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KAAI: carrying your life


The leap from a stable job in a large organisation to starting-up your own business can be a daunting prospect and definitely takes a lot of courage. But that’s exactly what ex-top executives Ine Verhaert and Helga Meersmans did, quitting their positions in top management at large fashion companies to start their own business. “Before, we coordinated large teams. Now, we do everything on our own – from marketing to web development and logistics,” says Ine, co-founder of KAAI, which designs and produces handbags for working women in big cities.

“In our previous jobs, Helga and I both travelled a lot. We were always on the go. But we felt that stylish handbags simply weren’t practical, and larger, practical ones were usually masculine and unattractive,” says Ine, “With our own brand, KAAI, we aim to create bags that are both stylish and practical at the same time, for women who are always on the go.”

The brand takes its name, KAAI, (quays in Dutch) from the canals of the city of Antwerp, one of Europe’s capitals of fashion and second-largest port. “The constant flowing movement of the water in the canals reflects the dynamism of working women today,” says Ine. 

“Handbags need to be as dynamic as the women who carry them. A woman working in a big city leaves her house early in the morning and doesn’t get back until late at night. She works, goes to yoga, has a few drinks with her colleagues, runs a few errands… She needs a handbag that can get her through a long day – but remains stylish,” she adds. “Our handbags have compartments and pockets – for example, for things like jewellery - that make them as structured and organised as corporate women’s days are,” says Ine, “Ultimately, it’s about fitting a working woman’s life into the handbag.”

With a clear vision and years of experience in the bag, Ine and Helga set up the whole production process in less than a year. However, securing finance was another story. “Our long careers in the fashion industry were not enough to convince the banks,” explains Ine, “Fashion is simply not a hot topic for financing.” Nevertheless, thanks to an EU-guaranteed loan from PMV, supported by the EIF under the Investment Plan for Europe, KAAI got off the ground. “We started producing the handbags, set up sales and marketing and are about to open our flagship store here in Antwerp” says Ine just days before the store opens in late August 2018.

Company: KAAI (Belgium)

Type of business: fashion; retail

EIF financing: Cultural & Creative Sectors Guarantee Facility (CCS)EFSI

Financial intermediary: PMV

For further information about EIF intermediaries in Spain, please refer to: http://www.eif.org/what_we_do/where/be


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