She admits that life is busy: being the head of a successful children’s brand while keeping a family of five on track. Yet, Florentine van Oosten Slingeland, founder of Donsje, somehow manages to pull it all off. In the following interview, she tells us about the creation of the company and her rituals and routines.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
I am Florentine van Oosten Sligeland, 38 years old, mother of three kids and the founder of the children’s brand Donsje. I created the brand in 2013 and I’ve been leading the company together with my husband Skief since 2017.
How did the idea for Donsje come to be?
I’ve lived with my husband in Singapore, Kenya and New Zealand and I’ve also travelled a lot. When I was travelling in Indonesia, I designed some slippers and belts and had them made. Once I was back at home in Singapore, I received a lot of positive reactions to my designs. Motivated by these reactions, I decided to go back to Indonesia a week later to have more products made and to see how they could eventually be produced. Based on this, I started by own footwear and accessories brand for young women, which I continued when we moved back to Amsterdam.
When I had kids a while later, a whole new world opened up for me. I started experimenting with shoes and accessories for babies and children. These designs hit the mark immediately and sales grew much higher than the women’s line. I also felt more energised by it and that’s why I eventually decided to focus purely on the children’s brand, Donsje.
What is the driving force behind your success?
I think that my persistence has been the most important thing. Of course, a good product is a prerequisite for success, but building a brand and establishing a company doesn’t happen overnight.
For example, for years—day in and day out—I’ve been going from store to store with a big bag of samples, even when I was heavily pregnant. Often, retailers wanted nothing to do with me, and then it’s truly an art to get your foot in the door and to quickly show them your products. You have to be persistent, even when you receive a load of slippers that got warped in transit, when deliveries are delayed due to volcanic eruptions or when samples fall very short of expectations.
How do you maintain the right balance between work and home life?
That is always a challenge, but now that my youngest is 3 years old, it’s easier than when all 3 kids were still in diapers. Within 3 years, we had 3 kids—all while I was starting Donsje. My husband had a busy job as a consultant and was away from home a lot. Looking back, that was a difficult time, but it also energised me because there was so much going on. Exactly a year ago my husband and I decided to grow Donsje together. Now that we run it together, the work-life balance has improved and that gives us a lot more peace at home.
When we lived in Kenya, we started a school in a slum in Nairobi, where today 150 children between the ages of 1 and 6 attend pre-school. The school has been running for 8 years and we also want to have enough time to make sure everything runs smoothly there.
Do you have any special rituals that you practice with your kids?
Every night I tell the kids a story in bed. They’re allowed to choose a book themselves, but instead of reading them the words, I make up a story based on what they experienced that day. I always try to add a little life lesson into it. Every night before my daughter goes to sleep, I say a Hail Mary. Then she lists everyone that’s close to her who she cares about, including her stuffed animals and her brothers, and wishes them all a good night’s sleep.
How do you relax after a busy work week?
I love doing fun things with kids during the weekend. For example, heading into the forest on a mushroom hunt or sailing on our little boat. I also relax by eating delicious food and unwinding with my husband. Finally, I get really energised by having fun evenings with my friends.
What is your favourite place in your house?
In front of the fireplace in our sitting room. There we have two Chesterfield chairs and a really large corner couch with lots of pillows. There’s nothing better than sitting there with the five of us, playing a game together or having a drink in front of the fireplace.
What is your daily beauty ritual?
I don’t always have time for a daily beauty ritual, but twice a week I definitely enjoy lying in a very warm bath with lots of bubbles and a stack of magazines. Then I like to do a facial mask. Once I’m out of the bath, I love to use a wonderful body cream and a hydrating face cream.