Gaelle Baekelandt or the art of upcycling
Artist, model, performer, upcycle designer, who is Gaelle Baekelandt ?
Who are you ?
A girl who studied fashion management and marketing previously. I didn’t really like the selling part but I combined both creativity and business. Today, I am a model and I create upcycle jewelry & clothing to building my own brand.
First, how did you become a model ?
I have been asked a few times but I wasn’t sure I wanted to and I didn’t know for sure the intentions. Three years ago, a photographer shot a friend of mine, I felt at ease with him and he asked me as a favor. Actually, I really liked it ! We talked about how the light had to drop, the way I had to express my emotions.
It was really more than standing there, being pretty. I don’t want people to have this first layer of me. We all judge, have a first and quick perception that putted me off to become a model. Then I worked with Jasna Rok, a “fashion tech designer” in Belgium : I did pictures for her collection. It makes me reconsider modelling as a profession.
Was Entrepreneurship your aim since the beginning ?
I always wanted to go to an art school but my parents didn’t see it as a good future plan... So I studied human science and I was really interested in NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming), a psychological approach to communication, to learn to know yourself better and how to communicate with others.
Human science and marketing are complementary to my project. You get to know people, what they like, how to talk to them and even knowing yourself. It helps you in everything you do. I always wanted to do art, collaborate and share experiences. I guess entrepreneurship has always been inside me.
I studied art for a year in France and to be honest, I really improved my French ! In the beginning, it was just horrible... First three months, I had art history, math lessons in French... Sometimes, I didn’t even understand the question ! So that was the hard way to show my parents my passion for art. My teachers were honest and they said to my parents it wasn’t a good idea for me to study in France. So I put a “lot of water in the wine” with my parents and I went to fashion management. I didn’t know if I wanted to work in a company or starting mine.
First, I worked in marketing for two start-ups. After a while, I felt like discovering my real passion rather than working for somebody else’s dream. I was wondering, what can I do to share and help people instead of just selling a product ? That is the reason why I started doing my own jewelry. I don’t buy anything new in shops, only second hand : some little boutiques where I know there are only unique pieces. In my mind, it is important to consume in that way and I hope I will add a conscious brand on the market.
So your idea is to transform objects, giving them a second life ?
Actually the aim is to not source nature anymore. We have made mountains of garbage - that is enough – we can use all of this again. I have been to South Africa, they work with what they have and are so creative. Here, we are almost limited by all we have.
Finding a way to be creative is an exciting part of the project. Don’t have the ego to think you are able to create from scratch. Start with an existing object and reinvent it, give it a second life. Let’s collaborate with it !
What about the administrative part, did you set up your company ?
For now, I am independent, I can work as a freelance in marketing and modelling. But I know the name of my future company since I am sixteen !
Di'Elle. Dive to elevate. Like the shells that I use, coming from the ocean to the beach where I collect them. I elevate them into jewelry.
Did you come back with a lot of stuff from South Africa ?
Yes ! I have already done several beautiful trips in Sri Lanka and South Africa and I found things on my pat like shells, rocks. Natural elements. A girl from Sri Lanka learned me how to use seeds as pearls to make jewels. I got a lot of inspiration from her. I would like to help these creative people who don’t have the tools to get known, internet access for example. I will keep on combining it with traveling and write a blog one day.
How do you define your brand style ?
A kind of Mix and match, just like my clothes. I like mixing things, feminine touch with accessories and for instance, my gardener pants today ! A combination of elegance and comfort. I also like the Bohemian style. The earring I wear is from a broken fan I got at my sister’s wedding ; a memory of that day. That is the reason why I like upcycling. Objects have a story and their past is an added value to your jewelry collection.
Will you collaborate with fashion designers ?
I would love to. It gives a new dynamic. I did a fashion show recently. The stylist imagined jackets with old plastics. That would be a great collaboration with my project.
"My aim is to be a nomad."
Do you have a strategy to launch your brand in Belgium and maybe abroad after ?
I am not planning to put forward the fact it is a Belgian brand. I don’t consider myself a Belgian person but as a human being on this planet. By the way, I always studied abroad, in the Netherlands and in France. I will promote my project online, so it could work abroad too. I don’t know yet who will be my clients. I will keep traveling and working as a model, combining it with my brand and sell it on markets or pop up stores. Actually, I am planning a trip for three months across Europe in a van and I hope I will be ready to kick off the project ! My aim is to be a nomad.
Now, are you wearing jewels you made ?
Yes, my pendant is an old pair of scissors. I bought a kit to sew but they never worked. I was asking myself “Why did they give me scissors that don’t even cut ?” You can’t harm anything with it ! So why not make something else with it ? Otherwise, it is just a useless object.
So how do I define myself ? I am an “adventupreneur”.
How did you transform it ?
I silver-plated and fixed it with glue. Then, I sprayed it in gold and added some stuff I had collected. One is coming from a broken earring.
Are you looking for specific things when you collect ?
Sometimes it is just a coincidence. I can find something on the street and take it with me ! For instance, I did a body painting shoot, I knew that I wanted to keep some flowers, stones they put on me. I also ask my friends if they have broken jewelry and tell them to not throw it away but giving it to me ! If they wish, I can arrange it for them.
We talked about modeling, art, fashion, ecology, entrepreneurship. How do you define yourself today ?
I am cultivating my passion, learning from people around me and I am feeling happy with every step that gets me out of my comfort zone. I want to be like this for the rest of my life, I would say, consider life as an adventure. So how do I define myself ? I am an “adventupreneur”.
As we know, fashion has a huge impact on the environment, it emits more carbon than both international flights and maritime shipping. I hope you will inspire other people to combine the fashion industry with ecology.
Looking at fashion from an ecological point of view is now a family vision. My father works in the fashion industry too, in the production of textiles. My nagging about ecology has borne fruit since he is now working on an ecological project too : recycling the leftover fabrics. They use patterns that they cut. There are always little pieces remaining and now they are collecting it instead of having mountains of useless fabrics on the floor.
So will you include the making or reuse of fabrics in your business project ?
I want to bring back the value of all used materials. A lot of people around me don’t know how long it takes to make a pair of jeans and they think even ten euros are expensive for it. There are so many steps from the cotton-growing to the retail stores ; the harvest and the many chemical manipulations until getting a usable fiber to design and make pants in factories. Last but not least, you have to transport and distribute it. How many people are working for a pair of jeans ? The worker picking that cotton is not picking a lot of those ten euros.
Upcycling these materials and selling them locally would significantly reduce the footprint. And what about wedding dresses for example ? Most women wear them just once. Sadly, you can’t really use it again. But if you like the design of the dress, the fabric, you could turn it into another garment, wearing it again and keeping in mind this beautiful memory. This way, you are giving history to your clothing.
Do you think recycling can be more than just a trend in fashion ? Will it really be present and future ?
We don’t have the choice anymore, we are sitting on the pile of our own consumption. China is considered as “the factory of the world”, they copy a lot but they produce twice faster than us and make improvements all the time. Now Chinese manufacturers relocate their textile industry to Africa. China is our new leader, we have to admit it. If Europe really cares about the environment, we can set an example and become thinkers again, not followers.