Ellen Rijntjes about her family travels and Bear & Mees

In today’s member interview, we catch up with the wonderful Ellen Rijntjes and talk about her family travels. She is a mother of two sons and founder of sustainable children’s footwear label Bear & Mees. Like the TRVLBEES tribe, Ellen and her team believe that it’s cool to be kind to humans and nature alike, and that it’s important to be conscious of the impact we have on our surroundings, whether we’re shoe-shopping or globe-trotting. Today, travelbee Ellen tells us everything about her company, family, and travels.

Please tell us about your company, its roots, and your hopes and dreams for the future. How do you combine your work with your life as a mother of two young children?

“After my second son Mees was born, his name raised questions. Why did I name my children after animals? With my oldest, Bear, I could explain. But my eyebrow raised with the name Mees. Apparently, a titmouse is called Mees in Dutch. Can you already connect the dots? Far-fetched? Maybe, but it did give me an idea. The concept of starting an animal-friendly children’s shoe label made from sustainable materials was born.”

You’ve worked in the fashion industry for a long time and have traveled a lot. Now that you run your own company, do you still travel? If so, where to and why? Do you get to explore places, or do you solely go abroad for business?

“As our shoes are produced in and around Porto (Portugal), I go there as often as I can. Luckily, those trips are filled with both work and pleasure. On one hand, I’m busy visiting factories and attending meetings, on the other hand, it’s good to be away from home for a few days to unwind, brainstorm, and get work done without being distracted by everything that goes on in our daily life. Another big reason why I love these trips is that they inspire me every time. I always try to book different hotels with varying color palettes, distinctive furniture, and unique decorations. The work part of my trip starts as soon as I set foot on the plane. In my opinion, it’s truly the best place to get productive! Upon arrival, I always take a stroll through the picturesque streets of Porto; they never fail to give me new insights and ideas for my business.”

Ellen with her two sons, Bear and Mees

Do you actively involve your family in your business? What do you want your kids to learn from it? Would you say that your family lives as consciously as you want your brand to be?

“I remember my oldest son questioning what the word ‘leather’ meant. I explained that leather is the skin of an animal and that it’s often used for the production of bags, garments, shoes, and other items. He shivered and asked me if that was really necessary. I didn’t know what to answer. Nowadays, we have so many great alternatives for materials, but on my search for vegan footwear for children, I was shocked by how little I found. I should clarify that we are not a vegan family; we do eat meat and fish once in every while. However, I’m a firm believer in the importance of challenging our kids to be aware. And that’s exactly what I advocate for with Bear & Mees. Our brand objective is to make an impact. We want to inspire children to explore the world and to learn from it. We try to encourage them to be conscious of what is possible and what is going on around them.

As a family, we’ve become more conscious of what we eat and wear. There are, for example, so many alternatives to meat; we really love the Vegetarische Slager (vegetarian butcher). According to my kids, the mini sausages and hamburgers are to die for!”

Has working in the fashion industry made you more aware of the ‘conscious fashion’ movement? Would you consider such initiatives to be one of the reasons you started this company?

“I’ve been working in the fashion industry for quite some time, and have become more and more rebellious against fast fashion. Customers are used to the fact that brands offer more than 6 collections annually; it’s a supply and demand issue. The bigger brands that offer high quantities for remarkably low prices have dominated the world of fashion. It’s become increasingly difficult for smaller brands to compete, especially fair-trade brands that use sustainable materials. But I don’t think that should prevent innovative entrepreneurs from launching new, conscious brands and initiatives. After all, the groundbreakers are the ones that can inspire the textile industry to think outside the box and change their ways.”

Where are your favorite places in the world to unwind and spend quality time with your family?

“As TRVLBEES wrote about the South of France, it’s also my all-time favorite destination for a relaxed, but fun-filled family vacation. The scents and atmosphere are unique and create a wonderful sense of nostalgia that makes me want to go back every year. The pastel-colored architecture, hidden in idyllic towns along the French Riviera, is a sight for sore eyes, especially when the sun shines. I love to go to the market early in the morning to pick up all kinds of tasty vegetables, and to the harbor for some fresh fish that we later grill on the BBQ for lunch or dinner. French cheese, baguettes, herbs cut from the garden, and, of course, a chilled glass of rosé, cannot be missed! 

Another favorite, especially for the kids, is Hillside Beach in Turkey. They absolutely love it! If you ask them about their best holiday, they will always mention Hillside!” 

Hillside Beach, Turkey

And what would you consider the very best (secret) spots in those locations? Do your children agree or do they have their own special place(s)?

“To us, that’s Silent Beach on Hillside. It’s a unique, tranquil, and truly beautiful spot found on the spacious sea-side grounds of the resort. The stunning sight of the azure sea and white beach is a real treat. In the morning, yoga lessons are provided, and there is a wellness center on-site that will take you straight to Bali-style relaxation and help you find your zen. The massages are, coincidentally, given by super kind and professional Balinese women, who create an amazing atmosphere that is almost spiritual. Our children enjoy exploring other (hidden) spots around the resort, while we enjoy our couple’s massage ;-).”

