As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Yvonne Beliën from Shenanigan about setting up shop in Senegal, creating employment, and making beautiful boxers with a story.
We absolutely love the West African prints of Shenanigan! How did you decide to launch a boxer short company using these amazing fabrics?
For a long time I have had a great love for West African Prints. Over the years, I have collected a great deal of them. Besides my profession as a fashion teacher at Nova College in Haarlem, I wanted to do something else on the side. Two years ago I had the opportunity to rent an atelier, so I brought all my prints. Amongst others I made a pair of boxers for my son Hugo’s 18th birthday. He liked them a lot and so did many of his friends. So the next step was to try to find a nice project in Africa, where we would be able to manufacture them. Searching the web I got in contact with Silent Work. Woodi Wilro van Oosterom of this foundation liked my Idea and lookbook, so our collaboration was born. My daughter Lola is studying ”international development studies” at the university of Amsterdam. She joined me, and so did two of her fellow student friends, Tjerk and Dolly. So our team was ready and off we went in the summer of 2015 on our first trip to Senegal which was the start of our adventure.
What were you doing before you launched Shenanigan? How did this influence the way you wanted to set up this business?
I was and still am a teacher (now for two days a week) at Nova College. Since we are not yet able to make a living out of Shenanigan, Tjerk is doing a Masters in African studies at University Leiden. Lola is finishing her bachelor and Dolly is doing a master in Urban development.
Where does the name come from? And what is the inspiration behind your logo?
My son Hugo came up with this name. Even though it is a bit long and not very easy to pronounce (for Dutch), we all thought this was the name. We liked the meaning and sound of it. It’s on the edge of being funny, raw, not always correct – just the way guys can interact. Not too serious. We thought it matched with our boxerline. Colourful, different, with a twist. “Not only shine when fully dressed”
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. How do you interpret ‘ethical fashion’?
For me ethical fashion is fashion produced with respect to man and planet. The materials, distribution etc. are as green as possible, people get fair wages, no children are involved.
How does Shenanigan embody your definition ‘ethical fashion’?
We have a warm, personal relationship with our tailor Tahirou, We are a team all together. Tahirou works and lives in Toubacouta. This is a small village in the middle of Senegal where many men and women are unemployed. Due to Shenanigans, Tahirou (who is deaf) was able to hire two new employees from the village, Mamadou ( a young boy of 20) and Noëlle (a young woman and mother). We pay them fairly and in person so there is nobody in between. We buy the fabric ourselves on the market in Dakar. The prints themselves are not organic unfortunately. We are looking for a solution for that. But that is difficult. The transport to Holland usually goes with one of the people from Silent Work who go to Senegal/Mauretanie and back a couple of times a year for their other projects. They take some suitcases every time. So no extra transport pollution.
You donate 1 Euro from every boxer to the Silent Work Foundation. What does this foundation do and why did you decide to partner with this specific organisation?
They came on our path and we had a click right away. On their site you can see what they do. www.silentwork.org. They have many projects big and small from water towers in the desert of Mauretanië to sign language schools for the deaf. (For instance, Silent Work set up this workshop for Tahirou, who is deaf, to make a living). They have a centre called “Maison de Sourds” in Mauretanie, where deaf people learn to become, tailors, carpenters, bakers, artists etc. Now they are building a shopping mall (African style) where the people can work and earn a living when they finished their education at Maison de Sourds. Silent work does projects in Mauretanie, Senegal and Rwanda.
What do you think is the main problem with the fashion industry today? How is Shenanigan working to fix this problem?
That it is too cheap. It has little value. Clothes are bought like food. One does not realise or care what the real costs are for man and environment. We don’t have the illusion that we can fix this problem. With Shenanigan we want to bring distinctive boxers -not only by its looks- but also by the way they are produced.
How would you describe Shenanigan in three words?
Colourful boxers with a story.
What has been your proudest moment since launching?
There were many since launching. Our first trip to Senegal. Our first collection. Our first shop. Our first shop abroad. That it works. That people like what we create. That there are now three people in Senegal earning a living due to our Shenanigans.
How would you like to see Shenanigan grow in the future?
We would love to grow so we can employ more people also in Mauretanië. And a dream is to make our own fabrics in Senegal to bring this industry back to the country and try to make them more green.