Aalst aan mij ligt… I’ll stop and shop right here!
Interconnection between visitors and the people from Aalst
With her initiative Aalstaanmijligt, entrepreneur Tina Daem connects visitors, residents, and entrepreneurs to each other and with the unique place that Aalst is for them all, in a personal and hospitable way.
Had you told Tina Daem eight years ago that her search for a unique children’s shoe for her eldest daughter would result in opening her own shop, she would probably have declared you crazy. But now, Tina Daem is a successful entrepreneur in Aalst. In addition to running a children’s fashion shop, she also manages two AP8 apartments where she welcomes guests from near and far. However, her most special initiative is ‘Aalstaanmijligt’, a project that connects entrepreneurs from Aalst through the personal and hospitable welcoming of visitors and residents of the city.
We took the time to look back with Tina on eight years of sustainable entrepreneurship, her love for Aalst, and her unbridled efforts to make her home a flourishing destination and community.
A woman on a shoe mission
“When our little daughter Fauve took her first steps, we couldn’t find any quality children’s shoes that looked cute. During a pleasant holiday in the French sun, the idea arose to formulate an answer to this problem during a brainstorming session. And that’s how Anna Pops was born. The cool thing about the whole story is that the name of our shop was also invented during that same trip. In the B&B where we stayed at the time, was also a British family whose daughter was called Anna, but who was addressed as ‘My Pops’ by her mother. That funky name stuck with us,” owner Tina Daem says.
In 2012, Tina and her partner Filip started writing the Anna Pops story. Step by step they evolved from a small shop at home, to a children’s shoe and clothing store no less than ten times larger. “Sustainably produced items are central to the composition of our collections. We don’t like mass production. Only fashion created in a conscious manner is given a place here. In addition, we specifically look for unique pieces; shoes to which we can give our own Anna Pops touch. Without, of course, losing sight of the use of quality materials. Because no matter how you view it, a child should be able to roam around carefree in comfortable shoes,” says Tina.
Local connection with customers
Making the switch to self-employment as a young mother, wasn’t an obvious choice. Tina also notices this struggle with her fellow entrepreneurs in Aalst. “The retail landscape is no longer what it used to be. As a small-scale entrepreneurial business, sometimes you really have to fight to survive among all the big chains. That’s why I think the story behind Winkelhieren [Shop Here] – an UNIZO campaign that highlights the strengths, added value, and importance of local buying – is so important. I firmly believe that local retailers offer added value with their personal service and can make a difference by offering an experience. We need to emphasise that added value to the consumer, so that they also become aware of it.”
In order to highlight the importance of local shopping even more and to encourage her fellow entrepreneurs to jump on the bandwagon, Tina came up with the idea Aalstaanmijligt [If it’s up to me] a while ago. “Aalstaanmijligt is a project that is very dear to my heart. It concerns a handy city map that features local shops and restaurants with a conscious vision and a unique offering. As the route contains stylish and personal tips that are characteristic to the area, we can provide both visitors and residents with an inspiring shopping experience, so it is worthwhile for them to come to Aalst. In this way, the city of Aalst becomes a place that people consciously visit and where we like to welcome everyone in that same conscious way. Customers can get the map for free at any participating store or restaurant. In this way we, the entrepreneurs in Aalst, can connect with each other and with residents through our mutual pride of the city and love for welcoming visitors,” says Tina.
If there are two concepts that best characterise Anna Pops’ philosophy, it would have to be that they are sustainable and local. And that’s where Tina and her team go above and beyond. For example, they once started with an interior that came almost entirely from recycled materials. During their last renovation, Anna Pops went into partnership with Onbetaalbaar [Priceless], a Ghent think tank that devises projects around discarded materials. They created new pieces of furniture especially for the shop based on shelves of old cupboards. On top of this, Tina resolutely bans plastic bags from her shop. Customers are given a personalised cotton bag that they can reuse to their heart’s content.
Tina’s latest project is called Repops. “Within our Repops initiative we are working on a place for quality repurposed clothing. After all, we have no control over the pace at which children grow, and the answer to this is not to purchase garments that have a major impact on the environment through their production, transport, and limited lifespan. We want to create awareness about this, so we sell a selection of second-hand clothing in our shop and the supplier receives 50% of the amount of sales in the form of a voucher,” Tina explains.
Travel to tomorrow, where people from different spheres find each other
Tina Daem’s approach shows that residents, visitors, and entrepreneurs from all types of sectors make the place they are rooted from what it is. Connection around the love for Aalst creates a unique space for cooperation, dialogue, and co-creation. Whether you have a policy-supporting role or are a local entrepreneur or a resident who wants to act as an ambassador for their city, there is room for initiative and ideas for all those who want to travel to tomorrow. The story of Aalstaanmijligt is a prime example of this.
Text (Dutch): Carline Roggeman
Photography: Iwein De Keyzer