Making one-off designer bags down at the Raglan wharf for Soul Shoes has kept Liesbeth Van der Meijden on her toes in the six weeks since she arrived in New Zealand from the Netherlands – so busy in fact there’s now a collection of her work on show at the new outlet shop in Volcom Lane.
From handbags and clutch bags to a stylish backpack-cum-shoulderbag, all Liesbeth’s creations are made of vegetable-tanned leather, a product which business co-owner Marie de Jong points out is “the best leather in the world” and used by big Italian luxury brands like Gucci.
Marie and partner Rob Galloway import it from Italy three or four times a year to make their own shoes and accessories.
Now Liesbeth, their young apprentice, is designing and crafting her unique bags from the product, which uses tannins found in vegetable matter such as tree bark, wood, leaves, fruits and roots.
It’s more durable than other tanned leathers, says the 19-year-old student, and gets better with age.
“I like to do everything from beginning to end,” she adds of the bag-making process she works through five days a week in the mezzanine workspace above the shop, which occupies a high-profile corner of the new wharf building.
Liesbeth’s on a six-month internship at Soul Shoes and loves living in Raglan. As a third year student on a four-year shoe and bag-making course at Sint Lucas design school in Brabant, she is the only one from her class who opted for work experience in another country after having found Soul Shoes on the internet.
“So she’s adventurous, our Liesbeth,” says Marie fondly of their visitor from Europe. She says Liesbeth fits in so well with her and Rob’s lifestyle at their silo apartment and workshop on the wharf that “we don’t want her to go home”.
Liesbeth’s revelling in the change of lifestyle, going sailing with the couple on their yacht in Auckland and learning to surf with them in Raglan. She says there’s always something happening here, unlike in her small inland hometown in the Netherlands. “And it’s really relaxed … Holland’s very stressed.”
Marie adds Liesbeth has volunteered for the Coastguard since arriving in town, has been out to sea regularly and now has her own pager. She also goes out on the Coastguard jetskis every Wednesday.
She’s felt no pangs of homesickness yet, Liesbeth tells the Chronicle in very good conversational English. She reverts to speaking in Dutch only when skyping friends and family back home, showing them her silo apartment living quarters and the healthy meals she now enjoys despite a reputation for being “picky”.
Her parents arrive in New Zealand in May for a two-week visit, and will then go tiki-touring with their daughter.
Having Liesbeth working alongside Marie and Rob as an intern at Soul Shoes means their business has recently been accredited in Holland as an educational provider. The couple are now looking forward to having another girl, from Amsterdam, come and stay for a two-month stint of shoemaking.
Marie says Liesbeth has been “fantastic”, a bonus to the business started in Raglan by Rob way back in the 70s. Rob and Liesbeth “bounce ideas off each other”, and yet Liesbeth is free to do her own thing too.
Her trademark one-off bags are both functional and aesthetically appealing, and her collection of a dozen or so range in price from $150 to $400.
“We’ve had to confiscate her passport,” Rob jokes of his talented protégé who while at school won a competition to make a money bag for a bank and who has since – with two other students at Brabant – designed shoes for the Dutch queen.