Sandra is a close friend. Her husband was my neighbor, then my friend, and then, we each had significant others moving in, multiplying our friendship times two. To make life easier, we introduced Thursday Dinner Nights: Instead of cooking for two, you cook for four people, every first Thursday, and you don’t have to cook at all every second Thursday. It proved to be a success formula for friendship and culinary experiences – especially when Sandra did the cooking. And two countries later, we are still at it, enjoying good food and each others’ company. We modified the formula from Thursday Nights to weekends or vacations at each others’ homes and added some extra’s – the kids- but we kept the same easygoing-no-stress formula of those Thursday nights.
MY THREE WORDS TO DESCRIBE YOU:
At first, I wanted to pick energetic as my first word, as she always seems to be thinking or moving things around/cleaning things, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she comes over as so energetic, because she is very expressive. Sandra has these incredibly big beautiful green eyes that give her this air of surprise at all times – a gift she also passed on to her son. In combination with her curly black hair and her way of talking and gesturing, it is like a spring breeze twirling around you. She grasps your attention immediately and energizes you.
A while ago, Sandra told me how she always feels insecure and how she hates that trait about herself. I could not help but think: Of course, you feel insecure, you are a trail blazer, a pioneer, never afraid to travel the path less traveled. In my opinion, her insecurity is a syndrome of a very clear condition: ambition! You want proof? Sandra studied Arabic at the university and got herself a job at the Belgian defense ministry, only to quit that cushiony job again for being too slow and bureaucratic. She became a shoe wholesaler, traveling all over Belgium, and after that, the head of a clothes chain store. When she was denied the promotion she wanted, she quit and started her own store.
To me, it seems as if Sandra’s head is always ON. She is always thinking. About how to promote her store, how to arrange the clothes to make them stand out more, or – when you are shopping at her store – how to dress you. Her middle name is probably ‘In Progress’. Standing still is not an option for Sandra. Everything always seems to be in motion. She uses all that enterprising energy to promote a greener and fairer world, starting with what we wear: our clothes.
MY QUESTIONS FOR YOU:
What did you think of the three words I picked for you? Do they correspond with your self-image or not? And if not, which ones would you have picked?
Difficult! Although I feel flattered for sure. Expressive maybe at times. Energetic for sure. I seem to have tons of energy and apparently I do not always seem to know how to channel that energy correctly, even after years of yoga, but it does help me to get things done. And getting things done gives me even more energy!
I wouldn’t call myself ambitious, more anxious about missing out of something. I suffered from ‘fomo’ before the notion even existed. Should I be ambitious I would take a straighter line towards my goals, but most of the time my goals are not that clear. I am more of an emotional person who likes to go with my gut and try out things. I am incredibly curious and I love putting my energy in trying out new projects.
Enterprisingly green – I just love that description! Yes, I’ve been quite green from an early age being a vegetarian from a young age, supporting several good causes throughout my life. I think having ideals and trying to live by them is very, very important to me. So, in the end, trying to live my ideas in my job just feels great! It feels like everything is coming together now and I love it!
You have a degree in Arabic. Why did you pick this subject? And how did you get from the ministry of defense into shoes and clothing?
Well, “you’re young and you don’t have a clue” could be an answer But I still remember very clearly what made me pick this study at that time. It was again this curiosity about far away places and having a keen interest in languages and history in high school, this seemed just something for me. In the end, Arabic and I never really clicked. It never really stuck to me. That’s the thing with languages: it is not only head but also a lot of heart. You have to feel it and I didn’t feel it. I felt that during my last year of college but I didn’t think much of it until I scored what I thought would be my dream job: being an analysis officer at the Ministry of Defence. What can I say? It was a mismatch from the beginning. At first, I tried to fit in really hard because after all, you worked so hard to get there. Then, it became clear to me I just did not belong there. And that I did not want to work in administration at all. So, what do you do then? You turn to your second passion: fashion! It was quite a leap. My parents were not amused. I can tell you. It wasn’t easy. The Belgian work environment is not very flexible. People just think you are raving mad and, even for fashion jobs, they always want someone with experience! But well…. It worked out in the end!
You opened your own clothing store in 2016 focusing on fair fashion. Why?
Working for a big clothing chain for 8 years, I have experienced such a big change from the beginning I started working up until I left: the rising pressure to sell more, to have more collections, to work much more on mark down’s. I really felt this race to the bottom, cutting down on people all the time. It didn’t and still doesn’t feel right.
