Amsterdam's homespun industry

The handy hoisting beams that adorn the gables of Amsterdam’s historic houses are testimony to the fact that once, in the 17th century, Amsterdam was one giant workshop. Sawmills, shipping companies, leather tanneries, sugar refineries, coffee roasting houses, spinning mills and tobacco companies sprang up like mushrooms just beyond the Canal Belt. Up until halfway through the 19th century – when, for instance, Amsterdam still had 1,400 cigar makers and tobacco cutters – it remained that way. But the dawn of the industrial revolution marked the gradual disappearance of the production industry – into the countryside, where there was space for textile factories and large beer brewers. Amsterdam remained the centre for trading and consumption, but the factories were turned into houses and offices. Hammers and chisels were replaced with computers.

But a few years ago, Amsterdam’s production industry saw a dramatic revival: companies that make tangible products want to be based in the city again. Firstly, because modern IT networks mean it’s possible for production to be anywhere: the necessity for the ‘head’ and the ‘hands’ of a company to be in the same place has long gone. Secondly, because brands need intelligent people from across the world, and these people want to live in Amsterdam. High-tech navigation company TomTom, for example – which generated in excess of €950 million last year – is situated in the middle of the city.

Other Dutch brands like pushchair pioneers Bugaboo follow the same principle. As does Rituals, the ‘luxury home and body cosmetics brand’ set up by Raymond Cloosterman in an Amsterdam basement 15 years ago, which today has 350 stores in 15 countries. Cloosterman travels so much that a head office at Schiphol seemed like a good idea. ‘I tried it,’ he says. ‘But ultimately we want to be in the centre, because of the city’s energy.’

Yet there’s also room for small-scale, artisanal production again. Breweries, sausage makers and chocolate producers can all exist here, because there’s a demand for their products. Amsterdammers are the country’s most critical consumers. They want to know what they’re eating – which means locally produced, preferably organic and sustainable products – and they want to make things themselves again, too. 

Find many of these iconic Amsterdam brands, ane learn more about their stories in the I amsterdam Store at Central Station.


Founded by former Unilever executive Raymond Cloosterman in 2000, Rituals’ name comes from the idea of turning the routine into rituals, whether those things are household chores or part of a grooming regime. The breadth of the brand’s product offering distinguishes it from similar cosmetics brands: along with skincare and cosmetics, its offering includes washing-up liquid, tea, candles, clothing and ‘car perfume’. Rituals, Kalverstraat 203 and across town

Brouwerij 't IJ

The first of the city’s organic microbreweries is located in a former municipal bathhouse at the foot of the Goyer Windmill, with a suntrap of a terrace. Producing brews along traditional methods – read: without filtering or pasteurisation – results in a distinctive, full-bodied taste. You can taste them on a 30-minute tour (admission includes a beer) from Friday to Sunday. In addition to ‘house beers’ – including a Belgian double and triple, plus white beer, IPA and blonde – there are seasonal specials such as bokbiers and barley wines. Brouwerij 't IJ, Funenkade 7

‘Our customers like that our beer is brewed in the city – it’s a large part of the charm. Perhaps we’ve gone too far with industrialisation, which is why we want to go back to traditional products that are made with love.’ Brewer Tim Hendriks


Serious cyclists, like keen runners, have long used GPS tracking to chart their daily biking progress via smartphone. Now Amsterdam-based bike company Vanmoof has become the first manufacturer to harness satellite technology to counter bike theft. The firm’s just-released ‘Electrified’ model communicates with a smartphone app to establish its exact location, particularly useful should it ever be ‘borrowed’ by undesirables. Vanmoof, Mauritskade 55

Brouwerij de Vriendschap

In the last ten years almost 250 independent breweries have been set up in the Netherlands. Among them is Brouwerij de Vriendschap, which has a ‘BrewLab’ in bleeding-edge Amsterdam-Noord. Producing beers such as Puike Pale Ale, the NDSM Porter and the Zwoele Stad summer beer, friends Peter Harms and Aart van Bergen have successfully turned a hobby into a cottage industry. Check the website for tasting events or pick up the products at local off licences. Brouwerij de Vriendschap, Sportpark De Melkweg, Meteorenweg 272

