Her own place is where the magic happens. The appartment slash atelier, at the heart of Rotterdam, is decorated with books, magazines, photo’s and paintings. But more then everything by Merrel herself. With her golden bronzed skin tone, coloured up by her bright green cateyes, her appearance is just as breathtaking as her jewelry.
mo·no·craft (de; m,v; meervoud: monocrafts)
1 monocrat: absolute ruler
2 crafft: handmade
3 delicate jewelry, created by Merrel Westhoff
D: Wow, you look good with that bronzed skin!
M: Thanks, I just got back from my trip to Australia. One of my favourite destinations so far.
D: You went for Monocrafft?
M: Basically all of my holidays are work related. My webshop ships a lot to Australia. Good for me, ’cause 100% of the price goes into my pocket now. But shipping costs are quite high, so it would be helpful if Monocrafft is locally available. Also because right now there’s no brand like it in their market. Australians call my items ‘delicate jewelry’, which is an upcoming thing over there. Customers are ready.
D: Which are the places to go to for your pieces?
M: Most of my sales go through my webshop. Other then that I sell in Rotterdam: in my atelier as well as in-store at two shops. Besides you’ll find Monocrafft in-store in Amsterdam, Sittard, Bruxelles, London, Singapore and shortly in Melbourne too. And I am hoping to be available in Sidney, New York and maybe even Tokyo in the very near future.
D: How long did it take you to take these spots on the map?
M: About one and half a year?
D: You’re on it! You started out being a fulltime model. How did you grow from one into another?
M: Yeah, I started modelling at the age of 19. Suddenly I turned 25 and started to feel that panic to build up my CV. At that time I worked a lot for G-Star, where they asked me to commit to them fulltime. But as I just got my hands on an American Visa, I decided to spend one more year modelling in the States. After that I commited to G-Star 3 years in a row, organizing their castings and taking care of the styling on their photo shootings. After a while the webshop started to take over, which discreased my creative liberty. To still get my creative fix, I spent my weekends creating my own stuff.
D: What did you create?
M: I’ve always loved minimalism. But I found the available minimalistic jewelry of good quality too dowdy, or too coarse. My solution was to design for myself. I imagined how cool it would be to have one straight silver line, showing under that three quarter leather sleeve. I’d quickly draw this idea down, including the outfit, and go straight into the making. During the process I’d find out how it looked even better, and adjust the idea. In the end I’d have a pretty bracelet, perhaps completely different from the original idea, but a pretty bracelet. Really this is still how I work. Just start, and you’ll find out where it takes you.
D: And from DIY came enterpreneuring?
M: I would – still – wear everything I created. People responded positively. They were curious for what I was wearing and where it came from. So apparently more people felt the need for this kind of delicate jewelry. I even started to receive orders. But I still had this full time dedication to G-Star. During the castings I organized in Paris and Milan I was still asked if I’d like to sign with the agencies there. At first I was always like “Thanks, but I’ve decided to stop a couple of years ago”.
But one and a half year later my jewelry was still well received, so I had a second think about swabbing my G-Star job for modelling again. I ended up knocking at De Boekers door – my former mother agency – and they took me back on their board. Now I could earn money and have more free time, that I all spent on Monocrafft, my brand.
D: Has your design changed ever since?
M: My taste hasn’t changed, ever. I’ve always loved the combination of elegancy, toughness and sexiness. Raw and earthy in contrast with the delicate. I love the idea of a jewel becoming part of your identity. You wake up, brush your teeth and put on your Monocrafft. You wear it because it’s connected to memories, it’s part of you. That’s how I see my jewels too. And as I am designing for myself, you’ll find this mindset in all of my collections. They don’t change with the seasons, cause they are made to last a lifetime. So a new collection extends the previous one, instead of replacing it. That’s also where their names (‘1.0’, ‘2.0’, etc) come from.
D: Steady. Were you steady like that with modelling too?
M: Although I really liked the work – I still do – and very much appreciate that I can do modelling, I never lost myself to the industry and stayed true to myself. I also met really nice, interesting people. But for Paris I was too curvy for instance. That was just a pity: I wasn’t going to lose weight. The times I was on stay in a city I actually always made friends with people working in other industries. In film, for example. Fashion parties weren’t my thing either. I enjoyed the jobs, had fun with the people I worked with, but when the day was done I was happy to jump on the train back to Rotterdam.
D: Does modelling help to build up your brand, though?
M: Lately I only do the jobs I’m interested in. Like a cool publication. I always wear my own jewelry, so that’s how I go into the styling. Most of the time the stylist goes “oh, you can keep wearing them!”. Works out well, cause this way ‘Monocrafft’ will be put in the credits. Also I met my photographer through modelling. So if it comes to building up your network, yes, it helps.
D: Did modelling teach you tips and tricks you can use for Monocrafft?
M: There’s this nice client, Mart Visser, that I work for on a yearly base with a group of girls. It’s so much fun, and many of them wear Monocrafft by now. Mart Visser started off working in his home. This way he could save expenses the first two years, and spend every single penny on building his brand and clientèle. That’s exactly how I work now too. At the start I chose to work anti squat, but I swapped that for working from home. If I set my alarm at 8h30 a.m., I can basically go straight into work. I’ll go through my e-mail in bed, while having breakfast – haha. The days are long though, there are times that I don’t finish before 9.30 p.m.
D: Doesn’t that make you feel locked up?
M: Sometimes it’s hard to let go off work. You know, I’ll be making coffee in the morning, watching my working table. There are days that I receive a phone call around 6 p.m., and that’d be the first time I speak that day. That may sound pathetic, but I love it: working hard with my music out loud. Usually I mix up two days like that with one day of receiving clients. Besides I have to leave the house at least two days a week for duties in Amsterdam or the foundry.
D: Is there similarity between modelling and ownership?
M: Being self-employed. Freedom. That works best for me.
D: So being mono! Is that where the name of your brand comes from?
M: Monocrafft is derived from the Greek word ‘monokrat’: absolute ruler. ‘Krat’ is replaced by ‘crafft’, cause it’s handcrafted. The double ‘f’ comes from Westhoff, my surname.
D: Do you really do everything by yourself?
M: So far everything is made by me, shipped by me. But I got help from the foundry and my parents. My father in charge of the back office, and my mom supports me in the atelier two days a week. Diane, a close friend of mine, helps me all-round. Also we exchange thoughts, which is what I really appreciate.
D: So she basically is your right hand?
M: Hahaha, yeah, you can actually say so.
D: Any golden advice for girls that strive after a right hand too?
M: That ‘Ooh, what if…’ is the worst feeling to me. Every step I take comes from trusting my gut. If you follow your heart and work hard, I believe you’ll get there. In worst case scenario you’ll find out you won’t. If so you just carry on doing other things. At ease, cause at least you tried.
Her father interrupts: and another tip: make sure you got a support system that assists you!
M: Haha, exactly! Surround yourself with people you trust. I got the sweetest people around me, very grateful for that. It keeps you from high costs too, which is helpful. Especially in the beginning.