Circulair ondernemer Sofie Piot (Atelier Recyclé): “Zorg dragen is de rode draad in mijn leven”

“Taking care is the common thread in my life”

Turning your hobby into your profession: who doesn’t dream of it? But working on your passion every day also brings a lot of challenges. Sofie Piot still experiences it every day since she founded Atelier Recyclé in 2015. What started as a webshop with vintage furniture and decoration grew into a design studio with a focus on reuse. “I never had a well-thought-out business plan and even now I am mainly guided by my intuition,” says the entrepreneur, who mainly wants to inspire with her furniture restorations and sustainable interior projects.

Since childhood, Sofie Piot has had a passion for bygone times and vintage. “Not only do I find old furniture more beautiful and warmer than modern furniture, they are often also of better quality. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era,” she laughs. “Visiting thrift stores, making unexpected finds and discovering hidden treasures to restore them to their former glory: those are my little big fortunes,” Piot says with twinkling eyes about her ultimate form of relaxation.

Entrepreneurship by feeling

Due to a combination of circumstances, that relaxation took on increasing proportions. “For years I worked as a nurse in intensive care, a job that I loved to do. I had my two children shortly after each other and did not find it easy to combine that job with irregular hours with my family. Because my children were often ill and my husband had a very busy job as a consultant at the time, we decided together that I would stop working in the hospital and take up an administrative position in my father’s company,” says Piot.

She was happy to be there for her family but felt she needed something to do for herself. “I missed a creative outlet. I have a lot of respect for women who can handle this, but I felt I needed more than just being a mom.”

I missed a creative outlet. Huge respect for women who can handle this, but I felt I needed more than just being a mom

Her husband encouraged her to apply for a company number so that she could pursue her hobby, refurbishing second-hand furniture, as a secondary occupation when there was time for it. No sooner said than done: in 2015 Piot founded Atelier Recyclé. “I started mainly for my own satisfaction and to express myself. The sustainable side of reuse was not my main motivation, and there was certainly no business plan behind it,” she says. “It all happened quite by feel.

I started mainly for my own satisfaction and to lose my egg. The sustainable side of reuse was not my main motivation, and there was certainly no business plan behind it

In the beginning, Piot had little time to do her own thing as she combined it with a part-time job, renovating their house and taking care of her children. “In fact I worked more than full time, it was quite hard. Moreover, I received more and more requests for Atelier Recyclé.” Piot decided to fully focus on her business and made the switch from secondary to main profession. “It was in full corona period. People were then forced to spend a lot of time at home, so they critically examined their interior and consciously sought advice. I noticed that there was more and more interest in what I did.”

More with less

From one less is more-philosophy Piot restores old furniture with Atelier Recyclé and develops custom interior projects, both for individuals and for (smaller) companies. Reuse is always central, without compromising on aesthetics. She gets a lot of satisfaction from restoring heirlooms in particular.

As proud as I am of the fact that I only draw ‘the green card’ with Atelier Recyclé, interior is and remains something material and therefore quite superficial. I really enjoy my job, but I initially missed the social relevance that I had as a healthcare provider. Caring is a common thread in my life. The restoration of heirlooms, which have a great emotional value for relatives, fits in perfectly with this. With this I can really mean something to those people and help them in their grieving process. That completes the circle for me”, Aldus Piot.

I really enjoy my job, but in the beginning I missed the social relevance that I had as a healthcare provider. Caring is a common thread in my life

Turning your hobby into a profession and mean something to people: it’s very nice, but it also brings a lot of tough challenges. One of the prejudices that Piot has to contend with is that people still too often associate second-hand with ‘cheaper than new’. “For what I do and the quality I deliver, that is simply not possible. Atelier Recyclé cannot be compared to something you buy at a flea market or on a second-hand website, given the number of hours of work I put into it. In the beginning I struggled a lot with it”, she says.

