The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Johan Hollants

Johan Hollants

Sells clothes on- and offline on Lily.

Can you describe what you do?

Together with my wife Kelly, I run the clothing shop Lily. We have an outlet in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwenstraat but we also run a web shop from a separate office, so our daily job involves a lot of travelling back-and-forth between the two. We have a good division of roles where I tend to do the practical and administrative work, and my wife handles all the creative aspects of our enterprise.

We used to live right next to the store, but recently we’ve moved just outside the centre. I think the distance is actually an advantage, it allows you to take your mind off work while riding your bike home.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

Over the years, I’ve seen the city become a lot cleaner and a lot more fun. Many of our customers tell us they are pleasantly surprised when coming here now, compared to ten years ago. This growth has also translated into a lot more activities being organised and leisure options becoming available. There’s an increasing choice of bars and restaurants, whereas before the options were very limited. It is also reflected in the sociability of the residents. When we go to the market on Saturday, we only need some bread and cheese, but we inevitably stick around for a few hours just meeting and talking to people.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

In Mechelen there’s a perfect balance between a traditional vibe and innovation. I think this is the result of a long-term vision where advancements are steadily and gradually implemented. A lot of cities tend to think in terms of bigger and better, but that doesn’t always make a place more pleasant to live in. There is still a feeling of conviviality that you’d associate more with a village. As a result, it is still easy to meet new people here.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

The feeling of safety in the city has a tremendous impact on our day-to-day quality of life. When I was young, safety on the streets was actually an issue here, but nowadays I won’t have a problem letting my kids play in the streets or wander around town. It’s also good for business, more and more people find their way to Mechelen as our good reputation starts to spread.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I don’t like to complain, because there’s already a lot of effort to make things better. Even if it doesn’t always work out, the good intentions are there and I can respect that. So I’ll settle for even more good restaurants and bars, because you can never have enough of those.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

If you don’t know Mechelen at all, just follow the “classic triangle” of Bruul, Ijzerenleen and Onze-Lieve-Vrouwenstraat, and inevitably you’ll come across our prettiest sights like the Beguinage or Margaret’s Palace. It’s not a huge place, so you don’t need to do too much research.

If you can stand the hustle and bustle, the Vismarkt is definitely the place to have a bite or a drink, a bit more intimate than the Grote Markt or Grand Market Place. Check out Pintxos for a personal twist on tapas! Just outside the centre, you can find another personal favorite: Wagenoord. It’s a co-working space with an event space and a restaurant. But there’s lots of great opportunities for great food: Cosma, Stassart 11… again you just have to wander around and find something you like.