Jennifer Berger has always been a big dreamer, and all her big dreams are embodied in her own bag brand, Mädi. Inspired by the traditional art of paper cutting, Mädi is an accessory brand that plays on Swiss culture and modernity, and is instantly our favourite new arm candy this spring.
In this latest instalment of our #WomenWorldwide Series, We chat with Swiss Girl Boss Jennifer Berger, about her inspirations, overcoming challenges — and all the beautiful lessons she’s learned in between.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What inspired you to start Mädi?
I’m a big dreamer; I’ve always been. Probably because I lived in a small town with not much to distract me from developing my imagination and ambition. Frustration and boredom are a big part of what motivates me. Once in a while, I need to get bored. This boredom generates space in my head, which allows my imagination to develop new ideas. Then comes the urge to turn those ideas into a reality.
My work as a designer for other brands played a role in the creation of Mädi. It can be frustrating in situations where decisions are made that don’t align with my values, nor with my perception of things. It made me want to be in a position where I could make my own decisions. I like to have an overview of a project, and understand all the different aspects and challenges involved in it.
Deep down, the will to create something of my own was born a long time ago. I didn’t know what or how I was going to do that, until I took a break from my job as a jewellery and watch designer in 2013 and began my Jewellery and Accessory Design degree at HEAD in Geneva. I used this time to develop my creative universe and bring to life the first Mädi bags, during my graduation collection in 2015.
We love Mädi’s dynamic shapes and bold colours. Where do you usually get the inspiration for your designs?
I like bold designs, authenticity, and shapes that you can read easily. Mechanical systems, harmony, and beauty, are things that bring joy and talk to the heart. My inspiration can come from fashion, product design, art, illustration or nature. The natural environment in Switzerland has had a big influence on me. Everyday, the landscapes shaped by mountains and lakes never cease to amaze me. When I look at this, it grounds me in front of the power and beauty of nature.
How does your Swiss heritage influence your aesthetic?
My Swiss heritage influences me through three major aspects — first of all, through imagery. Swiss popular art like native paintings and paper cut pictures decorated the walls of my childhood house. Some of them came from artists in my family or family friends. So from an image perspective, this has really influenced me a lot, as I have an emotional connection to it.
Second is through shape: The shape of my bags are inspired by vintage swiss military leather bags. You can find them in second hand shops now. They are functional, simple and robust.
Lastly, Swiss heritage also influences my construction process. I imagined a product that could efficiently be built through an industrial process. I needed to understand how something is built, and knowing that I could build it on my own. This is why my bags are made by folding pieces of leather and holding them together with studs. With the studs becoming a kind of decoration as well. However, nothing is there just for decoration. Everything has a function, nothing is hidden, and you get what you see. I guess it is a Swiss approach to efficiency and functionality.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as an entrepreneur so far?
Before starting this adventure, I thought that the hard part was going to be working many hours, not sleeping much, and enduring the pressure of deadlines. But actually, as I am the “boss,” I choose how much time I want to invest. Having a good balance between work and personal time is very important to me. Sleeping enough, spending time with family and friends, physical activity, and taking care of my body and mind is important.
I think the biggest challenge is to believe in myself no matter what, and making choices when I don’t know what the best solution is. I always want my work to be perfect, which doesn’t help in the decision process. Nothing would have come out if I’d always waited on perfection. Bringing a brand to life requires a lot of energy, both mentally and physically, and sometimes it can be quite overwhelming. However, as I move forward in the project, my vision becomes more and more precise; and I become more and more determined.
My belief in myself grows together with Mädi’s growth. And in the moments where I doubt myself, I am lucky to have very supportive family and friends. In the end, I know it is all worth it. I’ve learned so much, and I am excited to see what will happen in the future with Mädi and how it will continue to shape me as a person.
What advice do you have for women who would like to become a GirlBoss like yourself?
First: Take time to build your own story. There is not one way to build your dream and as you move forward, this dream will evolve, become more precise or even change. It is important to have a vision, but there can be many different paths to get there. So stay open minded.
Second: Stick to your values because values are the core of your business. Be authentic and honest about where you stand.
Third: Surround yourself with people who believe in you and who are competent; because it is not an adventure you do alone. The true richness of an adventure like this, is in the exchange of know-how with people your work with and the trustworthy relationships you build. To me, celebrating achievements are more joyful when I can share them with a team. Everything I have done until now; I did because of many talented collaborators.