Re-Sea Me by Studio Nienke Hoogvliet

Photo Femke Poort

Nienke Hoogvliet quite literally jumps in at the deep end to see whether fish skin and seaweed can contribute to a sustainable textile industry.

'The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. As a textile designer, I think it's important to change that,' says Nienke Hoogvliet. So when she came across yarn made of kelp – a seaweed harvested in South Africa – she immediately ordered some. 'Our seas are extremely polluted yet full of seaweed, and it’s possible to turn that into a durable product.' The duality appeals to her. Vulnerability and protection, pollution and beauty: these are the themes her work centres on.

'Yarn made of seaweed is manufactured in the same way as viscose, except the cellulose doesn’t come from wood pulp but from marine algae. The process is the same,' she explains. She dyed the spools of yarn in their entirety, so the colour changes from dark to light as the yarn unwinds. She used ordinary dye this time, but, says Hoogvliet, 'it's also perfectly possible to use marine algae to colour the yarn'. She continues to explore the possibilities of the yarn in collaboration with the Textile Museum Tilburg. How strong is it? Is it fit for industrial use? By the looks of it, kelp yarn is an excellent alternative to cotton and viscose, which is what Hoogvliet wants to show with her design. She made Sea Me by knotting the yarn by hand onto a used fishing net, a process that resulted in a silky soft carpet with a message.

A few months later during Salone del Mobile 2015, the Delft-based product and textile designer expanded upon her innovative Sea Me rug with the unveiling of Re-Sea Me, a stool with a hand-crafted seat made from discarded fish skins. After collecting the waste from fish shops, Hoogvliet tanned the waste material into leather with a traditional, laborious technique – without the use of chemicals. The resulting leather is both strong and sustainable while changing widespread perceptions of waste by revealing its potential beauty. Hoogvliet also crafted a fishing net rug with the fish skin-based leather, offering a more visible connection to her original seaweed Sea Me Rug.

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Frame 103

Colour is something of a design enigma. Few know exactly how to apply it; many don't dare to try. For some it comes 'naturally' so it's only 'natural' that nature is the go-to source for inspiration. As materials innovation-and-technology specialist Natsai Audrey Chieza says: 'We've always borrowed from nature to dye and colour material artefacts, and that will not change.' What already is changing is the way we borrow from nature.

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