For Ingrid van Skyhawk, the parallels of being an SAP solution expert and a handbag designer are obvious: creativity, drive, and design thinking.
In an improvised changing room at a golf club not far from SAP in Walldorf, models are rehearsing for the catwalk. The room is a hive of activity, and a jumble of clothes racks, boxes, mirrors, photographers’ equipment, and handbags. As the players of a women’s golf tournament stream into the hall, Ingrid van Skyhawk is still running through her final checks. She seems nervous with excitement. After all, she has been building up to this moment for a long time: Her collection of handbags are about to make their debut at a fashion show.
Ingrid designs handbags for business women. “With mobile and flexible working now common, we carry our offices around with us. After work, we collect the children, go shopping, or head straight to the sushi restaurant or movie theater,” Ingrid explains. This gave her the idea of the modular handbag, a bag-in-a-bag system that suits every occasion.
She designed three different-sized bags that can be used together or separately. The smaller bags and their content can be placed in the larger bag so that essential items such as a wallet, keys, and cell phone are always in their proper place. That’s not all: The straps delivered with the bags can be combined with each bag to give seven stylish variations.
“I created the handbags to meet my own need,” says Ingrid, who has raised two sons as a single parent and has been at SAP for more than 20 years. “I always had to be well organized and have everything with me when I left the house in the morning.”
From Nylon Bag to Designer Bag
“I hated having to carry a laptop bag and a handbag to the office. So I’d put my personal items in an ugly nylon bag that I then stuffed into the laptop bag.” The day her nylon bag tore, Ingrid decided there had to be a better way. On the same evening, she started drawing her first designs. Her motto is: “Just do it.” “I’d rather just get on with something, try an idea out, and produce a first version.”
Ingrid applied the skills she acquired as a junior design thinking coach at SAP outside work as well. She defined her needs, made a prototype, and researched the market. “I interviewed friends and colleagues about their needs, habits, and pain-points. That helped me improve my prototype.”
Things really took off when a friend suggested she apply for a local government grant. “I hadn’t really thought everything through at that stage but the jury liked my idea and awarded me a grant to pay for prototyping.” After that, the project took on a life of its own: What began as a bit of creative fun had suddenly become a real business. “Before I knew it, I found myself negotiating with suppliers, looking for a manufacturer, creating a brand, and setting up an online store with integrated invoicing and stock management.”
It took three attempts until she finally found a manufacturer in Italy who is willing to produce small quantities and who is just as passionate about the project. A lot of time and energy had gone into the search, since Ingrid wants her bags to be produced in Europe to keep traditional crafts alive. “Traditional leather craft has almost died out in Germany, and in Italy the industry is in decline.”
What inspires Ingrid to keep going when things get tough? “I just look back at everything I’ve achieved and focus on what went well,” she says.
“That’s the SAP in me”
Throughout her 20 years at SAP, Ingrid has always sought out new challenges and new experiences. “Innovative topics have always fascinated me,” she says. She works as a solution expert in the SAP S/4HANA Digital Core Team in the Scale, Enablement, and Transformation organization. Before that, she worked on two SAP patents in the financials module of SAP Business ByDesign. Ingrid was one of the first people to get involved with financial shared services, a completely new idea at the time, and helped design SAP’s first intranet. “I love seeing ideas through to fruition. And I always want to discover what I am capable of.”
Ingrid, who studied the history of art, certainly has a sense for the unique. Her bags, which are sold under the traditional family name Von Rechtenthal, aren’t just practical, they are very well made. Yet she doesn’t consider herself a fashion designer: “For me, function comes first,” she says, then smiles: “That’s the SAP in me.”
Her career at SAP has taught her how companies and business processes work. And to think big. But all big ideas need a reality check. She asks herself regularly: “I am on track? Am I giving customers what they really need?”
The fashion show is in full swing. The DJ is getting everyone in the mood and the golfers are enjoying the show. But what about men? How do they get by without bags? “That’s changing,” says Ingrid. “Their jobs have also become more mobile, and they need something to carry their devices in.” That’s why my next bag will be a manbag.”
After the show, Ingrid appears calm and relaxed. Inspired and energized by the event, her mind is already on her next move. She smiles as she reveals her plan to build her own “little bag empire”. Then she adds, “And I guess, one day I’ll need an SAP system to run it.”
Five Facts about Ingrid van Skyhawk
- Favorite place: My home
- The most recent bag you bought: A Calvin Klein handbag
- Your inspiration: In my career, a startup in Mannheim whose brightly-colored socks for men are conquering international markets. In my personal life, my husband and my sons
- I can’t live without… working on new ideas
- I love… power-walking in the countryside, loud music