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Unique handbags made to measure

Dominique 'Mien' Vieren used to work as an architect, but she still wanted to work with her hands. When she became acquainted with leather processing a few years ago, she got a taste for it, re-educated herself and became independent. In the studio of Mien Kaba in Sint-Andries you can make an appointment to have the unique handmade bag of your dreams made. But also with a handbag that needs to be repaired, you are welcome there.

This craftswoman finds working on order without stock an important principle. She wants people who buy a handbag to be able to keep it for a very long time. This is possible because the bag is fully custom made. If you want a little more variety, she can make you a bag with interchangeable flaps.

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Chrome of vegetable tanned leather?

Opting for sustainable materials: an ongoing quest

There are two main types of leather: chemically tanned (often with chromium) or vegetable (this can be done with mimosa, chestnut, rhubarb...) In terms of durability, it is difficult to say which one is the best, because that depends of course on much more than the process alone: from where the leather is made, for example, or how it is cultivated.

Vieren is not certain that vegetable tanning is so much cleaner and safer than chemical tanning. It is possible to see what happens to the waste water during chemical tanning, for example. In Iceland they deal with this differently than in the India. She chooses where she can for vegetable tanning if the leather has the flexibility she wants for her design. For example, she made an ultra-soft bag out of leather tanned with rhubarb. Unfortunately, this way of tanning is expensive and because she works on such a small scale, she can't buy hides from the big suppliers who guarantee vegetable tanning.

The new luxury leather

Fish leather as an alternative to exotic leather from endangered species

Mien Kaba works mainly with cow leather, but also experiments with different kinds of fish leather. Salmon leather, for example. You can easily import it from South America, but Mien Kaba doesn't think it's sustainable because it's too far away.

Sole is also hanging in her studio. It comes from Bordeaux, which is closer... But she went in search of local, sustainable fish from the North Sea. Tanning fish from the North Sea in Belgium has not yet been successful.

She only wants to work with leather that doesn't come from too far. In the Netherlands, for example, she now mainly buys (cow) leather from wholesalers and people who buy and resell stocks each, all located within a radius of 50 km. She goes there herself by car, because otherwise she can't take them with her and she wants to feel and see them herself before she buys.

Repair & Upcycle

The most sustainable handbag

Besides new leather, Dominique also works with old leather. From leather boots, a leather jacket or chair,... she can also make a bag. She made a bag out of a grandfather's coat for the daughter and for the granddaughter.

"Customers come from Brussels or Limburg to have their leather handbag repaired. That's why I can't let go of handbag repairs." From a commercial point of view, only designing and making handbags would be the right choice, but the energetic wind she gets when she can repair a precious handbag is so great that she keeps doing the repairs. It is her contribution to society.

So much is already being done with leather remnants from the industry. But above all, Dominique wants to work with that huge stream of post-consumer leather, but she can't do that alone... She's still looking for the right people to do something structural with it. Meanwhile, she has a lot of used leather lying around that she doesn't know yet what to do with it. People spontaneously bring that leather in. She has to refuse because she doesn't have enough space to store everything.

Packaging and zero waste

A case in point of the circular economy

Mien Kaba wants to work as zero-waste as possible and is also a good example of a circular economy. In a circular economy, the intention is to completely reuse residues. Let that be her hobbyhorse.

To start with, she saves all possible scraps of leather from her own studio, which she sorts according to size and colour. Smaller remnants sometimes find a new owner and are used for accessories or craft activities, larger ones are used for the many repairs that she does. I just can't throw away any leather,' she admits.

The furniture in her cosy studio, which used to be a cafe, comes from the circuit shop. Circular again. She draws her patterns on scraps of paper or papers that others no longer need. Recycling!

The accessories that come from the supplier are often 'well' packaged, but that is also necessary to protect them. In other words, they can be sorted or reused. Also good!

Handmade in Bruges

Recognized craftswoman

Mien Kaba has now obtained the labels Handmade in Bruges, Handmade in Belgium and Recognised craft.

Are you looking for a unique handmade bag that is also sustainable?

Make an appointment with Dominique and go feel, see and smell. The coffee is already ready.

Dominique is currently working on a unique collection of handbags together with a well-known artist. At the end of the year it will become clear who that is and what the end result will look like. Exciting! She really likes to do such projects and wants to do so in the future. (International) artists can apply.

The Place to be: Mien Kaba, Gistelse Steenweg 417
8200 Sint-Andries (Brugge),, 0496 95 80 85

Where to buy Mien Kaba?