Our sustainable future in the hands of Dutch design

“Roll up your sleeves, smell your armpit and start working.” These words got everyone on their toes during the opening talk of Dutch Design Week 2018. The speaker was Ravi Naidoo, one of the ambassadors of this year’s Dutch Design Week and founder and director of Design Indaba, in South Africa. “This year I feel there’s a sense of agency.” He’s right. During this 17th edition of Dutch Design Week, the urge to use design as an agent of change felt stronger than ever before.

Above all, change is about ‘doing’. And that’s precisely the power of design. It makes our philosophies, musings and strategies about changing the world concrete, visible or tangible. Design as a solution to the problems of society – some immediately applicable and others as a window on our future. A future with more opportunities and less negative impact, whether we’re talking transport, food, energy, work or fashion.

The Deep collection by digital fashion house The Fabricant was on display at Dutch Design Week. Creative director Amber Jae Slooten (Amsterdam Fashion Institute alumnus) was one of the eight Design Industry Thought Leaders during Dutch Design Week.

This year more than 2,600 designers were present at Dutch Design Week. Based on pre-screening followed by two visits, OW has selected seven fashion projects by young Dutch designers. Each project interweaves sustainability with design, varying from a simple yet original idea to something that can change our life in quite a profound way.

1. Purity of Silk: symbiosis between humankind and silkworm

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Close-up of the framework that Iris made for the silkworms and on which the silk can be produced

The wonderful material silk and the termination of the life of an organism create a fascinating contrast

Iris Seuren designs from the perspective of the global environmental problem. Rather than literally telling us what needs to change, she develops alternatives in her designs as she seeks a symbiosis between humankind and organisms where we need each other.

For Purity of Silk, Iris took the silkworm, responsible for making silk, out of its normal habitat. She placed the silkworms in an environment where they can live if we, human beings, care for them. We, in turn, are dependent on the silkworms for silk.

By focusing on this small silkworm, Iris shows that we often have no idea of the process behind our clothes. What many people do not know, for instance, is that to obtain silk, part of the cocoon produced by the silkworm is exposed to hot steam. That puts an end to all life inside the cocoon – and to the caterpillar’s prospects of ever hatching out as a butterfly.

The wonderful material silk and the termination of the life of an organism create a fascinating contrast – especially by how Iris interprets this visually. She created a framework of biodegradable plastic in the shape of a blouse on which living silkworms could be seen producing threads during Dutch Design Week. A piece of clothing is produced – by people and silkworms together – when the frame is completely covered with silk.

Watch the video 
(30 seconds) where Iris explains her project at DDW and where the framework that she made can be seen.

2. Biometric couture: where the border between online and off-line disappears

The augmented reality app shows the stories the people have uploaded as an overlay on the clothes. What’s your story?

Born out of the idea that a new generation is growing up that sees technology as self-evident

Designer Maddy Ekkelkamp has, with her project Biometric Couture, launched a digital clothing concept where the border between online and off-line disappears.

Biometric Couture was born out of the idea that a new generation is growing up that sees technology as self-evident, expresses its identity online and sees the digital world as an extension of daily life. Using an augmented reality app, articles of clothing can be uploaded and embellished with your own story in text and images. Are you single and in dire need of a new love interest? Well, that can be uploaded. Or perhaps you are looking for work and want to place your CV in the app. That can make things a bit easier for the talent scouts!


The first version of the app was available to try out during Dutch Design Week. For now, the app is mainly a simple, loveable product. In other words, the app’s technology and functions still require further development before the app is ready for use by consumers. Many questions also remain to be answered, such as exactly who is this app for and what stories might they want to upload? There are plans to develop this concept further, especially its technology.

To us as OW, this augmented reality app could also have potential in the area of fashion and transparency. What if the story of every article of clothing – how and where it was made and by whom – were uploaded into the app as a standard feature?

3. Beauty Comes with Age: fabric made to fray

Nikkie-wester

As the material frays, the layers underneath are revealed to create a new pattern

‘Beauty Comes with Age’ is a textile project by concept designer Nikkie Wester. As a reaction to today’s consumer society, she designed a fabric consisting of multiple layers. The first product that she made with this material are wonderful, colourful scarves. 


At first, only the outer layer of the fabric is visible. The layers underneath are revealed as the scarf is – and becomes – worn. Fraying therefore does not affect the value or look of the product; it creates new patterns instead. As such, the scarf changes as time goes by, with each bit of wear and tear visibly leaving a ‘nice scar’ with its own story. Nikkie hopes that this gets people to attach more value to products – scarves in this case.

Nikkie presented this concept at Dutch Design Week last year and decided, after the many positive reactions, to put the idea into practice. Last year, she prepared the fabric for industrial production, together with the Textiellab in Tilburg. The first scarves were on display at Dutch Design Week and will be available online on her website starting in 2019.

4. Nowa: gold, silver and copper jewellery from old mobile phones

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The pendant on the chain by Nowa can be worn in different ways. The chain can also be worn as earrings.

Every year, €27,000,000 in gold is thrown away in the Netherlands

Nowa is a new Dutch jewellery brand that makes jewellery from precious metals recycled from electronics waste, or ‘e-waste’. Founders Josette and Joyce discovered that e-waste is growing faster than all other types of waste. Nevertheless, only 13% of all e-waste is recycled. ‘People are often unaware of the precious metals, like gold, silver and copper, that are contained in electronics, such as our own smartphones’, Josette says.

Every year, €27,000,000 in gold is literally thrown away in the Netherlands by people who chuck away their electronics waste instead of recycling it. Josette: ‘That’s on top of the three million old mobile telephones that are just lying around collecting dust in drawers and cupboards in the Netherlands.’ There is enough gold in those telephones to make 15,000 wedding rings.

