Designer and innovator Martijn van Strien graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2012. After working for designer Bruno Pieters briefly, Van Strien launched his own label where he explores the future of fashion through forward-thinking materials, new ways of production and inventive designs. He developed a technique that makes it possible to produce one-off garments from unusual materials. Van Strien produces contemporary fashion while questioning its fundaments.
With his ‘Post-Couture Collective’ he leads the way. The open-source project is accessible for all. Designs and techniques can be downloaded from the website. This gives consumers and other designers the possibility to produce their own clothing using his techniques, via laser cutters and 3D printers. We met up with the van Strien at his home in Rotterdam and talked about revolutions, books, and onesies.
IMPRINT: Do you consider yourself to be a revolutionist?
Martijn: Yes, I think I do, even if it’s weird to say something like that about yourself. I see myself as someone who takes a lot of steps in one go. I might not end up with something that actually works, but at least I can show where I want things to end up. It’s the ‘Partij voor de Dieren’ (Dutch political party for the Animals ed.) strategy. Their crazy ideas never make it, but at least it’s out there to be heard. Otherwise, you’re constantly compromising. I think that’s boring. I rather come up with a crazy idea, I don’t mind being considered a fool. You can always adjust to something a little more pragmatic. Presenting my ideas of the ideal world is something that suits me.
IMPRINT: How did you end up in fashion? Even though the content can be quite revolutionary, the system as a whole can be experienced as static and hard to change.
M: That’s why I ended up here. I studied Design at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, focusing on textile design and trend forecasting. I’ve interned at Bruno Pieters in Antwerp. I figured it would be fun to create textile designs for a fashion designer, not knowing anything about the industry itself. Bruno Pieters was working on ‘Honest By’ at that moment, a line of clothing that pleads for radical transparency. In the six months of working with him, I figured out what a fucked up world this is. This whole industry should work in a different way than it is working right now. We need to work in a different way.
I graduated with a collection of ‘Dystopian Brutalist Outerwear’, clothes for the dark future. After graduation I returned to Bruno Pieters, worked for a bit and realized that, instead of sketching this ultimate doom-scenario, I could find a positive way to express the same message. That’s what I’m doing right now.
IMPRINT: In an interview with Fashion week you said you’re not really interested in fashion, but want to change the industry behind it?
I just think it’s one of the most poorly arranged industries in the world. I have a relatively technical background. I understand the mechanical processes within the system. But the way it’s organized right now, it just doesn’t make sense. I hope to find a way to reconstruct this industry; find means to change the way these machines and processes work in order to make the overall industry less polluting and less brutal towards its employees.
IMPRINT: So, to state it bluntly, no more people in factories working crazy hours but machines doing the hard labor?
M: Exactly. I get criticized a lot for saying this. What are all these people going to do? I really don’t know. I was in Pakistan last week, this country has a little under two hundred million inhabitants and most of them do some sort of manual work. Look, I’m not saying it needs to disappear completely; there will always be some sort of combination of the two. We might come up with a model in which the clothes itself are downloaded and printed locally, but you can still ask people to add certain details by hand. It’s not that machines will completely take over and make manual work redundant. However, smart machines can do everything these employees can, only faster and cheaper.
I don’t think this should be the only system, but I think it can be part of a new industry, a way to get the products we really want. Right now clothes are either handmade, small editions or mass-production. There should be something in between.
IMPRINT: You consider the work of Ayn Rand an example. In her book ‘‘The Fountainhead” she tells the story of Howard Roark, an individualistic architect who refuses to compromise his vision for recognition and success. What draws you to this character?
M: I think in the same way he does. He has a notion of how the world should be, and if it is any other way, he refuses to participate. I have the same. I don’t want to work in a system where I have to compromise. If that’s the case, I’d rather step aside and work on the outer edges of this system in a way I feel comfortable with.
IMPRINT: At the same time, you like to work with others. You just started a collective with five Belgium designers.
M: Well, the Post-Couture Collective is me, I started it. For the second collection I asked these five designers to join me. I picked the people I wanted to work with. I value the fact that other people are specialized in skills that I don’t have and try to convince them to work with me to realize my vision. I’m very selective in who I invite to engage. I just don’t want to settle for less, if it cannot be made the way I pictured it: never mind.
IMPRINT: Is perfectionism a big part of your work?
M: I’ve always had this fascination for things that click together, that just fit. Whether it’s Ikea furniture or Lego, I like that it only fits together in one way. That’s what I hate about manual work, if you’re behind a sewing machine, it might come out lopsided, or you’ll lose the thread halfway there. A machine doesn’t make these kinds of mistakes. A laser cutter will create the same cutout over and over again. But right now, the collection I made is far from perfect. Not every piece is as wearable as I want it to be. I present it as a work in progress, a project I’m building. I develop clothes we can eventually produce and wear in a new way.
