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Interview with Treesizeverse

by , June 16, 2015

Etsy is one huge gold mine of gorgeous (and not so gorgeous) handmade stuff. Amongst a gazillion other things many, many bags and wallets are offered on the site. And to get a bit philosophical: Etsy is a big democratizing force in the design and production of goods: everyone with decent creative skills, an internet connection and the will to actually make something can find a worldwide audience on Etsy, whether (s)he lives in rural India, the Midwest or in fashion capital Paris. If you have a post office nearby, you can have happy customers worldwide.

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But…well let’s just say we’re not all that enthusiastic about a lot of carry stuff offered on Etsy. That changed when we ran into Treesizeverse. It turns out that next to rural India, the Midwest and fashion capital Paris, great stuff is made by an artist in a sleepy Belgian village called Tremelo. So we decided to pay him a visit.

At the outskirts of the village, at the end of a dead end road and right next to the woods, a charming modern house comes into view. Ronald Ceuppens, Treesizeverse’s founder, designer, marketer, sewer and logistics manager opens the door, a bit shy. “This is actually the first time I’m being interviewed about Treesizeverse,” he says. The shyness changed into modesty during the interview, but it’s just one aspect of a gifted, dedicated and experienced (and quite successful!) artist.

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How did you get started?

Three years ago I returned to making bags and started the shop on Etsy. I have a degree in art, but before that I followed a classical tailoring course and after a long break, I enjoyed making my own designs again. I started with a bag my grandfather owned and became interested in classical designs of bags and started studying them. From there on it developed. For my artwork, I had some experience with Etsy already.

I try to divide my time between making art and making bags. I used to work on my art during the week and make bags at the weekend, but lately the balance has been turned around. Especially last November I worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to be on time for the holiday season with a lot of orders.

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Tell me about design and production…

I make all the bags myself. I’m not an “official” product designer, so that’s why the designs are kind of  evolutionary. I love to use unusual materials like antique linen and vintage wool and other handwoven fabric. The designs evolve over time, as I get better at making bags. Each bag has a little improvement and the improvements lead to new ideas for designs.

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As for materials, the leather comes from a saddle maker near my house and the waxed canvas is from the US and Australia. Sometimes I find materials from used products and try to incorporate them.

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What are challenges for you as a designer?

I’m trying to find solutions for everyday problems in bags, but they have to match the style. A lot of modern carry solutions don’t: ventilation systems, padded shoulder straps, buckles for bike bags.

Since I do all design and production on my own, I can only make up to three bags a day.

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How do you go about selling your products online?

I did have some experience selling artwork on Etsy, so I built on that. I have a shop on Etsy and I created a shop on Bigcartel (treesizeverse.com). About a third of what I sell is through my own site and two thirds via Etsy. I also have a shop on DaWanda (European counterpart of Etsy), but to me it seems DaWanda is so much smaller than Etsy. Pictures of the products are very important and I try to make the best pictures possible. Every bag I make is different so I have to take new photographs all the time.

Most of my clients are from the US, Canada and Australia, but a large part is from the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates. Surprisingly, Europe comes after that; within Europe a lot of clients come from Germany.

Some other experiences: in the age of Amazon and its European counterparts, people expect that they can just order a bag and return it for free if they don’t like it. They also expect to get the product the next day. I’m a small shop, so that’s not really possible for me. I produce to order and can’t afford to offer free return shipping.

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Who do you see as competitors?

I don’t really look for competitors; I try to make what feels right to me and find inspiration in that. Sometimes I look for canvas bags on Etsy but I don’t really know about other brands.

Of course, there’s a big market for cheap bags, made in low wage countries. A lot of stuff gets copied and you can’t really do anything about it. If you move a buckle an inch to the left on a bag, it’s not strictly a copy anymore. Still, people will look for authenticity in a product.

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What are your next steps?

I feel more like an artist than an entrepreneur. I enjoy making the bags much more than the business side. I feel that if the business grows I’ll have to do stuff I don’t like, such as bookkeeping and management.

And finally: on your website we see glimpses of you but you’re never fully pictured. What’s up with that?

[There’s the shy smile again] Yeah, I don’t really like being on photographs…

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