Could you describe in a few sentences who you are, where you are from and why you two wanted to become designers?
I'm Laura, and I grew up in Limburg and moved to Rotterdam for various studies (Communications and Fashion Styling). That's where I still live and work. I've always loved drawing, and I've always felt the need to contribute to the world in a positive way. This combination ultimately led me to become a designer. My focus is on Textile and Pattern Design, in particular on experimental colour and materials research. I work for my own design studio Kukka at De Wasserij in Rotterdam, both on contract and on my own.
I'm Ilfa, and I was born in Arnhem. I ended up studying fashion at the Willem de Kooning Academy. I often work using a problem as a starting point, such as pollution and social inequality within the fashion industry. I do this, for example, by collaborating with designers and researchers from different fields. I became a designer, because it allows me to take on the role of social activist and give meaning to the world with my work/vision. I want to raise awareness in a creative way and hopefully make the world a little more beautiful doing it. My studio, Studio Ilfa Siebenhaar, is in De Wasserij in Rotterdam.
How did Living Colour come about?
We met in 2016 at the Waag Society Textile Academy course in Amsterdam. One of the weekly workshops was dyeing with pigment-producing bacteria, and we were both immediately captivated by this. At the end of the course we did a month of autonomous research and then together we started investigating whether we could grow bacteria in geometric patterns by exposing them to sound frequencies. This cymatics experiment was the start of our Living Colour project, which we are still working on three and a half years later. Designing with living organisms continues to amaze us.
You dye textiles with bacteria. That's not something you hear every day. How does it work?
Dyeing with pigment-producing bacteria is a natural and artisanal dyeing process, without harmful chemicals or mordants. The bacteria ferment a nutrient into pigment. If we cultivate the bacteria on textile, they create beautiful and visible growth patterns in the colour they produce. Or we harvest the pigment to make paint extract from it to dye fabric in a solid colour, for example.
You shared a recent collaboration with PUMA on Instagram! Can you tell us more about that?
The collaboration with PUMA is really the crown jewel of our work. PUMA strongly believes in a future that includes Bio Design. They were looking for a presentation that showed that Bio Design is becoming more and more concrete for their exhibition during Milan Design Week 2020. The aesthetics and philosophy of Living Colour appealed to them, and we were really enthused by the space for experimentation and creative freedom. We developed a 'proof of concept' collection together for the exhibition Design to Fade. The six garments and matching shoes demonstrate the broad applicability and wearability of bacterial dye. The collection consists of several elements; we deconstructed PUMA classics, such as the T7 jacket and the running shorts, and made new silhouettes of them.
We also drew inspiration from the red-backed salamander. A bacterium lives on its skin, which protects the salamander against a deadly fungus. We like the idea that the bacterium protects the salamander in the same way that clothing is a protective layer for humans. For example, we incorporated the shapes of the red-backed salamander in the lines of the windbreaker jacket. The bacteria determined the colour and patterns. We mainly used dead stock fabrics. From this, we made a series of gender-neutral garments that can be combined in different ways. Because of the coronavirus, this year's Milan Design Week exhibition only took place in digital form.
You stress the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation between science and the world of design. How do you yourselves implement that?
We have no scientific background ourselves, that's why we work together with microbiologists, biotechnologists, and chemists (in training). For this project, we are working in a microbiology lab. In the beginning, you look for a way to understand each other's language and way of working. Ultimately, you're both looking for creative solutions, and that's where we can really find each other. Everyone approaches things from a different angle, and that has added value for both of us. In the end, you expand each other's field of vision and learn a lot from each other.
Do you ever run into obstacles when collaborating?
Science is a lengthy process, and it often takes a long time before you have the answers or results you are looking for. As soon as you've answered a question, you'll have a number of new ones at the same time.
What would you like to achieve with your work in the future?
We would like to see a future in which our clothing is designed on the basis of nature and disappears back into nature. If we take examples from nature and learn to see their value, we can organise our design and production process as a well-functioning ecosystem. If Living Colour can be a catalyst for this, we have achieved our goal.
If you could choose one person in the world to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist or someone else), who would that be and why?
We have actually considered this, but we'd like to keep it to ourselves for a while.
Do you have any news to share with the DDW community?
Starting this autumn, the garments we designed for PUMA will travel the world through various exhibitions and can finally be seen in real life and up close.
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