Niyona leather design studio from Belgium
Niyona is an independent leather design studio specialized in the design and production of high-end leather goods in Brussels. Since 2010, it is run by Nina Bodenhorst, industrial designer and craftswoman, and Jonathan Wieme, executive producer and craftsman.
Nina and Jonathan, what is Niyona’s philosophy?
We are something between a creative leather design studio, research lab, and artisan workshop, all centred around our beloved material: leather. We are not a brand. We don’t work with a product range or collection. But we are a studio which offers certain services and tries to convey a certain image, and identity.
That’s why we don’t work around products, but work on demand, on projects and collaborations. Even if we work for other brands (for example, to create a handbag prototype), we sign our products somewhere with a ’designed or handmade by Niyona’ label and we communicate transparently about it.
It is also for that reason when people see our work for the first time, they have trouble grasping the complexity of our “business”. In terms of communications, for a brand, that’s an issue. For a studio, this diversity is a whole different story: We see it as a strength which gives us room for exploration and new challenges.
Still there is one essential thing we always put into our work and that’s high-end craftsmanship. We try to be as good as possible as we believe we’re always as good as our last project and try to improve our skills or learn new techniques project after project.
Please tell us more about your current leather goods range.
Actually to this day, we don’t have a classic product range… Over time we created a diversity of objects through our projects, sometimes proactively or because we were asked for them. We work a lot in the creative industry (fashion brands, architects, designers, restaurants, etc.) so sometimes it’s easier to start with an already realized product, and customize it, rather than start from scratch.
One of the resulting products, for example are our aprons. It’s a clear and unique design which represents us, but we can easily and quite always customize it to clients’ needs. Same for our leather goods, our handbags: we designed a messenger bag for example that can be worn as a backpack, too, yet already produced it in all kinds of styles, sizes, and configurations.
In the past, we used to work around handbags and small limited edition series. So we created a thematic, like the Amelia Earhart inspired „Amelia“ collection which features natural leather and pyrography drawings on it. Another example is our „Purple Rain“ collection which is inspired by the art scene, painters, and the singer Prince of course. We created some women bags with specific textures and colour variations. But that’s something we don’t do anymore as we were too close to the ‚brand vs. studio’ border. Today we focus on our services and collaborations and everything we do is bespoke and on demand.
I love everything which is covered with leather. You also do small and bigger trunks as well as watch cases. How did you come to that idea?
We started very timidly and small, seven years ago. Today Niyona is focusing almost exclusively on the B2B market within the creative industry, things are going well but the ventures came at the cost of some of our private clients who are looking for a unique and bespoke leather piece. So, emerged by the desire to create an intimate and personal moment for our private clients and explore the origins of fine leather working, we create these bespoke trunks.
We love to work around one single product and put hours of handwork in it, simply because it has to be as perfect as possible. For us, it was hard to (economically) justify this level of effort into a handbag, but for some reason, we can do this in a trunk.
It is something more special, people have less benchmarks and I feel more emotions when a client talks about their desire of creating a unique trunk. It’s a collectible and not a fashion item. This fact, combined with the passion we have for what used to be the ancestor of the handbag, the travel trunk, we thought we could give a contemporary touch to it. We are also very into the history of the travel trunks. I don’t miss any exhibition of Louis Vuitton or talk with specialist about the Goyard, Moynat, Hermès trunks, etc. It’s a great heritage of the luggage industry and we would like to preserve it in our own way.
I’ve no idea if that fits under the studio ‘Niyona’, so far it does, but maybe someday, who knows, we will need to create a signature label especially for our trunks. Time will tell, but one thing is sure, we aim to continue to make one-of-a-kind remarkable trunks.
What kind of leather do you use for your leather goods and where do you source it from?
We have the chance to have two great and renowned tanneries here in Belgium: Masure and Radermecker. This proximity and collaboration allows us to not only choose our leather but to develop it together with their artisans, regarding our specific needs. But of course, every tannery has their own specifics. As our Belgian tanneries are focusing on traditional vegetable bovine leather with shoulder and double butt hides, we often need to shop elsewhere if we need other aspects or types of leather.
It is the kinds of projects which define what leather we will use, and from that point on we will work with the tannery who meets our demands best. If it’s for the classical Boxcalf leather or the famous Barenia leather, we work with some French tanneries. Same for the bull leather, we go to the Basque Country. For all nappa leather we go to Italy, for the goat and lamb leather in the North of France, etc.
Lastly, for one project, we needed a very thick, but still smooth leather with bloom on it. Of course we found this in England, nice Oak bark bridle butts which are tanned for over 12 months. We are very passionate about the origin of our leather, the ethics, the tanning processes, etc. That’s why I love the Scandinavian tanneries, Tarnsjo Garveri & Böle, where they mix traditional techniques, short production circuits, all within the modern world.
We often say that the tanneries we work with are our playground, it’s a starting point for us. The same philosophy we apply when exploring our projects creatively, we love to employ with the material.
Sometimes we just start a project, because we fell in love with a particular hide.
Besides your current projects you also do customized orders for your clients. What was the most challenging one you ever did?
Challenges can come from different angles. Technically, creatively, the whole package (timeframe, complexity, etc..).
I would like to highlight 3 projects we did recently or last year.
At the beginning of this year, we made an artistic project for Michelin two-starred restaurant FRED in Rotterdam (NL). We used leather and golden leaves panels, all in relief on a 5m by 2m giant wall. It was not deeply technical, but the freedom we had in that project, the impact the piece made and the very short timeframe scared us in the beginning and made it one of the most exciting projects for us.
On a different perspective we worked with Dutch creative duo Lernert&Sander for a campaign during TEFAF (European Fine Art Fair) in Maastricht. We were commissioned to create what they called two ‘bagbags’. It’s been so enriching to work and exchange with one of the most creative people in their industry who have no limitations or technical boundaries in how to create handbags. So, creating two unique ‘bagbags’ was not only a technical challenge but we learned a lot in the process of how to detach creativity and technicality in order to bring your project to a better level.
And lastly on another different perspective, we created and proposed a series of small boxes in different sizes. We were asked by Belgian eyewear brand Komorebi to create a more minimalistic version of these boxes as eyewear cases, but at 1.000 copies.
At Niyona it’s not a matter to create only unique or limited series, it’s a matter to maintain our values and way of working on no matter which scale. Therefore, we took this as a challenge and accepted to produce this number of cases. Hiring people, fine-tuning our working process, aligning everything so we knew to the minute how long we will work on it, was a very exciting and challenging job.
Find more info about Niyona leather design studio at: www.niyona.be
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