Iconic net bags, fine jewelry and playful accessories
Tina Cetrez, founder of the KALAIKA fashion brand, has reinvented the good old net bag, and has created a premium version of it. Currently, she is not only successfully designing handbags, but also jewelry and accessories. We met up to discuss ideas, her time at the university of Barcelona, and her studio in the Mannheim start-up center Textilerei.
Tina, your net bag is almost to nice to use it for grocery shopping …
Thanks for the compliment! I’m glad this style of bag is making a comeback. It’s definitely something we know from our grandmothers – and back then, they really weren’t that nice. Our KALAIKA net bags are lovingly designed and much more durable than the old-school version. By the way, KALAIKA is a Latvian expression, meaning “by and by” …
So, by and by, you decided to found your own brand, and the net bag was your first product?
Indeed! It was the first product, and in the beginning, things were not easy at all! It took me a whole year to find a production partner, as the process of production is very complex for these bags. The bags are 100% handmade, and the skills necessary are handed down generation to generation, within the small family-run business, I have found as a partner. A grandmother-mother-daughter trio is exclusively producing the net bags for KALAIKA.
Is it correct, that you had to travel to the Czech Republic, to find the right production partner?
The classic style of net bag was actually created in the Czech Republic. I was living in Berlin at that time, and travelled to the Czech Republic from there. I just asked my way through. I began in Prague, from there I travelled to smaller villages, and finally I discovered our production partner, in form of the small family business.
Do you speak Czech?
I do not. But I had someone along who helped translate. It was quite the ordeal, but I was very convinced, almost obsessed, with my idea. Until I was satisfied with one of the prototypes, took a while after that as well. The basic form is a given, but I wanted to infuse the design with my style, so I spent a lot of time on the details of the bags. I also invested a lot of time in finding the right materials. Material-wise this kind of bag was never intended to last that long. With our KALAIKA version, this was, of course, not the plan.
Before founding your business in Mannheim, you really got around! Tell us about this, please …
I come from Heidelberg, and studied graphic design in Mannheim. After that I spent two and a half years in Barcelona for a Masters degree in design and art direction. It was great, as we were really well prepped there, for our later work lives. This was way better, than it had been in Germany. During my time in Barcelona I found an old net bag, from East Germany. It was worn and torn, but I began thinking about adapting this cool design to our times, in a modern and improved way. Great quality was a main concern from the beginning.
Was founding a brand in your mind from the start?
It was. Though initially I was hesitant to really do it. During my time in Barcelona I worked in the creative department of Desigual. This peek behind the scenes was very valuable. Before this I had always assumed I would later be part of a design bureau, or work in advertising. I had not entertained the idea of actually creating fashion.
I had studied graphic design, and fashion design was just not on my radar at that point. In the end though I have really profited from my design education, as it is still a central part of what I do. Working at Desigual got me into fashion. I returned to Germany, as the market in Barcelona was oversaturated, and I really wanted to return to Heidelberg – where I feel at home, and where my family is. I initially began working in advertising, in an agency in Frankfurt. My heart wasn’t in it though, as I was more invested in fashion by then. When I was offered a job at Lala in Berlin, I moved to the capital, and began working in their creative department. There came the moment though, that I had gathered enough experience and thought: I’ve got my own ideas – time to get my own thing going! This is what I want to do!
So you relocated to Mannheim, the start-up city?
Yes. When visiting Mannheim beforehand, I was introduced to the C-HUB start-up center, and saw how great young founders there were taken care of. I gave them a call and got Nico Hoffmeister on the line. He was building up Textilerei as a community manager at the time.
So you moved there right off the bat?
I did! The building and concept of the whole thing really appealed to me. I applied for a studio workspace, and was instantly accepted as one of the first tenants. And just like that … I was back home!
What do you like about working in the Textilerei?
I like interacting with people when working, which I easily can here! You also have the chance to meet new people and become part of a start-up network. The workspaces are great. I love my studio! It’s bright, big and comfy! Aside from this, you’re right in the city. I don’t work well from home. I’m much more focused here. One also really profits from being part of the many events here, and you can present your products in the Textilerei Shop.
How does one develop a fashion brand?
I began with a premium line of the net bag. The bags are well designed, and simultaneously very robust, as you can carry up to 20 kilos in one. The next step was creating a more affordable version. The KALAIKA plastic net bag is made from discarded plastic shopping bags! As plastic shopping bags are dying out, people have the need for a good way to carry their groceries back home.
But KALAIKA offers more than just net bags …
Indeed! KALAIKA also has a line of jewelry. I design the pieces in Adobe Illustrator, and foreword the designs to manufacturing. Most pieces are made by hand in France and Italy. At the moment I am collaborating with Engelhorn. According to the Motto “Wellcome to Morocco”, I have designed a collection called “Colors of Marrakech”. It’s a very cool collaboration, which I am quite proud of. You can check out the collection at Engelhorn right now!
How is it, that you sell your products?
Today it’s all online. Initially I visited a lot markets, but that ended when I felt the brand didn’t fit these locations. Currently I also visit trade fairs, such as Panorama, Berlin, or Premium in Munich. You’ve got to keep an eye on your target customers. Some groups just aren’t for you.
And you also take care of marketing?
I mostly use Instagram, which I feel is the key channel at the moment. I also prefer the look of the platform. Many times people will recommend our brand as well, which leads many customers to KALAIKA.
What is the key to your success?
KALAIKA is successful, as my team and I are always focused and committed 100%. This begins with the idea, and ranges from the design process, all the way to marketing. KALAIKA creates special pieces, which become indispensable companions.
Interview: Paul Heesch / LA.MAG
Photos: Willi Weissenburger