What is Borre Akkersdijk up to now?

October 17 2017


In 2012 (fashion) designer Borre Akkersdijk won the Young Designer Award. According to the jury, his work is “unique” and he plays with machines to push their boundaries and to explore. In his projects various disciplines converge, but currently Borre is focused on material research and the development of his own textile.

At the time, the jury highlighted that you were developing new methods and applications with old machines, which subsequently resulted in “a new chord being struck”. How have you proceeded with your work since winning the Dutch Design Award?

“Before I won the Young Designer Award I had done a lot of things by the book. I graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2009, completed a work placement with Lidewij Edelkoort and presented a collection at Paris fashion week. My development was recognisable for the public. In addition, I did a lot of unexpected projects behind the scenes. I worked out a concept in stop motion and asked Niels Hoebers (also nominated for a Young Designer Award in 2014, ed.) to join me in the project. Because I liked working with different innovative materials, I collaborated on projects involving large companies like Nike and South by Southwest. I slowly crossed over from design to fashion and dived into various disciplines, but eventually my curiosity became my downfall. People found it difficult to place what I actually did. So in the last few years I focused on one particular direction and I tried to communicate this with a collection (BYBORRE, ed.) as a clear showcase. My mind still races, thinking about a hundred and one projects, but experience has taught me how difficult it is to keep your head above water if you mainly are involved with innovative projects that cost a lot of money.”

Where is the focus now?

“I think mainly in the field of innovative textile, focusing especially on the end user. My team and I are very curious so we turned many extreme corners, entering into collaborations with the Centre for Mathematics and Computer Science at the Eindhoven University of Technology. We wanted to find out how we could integrate technology in our designs. Although these projects sound incredibly interesting, the possibility of developing the concept further appears to be difficult in reality. Exploring the possibilities for technology in textiles costs millions, which we simply do not have. In addition, companies are often no longer interested when your project becomes long term, because they want to see results fast. We would love to have the space and the budget for such research, but first have to take other steps to get to that point. Our strength really lies with textile innovation; working with existing machines in an innovative manner and finding the right yarn, for instance. We want to design with the user in mind and you can see this in our own collection. Upgrading our machine software has enabled us to create unique colour transitions and colour combinations. This way, we can design items of clothing that not everyone can make, but the downside is that we have to find a way to break through the system and scale up the production ourselves.”

With BYBORRE, too, you continue to develop, your work is focused on innovation and progress. Which steps would you like to take in the future?

“Of course, I would like the label to be independent and that a hundred million people come into contact with BYBORRE textiles. And I’d like to really get to grips with wearable technology. Although I don’t think it will still be called that then; it isn’t like we talk about a ‘hi-tech car’ these days or a ‘hi-tech dishwasher’? In the future, technology will increasingly serve to support products, so it will become less necessary to label it with ‘hi-tech’. The combination of technology and design is currently a popular topic in the media, but people forget that corporations like Philips were already developing technology in textiles together with Massimo Osti at the end of the nineties. It isn’t really that modern what we’re all doing. I don’t want to make hip gadgets with my designs but if it can really be integrated in the future, it could flow into collections.”

Would you want to design clothing for the public at large?

“I’d kind of like it if people spotted my clothes in the street, yes. But then preferably by the design and not by the logo. I’d think it was great if a group of kids picked up on my brand for the fabric and the story behind the clothes. So that they can share with each other that their clothes are innovative, for instance, and made without the intervention of chemical processes. Our methods use a lot of fabric, energy, equipment and are time consuming, so we mainly do it for the love of it, not to get rich. Through our label we demonstrate what is all possible, we are not focused on massive and rapid growth. In addition to the label we are involved in a lot of joint projects and development for and with leading brands, where growth and scale are often a lot bigger. However, the label is gradually expanding, but it isn’t our intention to suddenly produce a million items of clothing in five years’ time. I’d rather see ten million people coming into contact with what we are doing. I do actually think there will be a moment when clothing will do more for you than bolster your image and protect you because you aren’t allowed to go out in public naked. When this happens, I think it’ll become less important what such an item of clothing looks like. Because, until that time, clothing will only be about image, I do hope that the next generation will start to be more aware of good materials for making clothing and that designers should think about this carefully. What is the story behind the item of clothing I’m wearing?”

For expanding your label and disseminating your story it is of course helpful that you have managed to enter into a number of collaborative projects with big names, such as Nike and Volvo.

“Yes, such collaborations with large companies do support the label, it ensures that people perceive us as “real”. The disadvantage is that people have often only heard that we’ve been involved in these collaborations, but only really know our own projects and collections. Although you step into a new world that is unknown to you at the time, where you can develop your expertise and conduct research, the end product is possibly slightly less attractive. It is often a semi-finished product; only a particular material or a collaboration. On the other hand, I love conducting research, because that’s where new things happen and we think of new ideas for our own collection. Which make the projects within our own label more exciting to be involved with. But designing a collection in cooperation with big names is what makes the public think you’re leading in what you do.”

Does that mean you have moved more towards – excuse the word – commercial fashion design?

“Commercial design has a negative connotation in the art world, it’s almost a dirty word. Unjustifiably so! Large works by Michelangelo and Rembrandt for instance, were also by commission, that’s no surprise to anyone either, is it? As a designer, you need commerce to be able to develop. Manufacturers only want to work with you if they can see you can scale up. Even if you are lucky and you can start in a factory as a fledgling designer, the focus will be on the quantity and potential of your designs. Of course, your production is scaled up enormously by entering into projects with better known labels. Particularly as a fashion designer you really need this commercial development to innovate. And innovation in the area of wearable clothing for a broad public means hard work to raise the quantity of your products.”

With BYBORRE you have been able to show work in large cities like Berlin and Tokyo. Do you notice that people abroad have a particular picture of you as a Dutch Designer?

“I do think that a clear picture has been created of Dutch Design in the last 20 years: sound, high-quality, with its own vision and high aesthetic value. Designs that used to be very functional were designed much more aesthetically through the course of time. I do notice that people really always have a positive response when I say I’m from Amsterdam. Not just in the area of design, but people are positive about the Netherlands in general. I think we have demonstrated by now that the Netherlands has made a name for itself with design.”