Freek van Litsenburg

“Privileged to be able to do this”

University Fund Raquel Mourik

The Tilburg University Challenge encourages students to start a business focused on a social problem. In 2021, Freek van Litsenburg won both the Business Ready Award and the Audience Award with his company Bigger Picture Clothing. The accompanying cash prize, co-sponsored by the Tilburg University Fund, got him off to a flying start. How are Freek and his company doing these days?

“I got the idea for Bigger Picture Clothing while I was studying Strategic Management at Tilburg University. I realized that, although I had a grasp of the theory involved in setting up a company, the practical side of it eluded me. I was curious as to which steps I would have to take to actually start a business. As I designed clothing as a hobby, I went in that direction. I wanted to make a sustainable product and link it to a charity. I also thought clothing would combine well with charity, as both your clothing and the cause you choose to support are an expression of your identity. My business was mostly geared toward building experience and learning a lot. I didn’t expect to have a profitable company within a week.” 

Wasting no time, Freek van Litsenburg (24) paused his studies and started working on the concept of his company. “I took courses in skills I thought I needed to give Bigger Picture Clothing the chance to succeed: online clothing design and web design. Shortly after completing those, the Tilburg University Challenge started. Participants were given the assignment to come up with a solution to a social problem and to turn this into a business. This aligned perfectly with what I was doing. As I already had the concept, I was able to focus on developing it for the next ten months.”

Freek van Litsenburg

I thought clothing would combine well with charity, as both your clothing and the cause you choose to support are an expression of your identity

Freek van Litsenburg


Photographer: Erik van der Burgt

Simple overview

Looking back, I’m proud of how I handled things. I gathered information on how to start a company from all kinds of sources. There were many online videos of people telling their stories. I called people to ask for their advice and I also received support from the university. While I was looking for a suitable manufacturer, I made a very simple overview of every production region’s characteristics. This led me to Portugal because it’s affordable and close by, and because it offers sustainable manufacturing facilities. I then approached fifty factories, which I brought down to three. After visiting those, I made my final pick. I was pretty tense about it, but I did a bit of bluffing and trusted my gut, which led me to make the right choice.” 

“Then there was the other aspect, the charities. In order to experience how charitable organizations work, I participated in a project in Gambia for a while. Here I learned what I find important within collaboration. Transparency is key. I believed that the customers of Bigger Picture Clothing needed to know what was happening with their money. Furthermore, I wanted the majority of the revenue to go to the charity, not to salaries or some kind of business structure. Finally, I wanted to be in close contact with the people I work together with within that charity, so I can ask questions and raise points directly.” 

 “I link each new collection to a charity, such as supporting schoolchildren in Gambia or water facilities in Ethiopia and Tanzania. This can also be seen in the designs. The first collection was linked to a project in Ivory Coast. It featured the colors orange-white-green [colors of the flag of Ivory Coast, ed.] and a small sketch of an elephant. As well as making customers feel more connected to the project, it makes for a good conversation starter.”

Through the Tilburg University Challenge Challenge I met a lot of people that gave me their numbers and offered to help me out with whatever I needed

Financial room

The concept and its elaboration were so impressive that Freek won both the Business Ready Award and the Audience Award at the Tilburg University Challenge, for a combined cash prize of four thousand euros. 

“I used the money to fund most of the first collection, leaving me with more financial room to invest into marketing and a good-looking website. This allowed me to present the brand in the best possible way from the get-go. In addition to the cash prize, I was given an office space at the university. It was nice to work in the proximity of other entrepreneurs my age and have direct contact with business coaches. This really helped me as well. What’s more, through the Challenge I met a lot of people that gave me their numbers and offered to help me out with whatever I needed. You can’t put a price on something like that, and it really accelerated the way my company developed and improved.” 

It would be interesting to see if the brand continues to grow if it’s sold in stores

Two hundred percent

“I’ve been at it for two years now. At first, I was super excited about it, always giving it the proverbial two hundred percent. But I’ve calmed down a little, partly because I took a few steps back over the last six months. Or rather, more than a few. I had always wanted to live abroad. I’m convinced that if you place yourself outside of the context of familiar people and things, it makes you grow. There was nothing that tied me to the Netherlands, so I left for Australia on a kind of post-university exchange. I decided to temporarily put out fewer products with Bigger Picture Clothing and I used the internet to handle any running affairs. Now that I’m back, I’m at a point where I need to make important decisions about the future of Bigger Picture Clothing. When I was just starting out, I was free to try out things, but it’s no longer something fun to do on the side. I need an income now. I don’t want to feel that pressure while running my company, so I’m considering finding a parttime job. The time I’d have left would allow me to grow Bigger Picture Clothing one step at time and in a well-considered fashion. Maybe I’ll look for a partner with complementary qualities, but I’m still on the fence about that. I’m also thinking about experimenting with selling in retail. I currently sell everything online. It would be interesting to see if the brand continues to grow if it’s in stores.” 

De klant koopt een product waar hij zich goed ín en goed óver voelt en dat we kunnen bijdragen aan maatschappelijke vraagstukken

Me and my laptop

“In any event, my intention is for Bigger Picture Clothing to keep on going. How I see myself in ten years? I hope to be running a healthy company that’s bigger than me and my laptop. That would mean Bigger Picture Clothing has continued to demonstrate how you can sell clothing sustainably. And doing so, I might add, in a way that’s beneficial to all parties: for us it’s a source of income, for the customer it’s the chance to buy a product that they feel comfortable in and with, and for society it’s a contribution to the issues it faces. That’s the scenario I have in mind now. It’s a lot of fun and I feel privileged to be able to do this, but it’s not only fun or easy. In the Netherlands we’re pretty organized, but in other parts of the world it’s hard work to get things done.” 

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Date of publication: 20 September 2023