secrid arbeidsparticipatie

Valuing capabilities: Sheltered workshops and Secrid

For 15 years, our teams in sheltered workshops have been central to Secrid’s wallet-assembly operations.

Our colleagues there need tailored environments to be able to work, because they have autism, for example, or may have lost a limb. But where society tends to fixate on their disabilities, we see their capabilities.

We work with these people because they are the best for the job. For us, they are a must-have: they’re uniquely skilled, valued employees, who are integral to Secrid’s operations, identity and success.

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valuing capabilities secrid sheltered workshops
valuing capabilities secrid sheltered workshops
Written by Marianne and René, Secrid founders

We’ve worked this way for 15 years. So why talk about it now?

Over this time, we think we’ve proven that collaborating with sheltered workshops works. Frankly, we’ve been so focused on building this way of working that we haven’t put much time into talking about it publicly. But we feel now’s the time to say more — hopefully, to help inspire entrepreneurs, employees, designers and consumers to ask questions and make conscious decisions.

In the Netherlands alone, 125,000 people with disabilities are looking for work. That’s a vast pool of potential. We need to create jobs for people who are ready and willing to work. This includes acknowledging and responding to the motivation and talents of people with disabilities.  

We’ve built a profitable business that tries to play the role it should in society: creating jobs, valuing people and the planet, and manufacturing quality products for everyday use. We still have much further to go at Secrid. But we’re ready to share our thoughts and actions so far, to open up conversations and encourage other companies to drive change, too. 

Changing products, processes and lives for the better.

When we’d designed our first Secrid wallet, potential stockists asked us if we could get it made cheaply in China. We refused politely, as we already knew that would risk shortcuts on workers’ welfare and environmental protections. So, the two of us and our colleague Paul assembled the first 13,000 Secrid wallets at the kitchen table. A labour of love, but not viable long-term.

We needed a more sophisticated way of working — so we thought back to 1995, when we’d collaborated with a sheltered workshop for a former client. We got back in touch with the manager at DZB Leiden, and ideas fell into place. In the following years, we expanded our sheltered workshop operations, partnering with Werkse! and Spaarne Werkt. Now, over 150 people work for Secrid in sheltered workshops. 

They know every millimetre of our Secrid products.

With the expertise of these organisations to guide us, we’ve (re)designed our products, processes and employee training to suit our workshop teams’ ways of being. From the start, the knowledge and feedback from our sheltered workshop colleagues have been instrumental in this development: they know every millimetre of the Secrid products, every second of the assembly processes, and precisely how to improve them. 

Thanks to their collaboration, we’ve removed unnecessary elements from our designs; developed improved tools, including a more ergonomic thumb-press; and designed intuitive machines for employees assembling and engraving wallets (often hundreds at a time). And when our designers work on new Secrid ranges, how our workshop teams will create them is front of mind.

We listen to and learn from what our workshop teams share with us, changing our products and processes for the better because of it. And our workshop colleagues tell us they feel seen, heard and valued as part of Secrid. This extends into their lives outside work, as they develop confidence, skills, financial independence and broader social circles. With jobs they find fulfilling: they feel useful and truly enjoy going to work. 

The skill and precision of the teams are formidable, too. For example, we unsurprisingly made mistakes when we assembled those first 13,000 wallets… But our workshop assemblers very rarely do. Their attention to detail and capacity to hone in on each assembly stage are far stronger than in a neurotypical brain. They take pride in ensuring the impeccable quality of our wallets. 

valuing capabilities secrid sheltered workshops

And, of course, they know the type of working environment they want and need. Sheltered, yes, to avoid sensory overload and make space for the teams’ dynamics. But, in essence it feels like just being another part of Secrid. The people work in an atmosphere infused with our company values and spirit.

We wouldn’t have it any different.
Good business is far from straightforward. But it’s essential.

Working for good means there’s no easy answer — and the same goes for integrating sheltered workshops into our operations. 15 years in, we’re continually pushing for improvements. 

Designing our products and processes based on our workshop colleagues’ feedback means significant investment of time and money (many people assume we’re subsidised to incorporate sheltered workshops into our operations, which isn’t the case). We committed to this ongoing investment because it was - and is - the logical path for Secrid. 

Still, there’s much more work to do to highlight sheltered workshops nationally. We’re calling for fair recognition of the role of sheltered workshops in more companies’ operations. The extent to which we ask for and act on our workshop colleagues’ feedback may not be normal. But this should be standard practice: the workshop teams are closest to the processes, so they know best how things can be improved.

It’s about the people.

Over 15 years, we’ve been able to elevate our products and processes thanks to the skill, insight and diligence of our sheltered workshop teams. Collaborating with these colleagues is central to Secrid’s design being a force for good. It’s also central to the profitable core business we’ve built, which lets us invest in innovating for people, processes and materials. Most importantly, it positively impacts our sheltered workshop colleagues, through fulfilment, independence, and personal and professional development.

  • valuing capabilities secrid sheltered workshops
valuing capabilities secrid sheltered workshops

DZB Leiden

DZB Leiden supports people in the Leiden region who are looking for work, but have difficulty finding it due to illness, disability or a setback in life. The organisation links job seekers with local employers, finding roles where they can develop their skills and feel at home.


Werkse! helps Delft residents struggling to find employment to get a job that suits them. Sometimes it’s just about finding the right employer, but Werkse! usually starts by supporting candidates with training, interviews and work experience. Werkse! also offers people with disabilities sheltered work in its training companies.

Spaarne Werkt

Spaarne Werkt is a participation company, where people looking for work get ready to (re)join the workforce. In Haarlem, Heemstede, Bloemendaal and Zandvoort, Spaarne Werkt offers people who can and want to work personalised help and guidance as they find a job.