Hillside Beach, Turkey

TRVLBEES focuses on family-friendly, boutique-style, and conscious hideaways – so let’s talk.

Family-friendly: when searching for your own family holiday, do you specifically focus on this feature? How and why?

“Yes, we find it very important that all of us – parents and children – relax, have fun, and feel at home on holiday. For instance, we love a big table to socialize at over a delicious lunch or dinner. The kids should be able to choose from a menu that has tasty options for them too, and afterwards, hop over to a place nearby to play and run around. It’s especially lovely when the staff shows true care and consideration for the young ones, and let them know that they can be their playful selves. 

Of course, there should also be a place to swim and cool down, so we always try to pick a destination that has a pool on-site and/or the beach nearby. For the kids, there’s nothing better than an afternoon of splashing around and playing games in the water, and we love a good beach day ourselves too!”

Boutique: does this category appeal to you? How would you describe ‘boutique’ in terms of stays?

“Yes! I love a stay that is visually appealing, so this category definitely gets me excited! To me, boutique means a place that is authentic, carefully-decorated, and has a creative finishing touch or quality. It makes a stay just a little more special, knowing that it’s a unique, one-of-a-kind hideaway and not a big chain hotel. Luckily, the TRVLBEES collection is rich with stays whose exteriors, interiors, and surroundings are a sight for sore eyes. One design-lover paradise that I hope to stay at one day is Ekies All Senses Resort in Greece.”

Ekies All Senses Resort, Greece
Ekies All Senses Resort, Greece
Ekies All Senses Resort, Greece

Conscious/sustainable: is this a factor you consider when you and your family book a hideaway?

“Yes! I definitely prefer a hideaway that is both sustainable and family-friendly. Especially when sustainability is incorporated in the ‘DNA’ of the hideaway. It’s great when properties don’t just mention that towels should be used several times, but, for example, also serve organic food from their own garden, use solar-panel generated energy, or create a program to support the local community. Knowing that you’re minimizing your footprint on your surroundings truly adds a special touch to the vacation.

These kinds of stays are not easy to find, but they definitely exist. And that’s where TRVLBEES comes in handy! They realize all your conscious vacay dreams.”

What do you want to teach or show your kids both during travels and in life?

I constantly strive to remind them that we are very privileged to be able to travel and explore all the amazing things the world around us has to offer. Nowadays, (most) children are accustomed to going on holiday several times a year, and traveling everywhere by plane. To minimize that expectation and, simultaneously, our ecological footprint, I try to show them that there are also lots of great things to do and see in our own country. It’s important to remember that (young) children often don’t have a strong desire to explore the other side of the world yet; they enjoy the beach in the Netherlands just as much as a beach in Bali. I do, however, think they learn a lot from traveling. Firstly because of the amazing adventurous spirit that absorbs you when you go abroad, but also because of the unique opportunity to meet different cultures, landscapes, and cuisines, which teach you things that you simply won’t learn from the books. Like I said, we’re incredibly privileged!”

Do you still have a (family) bucket list in terms of travel or experiences?

“My personal number one on my travel bucket list was realized last year when we visited Africa with our family. Our children reached the right age to experience a trip like that, especially because we went on safari. It was important to us that the kids would be able to remember such an amazing experience. It was wonderful to see their faces when they encountered an elephant or a lion in their natural habitat for the first time. 

Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa

I would undoubtedly recommend others to add this one to their bucket list! Seeing African wildlife in real life was truly unique. Although I haven’t stayed there myself, I’d also suggest checking out the Gondwana Game Reserve in South Africa, which is part of the TRVLBEES collection. 

Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa

Next time, I would love to go to South America to visit Argentina, Chile or Colombia, and travel southwards to explore stunning Patagonia.”

What is your absolute favorite part of being a mom? And if you could take your kids anywhere in the world, where would that be?

“My favorite part about being a mom is to witness them grow up, it’s a magical thing. Every year, they slowly change and develop their own authentic personalities. I now also understand what parents mean when say that their kids are a mirror to them, and that they learn from them daily. 

I would love to go on a trip around the world for half a year with my kids, but in a later stage of their life. The most important things I can offer them right now are stability, structure, school, and friends. In the meantime, I’ll be planning our trip and browsing through TRVLBEES’ collection of wonderful stays.”

Who do you consider to be a true TRVLBEE?

“A true TRVLBEE would be my dear friend Fabienne Chapot. Even with her busy work schedule, she’s always looking for fun and unique spots around the world. She loves to travel with her son, but also with her friends. Luckily, I am one of them ;-). And on top of that, TRVLBEES offers a bunch of great parent getaways.”

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