Over the past century, the combination of war, economic hardship, and a dwindling artisan tradition has all but eliminated the once thriving leather industry in The Netherlands. When Hester started designing in the 1980s, the Amsterdam leather industry was but a shadow of its former self. But in the neighborhood that had been the heart of the industry for centuries, inhabited by tanners, producers, and haberdashery shops, Hester was fortunate to find retired artisans who were willing to instruct her in their arts.
It is one thing to have design talent, but quite another to have the experience and level of craftsmanship necessary to transition designs into production. Such training makes it possible to graduate from a student tinkering in their home to an artisan equipped with the knowledge necessary to operate a full-fledged business. Today there are foundations to stimulate educational programs and to start up companies, but none exist that connect art with craftsmanship. In The Netherlands there remains but one vocational school that offers coursework in bag design, and that school offers only a single introductory level class.
Hester created Stichting (Foundation) Hester van Eeghen Leather Design because she wanted to elevate the quality of leather manufacturing in The Netherlands. Monies raised from events such as Hester's 10- and 20-year anniversary auctions are used for design competitions, visiting designers, and study trips to leather workshops in other countries.
The foundation is meant to be a platform for knowledge. By working together with various art academies, the foundation will provide students a way to effectively complete a course in shoe and bag design.
De Stichting Leather Design organiseert elke twee jaar met Tassenmuseum Hendrikje een wedstrijd om ontwerpers die met leer werken te stimuleren. De inzendingen worden tentoongesteld in het museum. Deze Stichting is een initiatief van Hester van Eeghen waarbij vormgeven binnen het leerambacht centraal staat. Als tassenontwerper wil Van Eeghen het uitstervende leervak in Nederland stimuleren en nieuw talent een kans geven.
De Stichting is ontstaan omdat veel vormgevers de stap van enkele stuks maken naar een serieproductie niet kennen omdat de leerindustrie dreigt uit te sterven in Nederland. Door deze stichting worden ontwerpers en de uitvoerders van het leerambacht samen gebracht zodat kennis, passie en praktijkkennis wordt overgedragen.
“Schatkamers op Schoot” (Treasures on your Lap) was the theme of Hester’s ten-year anniversary extravaganza in 1998, with an auction at Sotheby’s Amsterdam. Each object had its own identity, its own unique element of surprise. Hester used the revenues from the aution to realize her long-held desire of starting a foundation.
Hester worked in close collaboration with a traditional gold and silversmith for her twentieth anniversary event “Een Juweel van een Tas” (A Gem of a Bag). They scoured rare gem fairs to find semi-precious stones that served as the inspiration for each of the pieces in the collection. Hester’s atelier was a magical place with all of the gems and piles of colorful leather surrounding her as she worked to create each of these dazzling masterpieces.