Sayen Nijman was on a white sandy beach on Curacao when she decided to create her own bikini brand. Her business model is 'conscious' in the broadest sense: she aims for the smallest possible CO2 footprint, fair working conditions and she uses sustainably sourced and organic materials.
The company 22Paradise was founded in late 2015 and originally specialised in swimwear made from recycled plastic from the ocean.
By now, the collection has expanded and features 'resort wear', including jumpsuits and playsuits. 22Paradise imports its products from Spain, Italy and France, and the goal is to export to the USA and Australia.
How did you get in contact with the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl)?
"Actually, in my case it happened the other way round. Right after I had returned to the Netherlands, I met Carolina (SIB Advisor) at the World Fashion Centre. She told me about her job as a coach at RVO.nl. Although I was familiar with RVO.nl, I wasn't aware that they offered a coaching programme. At the time, we sat down together to determine whether I would be eligible. Fortunately, I was."
How did you receive support from RVO.nl?
"I could scarcely believe my ears when Caroline told me about RVO's Starters International Business programme. In Curacao I had to figure out every little last thing all by myself, and suddenly here was help! I even called Caroline the 'hallelujah' response to all of my questions. She helped me so much in figuring out what possibilities the government offers with respect to international entrepreneurship. She also shared a lot of knowledge and information about the practical issues associated with international entrepreneurship, and she was happy to answer every single question. For example, she informed me about the requirements for export to the US and the bar codes that I have to use."
What are your thoughts on the support provided by RVO.nl?
"I'm absolutely thrilled with this support, even if it was just being able to spar a little with someone. I do wish the coaching programme could have been a bit longer; the available time filled up so quickly. But that is really my only criticism."
What do you think that RVO.nl could improve to reach more female entrepreneurs?
"These days, there are dozens of initiatives by ambitious young women who seek out and empower each other online through social media as in real life. I think that social media, such as Facebook groups and Instagram, as well as special events organised through these channels, are a great way to reach the new generation of female entrepreneurs. I have personally got a lot out of it."
Do you have any advice for other female entrepreneurs?
"Don't doubt yourself, and first figure out what you want. Women have a tendency to go with the flow of what others are thinking without first considering what it is we actually want. When you don't have your own plan, you become part of someone else's plan. I also think that sometimes we are too quick to start doubting ourselves just because someone else is maybe a little louder. As cliché as it may sound: have more faith in yourself!"
Do you have a role model who inspires you?
"Although I don't have one specific role model per se, I read a lot of inspiring content online about self-development, spirituality and doing business. That is your gateway to the whole world. Still, I have to say that I often get a lot of ideas from my mother, and I also learn a lot from my partner, Ruby-Ann. I am good at observing and analysing people and in the process I try to take what is useful to me and apply it."
When it comes to doing international business, do you get the impression that female entrepreneurs experience more or different impediments than men and, if so, what are they?
"Definitely. I see that people sometimes take you less seriously as a young woman, and I also think that as women we do not bluff as much as men when doing business, for example. While there are certain traits that we must honour within ourselves as women, these are not necessarily celebrated in the international business world. Which is too bad, because women don't always receive the same opportunities as a result of this. I do believe that this is slowly changing as I see more and more business women around me who are embracing their power – and not necessarily in a masculine way."