In the meantime, Piot has come to terms with the fact that quality has a price and she strives to bring about a mindset switch in people. “If you buy a piece of furniture in the better design store, you also lose a large amount. I want people to think: we have the budget available, wouldn’t we rather spend it on better quality furniture that is also good for the planet? The fact that high-quality material such as solid wood has become virtually unaffordable in these times now plays to my advantage. In the end, it ends up being cheaper when people buy something from me.”

Its tailor-made services are not accessible to everyone, Piot realizes. “I know that not all people have the necessary budget. That is why I also organize workshops and offer a DIY package on my website. I believe that this way I can help as many people as possible, so that we all start reusing more”, it sounds. Atelier Recyclé’s do-it-yourself range is popular, especially among young people. “They are consciously looking for ways to do more with less. A fantastic evolution,” says the entrepreneur enthusiastically.

Power of collaboration

Piot’s biggest struggle remains the fact that her role as an entrepreneur is often at odds with her role as a mother. “My children are now 9 and 10 and are becoming more independent. But the work-life balance remains very important to me, I want everything to run as smoothly as possible at home so that we don’t have to keep running behind the times.”

At the moment I still mainly work during school hours. Although I realize that this may hinder the further growth of Atelier Recyclé. But I’ve learned to be open about my availability – at first I felt guilty about it and would often update evenings or weekends to compensate – and I find that customers are understanding and happy to adapt.”

Piot ran her conscious design studio the first years from home, literally from her garage. But it eventually started to burst at the seams, so she started looking for a more spacious building to work, receive customers – until then she did that in a refurbished gypsy wagon in the garden – and store stock. An intensive search eventually brought her to an old factory building ten minutes from her home. “It is a pleasant place, very spacious. I would love to share the property with another creative entrepreneur so that we can each do our own thing and – who knows – complement each other. I am thinking of a furniture maker, a reupholsterer, an interior architect,…”

Knowing what I can and cannot do gives me more peace of mind

Piot therefore believes 100% in the power of collaboration. “I learned the most by shadowing experienced furniture makers and carpenters. In the beginning I sometimes suffered from the imposter syndrome since I did not follow any specific training as a cabinetmaker or joiner. But as an entrepreneur you learn to call on other professionals when you need advice or help. For example, I can’t draw 3D, I once started an education but it just doesn’t suit me. If I need a 3D design for a project, I work with an interior architect who is good at it.”

“Knowing what I can and cannot do gives me more peace of mind. I cherish my network of joiners, furniture makers, interior architects, craftsmen and teachers – such as Gerry Vervoort of Dierbaar Design, a restorer for Vitra & Knoll. They are happy to share their knowledge with me. Together we always find a solution. Atelier Recyclé is largely a one-women show, but behind the scenes I am supported and helped by fantastic professionals who deserve my absolute thanks and appreciation.”

Gut feeling

“It may be ‘not done’ to say this as an entrepreneur, but I’m not the most career-oriented person,” Piot continues. “Right now I’m doing what I love to do. My two passions – restoring furniture and caring for people and the world – come together in Atelier Recyclé and it feels very good to me. It all grew organically, on my gut feeling, and I like to let it grow like that.”

She dreams of one day linking her business to social employment. “I would like to put people to work who have fewer or no opportunities on the labor market. Yes, there’s that caring side of me again,” says Piot. “But not yet: because I only work during school hours, I cannot and do not yet want to take on the commitment and responsibility to hire people. When I do something, I want to do it right without losing sight of the aforementioned balance. We will see what the future brings.”

People are looking for a way to make the world more beautiful, for themselves and far beyond. The fact that I can help them in that search, in my own committed way, gives me great satisfaction

What started as a hobby project has grown into a value-driven company with great future potential, partly due to the increased awareness of climate issues and the growing attention for sustainable furniture. Piot sees another cause: “We live in a time where stress, deadlines and high expectations are the norm. We receive a lot of bad news every day and this makes many people think about what they are doing and where they want to go.”

The realization is growing that small changes can have the biggest results. Meaning, connection: I know they are expensive words, but it is true that there is a great need for them. People are looking for a way to make the world more beautiful, for themselves and far beyond. The fact that I can help them in that search, in my own committed way, gives me great satisfaction.”

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