‘When my elder sister was sick I tried giving and doing everything I possibly could for her’, Véronique recalls. ‘I would take her to the nicest restaurants, organise photoshoots, drive up there four times a week… But in the end, Marleen didn’t want to go out anymore. All she wanted to do was knit and talk about her imminent death.’ Having already lost her grandmother, mother, husband and a close friend, Véronique could easily grasp the feeling of loss. Not that this made the actual grief any easier to her. But it did give her sister the chance to talk to her about it when everyone else tried to convince her that she would beat this. At a certain point the emotions of these unremitting conversations began to take their toll and Véronique had to take a break from it all. Having always dreamt of India and the women adorned with jewellery, Véronique decided she would book a flight. Véronique booked the tickets for herself and her youngest son, Alexander and left for India.
During that first trip, Véronique and her son crossed toward the Himalaya’s by train. Without a well-thought-out plan, they scoured to find luxurious fabrics and materials. By accident or call it utter chance, she later stumbled upon the purest cashmere. ‘I encountered these pure cashmere scarves after being redirected for five times. Each time I told them I wasn’t interested based on a personal colour or pattern preference and each time they thought I was referring to the quality of the materials. They kept calling me back and taking me to other vendors until I finally wound up somewhere I didn’t want to end up on my own. There they gave me a cashmere scarf, wrapped in cloth from the volt. I didn’t know what it was, didn’t know a single thing about it, but I immediately knew this was something special.’ Back home, she was triggered to find out more.
Searching the internet for information on the purest of cashmeres, Véronique became enchanted by the story. She set out for new trips, each time discovering more about its origin going from the goat farms to the nomad families that cultivate it. ‘I lived there for a while to grasp the essence of it all, but I never stayed for longer than ten days because of my sister. When I came back I would show her pictures of the nomads, the children that live in the mountains with soul piercing eyes and wet noses from the cold… That way, Marleen could still see the world through my eyes.’
There I was, a woman, free to travel the world, to study… I immediately realised I wanted to do something for the women there.
Upon showing the scarves she had collected to a close friend, Véronique was asked if she couldn’t acquire some knitted dresses to go with the scarves. ‘I began a new search, this time looking for manufacturers. I never even considered finding people to knit for me would be a difficult task since they all had to knit the cashmere itself, but it turned out that none of them were interested. I moved deeper into Nepal and there I found manufacturers at home, willing to knit for me. My initial idea of three simple dresses quickly evolved into the addition of a skirt, a sweater, a cardigan and before I knew it, my first collection had organically grown right in front of me.’
‘When I went to check upon my first collection, my sister died’, Véronique adds. While her family hadn’t initially planned on informing Véronique while she was in Nepal, the condolences of a mutual friend reached her by Facebook. ‘I returned home immediately and two days later an earthquake struck Nepal.’ After checking whether everyone she had met was safe, Véronique realised she had to play safe by spreading her business over multiple manufacturing locations. Her search continued, this time leading her to Kashmir.
‘Kashmir is a completely different story than Nepal. There it’s the men who do the knitting, while the women take care of the children.’ Confronted with their poverty and aimless wandering through life, Véronique realised how lucky she was. ’There I was, a woman, free to travel the world, to study… I immediately realised I wanted to do something for the women there.’ Stumbling on another chance encounter, Véronique met a local man, driven by the same purpose to make a difference. Witnessing how his sister had to survive on scraps, he proposed Véronique to open a factory where women could be trained to knit. He would send their work to Véronique upon which she could decide who had a natural good hand and who didn’t. Then she would come back and teach them.
One of the most remarkable facts about all of this probably is that Véronique is doing it without any form of proper training. Before she started knitting again with her sister, she hadn’t touched a knitting needle in years and was working in real-estate. Now she knits every single piece herself, without a pattern. ‘It’s the knitting that provides me with inspiration. I’m constantly trying out new methods, partly to avoid the overburden of certain muscles and joints, partly because researching old stitches provides me with a new outlook, new ideas.’ With each first piece being knitted by Véronique, her team afterwards receives a manual with sketches, the threads and colours and detailed information about the stitches that were used. ‘Every detail of the collection comes from my mind, it’s only after finishing a piece that I attempt on drawing it.’
While a career in fashion wasn’t always in the cards, the imagination and love for fashion has always been a part of Véronique’s life. As kids, their mother would insist on her daughters wearing the latest fashion they had seen on vacation in Italy. Later as an adult, Véronique would make sure to have a seamstress near her who could develop the fashionable pieces she had in her mind. ‘I would simply give directions based on a feeling.’ This gut feeling was also used when Véronique decided to expand from knitwear to an entire prêt-à-porter collection. ‘When we were shooting the lookbook, I wasn’t allowed to use trousers or blouses from other brands. Seeing how I love a collar popping out from underneath, I ordered a few ‘basics’ in Nepal.’ When those basics where delivered to her, the proportions were entirely wrong. ‘The sleeves were so long that they hung to my son’s knees. He’s two metres tall.’ Sending back the items for alterations, Véronique suddenly had an idea in the middle of the night. ‘I decided to have everything sent back to me and to embrace the oversized aspect of it. That’s how the collection came to existence, but even here I wanted to work with the finest materials like Egyptian cotton and a luxurious finish. The process of the prêt-à-porter collection now takes place in Belgium, done by couturiers.’
When asked what motivates her, Véronique is quiet for the first time in our conversation. ‘Of course, the creation of it all… But more than that it’s the hope I provide for the people there. It wasn’t my intention to create a sustainable brand or to set up a manufacturing system for the people there. It’s what happened along the way. It’s weird how those things evolve, almost as if it was meant to be.’ Still, Véronique isn’t one to dwell upon the practicalities or the motivation behind it. Now she just wants to keep looking to the future, towards the next season, the next collection. ‘I haven’t celebrated a single step of the process so far, I haven’t even had a single glass of champagne. I should, but I’m already one step ahead. I didn’t start Tuinch to enjoy the moment or to quit after a few seasons, I’ve started Tuinch to keep going and that’s exactly what I’m doing.'