IMPRINT: What are the main parts that still need development?
M: The way it assembles. The connections between the different parts aren’t always as strong as I’d like them to be. You have to be careful with how you wash the garments right now. I have to say, the second collection in collaboration with the Belgium designers is already a lot better than the first because they know how to properly draw a clothing pattern. The first collection was improvisation. Because I’m not trained as a fashion designer, I think that if it looks like a T-shirt, it’s a T-shirt. It’s things imitating clothes. While the current collection approaches real clothes, this jacket, for example, is a jacket, as you would identify it. The designers drew the clothing patterns and I constructed the seams so that there wouldn’t be any sewing but you can just interweave the two sides together.
I think we’re really close to what I want this to be. I mean, there’s lots to improve, the connections are still not working all the time. The material we made of old PET bottles isn’t ideal, and it’s still a hustle to put these pieces together yourself. I’ve been working on these assembly instruction manuals for over a month now. Eventually, people need to download the patterns, go to a Makerspace (a place that has a laser cutter and 3D printer ed.) with the fabric of their choosing and put the garment together themselves.
IMPRINT: How do you see the future of fashion?
M: I think we will find new ways to incorporate more diversity in fashion. One outfit in black or white will transform completely when you’re looking through Google glasses. You can decide what is projected on you, how others see your outfit. Everyone can just walk around in this comfortable white onesie but still dress differently every single day. One T-shirt that is wearable in six colors, without having to buy the T-shirt in six different colors. You want to be able to express your identity with clothes. We just need less in order to do so.
And we’re closer than you think. For example, these garments made from PET-bottles, the fabric is easy to recycle. There is no other fabric mixed in. So imagine you have five pieces of clothing, all made from this material. If you’re done with them, you can just take them to a Makerspace, recycle it, and make something new out of the same material. A T-shirt becomes a skirt. You just need a certain amount of material, in order to create something new every time, without all the costs of shipment, or new stock: a new item of clothing every day, in the most sustainable way.
IMPRINT: In the ‘Open Source Fashion Manifesto’ you plead for a new way of dealing with the process of design, where everything is available online and people are no longer protecting their creative ideas from replication. Do you expect this to become reality for more brands?
M: Yes, but I see this in a broader sense. I think this would only work if it doesn’t apply to clothes only, but to all products. Haha, I’m making this even more incomprehensible, am I not? In a few years time we don’t have stores as we know them right now -places that may or may not sell the items they contain- all these places are being replaced by a sort of showrooms and Makerspaces. Once this is the norm, I have the clothes that fit into this system.
IMPRINT: Are we talking about the near future?
M: I think you will already see developments towards this way of selling and buying items in a few years. But it will take around ten years to achieve a multitude of these new stores in every city. The machines we will be using laser cutters, 3D printers, knitting machines and whatever is invented in between are perfect for this kind of system. And they will be a lot cheaper. Things will only be made on demand.
IMPRINT: So you’re portraying shops will be redundant in the future?
M: No not redundant, they have a different role. Yes, you can order everything you need online, but then you didn’t really see the piece beforehand. And because it is custom-made on your measurements you cannot just send it back, so the shops play a crucial role in the process. Right now, you can just order five sizes of the same garment, try them at home and if you like it you keep one and send back the rest. They will probably shred it. That’s how it works right now. But in the near future, this piece of clothing will be made especially for you, so you need to visit a store to feel the fabric, the know for sure you ordered the right piece because you cannot send it back so easily when it’s custom made with your measurements, your taste, design and specific details.
IMPRINT: Do you see yourself as a fashion designer?
M: No, I’m a designer. Sometimes people announce me as a thinker or a visionary on how this industry should work, because I’m more interested in the groundwork of this whole system and not in a specific design. The designs are mere examples of what could be, but I just want to use them to tell the underlying story.
When I think of a fashion designer I see someone who has an opinion on what clothes should look like. I don’t have an aesthetic view on how people should dress, no story I want to tell with a certain look or color scheme. Clothing for me is a means not the outcome. I don’t even like the term fashion because for me it stands for the fast and replaceable, the idea that you need something new every season. I talk about clothing. I might be a designer of clothes, but I’m not a fashion designer.
I just want to prove this industry that it works, that the technique behind it works. That is why everything is available online. The moment someone -whether it’s H&M or some other designer- picks it up, I’ve proven my point and I can start a totally new, different project.
I was looking at your first designs and the way you’re inspired by the Brutalist architectural movement and I was wondering, wouldn’t you have rather been an architect?
Yes. That’s what I’m going to try next.
Words Anne Dirks
Photography Laila Cohen