Minimalissimo Meets BYBORRE

Jana Ahrens of Minimalissimo sat down with founder Borre Akkersdijk of Amsterdam-based clothing and textile design studio BYBORRE to have a chat about seriousness and humour, about ideas and role models and about fruitful dialogues.

There will always be a dialogue between the machine, the computer, and us, while the product will still show a hand finish.

BYBORRE is your brainchild, right?

Actually BYBORRE is a team effort. We always work together with different specialists from different backgrounds. The dialogue between these different disciplines makes it possible to push boundaries and create something new. I have a background in design. I graduated from the Dutch Design Academy and then went into fashion in New York for a year. Afterwards I knew that I wanted to work more in textiles. Going down that route I was very intrigued by the machines. I was always in dialogue with the technicians. But to convey the process behind the development of textiles, the textiles needed to have a visible aspect, a look. For this I started working with people who have a background in graphics. We built the concepts together. Those were the first steps. Recently I went more into the interior side, pushing that aspect with people who know how to create shapes. They think differently about materials than people from the fashion side, who are quite often more into draping.

And all these people are part of your team now?

Yes, we do have all this knowledge in-house. We all work together at the BYBORRE studio. Our brand is our main showcase. Here we can push the boundaries on the material and also show our statement in a collection. But we don’t create a completely new collection every season. We create shapes and the shapes get better every year. So it’s more like generations. But the main change for the season is the material. And we build that from scratch.

We also do a lot of business to business. So next to the brand and the label, we work for clients or we do collaborations with other brands. They vary: from fashion to shoes, and sometimes even the automotive industry. But always with our core values of textile at the heart.

Like your collection for the Dominican monks, updating their habit?

Yea, exciting things like that do happen sometimes. People come up to us because we have a specific way of working. We look at the questions they come with. We do our research and with the Dominican monks it was really interesting to see the questions they were asking. How the habit doesn’t address the story they are telling today. So I thought: Let’s see what we can do. From then on it’s just like any other job. We look at how long it would take to update the clothing and how we can make it happen and who we would need from our team. Then we push it. But it still stays very close to our philosophy of how we want to work.

So you are quite flexible in what you can do?

Yes. People forget sometimes how much we use textiles in our surroundings. So if textiles are your core value, there are a lot of things you can do.

For the label itself: How did you decide on the product range that is up right now? What was the main inspiration for choosing these pieces?

It is quite functionality-driven. Even though a T-shirt is a T-shirt, and no matter if you are a man or a woman wearing it, the inspiration for the selection comes from myself, so from the male side. Where we said: Let’s build a T-shirt, Sweatpants, Shorts, a Vest and a Jacket. And then some accessories like a scarf and a glove. Some of the choice also develops out of research. The gloves literally come from testing pieces of fabric around the hand and a pattern piece we built as a mitten afterwards. So the collection builds itself along the way, and becomes one of the core products.

Sounds pretty natural.

Look at the scarf. It’s the most pure product we have, because it is 100% our own development. There is no waste. We use all the material coming from the machine. And the more we test, the more we improve the shapes around the body. Like a simple sweater. It’s the main piece that everybody wears in the studio. So we give our view on that. I want people to be free to move. So there is some extra space under the arms and the pattern piece on the front is not a full raglan because we want to have some shaping there. We look at every piece. We take the clothing apart and look at the arms, the body, the material. So the collection is about the most basic but enhanced pieces. Created from our specific point of view.

Let’s go deeper into that. Can you tell us a bit about your process of making these really exciting new fabrics?

We mostly look at how we want to wear it. We think about the functionality. From the functionality we choose the yarns. Yarns have certain specs and those work better either with knitting or with weaving. But it also depends on the piece. So knowing what we are going to make influences our machine choice. That’s where the dialogue between the yarn and the machine starts. Is it a winter product? Then we want it to be more layered. We would build our signature 3D knit with a lot of filling inside. That way we can control the thickness, how warm the piece will be. If it is for spring or for autumn we put in only half the filling. If it’s for summer there’ll be no filling at all. The functionality of keeping the wearer warm will also inform us in how far we can go with the aesthetics. And then we can of course always play with colours and yarns and graphics. Those always develop in dialogue with the piece. A lot of times our knitting or weaving machines already shape the pattern pieces. So you have a certain space to work with for prints or graphics. Our starting point is our basic material, our general fabric. But we also develop fabrics specifically for certain pieces. And finally the piece has a dialogue with the graphics. All the elements influence each other all the time, and that’s how new things are created.

