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A square metre as a positive protest

11 November 2021

5 min. to read

© Tommy Köhlbrugge
Re-engineer' Jeffrey Heiligers is part of the positive-activist '1m2 Collective' with which he, Studio Jeroen van Veluw and ST-DUO exhibited in the Van Abbemuseum during DDW. With this 1m2 stage, they gave as much talent as possible a chance to display. "The initiative offers space for a conversation about how we can create a more inclusive design industry," says Heiligers, who in doing so also critically questions DDW itself.
© Tommy Köhlbrugge

The initiative ties in with the DDW theme: 'The Greater Number'. "This year, we are not participating in DDW with our own work, but we are doing something for the greater good," says Heiligers.  "Our starting point is the question: how inclusive are design events? That also applies to DDW itself, which this year regards inclusion as an important sub-theme." Talented starting designers have to dig deep into their pockets for trade fairs such as the Salone del Mobile in Milan," he knows. "If they don't have the money or the network, they are often excluded from participating in (inter)national design fairs. And these are just 2 examples of the barriers they can come up against."

Indictment against design festivals

With 1m2 Collective, which bills itself as the smallest expo with the biggest impact, the initiators offer an alternative: it is a transparent exhibition that is as inclusive as possible and free of participation costs. The expo is presented as a kind of design totem with as many designs as possible having an equal place on this high stage. "1m2 Collective is an indictment of design festivals, but we don't do it in an intrusive way," says Heiligers. "All 4 of us are in it the same way. We are calm, and we address the problem in a sympathetic, subtle way." Studio Jeroen van Veluw, Sophie Balch and Tijn de Kok (ST-DUO) and Jeffrey Heiligers know each other from Driving Dutch Design, the profesionalisation and networking programme of Beroepsorganisatie Nederlandse Ontwerpers (BNO), Dutch Design Foundation (DDF) and ABN AMRO. They found each other in 1m2 Collective, in which they joined forces and strengthened each other.

Inclusive design industry

Heiligers has been working since June to make it happen, he says. From researching the degree of inclusion at design festivals and communication to finding 5 diverse, independent jurors, curators who selected 18 works by new talent. They came up with the exhibition design. This is a kind of design totem on 1 m2 where the works tell their own story and make a statement as a collective as Gesamtkunstwerk. All information is summarised in a publication that guides visitors through the exhibition and communicates the statement of the collective. In this way, they try to make clear how much it can cost to participate in DDW. They provide a price indication for the location and count the hidden costs (such as the number of work hours). If 1m2 Collective were to charge for all expenses and hours, the collective would lose 28,242.32 euro excluding VAT, we read in the brochure. To reduce this somewhat, they have started a crowdfunding campaign. "This is a common problem that we are facilitating and opening our mouths about. Our goal is to start the conversation about how to foster a less elitist and more inclusive design industry through positive protest and proactive research," says Heiligers. Opening up this loaded topic is not a problem. During DDW, countless visitors and designers entered into a dialogue with each other, continuing after DDW. "The fact that design festivals ask us for advice might be the solution."

Designing future-proof scenarios

Although the outcome is different, this initiative fits well with the working method and fascinations of Jeffrey Heiligers. The designer, who studied mechanical engineering and product design, combines the 2 fields of expertise in his practice: he calls himself a re-engineer ('redesigner) and a futurist. He designs innovative and future-proof scenarios in which process, people and environment are central. "By dissecting production and design processes, I gain important knowledge about how something is constructed. This allows me, together with other experts, to redesign a product or system and redefine how an organisation works according to new future-proof standards that have a positive impact on the user and/or the environment," he says. He worked with materials designer Jessica den Hartog on the first 100% circular and modular Build It Yourself (BIY) shoe. They challenged the footwear industry to change its production processes drastically. In many of his projects, Jeffrey wants to involve the consumer in the making process: you can assemble the shoe yourself, and every part is recyclable.

This also applies to his project with textile waste. A call on Facebook led to the collection of unused pieces of clothing from people in his neighbourhood in Haarlem. He used them to make a hand-knotted carpet that took him 3 months - 140 hours - of full-time work. In this way, he gives 30 kilos of discarded textiles a new high-quality application and provides value to something that people initially considered worthless. Studio Jeffrey Heiligers brings about positive changes in cooperation with consumers, companies and brands who want to pioneer and innovate to create a more sustainable future.