Hi there, Esmeralda! Your beautiful quilts speak volumes about your skills and creativity, but tell us a little bit about the woman behind the sewing machine … who are you? where are you from? how did you come to live in Belgium? how many children do you have?
I’m Esmeralda, a 37-year-old mom and sewing entrepreneur. I’m the proud owner of PatchByEsme, an online shop for handmade baby quilts and care products. I also love to inspire new moms and moms-to-be to live a serene and conscious pregnancy, and to go for sustainable baby care.
I was born and raised in the Netherlands, and moved to Belgium when I was 19. I studied Archaeology at the University of Leuven, but ended up working in the financial industry. Not as adventurous as digging up pottery, but I’ve really found my spot here!
I’m really a city girl, and I’m glad I can call Brussels my home. I live here with my partner, my 11-year-old daughter Maya, and our two cats. Our favourite outdoor activity? Definitely taking a walk in one of the many parks in Brussels.
How did PatchByEsme come to life? Did you start from one day to the next or did it grow from a hobby?
PatchByEsme really was the one baby I didn’t plan for! For sure, I’ve been creative my whole life. I began sewing about nine years ago. I started off with cloths for my daughter Maya, and then moved on to quilts. I also started sharing my creations on my Instagram account @patchbyesme. This has also been a great way to get inspired by other quilters.
Now off course, one can only have so many blankets at home… So after having gifted some of my creations, I decided to take it one step further. So, I opened up my online shop, and started selling baby quilts and handmade care items.
Where do the ideas for the individual items come from? Do you have a signature ‘PatchByEsme’ vibe or do you try to make sure everyone can find something that suits their style?
If I’d had to describe my quilts in one word, it would colourful. I love colourful fabrics, floral prints, combined with playful animals for the extra sweet touch.
Usually, I have an idea in mind; a feeling I want to create with a new quilt. Then I’ll turn to my fabric stash and I mix-and-match those fabrics that fit that feeling. Once I get to my sewing machine, I also put a name on the quilt. The playful Bobby Quilt, the bold and romantic Mariëlla Quilt, the classic cottage-style Lily Quilt. All my quilts have their own unique personality!
Practically speaking, how do you fit your business around your day job and family life? When do you work and where in your home? Has COVID made things easier or harder?
My day-job in the financial sector is now a fulltime home-office job. That has definitely made things easier for me; as I gain so much time by not commuting anymore. It’s that time that I use now for everything that is not-sewing related. Because PatchByEsme isn’t just me and my sewing machine…
As pretty much any online business, a lot happens on social media and on my website patchbyesme.be. Which means a lot of content creation, photography, writing blog posts and newsletters. All things that I absolutely love doing, so it’s a happy way of diversifying what I do on week days.
And then there’s the weekends; those are for family time and sewing. Maya loves being creative as well, so sometimes we find ourselves sitting at the dinner table together, doing what we love.
When we think about handmade quilts we often think about family heirlooms. Do you have any items that have been passed down in your family? Have you held onto special items from your own child(ren)?
I don’t think we have any quilts or other handmade items that go round in our family. But I do love to keep some precious things like our first stuffed animals, and some cloths from Maya and myself. And I have to admit that I do the same thing with fabric. I have some fabrics in my stash that I’ve bought years ago, and that I absolutely love. I’m keeping little pieces of those, so that one day I can make a big scrappy quilt with all my favourite fabrics.
As well as the beautiful quilts you make, I also see some items that help or encourage people to think about sustainability, like washable cleansing cloths to replace our cotton pads. Is this a theme that also runs through your own life?
Yes, definitely. And I want to convince people that sustainability doesn’t have to be complicated. You can make so many small changes in your day-to-day life that can mean a lot. Anything washable and reusable is a good start. Buying less single-use plastic, anything with less packaging, buying local and in-season fresh veggies.
In the past two years, I have also grown into a vegetarian lifestyle. This shift was really a process, that didn’t start out as a conscious decision. But I’m happy and proud about my decreased ecological footprint, and how this contributes to animal wellbeing.
What are some of the ways that new parents can get off to a good, sustainable start?
Baby steps! You don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it all at the same time. The reusable baby wipes that I sell in my shop, are one example. And washable diapers as well. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a pack of single-use wipes in your bag for when you’re out-and-about with your new born!
And then I also think it is important to be mindful about how society overrates certain products. A good example is the changing table. Often these get advertised including a changing cushion, two cover sheets, four different baskets, a diaper bucket, and a whole set of care products. Try bringing this back-to-basics. Be conscious of what you really need. And maybe even create your own baby care products. There are so many fun ways of making sustainable decisions!
What was it like to set up your business in Belgium, in terms of admin, costs of setting up, business knowledge etc.? Who did you turn to for advice and support?
In Belgium it’s the ‘business counters‘ that help you out with all the administrative tasks of creating a business. They have been very helpful. In the case of PatchByEsme, the investment costs were pretty minimal. Partially because my business goals haven’t always been so clear (oops!), but also because the production process is in my own hands.
In terms of support, two things have been, and continue to be, very important. On a personal level, my partner is always there to motivate me. He’s also my partner in crime when we take the quilts for an outdoor photoshoot. And believe me, we have a lot of fun doing those!
For business advice, again, I often turn to social media. Instagram accounts like @alfavrouwen and @fastforwardamy are among my favourite sources of inspiration. They encourage business women to be authentic, to learn and to grow. Definitely a recommendation for female entrepreneurs!
What do you enjoy most about running your business? Do you imagine working full time at your business or are you happy to keep it as an enjoyable side project?
Oh, I love this question! I think I’ve come to realise that there are so many things that I like about being an entrepreneur. Being creative, not only with my sewing machine, but also by making content around pregnancy, child birth, baby care. I’ve got so many ideas that I want to share with all the new moms out there!
So, could I imagine doing this full time? Yes! Will that be for any time soon? Probably not.
Do you have any tips for parents who dream of becoming entrepreneurs/starting their own business/devoting time to something they are passionate about, but just can’t get started?
When it comes to turning a passion into a business, I think it’s key to always be mindful about who your customer is. Keep an image of your ideal client in mind, with everything you do, from creating to selling your product or service. Your customers are your number one fans, so make sure they can relate to you and your business.