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...it's Esther from Esthex

Thursday, 21 February 2008 by Irene Hoofs

I am very excited to start this new feature on B:Kids by introducing you to Esthex, or actually its founder, designer and mom...Esther Schuivens. When I invited Esther to "knock, knock, who's there" she immediately responded enthusiastically and I think this must characterize her. Since 2003 Esther Schuivens has been creating a family of super cute dolls, soft toys, decoration, bed linen and more…together with her husband and twin-daughters Esther recently moved to Belgium, just across the border of Maastricht in the south tip of the Netherlands. Her husband has been working on renovating their dream house and Esther now has her own little cottage studio, a great place to design many more  beautiful family members for the Esthex-collection. Thank you Esther for letting us have a look in your new house and for giving us tips and ideas on how to start or run a business like yours.

{little cottage studio inside and outside}
1. ) At your ‘about’ page we can read that you graduated from the school of Arts in Maastricht in 2000.What were the most important things your learned and how does your study help running Esthex?
There are two things that I learned and still keep in mind. One is presentation, it is really important not to just sell a product but to complete the story you want to tell by having a nice hangtag, website, packaging etc. I work on this together with a company called “pure caramel”, they also design the stands on shows etc.and it’s great to work with them! The other thing I learned is a bit difficult to explain but it comes down to staying focused on each new design you make and not lean back once you discovered for example the great thing about working with felt, it doesn’t mean it works for your next design as well!
{an ordinary day at the kitchentable}
2.) You say that Esthex was born one Sunday afternoon while you got very inspired looking through your own childhood drawings…but how did you actually start in practice I mean, what were the first steps and what were the major challenges?
It’s honestly true that the first esthex dolls came alive in my imagination while looking at my old drawings in the attic of my parents house. But it does go back a little further. In my last year of art school I participated in a contest of Hema, a large Dutch department store, the challenge was to design a soft toy. I didn’t win anything but it was SO much fun to do! I could use all my imagination to bring a creature alive (it wasn’t a doll, more a beast with long arms which you could use as a bag aswell).
After graduating I had several exhibitions in textile galleries with my graduation art work but I also took part of a design fair in Maastricht which gave young designers the opportunity to sell a product. I sold my homemade soft toy creatures and it went really well. But even more important was that I learned how much fun it is to sell your design and the idea of people using it. So after this experience, three days later, I had the idea to look up my old drawings of when I was four years old!
{the kitchen}
3.) When did you come up with the idea to produce the products at a social workplace? And how easy or difficult is it to produce in a social workplace?
After looking up the drawings I made the very first three dolls which I sold to a shop nearby. They were quite excited about it which gave me the courage to contact other shops. One of these shops was the Kidsfactory, a large kids store in The Netherlands, and they placed an order of 300 dolls! I had no patterns..am not the best sewer at all AND it had to be done in a month! I managed to do it but then decided it might be a good idea to contact the social workplace I had just heard of. For three years it was truly great to work with them, we always thought about solutions together and almost everything was possible! Unfortunately I had to end this working relationship a few months ago and it was one of the hardest things I had to do sofar. For me a good working relationship and fun in your work comes first, then comes the business side. But it seemed, listening to feedback from the distributors and shops, I couldn’t neglect this side of the work and producing in The Netherlands is very expensive. While discovering this I was contacted by a Thai workplace in Bangkok who saw the dolls on a fair in Amsterdam. I feel really lucky because again I met very nice people, the workplace produces under good working conditions for their employees, the quality is very nice and designwise there are much more options.
{feeding the ducks}
4.) What does a typical day at work involve for you and how do you combine this with bringing up your twin-girls?
For the first year the girls stayed at home and would visit grandma and grandpa one day a week, but since they are two now they go to a daycare and are at home on Tuesdays and Fridays. On these days I only check and answer my emails so we have time to feed the ducks! On other days it really depends.
{drawing for new designs + livingroom with dolls cradles}
Twice a year, for two months my head is full of new designs and ideas. It is hard to think about other things that need to be done at that time because all my energy goes to the design part!
{girls bedroom}
5.) What are you most proud of professionally?
By doing what I love most I can pay the bills and live in our dreamhouse!
{upstairs + garden in the winter}
6.) Where do you find inspiration nowadays and how do you translate them to actual products?
Inspiration comes from little things that I am surrounded by. We recently moved to a restored house in Belgium and have a cat for the first time. Subconsciously I started designing a mouse! And I am also at an age that all friends start having kids and you get a lot of inspiration from all the babies as well.  And of course from Hannah and Moos, I am working on a play doll with a coat and a baby, to play with the clothes and close things with Velcro, a ribbon or buttons. They will be three in December so it needs to be in production by that time  which normally takes 6 months from beginning to end.
{big Pippi Långstrump-fans and the first homemade blankets}
7.) Are there any particular designers you are inspired by?
I love Dick Bruna, Fiep Westendorp and Max Velthuijs, they have all created their own world and stories which are fun for children and goes to their imagination.
{the new studio}
8.) What do you really like about your work and which parts would you rather skip?
I love the designing part, working by myself in my studio but still being in touch with a lot of people.
I would like to skip the negotiating parts and contracts but I am lucky not to have to deal with these things too much! And thank God I have a husband who does the bookkeeping, I am terrible with paperwork!

{buidling the daycare centre in Ecuador in 2004}
9.) Is there a certain project that you dream of or something you still would like to accomplish?
4 years ago Joost, my husband, and I build a daycare centre in Ecuador, Joost was asked to do this while cycling through the country and we set up a plan to raise money. If I ever have money enough it would be great to do more of these projects, I would still be designing and Joost would spend the incoming money on new projects! Another dream is to have a very wide range of products, for babies but also for older children and maybe a little animation movie? One needs to dream!
{girls bedroom and my grandmas cupboard + esthex puppets made by grandma and grandpa}
10.) Is there a long term plan or do you work day by day?
I started with no plan at all, it probably kills all your ideas if you plan everything ahead and then start.
But with my designs, the dolls, I did develop during the years a plan which is to create a little esthex world and have my own story to tell, in design and words.
{Moos and Hannah}
11.) and finally for all the people out there what would be the best advice to start a business like Esthex?
Just start and make sure your designs are unique. Don’t forget the business parts but put fun and a good working relationship first. Having production organized is very important. And have a lot of persistence!

To Irene: a big thank you for having me as a special guest at Bloesem, it was a lot of fun to answer all your questions!

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