photography: Milan Boonstra So what’s in it for het grannies? At every health care facility we organise a craft club on Fridays. We provide the grannies with quality materials and all they need to bring is their craft. The clubs are really popular amongst all grannies. They love to have a day-time activity to look forward to and the social network it brings them. Some grannies say: “Even if I had to pay for it, I would still join”. We feel the social activity is much more valuable to them than any financial compensation. Knitting_club Photgraphy: Irene Wouters for ed.nl What projects or activities do you organise? A few times a year we organise a cool trip for the entire granny club. We take them to the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven or the Fashion Factory in Amsterdam, same as exhibitions and museums. We attended the exposition of Jean Paul Gaultier in the Kunsthal, after which the grannies made him a custom scarf that we send over for his birthday. And recently we did a project with designer Bas Kosters. That was funny, he designed a sweater for us that looked like the personification of an old grey man with a beard. Where can we buy the beautiful scarves and beanies? We are now for sale at 20 stores across The Netherlands, of which 2 in Rotterdam. The shops are selected with care; we think it is important not to end up on the big pile, but to have someone there that takes the effort to explain the story behind the product. We make a basic collection with scarves, mittens and beanies. These are sold at Wehkamp and Sissy Boy. But we also make a designer collection that is a bit more outspoken, that is sold at Groos in Rotterdam and Hutspot in Amsterdam. We usually connect the store to the local health care facility. GR_samenopstap GF_indeauto GR_fullfrontalopfiets Photography: Cooper Seykens | Make-up & Hair: Sasha Mols  Styling & Concept: Joline van den Oever & Koen van den Broek Modellen: Rianne Dekker | Erik Versteegh | Jantje Lous Sikkema | Irma de Jonge What really drives you and what's next? I can still quite vividly remember the first time we were standing in front of a craft club. It was special to see how much they enjoy it. We have won a few prizes which of course is really cool, but the best thing is to see 300 grannies selflessly supporting your brand. Especially with all the misery that we hear about. Of course we'd like Granny's Finest to become a healthy and profitable company, but the higher purpose it just as important. In less than 5 years Granny's Finest is a strong, international fashion brand that fights loneliness amongst elderly. We are now doing that with 300 grannies and our goal for next year is to double in terms of sales and grannies! breiclub Thank you very much Niek & Jip for the great interview as part of our Local Heroes #15 edition. We're a big fan of your beautiful brand and from reading your story... we can't wait for winter to kick in. www.grannysfinest.com Their story explained (in Dutch only): - Cathalijne -

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