She and designer Mickey Philips spent the past few years hard at work on the first prototype. The result was on display at Dutch Design Week: a stylish and minimalistic piece of jewellery that can be worn in several different ways, made of copper, silver, gold plating or solid gold. After this initial prototype, the aim is to launch more designs and to start working with a kind of subscription system. Nowa’s ultimate goal is to get people to start recycling their old mobile telephones. To illustrate: it takes 40 mobile telephones for one gram of gold. Nowa’s crowdfunding will go live in 2019.

Nowa is a spin-off from the successful Closing the Loop, which recycles mobile telephones.

5. 2+ degrees: raincoat that encourages interaction with nature

Concept 2+ degrees wants to change how we see rain

Mirl van Hoek graduated this year from the renowned Design Academy in Eindhoven. With climate change as the starting point, she designed three raincoats for children as her final graduation project (+2 degrees).

In the Netherlands, rain is often considered bad weather. Mirl wondered whether we ought to change the way we see this, because if the earth’s temperature rises by two degrees, the Netherlands will get fewer extremely cold winters and more rain. This increase will vary between 6% and 30%. And in the summer we can expect to see even more extreme downpours. With 2+ degrees, Mirl seeks to change how we see rain and show that rain can be a nice part of our daily life.


The three raincoats that she has designed therefore function simultaneously as something fun for children to play with. The jackets can easily catch, hold and shake off rain – each in its own way. Kids can play with the different functions of their jacket, rain or shine. Apart from offering a new way to play with rain, Mirl wants the jackets to make children more aware of their environment and encourage interaction between people and nature.

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The raincoats are still prototypes. Mirl is looking for partners to produce the jackets.

6. The Fabricant; digital fashion house

Press play to see one of the digital outfits from the Deep collection. The collection was made with the aid of artificial intelligence. You can read about how the collection was made on the website of The Fabricant.

The Deep collection is the world’s first fashion design collaboration between man and computer

Amber Jae Slooten is the creative brain behind digital fashion house The Fabricant. She was one of the eight designers selected this year as a Design Industry Thought Leader, and part of television programme De Toekomstbouwers (‘people building on the future’)

One of the pictures of the future that Amber painted during the programme is that clothes do not necessarily have to be a physical product. Imagine if we wore a specially designed basic uniform, onto which clothes could be projected. The urge for people to express themselves will always remain, says Amber. Digital fashion gives them more options in this respect as their choices are no longer limited by materials. Like if you show up at a party overdressed and without being able to pop back home to change clothes: you feel out of place the whole evening. If we had digital fashion, we could decide at that moment to project a different outfit onto our basic uniform.

Digital fashion also offers opportunities for the environment, Amber emphasises. It takes about 7,000 litres of water to produce a pair of jeans, while we’re facing a serious shortage of clean water around the world. The substances used to dye our clothes are often toxic and pollute our rivers. All the transport required before the clothes are finally hanging in our cupboard is coupled with CO2 emissions. Digital fashion has none of these negative aspects.

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Digital fast fashion

The advantages of digital fashion are obvious, but what are the possible disadvantages? We at OW wonder: What if someone hacks your digital wardrobe while you’re at a party? Could we be left standing digitally ‘naked’ in the future? If digital fashion got off the ground, that would have a huge impact on the industry. Today there are still millions of people working in factories where physical clothes are made: will they be retrained? And just like the problem of poor quality clothes today, the prospect of downloading poor quality digital clothes in the future is not unimaginable – perhaps made by programmers who create digital fast fashion below the liveable wage.

Dutch Design Week gave us a taste of the Deep collection, the world’s first fashion design collaboration between man and computer. The website of The Fabricant explains how this collection was created with the aid of artificial intelligence. The episode of television programme De Toekomstbouwers with Amber Jae is also available for viewing, as part of Dutch Design Week.

7. Living Colour: dying textiles with bacteria

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Foto door Living Colour

Different initiatives have been launched to experiment with new and cleaner ways to dye fabric: Living Colour is one of them

The Living Colour project experiments with dying textiles using bacteria. The latest results were on display at Dutch Design Week, as part of The Future of Living Materials. This is a joint project between ArtEZ Future Makers, Wageningen University & Research and designers.

Fabric deying is one of the most polluting processes in the fashion chain. It uses a lot of water, which is polluted by the dye. The chemicals in the dye are often toxic and end up in our rivers. Different initiatives have been launched to experiment with new and cleaner ways to dye fabric. One of these involves dying textiles with bacteria, without any use of chemicals, and with less water. Living Colour is one such initiative that is dedicated to the further development of this technique. Co-founders Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar are designers; for this project, they have teamed up with the likes of bioengineers at Wageningen University. They are currently researching the best conditions for the bacteria to grow in, pigment quality, creating more colours and how to continuously improve the dying process.

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Living-Colour-textie-verven-testen

The colours and organic patterns that Laura and Ilfa have already created are amazing. The ultimate goal is to optimise their technique so that it can be scaled up for industrial applications. This is their way to help to improve the textile and fashion industry.


Stella McCartney recently made a dress dyed using bacteria. This can be seen at Fashion for Good in Amsterdam, but it is not for sale.

This was fashion and Dutch Design Week 2018

If fashion at Dutch Design Week has showed us one thing, it’s that it is more than a pretty little dress or an Instagram post. We often do not realise what the impact is of the daily ritual where, every morning, we pick the clothes that we will wear the rest of the day. It is part of our daily life: how we express ourselves and how others see us. The digitalisation of fashion could therefore have a profound impact on our life and the world around us. The theme of Dutch Design Week 2018 was: If not us, then who? And: If not you, then who? It’s a call not only to designers but to all of us, in whatever our capacity: as policy-makers, clients and also consumers.


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