Interview with Tom Van Haelen of Gillio Firenze

Tom Van Haelen, Sales Manager at Gillio Firenze

Can you tell me a little about your company?

It all started with my aunt, Céline Sterckx, who opened a very small stationery shop in the center of Brussels in 1954. She had an eye for beautiful things so she sold all big organizer brands such as Filofax, Mulberry, Oberthur, Exatime,… well as some writing instruments.

When my father and mother took over her business in 1986 they went to a lot of trade fairs in Europe and that’s where they discovered some small Italian manufacturers of leather goods. They fell immediately in love with the way they make their products (with passion) and they couldn’t resist the very nice smell of vegetable tanned Tuscan leather. So, we decided to start with the creation and production of our organizer range and we started to sell the first Gillio organizers in our own little shop. The reactions of our customers were so positive that we decided to visit other stationery shops. In the beginning it was very hard to enter in those shops as most of the retailers were not open to receiving another sales representative of an unknown organizer brand…..But once they had a Gillio in their hands they suddenly couldn’t understand why they initially refused to allow us to present our Gillio organizers. They couldn’t stop looking, touching and smelling our Gillio organizers and they even started to order!

Now, 27 years later we are present in around 60 shops in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, Germany and Austria. Together with my father Paul,  my brother Ben and my sister Mieke we run this small family business. And of course we have Els, Steve and Mieke helping us to develop our Gillio brand.

Besides our distribution activities we have now 2 shops of our own (Gillio Boutique in Brussels and Goldpen in Antwerp) where we sell mainly our Gillio collection but also writing instruments.

Gillio has always  been a label for quality, service, artisanal and timeless collections. We try to offer the best quality in leathers and finishing, and our main target is to make our collections accessible for a large public. Given the limited financial possibilities, we don’t want to invest in publicity campaigns. We know that this is against all marketing rules but we prefer doing it like this as marketing costs will only result in higher consumer prices. We want to offer a fantastic product for an acceptable price…. luxury must be accessible for everybody.

Another strength is our leather. There is absolutely no doubt that Gillio leather is “real” leather.  Our leathers are 100% natural: “They feel like leather, they smell like leather, they look like all leathers should look.”

Meanwhile, the Gillio collection is much more than only organizers. Just to give you an idea: we have more or less 90 different product references available in at least 4 colours!

This is a short review of our Gillio collection:

*Desk set
*Small leather items
*Pen accessories
*Guest books
*Lady bags

  *   And how did the planners come about?

As mentioned above,it all started in our small shop in Brussels. Initially we sold all the well known organizer brands  but as we had such a small shop and we were surrounded by larger multinational shops who also sold those brands we had to be different in order to survive.. …so we decided to search for something else…something unique.

Together with some Italian artisans, we created our own planner collections Amica, Compagna and Mia Cara in our famous epoca leathers.  We managed in Belgium to be competitive with Filofax, Exatime, Mulberry and Succes. A big challenge for a small family business like ours!

Together with the electronic hype, the sales of our organizers went down. We still sell organizers well but you cannot compare the sales with the florisant sales of the late eighties. We even thought there were no “organizer-addicts” anymore until Mella Pieper came into our shop a few months ago. She fell soooo in love with a Gillio planner, did a review and unpacking on you tube and suddenly, Gillio planners were REBORN. Thanks to Mella, we reached the heart of organizer fans.

We are so grateful for sharing our passion with other passionate people of the Philofaxy community all over the world.

In both our shops,  we managed to live without those big, famous brands and people are coming from all over the country (and far beyond) to buy their Gillio.

*   Who designs them and how and where are they made?

All our leathers are made by the finest Italian Artisans in Firenze who learnt the vegtable tanning procedure  of leather skins from their grandfathers….. We are proud not to use any chemicals in our leathers so we are contributing to keeping the environment clean.

All Gillio designs are created by our family and our chief designers in Italy. In Firenze, the capital of artisans, there are still some traditional artisans who make the goods with the same passion as we sell them.

But this artisanal way of working in Firenze is in danger. Industrial and cheaper productions, like most  of the famous brands are killing those artisans. Also low cost productions coming  from the far east are a real danger for  them. Most people only look at the price and they forget about the real value of what they buy. Buying a Gillio is like signing a wedding contract … The relationship between you and your Gillio will last for years, probably for a lifetime!

With every new Gillio client  we make, we hope to keep those artisans alive.

*   Do you use a planner yourself? What do you use it for and which model do you use?

Thanks to Mella, I re-discovered my “old” passion, my gold medium compagna. This is my second planner.  The very first one was the medium compagna  in green.They both aged so well and I’m glad I’m using them again because there is nothing better than to experience the leather feeling of a Gillio in your hand.

I use my planner for my meetings and to write down my projects and to do lists. I chose the epoca leather –  this is and will always be our n°1, timeless leather. The other leathers we work with, like Croco, Ostrich and lizard prints are more exclusive productions that we renew every few years…

*   Are you surprised that there are such hardcore planner fanatics out there?

Actually, yes. I really thought that given the electronic way of communicating, the organizers were doomed but thanks to Mella we know they aren’t. I am really glad to have discovered all of you” Filofax” lovers through the internet.

The way you , Filofax lovers, use your organizers, so carefully and in a loving way, this is all new for me and this is boosting our creative minds…

I think we treat our leathers as passionately as you people treat your organiser and this seems to be the perfect match for both of us.

  *   Anything exciting in the pipeline for us Filofax fans?

You guys are so amazing and you all give me inspiration to work hard  on creating some new Gillio products. We will certainly launch new colors, new leathers and who knows new models?  The organizers represent only a very small part of the Gillio leather collection so my sister Mieke will also make some YouTube videos of our lady bags collection and I will continue to do some reviews on other Gillio timeless leather beauties.

* Could you mention in which ways people can customise their folders – for example the ring colour and embossing?

 We are working on a way that people can personalise their planners.

  • Engraving initials , Name or a company logo is a way to give your Gillio planner an extra personal value. This procedure takes about 3 working days longer before the organiser will be sent.
  • We soon will also give the option to choose the color of the rings. We are still doing some tests on this and when we have sort out everything ; we will release this extra option on our website.

  *Is it possible that there will be another promotional offer for Philofaxy?

Those who bought their Gillio planner on promotion are very lucky because I do not think we will do such a promotion again. We will do some actions in the future to put a specific Gillio item in the spotlight in one or another way. This might not be a Gillio planner but something else from the Gillio range.

 * what can you tell us about the inserts? They are on really good paper and are very user-friendly. Who designs and prints them?

 Our paper is printed by a general Italian house who also makes refills for other brands. We have chosen the cream colored paper because we think it fits better with the Gillio Leathers.



Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

11 thoughts

    1. So now here is another organiser, which I want. My hubby says that this site is bad for me as I have desires for a bag DNS another organiser, all in less than twenty four hours. What does a man understand about these things! Anyway, he has an A4 Filofax for his car stuff, so no problem.


  1. This picture of Tom makes me think we need to make a Philofaxy calendar…attractive men with their beautiful, well used planners…hehehe

    1. Mella, your name has been engraved on the altar of Our Lady of the Fabulous Accessories for telling us about Gillio.

      1. … and amen to that!
        This beautiful man- creature speaks with the words of Coco Chanel. ” Luxury must be accessible to everybody.”

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