“It’s difficult being in fashion: the only thing you can do (for the environment) is make sure that it stops.”
Borre Akkersdijk is a textile whirlwind, taking in all the interesting materials and techniques he can find, spewing out great, innovative products and lots of knowledge to start on the fabric development of the future.
PAST: WHAT MADE BYBORRE WHAT IT IS TODAY?
Imprint: Can you tell us how BYBORRE started, for you?
Borre Akkersdijk: At graduation I had already made my first small collection. I mostly did textile development. We ended up in a mattress factory where we changed the whole production process. Which lead to us starting out with fashion.
Imprint: You were interested in textile before you went to the Design Academy?
BA: Yes definitely. At about five years old I was already SUPER intrigued by accessories and buttons. I went to a technical design school but I wasn’t feeling it, so I started working for a shoe company at seventeen. I designed children’s shoes. That was my first product. At that moment I really wanted to build more concepts. Make things. So the Design Academy was the proper choice for me.
Imprint: What did the shoes look like?
BA: They were pretty classic, inspired by Brooks. One shoe was a higher shoe that had a ruffle on the back like the tail of a dinosaur. Quite cute actually.
PRESENT: HOW DOES BYBORRE WORK?
Imprint: How do you work? Process-wise, do you ever feel like a product is finished?
BA: Our work happens through development. Development of the machines gives us a material. That material has a certain shape and texture and due to that texture it gives form to the next step. It is a bit of a process, I never sketch a product beforehand. We start from the yarn. Knitting became one of the main focus points: the circling knitting machine had so many possibilities! We work with all different kinds of finishing.
That is the one part of developing textiles. Then we are onto the next step: fashion or interior? AND I bumped into technology: even more options. We sometimes go in completely different directions. I really like that. Yes, I have my normal collection on the side but it’s fun to go off track sometimes.
The moment you start developing and creating things, work always stays in process. It’s never perfect but it’s finished at that moment. When it’s good enough, you can go on. I want to develop, not get stuck in a trick.
Imprint: Which are your favourite collaborations and how do you choose who to work with?
BA: People always reach out to us, but I think the most interesting work you make is work you make yourself. Not because I think I’m better than others, but that’s when we’re developing and we’re pushing boundaries.
I was really happy when Nike reached out to us because it makes you realise even brands you look up to admire the things that you do. The collabs I feel really strongly about are probably those with the people around me, to push them.
I liked the one with Wings & Horns, they asked us to develop textiles for their company. We did and they made it into a jacket. We were actually a bit disappointed, because we loved the jacket but it was just a normal jacket. So we randomly decided to build a spacesuit from the spacey fabrics. It ended up hanging at New York Fashion Week – but hanging there it looked really boring. They couldn’t find a model tall enough to wear it so I did it myself. I went into town, into the metro, 42nd street, Times Square… Good fun.
I look back at that as a good collab, not because we had an end product in mind, but because there were no boundaries. A good collab happens when you combine different qualities, and each do what you are good at.
Imprint: Is this the suit you have pictures of in Calgary (on Instagram)?
BA: No, those are of the first suit with embedded technology. It had Wi-Fi and GPS in it. And I’d never really thought about how it would work. I wore it myself for ten days, and I took ten different pairs of Nikes with me to look a bit different every day. I put the suit on in the morning, looked in the mirror and thought: ‘Fucking hell, this looks stupid.’ And I walk out of my hotel room and a man in the hallway says: ‘FUCK that looks rad! I like it!’
Then I realised that I was in the States, where they have a ‘like’ culture: if it’s different, they like it, and they will tell you. In the streets I realised the aesthetics of the suit were the first trigger for people to come and talk to me. I would explain about the GPS and Wi-Fi, and that you can log on to the suit and read the whole story. So I had a reason to talk to them, and they to me, and they logged on to me and told their friends.
The most important thing we realised: even if the sensor technology is not advanced, you can still create something new! It was a combination of aesthetics, location and the wearer, and the different technologies that created a whole new world at that point. So we started to make new suits in the lab and are still working with that technology.
THE FUTURE: ACCORDING TO BYBORRE
Imprint: Can you explain the technological side of your garments?
BA: It started when I got a question from Martijn ten Bohmer from the Technological University in Eindhoven. They were doing a European project involving tactility and technology, and they wanted to create smart textiles. Every time they just took standard textiles and literally stuck on the technology. I looked into their project and said, I want to help you, but only when we’re going to build it from scratch. To integrate the conducting yarns and sensors, instead of just sticking it on and making it look nice.
