Bachelor of Architectural Design and owner-designer-maker at Martine van Reesema
Before handbag designer Martine van Reesema learnt to make handbags, she learnt to make buildings.
From a young age, Martine had a burning interest in art, but she was also more practical than your average teenager.
“Through high school, I always wanted to be an art curator and kind of decided that was not a very commercial decision,” she says. “I landed on architecture as something that could potentially interest me.”
Martine was fascinated by the course’s exploration of form and function and how it merged with society. And that fascination carried her all the way through graduation at the University of Adelaide and into an internship.
“I kind of realised that maybe I liked talking about buildings more than I liked designing them,” she says with a laugh.
“I sort of thought about what I was actually sitting around sketching when I was meant to be sketching buildings and realised that it was dresses and shoes, and that kind of thing.”
Some overseas travel, soul searching and one hasty decision later, Martine was in Melbourne doing further study in fashion. It was here that the skills she gained during her architecture degree came to the fore and supported her to follow her passion.
“Studying architecture gave me a huge advantage,” says Martine. “I already had sort of figured out who I was as a designer going into that course. I already knew what my aesthetic was and I could follow that on and polish it more and more so I guess, I had a bit of a leg up to start with.”
Of course, a fashion degree is not the same as a fashion career.
“You graduate from fashion school and you realise, oh dear God, there are no jobs,” she says.
But tenacity has never been a problem for Martine – so she packed her bags and went to chase experience abroad.
Starting in Germany and then eventually moving across to New York, she undertook a series of internships that covered everything from buying and selling in the fashion industry to its product development side.
Returning home about six months after setting out, Martine felt more confident about making her way into a job in Australia’s tightly-held fashion design marketplace. But while she was working on that goal, something else happened.
“[While I was overseas] I worked with two product development consultancies for handbags, and was like, hey I really like this and as someone who likes form, that's where my architectural interest gets to play out,” says Martine.
“I came home and everything sort of took off by accident. I made myself a handbag and I was like, ‘oh, hey guys, check out my handbag’ and put it on my Instagram and all my friends were like, ‘cool, make me one too’.”
Handbags for friends turned into handbags for friends of friends, and that turned into a business.
Less than a year after that first Instagram post, Martine is fielding orders from around Australia that were no doubt spurred on by strong media interest in her simple, practical, yet visually pleasing leather goods.
Running a business is something she never thought she’d do, but – in between understandable moments of panic – she feels at least partially equipped for the challenge.
“Tertiary education teaches you to think a little bit more laterally,” she says. “I think in high school there's always a formula… I definitely have, especially in the architecture school, learned to think for myself.”
For Martine, that ability to think for herself has turned into making a career for herself.
Studying architecture gave me a huge advantage. I already had sort of figured out who I was as a designer going into that course. I already knew what my aesthetic was and I could follow that on and polish it more and more so I guess, I had a bit of a leg up to start with.
Tertiary education teaches you to think a little bit more laterally. I think in high school there's always a formula.