Liesbet with her Cognac Bowler.

#Kaaiwoman - edition Liesbet Allaer

She started her own knitwear label, is a mother to two teenage daughters and is still filled with ambition. Meet Liesbet Allaer, entrepreneur and founder of Leselles. She describes their story as one of "femininity, color and sustainability". Coincidentally, those are three of KAAI’s core values!

What did you do for a living before Leselles?

When I graduated, I immediately started my own clothing store. I did that for 10 years, but decided to stop when big chains like Zara started to appear. I was lucky to have run my business in the heyday of boutiques, right before mass consumption got big.

Then I met my husband, with whom I started an export business (which still exists) for flowers and plants. After 15 years I noticed that I wanted to be more creative. So I started to give cooking workshops, while also writing articles for Knack Weekend and Libelle Lekker.

How did Leselles come about then?

I originally founded the brand two years ago with someone else but she decided to pursue other career paths. So I continued on my own. Originally I only sold my label in my own store, but soon other boutiques showed interest. The rest is history.

"If you're doing what you love, it's a success in itself."

Seems like you’re a real entrepreneur!

I definitely have the entrepreneurial gene, but what I have noticed is that I very quickly seek new challenges in my life. That is why I am always looking for new opportunities/collabs to keep it interesting for both the client and myself. But I do dare to do something off hand once it gets successful.

As far as Leselles is concerned, I am now looking into expanding abroad. It is one of my biggest dreams to see Leselles everywhere in the world.

"Then again, it’s very typical of me that after only 5 lessons in pottery baking, I had already bought a turntable and was dreaming about a line in ceramics."

What qualities do you need as an entrepreneur to be successful?

I always tell my kids that most of all they need to be passionate about what they’re doing. If you do what you love, it's a success in itself.

Has starting your own brand changed your outlook on the fashion industry?

Definitely. I've been on both sides now, as a B2B customer and B2C seller. So I already knew very well how the business worked and learned to understand the customer’s point of view.

What I do find very saddening is that starting entrepreneurs find little support from already established fashion brands. Companies are often reluctant to share their knowledge and that frustrates me. Especially since I'm already a bit older, I don't have the time to encounter all those barriers. Why not share knowledge? In my opinion, it only makes us stronger.

After Generation WOW, a Belgian event for female entrepreneurs, we did decide to organize a follow-up lunch with starting entrepreneurs. We will tackle all our obstacles and advice each other on how to become more successful. The fashion world is very competitive, but by working together within your speciality, you can share knowledge, costs and even customers. And that's exactly how you become a market leader.

Leselles requires a lot of energy. How do you recharge or relax?

Indeed. I still run Leselles pretty much on my own, but I do work with several freelancers. Still, I don't always find it easy to accept assistance, because I'm a huge control freak. Because of my perfectionist tendency, I find it hard to delegate. From design to marketing, I want to be involved in every step of the way.

Recently I started a coaching program, which was very confronting. My coach made me realize that my non-existent work-life balance is not good for me but neither for my company. Now I try to make more time to relax, for example by going for a walk or going to a pottery making class.

Then again, it’s very typical of me that after only 5 lessons in pottery baking, I had already bought a turntable and was dreaming about a line in ceramics. My family immediately alarmed me that I shouldn’t see this as an opportunity but solely as a hobby! My coach obliged me to sell the turntable, and honestly? I spent all weekend saying how happy I was that that turntable was indeed sold [laughs].

Besides expanding Leselles, are there any things on your bucket list?

I want to get back to travelling more because I really need other environments to stay inspired. One of my bigger dreams is to live abroad, preferably in the South of Spain. I think it would be great to kick off the new year on the beach or eat outside in the winter as well.

Since you're still here in Belgium, are there any places in Antwerp that you can recommend to our readers?

In terms of restaurants, I recommend Fiera, especially thanks to their beautiful setting. When I go shopping, I like to pop into Baby Beluga on the Nationalestraat, where you can also find the KAAI studio-store and lots of great places to have lunch.

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