The story of Emma Martin starts with one piece of cloth and an idea…
These elegant and practical handbags begin with with a visit to Scotland from Belgium, and the discovery by IT freelancer, Gody Broyon, of a mysterious and beautiful fabric, Harris Tweed®. On further research, back home in Belgium, Gody discovered the rich history, process and heritage of The Big Cloth, and was blown away: “the more I read, the more I fell in love with the story and the fabric.” And so, Gody purchased her first length of Harris Tweed® cloth. For some time she just admired, touched and sensed the fabric until a moment of epiphany came – an image of the perfect handbag. Initially, a sense of trepidation stalled Gody from taking her ideas further: “I didn’t know I was creative… it was a dream.” Everything changed when COVID-19 hit, and it gave her the push to take on a new challenge: “When lockdown started last year, all of my jobs stopped immediately, my IT contracts were terminated and I thought – hey! This Harris Tweed® fabric is lying here and I have this dream about this bag, so let’s do it.”
Gody approached Flag Bag, a social enterprising up-cycling project, to collaborate on the design: “I contacted Flag Bag and told them about my ideas. One of the ladies there helped me with the designing – I had an image in my head but didn’t know how to make it reality. Very soon after that, a prototype was created.”
Flag Bag is “a social enterprise company for people who have difficulties finding a job in other areas, whether that be for language difference reasons, or they have medical issues. They combine skills and provide education, with space to be yourself. They allow for flexibility, and work for the individuals. The making of the bags is still on-going with them. It’s like a second family: so much more than a business partnership, it’s a gift. I’m so glad the IT company sacked me!”
First and foremost, it was Harris Tweed® fabric that was Gody’s dream: “My mission for the design was for the bag obviously work with the Harris Tweed® fabric. I wanted it to be classy, feminine and also practical… Wool is so underestimated here in Belgium. It’s not commonly used, and the eco and technical benefits from it aren’t well-known.”
Another important mission for Gody in her running of Emma Martin is to be community and sustainably-minded. This means that she works with local small-scale producers in Belgium for the leather strap and buckle elements to her bags, and it also reinforces her desire to work with Harris Tweed® fabric: “Even though I’m in Belgium and the fabric is from Scotland, Harris Tweed® was still the overwhelming choice for a fabric that felt sustainable and more eco friendly.” This ethos is reflected in Gody winning the ‘Groene Pluim 2021’ sustainability award for her business.
The name of Emma Martin comes from the names of her two grandparents respectively. Her grandmother Emma ran a small business when she was a little girl and was passionate about fashion and fabric: “I think I inherited my love of design form her! She was always a very brave and progressive woman. She travelled the world and sent me clothes and beautiful pieces from her travels.” We can see how her grandmother’s bravery and appreciation of beautiful things has been passed on to Gody as she takes on the challenge of following her dreams. Family clearly holds an important place, not only in the business name itself, but right down to how she chooses which Harris Tweed® fabrics to use: “I ask my two daughters for advice! If I had to choose myself, all my bags would be green and blue.”
We asked Gody about the future of Emma Martin: “My main goal for the future is to spread the word of Harris Tweed® fabric throughout Belgium! But I also has an explosion of ideas for different products to make with Harris Tweed® fabric – for starters, personalised clutch bags and laptop sleeves, with a locally 3D printed buckle, will be arriving soon to the Emma Martin collection.”
What makes Gody most proud of her business and designs? “The people I get to work with. Emma Martin wouldn’t exist without them. Everyone at Flagbag, Ann and Steven who help me with the shoulder straps and the lovely, talented Jana who takes all the pictures. I feel really blessed with all these people and I got a second family thanks to this project. My husband always tells me the key to success is to surround yourself with the right people and I think I found them. And success doesn’t mean selling 1000 bags, but to me it’s doing something meaningful.”
You can keep an eye on the continuing story of Emma Martin using the links above.
Photographs by Jana Dekort