Femke Speelman is the founder of the resort wear brand, Phemke. Only recently did the Dubai-based brand come across our radar, and we were drawn to it because they showcased fashion that could be worn from the beach to brunch with friends and beyond. Additionally, as you’ll soon learn more about, it was the brand’s focus on natural materials – such as silk, cotton, cashmere, bamboo, linen, jute and straw, among others – that intrigued us.
With this said, we got to speak with Femke to learn more about the resort wear brand she founded, Phemke.
MalenDyer: Share with us more about the beginnings of the brand. Did you always want to design, work in fashion?
Femke Speelman: It has always been my dream to run my own business. After having launched many products, brands and new concepts to the market in my career as a brand manager for global corporations, I knew it was now time to launch my own brand.
FS: As a child, I was always busy drawing, painting and creating things. That’s what I loved doing and still do to this day. I love the creative part of this job and working on new collections.
FS: There’s something so beautiful about confident women wearing amazing fashion. My passion is to find out what our customers like and make them even more beautiful and confident by sourcing and creating the most beautiful and unique items.
MD: What was it about resort wear that drew you, versus another product category?
FS: Having traveled all of my life and having stayed in resorts all over the world, I knew exactly what kind of items women like to wear during their holidays.
FS: Resort wear combines luxury with elegance but also with practicality. On your holiday, for example, you would like to pack easy-to-wear dresses to cover up with at the beach. Effortless style and less is more is what I live by and what is reflected in my brand. Our resort wear is not just limited to things you’d wear at the beach or pool, it could also include a chic evening dress with a beautiful clutch for those romantic dinners. It’s this versatility and the combination between travel, glamour and that special feeling you have when you’re on holidays that drew me.
“I always put a lot of love in my collections. I only want the best of the best.”
MD: How did you decide on “Phemke” for the name of your brand?
FS: Phemke comes from Femke, my first name. It is a Dutch name (I’m from the Netherlands), and I am proud of it. However, I felt that Phemke is more international and sophisticated. I always put a lot of love in my collections. I only want the best of the best, and it all has to complement each other. Every single item in my collection I would wear myself; it’s so personal, and I couldn’t think of any other name that suits my brand better than my own name.
MD: In regards to the “tales of bliss” tagline you have in place for Phemke, you’ve collected special souvenirs from places you’ve visited, and in turn, those pieces could tell stories. Can you share a tale of bliss?
“I make sure each product has a unique story to tell.”
FS: All of my life, I have had a passion for traveling, and I have been to six continents and 46 countries. I love shopping, and it’s always my aim to find a unique piece to take back (either for me personally or for Phemke). There’s something about bringing back dresses, accessories or home decoration items that is so inspiring. In a way, you are trying to sustain that holiday feeling for as long as possible. Every time you are wearing, for example, a dress you bought on your travels, it brings back these wonderful memories.
FS: As you can imagine, I have many tales of bliss but the most special one is a handmade silver bracelet I bought in a rural village in Oman [in the Middle East]. Oman must be our favorite holiday destination and since my husband proposed to me in Oman, it will always be special to us. This bracelet I bought during our road trip is unique, and I feel so special wearing it because there’s a whole story behind it. Every single time people give me compliments about that bracelet, I am proud and happy when I can share my tale of bliss with them.
“Phemke is not about mass production. Phemke is about pure products.”
MD: What would we always find in your carry on?
FS: My professional SLR camera. My other passion is photography, and I am most happy when I am in a country with a completely different culture – walking around, at for example, a market where there are so many different colors, flavors and people. I find that so inspiring! Bhutan is such an incredible destination – what an amazing, spiritual and authentic country with beautiful nature and people that smile all day.
MD: As your designs are handmade, where do you draw the line between quality and quantity?
FS: I choose my suppliers carefully, and I always make sure they are willing to grow and invest as soon as volumes go up. I often make the comparison with the food industry. Nowadays we want to know the source of our food and pure and authenticity is key. The same will happen in the fashion industry. Phemke is not about mass production. Phemke is about pure products, is sourced ethically and is a sustainable brand using eco-friendly fabrics and in many cases sourced from small family-run businesses.
“Buying from Phemke means you are supporting the local communities.”
MD: Can you explain more about the handmade design process that is seen in many of the products?
FS: The key to Phemke is that each product has a unique story to tell. The straw hats are handmade by women in Madagascar, the jute beach bags are handmade in Bangladesh by divorced women who need to learn a trade to become financially independent, the swimwear is made from eco-friendly fabrics and the new collection of dresses will be made from only eco/sustainable fabrics. The hats are from Ecuador – that are arriving soon – and are handmade following a century old tradition. This art of weaving for the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2012.
FS: My espadrilles are handmade in Spain – where they are originally from, the jewelry is handmade, towels are hand loomed and the list goes on and on. I make sure each product has a unique story to tell, and I stay away from mass production. The sourcing process is transparent, and I only source from authentic sources. Buying from Phemke means you are supporting the local communities.
MD: What is the most rewarding and/or challenging aspect of working with local artisans?
FS: When I purchase my items, I know where my money ends up. I often communicate and do business with the owner and/or founder. Because most items are handmade, the challenge is consistency in quality. And because I source from smaller companies, there are often factors involved that distort the continuity of business – such as our best artisan is currently on holiday, the Chinese are buying all of our straw so we don’t have enough, the weather has been really bad so we can’t dye the raffia, etc.. This makes doing business challenging and fun at the same time.
“I strongly believe in the beauty of nature, so I prefer natural materials.”
MD: What has been the most rewarding and/or challenging aspect about sourcing pure raw materials?
FS: It may be tempting for others to go for the cheaper, synthetic fabrics, but I really want our products to stand out from the rest and offer my customers great quality products. I strongly believe in the beauty of nature, so I prefer natural materials. Personally, I feel so much more confident and elegant when I am wearing high quality fabrics. And I know our customers appreciate that too.
MD: Which material do you prefer to work with, why?
FS: Straw! It is so versatile. You can make all kinds of hats and bags with it, and it gives a raw, pure look.
MD: The brand pays special attention to the packaging of each product. Why was this important to you?
FS: We really want to ensure that when a woman purchases an item from our collection, she has the feeling of unwrapping a present. A lot of love goes into each item, so it deserves a beautiful wrapping.
MD: What would you like to see next for Phemke?
FS: In the coming year, I want to focus on getting my brand out there, in all the five-star resorts here in Dubai but definitely also in the popular holiday destinations, such as the Maldives and Thailand. And in the background, I am working on our new collection, how exciting!
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