SOME PEOPLE HAVE A KNACK FOR AESTHETICS AND SEE THINGS IN A WAY MERE MORTALS DON'T. VALERIE IS ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. WITH LAND OF COLLECTORS, SHE MANAGES TO FIND THE CREAM OF THE VINTAGE CROP TO CREATE COMPELLING COLLECTIONS IN A STYLE THAT IS VERY MUCH HER OWN. NEXT TO THAT, SHE LENDS US HER TALENTS AND KEEN EYE FOR DETAIL WHEN WE'RE WORKING ON LOOKS, OR WHEN SHE TRANSFORMS OUR STORES INTO SOMETHING FRESH AND INSPIRING.
WE WENT TO VISIT HER IN MECHELEN, WHERE WE DISCUSSED PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE.
What are your earliest memories related to clothing and style? I can perfectly imagine that you were still a small child when that fascination began – was that the case?
It was, it started at a very young age, much to my mother’s amazement. In my earliest memories I can see myself going through my mother’s and my grandmother’s closets to find things I could dress up with. Later on, as a young teenager, I would stay up late in my bedroom – when I was supposed to be sleeping – creating outfits with everything I had in my small wardrobe. Or I’d play with how I could wear certain pieces – I’d transform a long skirt into a dress and things like that. I was always thinking of how I could get the most out of what I had.
So, your mother wasn’t your partner in crime in that regard?
No, she just let me do my thing (laughs). I often totally forgot track of time, as I was so absorbed by what I was doing. So yes, it was a true passion back then already. I obviously had friends in school that enjoyed dressing nicely, but it really was a little biotope that I created for myself.
At what point did you know that you wanted to earn a living by doing what you loved most?
Quite quickly. After a brief stint studying fashion design, I started working for clothing brands and quite quickly ended up doing a lot of styling. The more I did that, the more that snowballed into my main thing. The aesthetic aspect was what always really appealed to me anyway, much more so than the practical side of things.
When did you dive into the Land Of Collectors adventure then?
Land Of Collectors started with my own wardrobe almost literally bursting open, because I’d accumulated so many clothes through the years (laughs). I've always loved flea markets and collecting treasures on my way through life. Plus, it also happened during the first Covid-induced lockdown, when we were all stuck at home. I’m someone that can’t sit still – I always need something to do, so those two factors explain why I started Land Of Collectors, on Instagram only at first.
I did take the time to think of a name that could last and grow into something else, something I could build up. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I always had the dream to start my own brand. I mainly sold my own pieces originally, as well as things I found here and there. From the get-go, it was well received. I noticed that it worked and it felt right, so I started investing more and more time in it. That’s how it organically evolved into what it is now, next to the styling and other things I do on the side.
How does it feel now, looking back at how it’s grown in a few years?
Honestly, I’m still searching, still learning. It’s a continuous process. There are times when I worry and ask myself if this is really what I want to keep doing, and at other times it gives me so much energy and satisfaction. It does feel good to show this side of myself and to see how people respond to it.
You’re a very cautious, mindful person. I can imagine that there’s some doubt involved as well?
I’m always in doubt (laughs). I’m very careful with the images I choose, with what I want to show people and what I’d rather not show. It’s a balancing act to decide how much of myself I want to reveal. Land Of Collectors has been a tremendous learning experience for me in that sense. Because, like you said, I am mindful in what I put out there for everyone to see and what is personal. It’s challenging, but I do enjoy the process of finding my way.
I can imagine it being challenging. You’re definitely not someone that craves the spotlight.
True. That’s just not who I am, so that won’t change. I sometimes feel that my customers would like to see more of me, or that they would like to see more of what happens behind the scenes. I’m still figuring out how far I want to go with that. Right now, I can't say how things will evolve. I see myself as a soulful entrepreneur and maybe maintaining the same balance as now is perfectly fine too.
I want it all to stay real. If that means that sometimes I’ll be less present and engage less, then so be it. Sometimes that just feels better.
As an outsider, I do see that a lot of care goes into what you do, it does feel honest and real. Very you.
That’s really nice to hear. That’s exactly what I try to bring, and I think that connects with a certain type of person. What I do is likely not for everyone. What matters most to me is that I can express myself with Land Of Collectors, I can have fun with it while growing as a person and an entrepreneur as well.
People that know me, recognize Land Of Collectors as something that totally reflects me. Others may need some time to find out who the person behind the brand is.
Once you opened your first pop-up store, you started meeting your crowd in real life. How did that feel?
Super nice. It’s very gratifying to welcome them in the store, to be able to see each other and talk. I think a physical store is a definite added value, it’s something I enjoy even more than the online part of it.
I’m currently in my third pop-up location, and this one has a small atelier connected to it, which is great. I enjoy the nomadic aspect of doing pop-ups, going from place to place. I also really enjoy making each space my own. It’s almost like getting a blank canvas every time.
That seems like it’s a job on its own already.
It’s an investment every time, it takes time and energy to rethink the interior and the way I present the collections there. But it’s very rewarding too. I have to adapt my ideas to a new context and find the extra elements that make it the way I want it to be. It’s fun though. I almost miss it when I haven’t done it in a while (laughs). People that have seen all 3 locations always tell me they get it, they see that it’s me every time and that’s big compliment.
Was it hard to find your way to the type of vintage clothes that you’re after?
It’s a search that never stops. I have a few steady spots that I can go back to, but I’m always on the lookout for other options too. After all, you never know what you’re going to find. There are no guarantees. That’s part of the thrill of course. But I have to say, every time I install a new selection in the store, I always discover patterns in the colors I chose, or the vibe that everything has. Either way, I like to mix things up. Not everything has to be old or vintage – I like offering a nice variety.
That’s probably one of your strengths.
There are more than enough other vintage stores that have a more limited offer, or only have clothes from a certain era, but I like it a bit more eclectic. I don’t have a ton of similar styles, so people can just browse in a comfortable, easy manner. They don’t have to dig through a thousand shirts. The searching and selecting was already done by me. I think that works.
The atelier space that you just mentioned, how do you use that?
Well, next to handpicking the clothing that I sell, I also alter a lot of pieces. Sometimes I simply change the fit a little, sometimes I want a certain piece to look a bit more modern. Next to that, I'm working on my first collection of upcycled items, which I'll reveal soon. That’s something new for me, so be on the lookout.
Do you work in series or themes with the upcycled clothes you create?
Exactly. I’m now finishing up a series of shirts and those will all get the Land Of Collectors label on the inside. I’m so excited for that. It felt so great to receive that parcel with my own labels (laughs). I’m really going to follow my gut and see where this new adventure takes me. Step by step.
Is there anything else that you dream of doing with Land Of Collectors?
So far, I’ve only had pop-up locations in Mechelen, my hometown. And even if that was a conscious choice, I’d love to venture out to a different city at some point. But we’ll take it as it comes, there’s no rush. Whatever lands in the Land (laughs).
Thank you Valerie!
Pictures by Wouter Struyf
Production by Gijs Grondelaers
Styling by Valerie Cottyn & Gijs Grondelaers
Words by Bjorn Dossche