Van der Kooij is the Melbourne-made avant-garde label to know

“Fashion is art. Don’t forget that.”

Natasha Veenhuizan wanted to lead by example when she began her independent slow fashion label Van der Kooij in 2018. Having an acute awareness of the environmental pitfalls of fast fashion, Natasha placed small-scale local production at the heart of the label’s ethos.

Each garment is hand-finished at its Carlton flagship store and portions of the company’s profits are invested into Australian companies focused on reforestation and restoring biodiversity.

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Timelessness is a theme that runs throughout the label’s capsule collections; tiered, statement puff sleeve mini dresses and corset-style bodices are a focal point, with each garment’s unique structure enhanced by the label’s vibrant monochromatic colour offering. Below, Natasha shares how Van der Kooij found authenticity in a fast-moving industry.

Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background?
Being drawn to fashion as a form of self-expression from an early age, I decided to study fashion for my VCE and then attended RMIT. It was after working for the brand Nicholas and then designing luxury footwear that I began to conceptualise Van Der Kooij and envision the brand’s direction, style and ethos.

How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges.

I created Van Der Kooij to combine my two passions that are the foundations of the brand: sustainability and design. The biggest challenge at the beginning was my desire to create environmentally considerate pieces and weave sustainable practices into my design process. As a start-up, this is a costly venture, which is why our industry is flooded with fast-fashion and profit-focused brands that don’t consider the environmental impacts of pre and post-production. Van Der Kooij rejects the fast production approach and philosophy…

Weaving sustainable practices into my process very quickly made me assess and question everything from fabric production, country of origin, dye processes, packaging materials, everything down to the string on our swing tickets and the type of glue that we use. Being conscious has its challenges, but it is a significant investment I am committed to and something you can always expect from Van Der Kooij.

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What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

I wanted to create designs that celebrate womxn. Van Der Kooij creations are synonymous with making womxn look and feel beautiful and strong. There is a timeless, classical thread woven through all of our silhouettes as they are built to last – they bypass the transient, trend-focused nature of fast fashion. They become wardrobe treasures, intended to be handed down through the generations. It’s about integrity and longevity.

And this is why sustainability and Van Der Kooij are inextricably linked. We don’t just create looks for a season – our ranges are chapters in a story, each collection adding to the ever-evolving and future-focused vision for the brand. Each season we are refining our processes, building relationships and ties with local makers to form a more sustainable supply chain. Our apparel is made in Melbourne and we produce limited edition, small-scale production runs. Each and every Van Der Kooij creation is hand-finished in our Carlton flagship store and a record of its limited production is recorded inside each garment.

Long term, Van Der Kooij invests in reforestation. For every garment created, Van Der Kooij invests profits in Carbon Neutral Australia’s Plant-a-Tree program where trees are planted in the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor in Western Australia to promote reforestation and reduce carbon emissions. As well as removing carbon from the atmosphere, this project also has positive social, environmental, and economic benefits. Closer to home, we only print what we need and all our lookbooks, campaign books, swing tags, and marketing material are printed through 100 per cent carbon-neutral Melbourne-based printers and our signature printed fabrications are also printed locally…

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?
Hearing about how a piece has made the wearer feel good is why I do this work. Knowing that a womxn, through wearing my pieces, has experienced a sense of the Van Der Kooij ethos – whether it be beauty, fragility, rebellion, strength or power – creates a connection between me and the wearer. When I have a client DM or message me and tell me how great they felt in a piece, it makes all the sacrifices (years of missing out on social events, the 5am starts and the weekend sewing benders) all worth it. I offer complimentary customisation, so each and every piece can be tailored to fit your shape. We are all different and I celebrate that by offering customisation.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

The competitive nature of the industry is something that has taken a long time to reshape. Understanding that onshore Australian fashion is a relatively small industry, I’d like to see more designers come together and support one another to be better together rather than compete and outdo. I value skill sharing, especially regarding Australian manufacturing and sustainability efforts. Let’s pool our knowledge and grow together.

Dream Australian collaborators?

Oh, where to start… There are so many amazing creatives I’d love to collaborate with… I’m inspired by and would be honoured to co-create with artist Shaun Daniel Allen (Shal), stylist Natalie Petrevski, artist Rholtsu [and] photographer Bec Parsons just to name a few.

My personal style is quite unique. I like to mix Van Der Kooij’s pieces with vintage gems. I just found my holy grail of T-shirts, a vintage 1980s ‘Life Be In It’ tee that has been a decade-long search. Also, can’t go past my Miista Clogs too.

How can we buy one of your pieces?

You can visit us in-store at 91 Grattan Street, Carlton, online at vanderkooij.com.au or through our lovely stockists based in Sydney, Byron Bay, London and Miami.