We delve into travel inspiration, material sourcing and philanthropic gestures with founder, Florentine van Oosten Slingeland.
Amsterdam-born Florentine van Oosten Slingeland spent considerable time uncovering the mastery of local artisans across the globe before starting up her own kids’ apparel brand, Donsje, in 2013. With emphasis on warmth, natural materials and vintage treasures, a nostalgic influence shines through each expertly hand-crafted piece; be it a squirrel backpack, or a pair of leather mittens. Here, Oosten Slingeland tells all, from slow fashion and corporate responsibility, to the beauty of reviving love-worn pieces.
How did Donsje come to fruition?
During my travels around the world, I was inspired by the craftmanship I discovered in faraway places. Engaging with local artisans, I designed my own sandals and matching belts. After returning to Singapore (where I lived at the time), I received great positive feedback on my creations, so I decided to return to Indonesia to continue sampling, experiment with materials and test my designs at Expat fairs in Singapore. I returned to Amsterdam and became pregnant with my first child in 2013 - that’s when the Donsje label was born. I decided to set up my own footwear and accessories label which, nowadays is also well-known for its apparel.
Donsje’s signature style reflects my love for nostalgic memories, natural products, subtle earthy shades and high-quality materials.
What is the story behind the name?
Donsje is the nickname that my dad gave to my mother. Donsje is Dutch for “fluffy” and derives from the softness, warmth and suppleness of soft feathers - a great source of inspiration for our cute baby and kids’ designs.
Can you describe a profound childhood memory that influenced the brand’s style?
When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with My Melody, Little Twin Stars and Hello Kitty. Years later, during my travels I fell in love with Asia, partly because I was being re-introduced to all my childhood superheroes. However, I realised that I wasn’t so fond of the bright popping colours, big eyes, glitter and shiny plastic that they were made of. Donsje’s signature style reflects my love for nostalgic memories, natural products, subtle earthy shades and high-quality materials.
How would you describe the identity of Donsje?
Donsje is an irresistibly cute childrenswear brand. We offer a unique wardrobe with imaginative footwear, gorgeous apparel and matching accessories that are not only loved by kids, but also by their parents. Our products are instantly recognisable thanks to their exclusive design and refined details. We aim to convey that warm family feeling and let people experience the Donsje world in our store and through beautiful photography.
Your daughter, Vosse, helped pick out the animals for the Kapi collection and your son has tested the durability of the shoes. What part does your children play in the design process and how does their involvement inspire the brand?
We have three children. Vosse, our eight-year old girl, and our two boys, six-year old Hayo and five-year old Skief (same name as his dad). I am inspired by the beautiful illustrations in the books I read to our children; the flowers we pick, the crafts they make and the toys they love to play with. The older they get, the funnier their input. Our son helped us design the shop for a luxury department store. He loves to design prints - so long as they are blue! He came up with ideas that were very out-of-the-box and they really made me laugh. Our daughter also provides input and new ideas, including umbrellas and rings. Skief, the youngest, is the only one who hasn’t grown out of Donsje shoes yet.
If a garment was damaged, it was repaired with love, instead of being immediately thrown away like so many people tend to do nowadays. I would love to see a future in which parents focus on only a couple of well-made, outfits per season
What do you enjoy most about your role in the company?
Donsje has become a family affair with my husband, Skief on board. We love working together even though we have two completely different personalities. His role is managing director and I am the creative director - that says it all, if you ask me. The great thing about my work is that every day is different and that I meet so many different people. Since Donsje is sold in over 40 countries worldwide, we regularly go abroad. For example, last year we went to Indonesia for a production trip and visited Japan for a trade fair. At Donsje, we work with many young, talented people who we are inspired by, but which we can also inspire. I also love working with small children on photoshoots as they are so unpredictable. Every photoshoot is a huge challenge with small Donsje models, as you never know whether they had a good night’s sleep! I often joke that a photoshoot with adult models would be twice as easy, but half the fun.
What are the most important factors you consider when selecting materials for kids’ shoes?
All of our products are handmade with a passion for premium quality in mind. We carefully handpick our leather and fabrics for their durability and natural touch, only using the finest selection available. We use the safest materials that are tested to meet strict European requirements.
What sets Donsje apart from other children’s shoe brands on the market?
All our products are made with an eye for detail. Every design must have that something extra that makes the product exclusive, something that makes it feel special. If you ask me, it’s like Christmas all year round at Donsje. Our products are therefore immediately recognisable. The animal boots with 3D elements are especially popular. The boots are characterised by soft sheep wool and protruding ears. Kids can choose their own favourite animal character, which provides a playful, yet personal element.
Donsje works with dedicated factories and employs local artisans who are paid fairly and work in a safe environment. Why is this important to you and your brand?
I created our first samples in Indonesia with a local craftsman. Later, when we grew the brand, we needed to scale up so a friend of mine introduced me to a Dutch lady who was running a creative workshop together with her husband. We connected really well, so we set up our own Donsje factory. Corporate responsibility is key at Donsje. Donsje is environmentally conscious and committed to offering high quality products that are Fairtrade and built to last. We work exclusively with factories and suppliers that share Donsje's commitment to fair and safe labour practices and observe environmentally conscious practices in the locations where they operate.
What do you envision for the future of kids’ footwear and clothing?
I think people have a need for sustainable products that they can enjoy for a long time and that are safe for their children - just like the old days, when people only had a couple of outfits. If a garment was damaged, it was repaired with love, instead of being immediately thrown away like so many people tend to do nowadays. So, I would love to see a future in which parents focus on only a couple of well-made, outfits per season for their child, rather than collecting clothing clutter and continuing to buy low quality, fast fashion throughout the season.
Can you tell us more about the Shining Star foundation and your involvement?
While living in Nairobi in 2010, my husband and I were overwhelmed by the poverty, as well as the living conditions that children had to endure in city slums. I worked as a volunteer after meeting a local teacher who explained the lack of, and need for a school in the area. My husband and I were so inspired when she shared that it was her dream to set up a school, so we decided to help her make this dream a reality. In 2012, we officially set up the Shining Star foundation and started giving classes to 25 children in a church. Since then, we have built our own school and we are now supporting 250 children to get a better start in life. At Donsje we donate a share of our profit to the Shining Star foundation which you can find more about on our website.