Last Christmas, I sat down and had dinner with my family. My parents, grandpa, grandma, brother, sister and girlfriend were all there. I reckon you did the same, or at least something similar. As a year was ending, and a new one beginning, my mother asked everyone the question “What would you like to achieve next year?”
This is the moment where my sister and I look at each other and start eye-rolling, mostly because we’re absolute rebels and firmly believe we’re too cool for such questions. As I look back, I’m glad my mother asked this weighty question. After my brother had explained his dreams and goals for the year to come, it was my turn. I answered the question and my father chuckled; somewhat sceptical.
This time last year, I was working with my two friends, Tomas and Jacob, on an online store called Concrete Matter. We started talking in the summer of 2012 when Jacob, a stranger at the time, approached me for designing his identity.
Jacob dropped by my office, sat down, and talked passionately about his love for antique photography and how he would love to set up an online store. Tomas and I got excited and decided to propose joining forces to work together on this. Tomas and I would handle the product photography, design and figure out the logistics, as Jacob would focus on the curation, inventory and copy-writing.
Things started moving fast and within a few months, we launched our site at the end of November 2012. Initially, we started out with a curious collection of some taxidermy, antique photography, vintage school charts, fruit-crate labels and a couple Opinel folding knives, but we started to expand our collection fast. We were having fun.
It was a case of good timing, as I was struggling with my personal work and had felt creatively confined by what I was putting out. I was getting tired and felt unfulfilled seemingly doing the same trick over and over again. I felt like I hadn’t been creatively challenged for quite a while. Working on the store part-time got me back on track. This new change of pace felt satisfying and brought a new sense of balance. In this new way, I was able to gain energy from working on the store, and stir up a long lost love for designing. During this time Tomas and I, who were working on setting up a branding studio, decided it was better for Tomas to focus on Concrete Matter instead. A tough but impactful choice for the both of us.
After a few months of running an online store, Jacob, Tomas and I decided we weren’t quite satisfied. We started getting restless. The online sales were doing alright, but they weren’t anything near sustainable. Going over this time and time again, we kept coming back to this risky idea of opening a storefront.
While this seemed a bit precarious at the time, we felt it was the only good chance at making this little baby profitable, and eventually allowing us to keep it alive. We started looking at places, but prices were crazy. We decided we should be in a good spot with lots of foot-traffic, as this would be a store you’d discover. We were daydreaming of a beautiful shop-window and I was going back and forth with Tomas and Jacob about ‘How great it would be if…’
During the summer, Tomas got tipped by a friend who told him there was an old video rental shop on the Haarlemmerdijk in which the owner was looking for a new tenant. We went down to see what we’d have to consider before renting out his place. The price was good for the location, but the building itself needed lots of work. Walking into the store was akin to walking into a scene of a bad 90s movie. A false ceiling, fluorescent lamps and dusty old porn dvd’s.
We walked out with butterflies in our stomachs, as we saw past the awful interior and storefront and truly believed we could change it to make it work. We all invested a great deal of our own money, and for six weeks we were there seven days a weeks. Friends joined in to help us where they could so we’d be able to get the store finished in time, as our eyes were set on the third of October. With little sleep, lots of sweat and good friends, we were proud to finally open our doors on the third of October.
It was my turn to answer my mother’s question at Christmas dinner: “What would you like to achieve next year?”
I thought for a bit and answered with: “I want to open a brick and mortar store for Concrete Matter next year.”
My father’s sceptical chuckle that followed was justified at the time, as the idea was a bit crazy and ill-advised during a time of financial crisis. However, I felt like he didn’t take my answer seriously and perhaps thought I was being far too ambitious in my statement. I felt strengthened by this feeling and initially wanted to set out and prove my father wrong. I’m glad I did, but I don’t feel like I gained anything proving anyone wrong. I gained a bit of confidence. The confidence of proving myself right.
This whole time from last Christmas until now has been a time of feeling alive. Meeting Jacob and becoming close friends. Making a tough decision with my dear friend Tomas and elevating both our lives by redirecting our energy on to something else. Making a dream come true and doing something I truly love. I’m thankful for all of this.
If I get asked the same question this year, I won’t know what to answer other than saying that I’m becoming a firm believer in dreaming big and working hard with like-minded people. However cliche that may sound.
Onward and upward, on to next year. On to making this christmas into another Last Christmas.