The more I got involved, the more intrigued I got and the more I understood that they were just thinking of the technology side. Not of the user interface or for who they were making the textiles. They especially missed aesthetic. The aesthetic side is important – it’s the first step. To let people interact with something.
Clothing is your first layer of protection. It’s also your image. I think in the future clothing’s going to be the extension of your smartphone: the next step of communication. This is the first year we’re going to enter 3D spaces as we’re getting Oculus Rift and the Holo Lens. How can you move into 3D space? Instead of typing, maybe you’d say ‘hi’ through your sleeve, rubbing it. Or in Google Maps; instead of someone telling you to go left, you might feel a vibration on your left shoulder. The next step is a touch sensor that interacts with the whole body.
We talk about online and offline, but I don’t think there is an offline anymore. We are all online all the time. So are you going to be somewhere in digital form or in physical form?
IN THE FUTURE, HOW WILL BYBORRE FIT IN?
Imprint: Do you have certain ideals?
BA: Becoming a designer gave me the chance to change things a little bit. I find it super important to think about improvement. How can things be better and more beautiful? What will be good for the rest of the world? I’m not the one that is going to make the world better, but I don’t want to make it worse either.
Imprint: Why are you not the one who’s going to make the world better?
BA: It’s a difficult thing, especially being in fashion: the only thing you can do is make sure that it stops. It’s only polluting. But I do believe the moment we’re going to communicate with our clothing, image will be less important. Clothes should now be functional first: you don’t have a phone because it looks so beautiful on you either. If it doesn’t work you’re going to put it aside. I hope people will wear and buy fewer clothes.
Imprint: So sustainability is important to you.
BA: Definitely, but I don’t think you’re from this time if you don’t think sustainability is important. Or call yourself a designer that way. If there’s one trend word at the moment it’s ‘functionality’. Efficiency.
That’s the big change of our generation and especially the one after us. A general culture of spending time together opens up. People move to the cities, live smaller. Buying less stuff for yourself needs to be one of the changes. We can’t produce that much anymore. Or we shouldn’t.
Imprint: How do you source materials? And what about dyeing your garments?
BA: Firstly, we develop our own textiles. Sourcing our fabrics, I work together with a few different people. I try to know all the suppliers. We work with a lot of leftover materials. And as we do consultancies I get to look into the workplace of many brands. They actually become my friends and will help me.
I don’t think dyeing in any way is sustainable. I think fashion is not sustainable. At all. As, most of the time, we start from the yarn we have insight in lots of the process, but in the end it is hard to know where your yarns come from and how they are dyed. We don’t have all the knowledge yet to anticipate.
Imprint: So how long can you use a material, like BYBORRE scarves?
BA: The scarves were made six years ago, I know of friends that still wear them. The funny thing is they age. Some of my friends’ scarves have totally gone to lead their own lives and look completely different than they used to.
I want the products to be as durable as possible. I don’t want to make a seasonal t-shirt, I want to make the best possible t-shirt I can make at that point. That’s how I see the whole brand.
Imprint: In the future, what would technology mean for your designs?
BA: In the future we could make pattern-pieces for other brands too, with sensor technology in it. We are developing the technique of someone using software to log onto the piece and using it. There’s lots of different layers to it. Concept is one, look and textile is two, but then all the sensor-technology needs to be able to communicate with everything and other devices too.
We work a lot on those concepts. It’s going to go step by step. The first step is going to be really simple: technology in clothing is going to help you a bit moving around and help with your wellbeing. It’ll make many things more intuitive.
Imprint: What are you working on now?
BA: A lot changed last year for us as we started working with our new co-founders. We have a bigger team and a coherent line in our label. We will build it up product by product. At the end of the year we will bring all the products together. As a collection it will go to the fairs, and to the stores the year after. I want to still be able to give shops the possibility to buy the products. We don’t go with one season (6 months) but with two years. The designs are there for two seasons. The only thing we change is the thickness and using different textile developments.
The second thing we do is developing the lab. We just got our first circular knitting machine, so we can really push the boundaries. Then for ourselves we still want to push wearable technology. So that we will improve. Those technological materials can be used for interior or in fashion.
Those are the plans for the coming few years.
Imprint: Thank you Borre.
BA: No problem!