Niyona is a Belgian brand founded in 2010 by Nina Bodenhorst & Jonathan Wieme, and tells the story about two people (that’s also why the brand is called Ni+Yona) working together as a perfect team. Their expertise lies in fine leather goods that are exclusively crafted in their atelier. Niyona is about true craftsmanship whereby innovative design and aestetics come together. Its driving force? Improve their craft and creativity to surpass themselves in making what others don’t.
Graduated as an industrial designer at “La Cambre” in Brussels, Nina is blessed with a deep technical knowledge and thinking. She acquired her skills and love for leather and craftsmanship during an internship at Delvaux and while working at Nathan-Baume. Jonathan complements her with his fanatical curiosity and execution of things. Jonathan and Nina don’t ‘talk’ about their brand and craftsmanship. They breathe it. “We really want to make a difference by combining innovative design and techniques with aesthetics, and with an extremely eye for detail. Everything has to be perfect”, Jonathan explains. “We always use the finest and full grained leathers from local and selected tanneries. I want to know as much as possible about the leather we select”.
The story of Niyona started in 2010 in a small atelier of Nina’s father who was a joiner. After 3 years, they moved to their current location, on the edge of Brussels’ town. A laugh, a wink, a tap on the bottom easily alternate with focus, silence and devotion. Meet a mom and dad, two best friends and colleagues at work. It’s beautiful to see and to feel how these two possess a full set of complementary skills required to complete their own task. Nina and Jonathan both operate with a high degree of interdependence, they share authority and responsibility for self-management, and they are accountable for the collective performance in order to work towards a common goal. Niyona’s leather goods aren’t just the result of a collection of people. It’s the result of mutual commitment that creates a synergy that is greater than the sum of the performance of their individual skills
We strive for true craftsmanship. To me, this is equal to translating a problem into a concrete design that is simple and yet sophisticated. It has to be functional and aesthetical, and made with the finest material. We always try to be innovative, even with a basic material like leather.
Enjoying the little things
Nina and Jonathan both share a real ‘workers mentality’. “I know that working as an independent is a ‘big step’ for many people, but to us, it feels very natural. It would feel like ‘failing’ if we would step into the role of an employee”, Jonathan laughs. Of course, working as an independent also has its downsides. “It never stops, so it’s not always easy to combine a hard working job with family life”. But Nina and Jonathan have their own way to deal with it . “On Tuesday we play basketball at the Rue de Dansaert, on Wednesday Nina and I stop working at closing time to go to the Monk before we pick up James (their son) and on Friday I go to the Place Flagey with the motor bike. From there we go to somewhere else to have a meal with friends. These moments are important to us because they create some sort of guidance through our work”. It doesn’t take much to find happiness and peace of mind.
Every day we try to focus on the basis and we’ll see where it takes us. This sometimes means that we do have to take two steps backwards before we can take one step forward again.
Black // white
The shop / atelier is colored in white with black accents and reflects a no-nonsense attitude, just like them. Jonathan: “All kinds of people enter our shop. That’s how we want it. In America people aren’t judged by the way they’re dressed. In Belgium there is a tendency to do so. In our shop, everyone is welcome. Sometimes people don’t know that we are the designers behind Niyona because of the way we look”, he laughs. “They might expect something or someone else, but this is who we are.”
Rock’n roll with elegance
This no-nonsense attitude and tenacity is also reflected in Niyona’s collection, their mission, their pure materials and the way they live their life. They don’t follow the crowd, that’s for sure. “Nowadays, it’s all about ‘making’ “, Jonathan explains. “Everyone can do something and can start its own brand easily if you want to. That’s fine by me, but with Niyona we have a ‘savoir-faire’ that allows us to stand out of from the crowd. Take the aprons for instance : they contain a sort of rawness, but at the same time they also have a certain chic and elegance because of the refined details and finishings. We love this contradiction, because it works.”
Highly recommended by Niyona
According to Jonathan, the Bozar brasserie in Brussels is a highly underestimated spot to eat great food. “We don’t go out to eat a lot, but we keep it for special moments (good or bad). Eating there makes me put everything back into perspective. Another restaurant where Nina and I sometimes go is ‘Beaucoup Fish’, not far from our atelier.” He’s on a roll and continues : “Another thing to do is just wandering around in Brussels. There are a lot of beautiful places in town, but people aren’t used to walk anymore. Just walking through the Gallerie de la Reine or sitting down, the Botanique (park in Brussels) just behind you is pure enjoyment. As I said. We enjoy the little things in life.”