Ace & Tate

Named for the cellulose acetate from which the majority of its frames are formed, glasses company Ace & Tate cuts costs by eliminating third parties and middlemen to provide an online glasses service (including prescription lenses) for just €98. And these aren’t your average NHS frames: affordable, stylish and high quality, they’re cool classics in the making. Ace & Tate, De Bijenkorf, Dam 1 or online

United Nude

A collaboration between the nephew of one of the Netherlands’ most famous architects and a descendent of the Clark family that has controlled the eponymous British shoe brand for seven generations, United Nude footwear is part sculpture, part shoe, all style. Elastic features prominently, as does moulded plastic running the gamut of Pantone’s most riotous hues. United Nude, Molsteeg 10

‘Amsterdam may not be a fashion city, but it is renowned for its art and design. It’s also a real global village with a strong international orientation.’ Rem Koolhaas, United Nude

Heineken Experience

With a brewing heritage stretching back more than 250 years, Heineken is perhaps the most famous Amsterdam brand, and one of the world’s favourite beers. While no longer brewed within the city limits, the former Heineken brewery is now an interactive playground for over-18s, featuring virtual reality experiences, a touch of nostalgia and free beer. Heineken Experience, Stadhouderskade 78


Furniture and lighting maker Moooi has been producing bright and witty products since 2001. Founded by renowned Dutch designer Marcel Wanders and business partner Casper Vissers, it brings together some of the most innovative design studios currently working in the Netherlands. The name is a play on the Dutch word mooi, which means ‘beautiful’, the extra ‘o’ standing for the extra quirky beauty the firm offers. Better-known designs include the ‘Smoke Chair’ by Maarten Baas (with wood finished by blowtorch) and the ‘Horse Lamp’ by Front (a lamp in the shape and dimensions of a real horse). Jurgen Bey, Kiki van Eijk, Studio Job and almost 30 others also contribute. Moooi, Westerstraat 187 

I believe that creativity needs the freedom and nonchalance of a city like Amsterdam. People are much more broad-minded here. I travel a lot, but wouldn’t move away for all the tea in China.’ Marcel Wanders, Moooi

Brandt & Levie

Founded in 2011 by Amsterdammers Samuel Levie, Geert van Wersch and Jiri Brandt, Brandt & Levie produces sustainable sausages. Having travelled through Italy learning the science of charcuterie, they brought their skills home to Amsterdam’s Houthavens neighbourhood. With eight dried sausages – ranging from the expected (black pepper) to the unusual (lavender) – and seasonal fresh snags, they can be found at some of the city’s finest restaurants, markets and delicatessens. Brandt & Levie, Vleck Wijnen, Eerste Helmersstraat 63 & elsewhere

Cafe-Restaurant Troost

With three enormous silver vats suspended above the bar, Troost (Dutch for ‘consolation’) certainly doesn’t hide its light under a bushel. Through glass doors inside the casual canteen, the brewery itself looks like a highly polished science lab, and the blonde, IPA and white beers it produces are all fantastic, while the burgers are some of the best in the ’hood. Brouwerij Troost, Cornelis Troostplein 21

Marie Stella Maris

In 2010 the United Nations adopted resolution 64/292, which recognised access to clean drinking water and sanitation as a basic human right. The resolution was the inspiration for a new kind of brand based on sharing: for every product purchased, Marie-Stella-Maris donates a fixed amount towards clean drinking water projects around the world. The brand was launched by creative director Patrick Munsters and former telecoms executive Carel Neuberg in 2011 with bottled mineral water. It was soon extended to include skin, body, hair and home care products. The water is available in more than 150 select restaurants and supermarkets in Amsterdam and in the Water Bar below the brand’s flagship store on the historic Canal Belt. Marie Stella Maris,  Keizersgracht 357