#howikibou with Co-Founder Stephanie Merks

Kibou - Stephanie Merks

First things first, how did you end up in Amsterdam?

I was actually born here and moved away when I was 2, so it’s not a totally random choice since I speak the language and have some extended family here. But I’ve always had an itch to come back and experience life here as an adult, so when we had our second kid and essentially outgrew our NYC apartment, we decided it was now or never to take the European adventure plunge. 

Was this always the vision or did Covid impact your plans? 

When we left, we had envisioned trying it out for a year and seeing how we felt. We had the most glorious first summer travelling around Europe, and very quickly fell in love with the city, the easy-going lifestyle and the people we met. We were also able to go back and forth to NYC for work often, which really helped with the transition. Then Covid hit 6 months later, and we were grounded and forced to fully commit to Amsterdam until the pandemic was over. At first we were thankful we were in Europe since restrictions were much more relaxed here, but things quickly shifted when the vaccines arrived. We are currently in our 6th month of lockdown here and still very much in depths of the pandemic with cases on the rise every day and no solid vaccination plan in sight. 

How I Kibou Stephanie Merks

How are Théo and Niko adapting to life there?

We moved when they were both under 4 and immediately put them into local Dutch schools so they learned the language and have adapted really quickly. Overall, it’s been a really positive experience slowing down our parenting style in a smaller/calmer city. It’s one of the most kid-friendly cities; many restaurants have a play-area for kids so the adults can have an uninterrupted meal, and every neighborhood has a free “kinderboerderij” children’s animal petting farm where kids can play with farm animals whenever they please. It’s so freeing to have everything accessible by bike; we just throw the kids, dog, scooters, and snacks into our “bakfiets” bucket bike and we are ready for an entire day’s adventure. 

How I Kibou Stephanie Merks

Being so far away, we have to ask, what do you miss about Brooklyn?

I miss my friends, the energy NYC has to offer, and of course my favorite foods. I have yet to find a good European take on bagels, Mexican food or an iced latte (which you wouldn’t think is that hard to get right!) 

What are the differences you’ve noticed between parenting in the US vs. the Netherlands?

One thing that I’ve found so interesting is that the concept of “mom guilt” doesn’t really exist in the Netherlands, parents prioritize their lives and the kids just roll with it. In general, parenting style is extremely relaxed here, kids are very independent at a young age and parents really don’t sweat the small stuff. Children in primary school bike themselves to school, and it’s not uncommon to see playgrounds full of kids without parents in sight. One of their breakfast staples is a slice of bread with chocolate sprinkles on it! Parents also pile multiple children on to their bikes without seat belts or helmets which took some getting used to. This laissez-faire mindset also has its setbacks though. For example, support for children with any special needs is quite limited and not available on-site in public schools, which is a big contrast to the support network children have access to in the US. 

How I Kibou Stephanie Merks

What were you doing before Kibou?

My husband and I are both designers, and have our own graphic design studio, SMAK Studio, that specializes in branding and packaging design. That business is still going strong as well, so between that and Kibou, I definitely have my hands full!

So what made you jump on board with Nell and Kibou?

When Nell shared her idea of the minimal diaper bag with me, I totally fell in love with it and encouraged her to pursue it and make it a reality. Shortly thereafter she asked me to come on as her partner to help her develop the product and be the creative arm of the company, and I jumped at the opportunity. Not only because I wanted a minimal diaper bag solution to exist for myself, but also because, who wouldn’t want to work with one of their best friends!

And how does it work being on two separate continents and time zones from your business partner?

Nell starts work early to catch me during my working hours and I work late nights to be able to catch her during her working hours. I’m not going to say 6 hour time difference is the easiest working arrangement, but we have worked like this since before Kibou even launched, so I think we are pros at the multi-continental working relationship now! Plus it helps that we are friends and both moms, so we give each other grace and tackle the challenges head on as a team.

How I Kibou Stephanie Merks

What do you love most about your job?  And what has been the biggest challenge of launching and running Kibou? 

I love working on a product that I am passionate about. I truly just want every parent to own a Kibou because I think it would make their life easier. It’s been so rewarding to see the positive feedback we have gotten in the industry, as well as the personal notes from parents who go out of their way to thank us for creating the product. The other thing I love about my job is working with Nell. I couldn’t imagine a better business partner, and it always feels fun to work together!

What are you most excited for when the world opens up again? 

A girls trip with my best friends who I haven’t seen in person in a year and a half....No kids, no husband, no responsibility and lots of margaritas. 

How I Kibou Stephanie Merks

What’s in your Kibou right now? 

My Kibou is the only bag I use when I am both with the kids and without, so I always have all the classic essentials in there. I'm a huge believe in the less stuff you have with you the simpler your parenting life will be. But my best kept secrets are the mini-packs of Haribo I stash in the bottom in case of a meltdown, the Advil I keep in my credit card slots in case I have a migraine when I’m out, and the changing pad pocket that I use to stash the family’s passports when we are traveling. 

Kibou Stephanie Merks

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