So it’s all about going back and forth between the elements of a production process? Adapting either the shape or the fabric or the graphics to achieve what you are looking for?

That is the ultimate route. When we do collaborations the process is sometimes less complex. For example if we use the base material. Or the dialogue with the client shows that designing the shape first works better. And sometimes they focus more on the graphics. But there will always be a dialogue between the machine, the computer, and us, while the product will still show a hand finish. A hand finish doesn’t mean that we need to bend down with needle and thread. A lot of the things we do are super industrial. But when you see them they never look perfect. There is never a clean architectural feeling. It will always look as if a hand brush touched it.

So on the one hand you take the clothing you make very seriously in development. On the other hand it is very important to you that it is just clothing. You say: A T-shirt is just a T-shirt. Where does that philosophy come from, and where is it heading?

Most importantly: Fabrics are everyday products. And we want the best product possible around us. That’s something different for everyone, of course. But from my point of view, a lot of people – especially from the fashion industry, take it way too seriously. I think the production should be taken very seriously. You have to think about everything around you and for whom you are creating. But in the end you are just making a T-shirt. So I always want to create a balance: Take yourself seriously but never forget what you are doing. You are not saving lives. I think there should always be a certain kind of humour in life in general. I find it difficult to explain. On the one hand we work with the biggest brands in the world and we take it super seriously and of course we listen to everyone. But then, I still want to keep it real. If I see people just printing a T-shirt and then telling a story about it as if they are changing the world, I can just laugh about that. I’d rather make a way better shirt and still say: It’s just a T-shirt.

How important is humour in fashion communication?

Pretty important. But we are so focussed on what we are doing at the studio, like working on the materials and the directions and working with our clients, we don’t have much focus left for our marketing campaigns. If we’d have more time I would love to put in even more humour. But I think you can find it in the small things we do, and in the way we work. In the end, the most important thing is to enjoy what you are doing.

Especially in the fashion industry.

I never really saw myself in that industry only. The textile industry and the product design industry are a bit different. The product design industry makes more products to last. If you have a good chair they become classics. I was raised with that mindset and that’s how I was taught at the Design Academy. That’s something I want to keep. So designing a piece of clothing is just designing a piece of clothing. I am not here to make art. Functionality and materials are more important than a big gesture in the shape. The gesture is what I did in the beginning, to see how far we can push the materials. But that is not wearable everyday.

You also say that you vouch for honesty in design and material. Is that attitude following a specific design heritage? Do you have role models?

Yes, of course. Since going to the Academy, I follow the Japanese designers. Issey Miyake was a big influence, not in terms of aesthetics, but in the way we approach our machines and the material is inspired by his work. Of course, there is Rei Kawakubo from Commes des Garcons. Her play with symmetry and the way she sometimes didn’t finish something on purpose, like just making a gesture—that influenced me.

And if I now see designers like Errolson who designs for Acronym: The ninja and gadget aspect is not so important to me. But how the products are developed and how forcefully everything is done: the fact that he pushes functionality to its utmost limit—I find that very intriguing. I’m inspired by that. On the other hand there is Arc’teryx Veilance: they come from the outdoor business, but they use those materials for urban clothing. Of course that is super intriguing, too: to make a classic that used to restrict movement in a material that suddenly has a four way stretch. And why should a jacket or a shirt restrict your movements? I’m amused if jeans people say: I love it when a jeans is so tight you cannot move. It always hurts a bit. I’m wearing sweatpants everyday. They have to be cut well and they need to move well and the material can even be a bit rough, but they are super comfy.

I think clothing has always been two things. First it was only protection for the body. And now we can not even be legally naked on the streets anymore. So you have to protect yourself and cover yourself. That’s one aspect. And the other one—image—is there for how long? 70 years, maybe? That’s a really short time if you look at it. But the image became so important that how you look and what it means is more important than the piece itself.

But again, functionality gives an extra reason to wear a certain brand. But I also want to focus on the materials and not too much on the integration of technology. I think with technology advancing there will be new reasons to wear clothing. It’s not just like: Hey, I’m wearing this sweater because I want to wear a black hoodie. The functionality is going to do a whole other thing to you. So that’s definitely something I look at now.