Founder of Tet. Swimwear about her first Dutch store, entrepreneurship and plans for the future

When Lieke van Hulsbergen, founder of Tet. Swimwear, traveling through Thailand, Indonesia and Bali as a young adult, she falls in love with the ocean. There is only one problem: the amount of plastic in the ocean and on the beach. After Van Hulsbergen returned from her diving session with a filled bag of plastic waste, it started to bubble: that plastic has to enter the ocean in a different way.

Years later, Van Hulsbergen moves to Bali to make her idea a reality and tackle the plastic waste problem in her own way. Besides the fact that she always had the idea that she belonged on the island, it was also certainly due to the mindset of the Balinese. Everyone there is open-minded and super friendly because of Hinduism. Moreover: it is a playground for entrepreneurs, because everyone supports each other’s ideas. Without Bali, Tet was. never born. FashionUnited drinks a cup of coffee with Van Hulsbergen and asks about her entrepreneurial story, her planned store in Haarlem and her plans for the future.

Where does the name Tet come from. Swimwear from?

“Tet. stands for French face-to-face. In the first instance it means: putting the heads together. Bundling ideas. I enjoy working with young, ambitious women who have a clear passion.” Laughs: “Some people think the name refers to breasts, I always find that funny.”

“The Story of Tet. goes back to the ocean. After my school days I traveled through Thailand, Indonesia and Bali, among other places. The amount of plastic on the beach and in the ocean is there shocking. During my school years I researched how to convert recycled plastic into yarn and use it in different product categories, including swimwear. When I saw all that plastic, I thought: how nice to make swimwear that goes back into the sea in a different way. The idea was born, but about five years later (in 2018) I left for Bali to make my idea a reality.”

“In addition, we do everything with a wink. We try to create awareness in a no-nonsense way.” Emphasizes: “You can see how I feel myself. The white paint is still on my hands and I am wearing a complete DIY outfit.”

How have the past years been for you?

“Ups and downs, I think every entrepreneur can agree with that. When I met Tet. started, I also worked for my previous employer. I was working 70 hours a week at the time. I was terrified to quit my job. I was also in a career elevator at the time. At a certain point the realization came: there is more than just working and if I really like Tet. want to make, I have to take the plunge now. Everyone thought I was crazy. Since then I could do one hundred percent of Tet. to enjoy; I built a website and samples became real collections.”

“In 2019, my first collection went live. But, at the end of that year, the corona virus came into play. That threw a spanner in the works. In 2020 I would actually be at three De Bijenkorf locations. All pop-up furniture and the collections were already in a container, ready to be shipped from Bali to the Netherlands.” Sigh: “And then the lockdown came. That was shocking.”

“Looking back on that period, the corona crisis has also been valuable. In the beginning I responded to the wishes of agents. ‘Retailers want shades of blue? Then they get that.’ At a certain point my track was lost, I got no more energy from it. I had to go back to the Tet. DNA. I made the drastic decision to forego all my agents and retailers. I wanted my own shops.”

“Why? This way I can clearly establish my own brand with everything that goes with it. We now sell through our own channels, consisting of a webshop, Zalando and two stores in Bali.”

“The first store would open during the corona crisis. But, no one was allowed to fly to Bali, after which Bali turned into a kind of deserted island. The opening finally took place in February 2022. Exactly one year later, we opened a store in Uluwatu, in the south of Bali. That was very spontaneous. I was traveling with my friend and we ran into a building. We called the contractor for fun, but he told me the building was too small. Then I saw someone holding a note saying ‘for rent‘ and asked if the contractor wanted to walk that way for a while. He did and within two hours I had signed.” Laughs: “That’s how it goesin Bali.”

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The store in Bali. Image: Tet. Responsible Wear
The store in Bali. Image: Tet. Responsible Wearr

How is the collaboration with Zalando?

“Good! It works for us as an extension of the webshop. We manage everything in-house. The German market has grown significantly through the collaboration with Zalando. The Tet story is well received by German consumers and they spend money slightly more easily than the Dutch.”

A while ago Tet changed. Swimwear in Tet. Responsible Wear.

Delighted: “That’s right! Last summer we launched a full summer collection for the first time, which is also doing very well. In addition, we will soon be launching our first winter collection. In other words, it involved clothing, so ‘Tet. Swimwear’ no longer lived up to our image.”

“As I said, it’s all about Tet. for sustainability, although I find ‘sustainability’ a difficult word. That’s why I choose the word ‘responsible‘. We try to create awareness about how much plastic people consume, in a light-hearted way. We produce clothing and clothing is not sustainable, I think. It’s about raising awareness and every little bit helps. One step at a time.”

But, you do have a more sustainable approach.

“Certainly. The swimwear is made from recycled plastic in China. The recycling process also takes place there. We try to keep it as close to the source as possible.” Enthusiastic: “Every piece of clothing is made from natural fabrics. That way you don’t slide off your scooter in your synthetic dress!”

“In Bali we also work with small tailors, women who work from home. The tailors have their own sewing machine and that’s it. I once thought, how cool is it to have a Tet. factory.” Laughs: “Stupid idea, because those women don’t want that. They want to have time to take care of their children, have freedom and not feel pressure from a factory. It works as follows: an employee collects fabric from the fabric farmer, divides it among the tailors, they turn it into garments and when they are ready, the employee collects them. In addition, each item of clothing is provided with a label in which the tailor puts her name in handwriting. We try to make it as personal as possible.”

Proud: “I always say: you can have wonderful certifications, but I prefer to drive my scooter through Bali myself to see with my own eyes that those women are doing well, rather than hanging a placard on it.”

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Lieke van Hulsbergen with her employees. Image: Tet. Responsible Wear

After two stores in Bali, you will open a store in Haarlem on May 18. What can we expect?

“I like small dollhouses and the store is a bit like that: it’s a cute little building. It should feel warm, but fresh. The walls are white and there is no floor. It has an authentic, robust look mixed with Bali vibes. In addition, all collections can be shopped. We will continue to rotate collections, because we have a lot and space is limited. In addition, I will often be found on the shop floor in the beginning, but I am still looking for nice sales employees.” Laughs: “You can certainly mention that in the article!”

“The store is located in the same building as last summer’s pop-up store. The collection ran like a charm at the time. We sold especially larger sizes very well. That is why I came up with the idea of ​​collaborating with Vera Camilla. That collection went live on Thursday 11 May and includes a skirt that can be worn in different ways, a reversible bikini, a bathing suit and a dress with a cut-out. We have tried to make everything as adjustable as possible and the sizes run up to size 50.”

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The store in Bali. Image: Tet. Responsible Wear
The store in Bali. Image: Tet. Responsible Wear

Where is Tet. Responsible Wear in five years?

Laughs: “I find that a very difficult question. I always dream big, but on the other hand don’t think beyond one day. I believe things happen at the right time. I do dream of opening a shop on Mykonos, Ibiza and in Tulum. In addition, there are samples for a children’s collection, but nothing is concrete yet. First comes the all-round winter collection and then we will see further.”

“Anyway, I’m great excited and I am very excited to expand and even more women happy to make. We just keep going!”

The Tet. Responsible Wear store is located in the Kleine Houtstraat in Haarlem.

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