What's the first word that comes up when you think of 15 years A Beautiful Story?
'Gratitude. If I look at our team in Amsterdam, our artisans in Nepal, our retailers across Europe, and our loving community of customers ... I realize there are so many beautiful people involved in our brand. We are all connected. That really moves me.
We are one family. We care, we share, we co-create to get it done.'
Why did you start A Beautiful Story?
'15 years ago, I got a call from my mother when she was travelling in Nepal: 'Cathelijne, it's so sad, the silver factory has to close, there's not enough work. 12 artisans will be without a job soon'. The owner of the factory was a friend of ours.
I met him while doing volunteer work in Kathmandu. I instantly knew I couldn't let that happen. It felt like a calling.'
We are one family.
We care, we share,
to get it done.
How did this influence your life?
'At that time, I was marketing coffee for a big multinational. To be honest, I wasn't very happy in my career. I may have had a multimillion-euro budget, friendly colleagues, and a challenging job, but it did not fulfill me. I was working my ass off, just to make the shareholders even richer. No one cared about the coffee farmers. After my mother's call from Nepal, I decided to quit.
Yes, that meant financial insecurity, but I got something in return: a reason to fight for a good cause.'
And then... you arrived in Nepal, where did you start?
'I did not have a clear vision of what to do. Like Pippi Longstocking said: I've never done that before, so I think I can do it. The plan was: 'just begin'. And never give up. Without any knowledge of fashion or producing, we created a collection.
I came back with a suitcase full of jewelry and started selling. Like a troubadour, I travelled across the country.
I've been telling stories of Nepal in living rooms all over the Netherlands.'
Can you tell something about the very first products?
'Together with the artisans we came up with ideas. We liked gemstones, but they were too expensive.
At one point, we were drinking tea in the factory. I noticed the beautiful pattern of the cup. That's it, I thought.
You know in Dutch they say 'Scherven brengen geluk', which translates to 'broken china brings luck'. We smashed the cup on the concrete floor. Keshar Lal, one of the artisans, laid the pieces in silver. It was our first lucky bracelet. Until this day, there is meaning in all our products.'
What has been your biggest lesson in 15 years?
'My most important lesson: together we can make it work. That became very clear in 2008. It was scary because of the costs but hiring lne proved to be the best decision ever. She has great eye for detail and when she set up our back office, I could concentrate on sales and marketing. We went sky-high. After that, many more talented people joined our team. We've had many ups and downs, but together we survived all storms.'
What did you learn from the people in Nepal?
'Never ever give up. Most of the time the situation in Nepal is very challenging. We cannot even imagine the level of stress people have to deal with; the earthquake in 2015, a civil war, political instability, widespread poverty, lack of oil or electricity. Our artisans always prove to be inventive and creative to get production going. If all traffic is down, they walk for a day to the workshop. If no cargo flights are going, they get our products on a passenger flight. They find a solution for everything. Always.'
Can you share your own most challenging moment?
'One of the most intense moments was in 2017. We had been growing very fast, especially in Germany. But, due to our inexperience, we made some wrong decisions. Long story short, we had serious cash flow problems. And then we had to come up with 250,000 euro's in 3 weeks. Which was totally impossible, so we were on the verge of having to shut down. All artisans in Nepal, 50 at that time, were about to lose their jobs.'
What got you back on track?
'I needed some silence. I went to a field full of poppies, just behind my house. I just sat there and asked the universe what to do. 'Ask for help' came to mind. I went home, launched 'a call for help' on our social media and the whole world reached out to help us. A miracle happened and we're still here. And guess what? When I was sitting there in that field, between all those poppies, my eye fell on a little piece of broken china. It was down at my feet in the grass. Just like the ones we used for our first bracelets. From that moment on, I truly believe in magic.'
A piece of broken China at my feet.
Front that moment on I truly believe in magic.
What are your dreams for the future?
Together with our artisans, we dream of creating more jobs, a lot more. We just wrote down a new goal: 1000 jobs in 5 years time. With different products from different continents. Sharing new stories. In the long run, A Beautiful Story will become a lifestyle brand that's known all over the world.'
And for yourself?
'Along this journey, I got to know myself better. There were times of success and great failure. Sometimes I felt proud, sometimes very ashamed. But going through all of this made me accept myself. That's where our core value 'dare to be' comes from. I feel a lot happier than in 2006. My personal dream is to translate my personal experience to products and services for our brand. Encourage other people to find their path. One step at a time. Everyone in this world has the right to live a beautiful story'.