I started thinking about my life: trying to live sustainable. It struck me I was doing very little about the sustainability in my wardrobe! I thought many more women were out there like me, wanting to make sustainable choices but not always knowing where to look first! I felt I was on a mission!
What do you consider the biggest challenge of running your own business? What is the biggest challenge of running a responsible clothing store?
Keeping my aim clear! You encounter so many people and brands with lots of different stories and visions which are often very extraordinary and great but do not always fit my vision. Having a responsible clothing store is still a very large description of what you could be doing. For example: selling vegan or only natural fibers or also going for recycled or reuse….
Have you ever had negative reactions to your store? Which ones? And how did/do you handle these reactions?
There aren’t any negative reactions which come to mind. My family was a bit anxious and my parents-in-law don’t really understand why anyone would leave a fixed job to start their own business.
How does your average weekday look like? And in your case, how does your average weekend look like?
I start at 7.30 taking care of my son. We have breakfast together and after I take him to school my workday starts. Normally I get on Instagram around 8 am. Around 9.30, I am off to work.
From 10 up until 19, you can find me at the store. I rearrange the store every two weeks. I change my window once a week. All my other time in the shop I spend on helping my customers, working on my administration and replying to e-mails. Back at home we have dinner together.
I do Pilates twice a week. At 9 pm you can find me behind my computer. My workday mostly ends around 1pm at night. Having a webshop also means a lot of work behind the screens!
My weekend starts Saturday evening. Most of the time I am so tired I prefer to stay at home, chilling with a cocktail and some lovely dinner. Afterwards, my husband and I enjoy a movie and we sleep in late. Sunday’s, I try to do some chores at home but often we choose to go out visiting friends, family, an exhibition or we just go for a walk. Monday mornings are me-time. I do whatever I feel like and in the afternoon I go and get our son and his friend from school. These are great energetic hustle and bustle afternoons and all my attention goes to them.
Are you really always ON? When and how do you relax?
Yes, I am really always ON. It is difficult for me to unwind. The best way is to go off to the gym for my Pilates classes! I love it. I can really relax during my Pilates.
My yearly holiday is also great for relaxing. We deliberately do not travel very far so we can start being on vacation right away. We go glamping and spend a lot of time outside. During these weeks, I am literally clueless. I just want my husband to decide what we are going to do. I don’t bother, I don’t want to think. Just enjoy, walk around, eat, sleep… those are my best holidays really.
Or we come to your place! We drink, we talk, we laugh, we play exciting card games and Frederik freaks out because I take card games so seriously, but it honestly just helps me to relax. I am completely unwound.
And I love to cycle. Going to my shop in the morning on my bike. A great way to blow off some steam.
What book(s) are you reading right now? And what made you pick them up?
O God, I rarely read books. I can’t make time for that anymore. I do read our weekly magazine Knack and the newspaper, but no books, I am afraid.
I know you have lived abroad in a few different countries. What made you choose these countries? What was most challenging about them?
When I was 18, I left for India in an exchange program organized by the Rotary. My first choice was Japan actually, but I ended up with my second choice for a full school year. It was a daunting experience which taught me so much about life in general. Even now, twenty years later, I still think about it very often. In India everything was challenging: language, customs, weather, heat, food, toilet habits, everything! At that time, 1995, there was no internet as we know it today. I would ring my parents every month, my friends once in a while, and we mainly communicated by fax and letters. I literally could not speak Dutch anymore when I got home. I hadn’t heard it for a whole year, very strange. I dreamt in English and when I got back, I spoke with a thick English accent. Back in Belgium, people were asking me where I was from!
I also spent ten months in Egypt. This was an obvious choice for Arabic students at the end of our master. I had a fantastic year in Cairo with my fellow students from Leuven. It did not do much for my schooling, but I made some great friends from all over: Germany, Italy, the UK and Egypt itself, of course, and I really learned to take care of myself over there.
In Egypt, I understood that being free to speak up your mind and being free to live your life as you want is not a right granted to everyone, a lesson I actually also experienced in India. We never think about our democratic rights, and we seem to take them for granted. Which is a pity because they are so valuable and important!
THANK YOU, SANDRA! Have a look at her store at https://shop.tenuepreferee.be/