donderdag 27 december 2012

Christmas with the Samaritan Trust

A lovely little film from Malawi, best wishes for 2013!

maandag 17 december 2012

How Effective Is Overseas Aid?

Some quotes from a very interesting discussion in the Guardian last Saturday between Clare Short (former Development secretary UK) and Ha-Joon Chang ( economist, born in South Korea) :

CS: "The UK spends about ₤8bn on aid, we spend more than ₤40bn on defence and ₤600bn on public expenditure so ₤8bn is a tiny part....Funding that helps countries speed up their development is just about decency, and also about the world being safer and more secure in the future."

HC: "In all the recent debates on aid, there is an implicit assumption that aid more or less doesn't work. However, there are many examples of aid working. My own native country, South Korea, is a great example. In the 1960s, it was one of the poorest countries in the world; now it's a donor. In certain periods, foreign aid played a critical role in allowing us to build infrastructure, resolve housing crises, build particular  fertiliser factories and so on- if you use it well, aid can be a very good thing. So let's talk about how to make it better rather than talking about getting rid of it."

CS: "42% of children in India are stunted. That means 42% of little brains and bodies are not getting enough nutrition and clean water to grow. So you can't say: Oh, India's rich now- and walk away."

HC: "Well, you need to do so many things to pull some countries out of their poverty, so giving individuals a goat is a good thing. But it's not enough, so I don't want that kind of private aid to be considered a replacement for building infrastructure, installing sanitation systems and so on."

CS: "I don't think food banks are the answer to to poverty in Britain, but in the mean time it's good that people (and companies-RvdK) are giving aid."

HC: "Unfortunately, with the austerity drive, Britain is becoming a bit of a Scrooge. This country used to be very decent, and now it's becoming narrow-minded and stingy."

Let's hope Scrooge (in this case most rich countries) will see the right ghost and direct its mind to world development. Improve rather than get rid of aid, Chang couldn't have said it better.

dinsdag 11 december 2012

Material Change II

Halfway I am, reading this book by Eve Blossom. It's good; she says some very interesting things about (social) design. I can relate to her practice with Lulan Artisans through the craft projects in Malawi. Even with many differences, for the craft projects in Malawi are focusing on a local market, which is essential in this case. Still, we can learn from all of these projects.
Here's a few issues worth quoting:

Good design is creating enduring values. For good design sustainability and social good are new values. Essential is that local culture is partner in the ownership of a project.
Indeed these things are essential.  Enduring value has to do with beauty, longevity, material sources and social circumstances for production.
Social design and fairtrade don't work if you come in from abroad and push some 'design' into the community. That won't last, and has little to do with local strength.

For a strong development of social design we need disruptive entrepreneurship. 
Entrepreneurship that has a strong vision, that is grassroot, that doesn't wait for official canals to be ready. Indeed we, those with ideas, just have to do it. Make it happen. In Malawi we, the women and me, just started. I brought in the ideas, curated their skills, they were eager to just do it.

maandag 10 december 2012

In the Bleak Midwinter

This old English song is one of the most beautiful winter songs I know. It's written by Harold Darke (1888-1976).  The photo's are made by my father last weekend, when I walked with my father and brother. This landscape is utterly beautiful, and the pureness is stunning with the snow....

        In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
 earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; 
 snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 
 in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; 
 heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. 
 In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed 
 the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

 Angels and archangels may have gathered there, 
 cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; 
 but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, 
 worshiped the beloved with a kiss. 

 What can I give him, poor as I am? 
 If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
 if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
 yet what I can I give him:  give my heart.

vrijdag 7 december 2012

Material Change

I've just started reading Material Change, by Eve Blossom. A book in which she tells the story of how Lulan Artisans was established as a sustainable business in Vietnam. Design Thinking and the Social Entrepreneurship Movement - is the subtitle.
It's about design rooted in local culture, sustainability rooted in traditions.
The book has a wonderful poem by Fausto Contreras Lazo as a dedication:

"Our Forefathers"
In our hands they deposited
the tools that interweave our dreams,
what we see, what we feel, what we live.

In the weaving they taught us how
to weave with yarn the rainbow,
colors, with the fragrance of our country
from this, we cultivate and harvest.

They, too, did it this way, like this they flowered,
today we, their children, mark new trails,
together with our greatest teachers.

The photography by Mark Standen is beautiful, inspiring and clarifying.
Later more about the content.

donderdag 29 november 2012

Xmas by April&May

April&May is the wonderful webshop by my former students Jantine & Vivian. They sell the cute little hand knitted sheep from my collection. For Xmas they made these lovely photo's. I'm proud!

vrijdag 16 november 2012

Biobrandstof | Biofuel

Biobrandstof. De vijand van voedselschaarste.

Biobrandstof, ooit gepresenteerd als duurzame oplossing van onder andere het klimaatprobleem, blijkt helemaal niet zo duurzaam. Sommige biobrandstoffen zijn zelfs nog slechter voor het klimaat dan fossiele brandstoffen als olie en gas. Miljoenen hectare landbouwgrond worden gebruikt voor de productie van biobrandstof in plaats van voedsel. De landbouwgrond die gebruikt wordt om Europese auto’s te voorzien van biobrandstof zou genoeg tarwe en maïs kunnen voortbrengen voor 127 miljoen mensen.Het grootste deel van de biobrandstof aan de pomp wordt gemaakt uit voedselgewassen zoals graan, maïs, suiker, soja en koolzaad. Nieuwe soorten biobrandstof, gemaakt van gebruikte vetten, landbouwafval, planten en algen (de zogenaamde tweede en derde generatie biobrandstof) zijn nog minimaal beschikbaar. Het grootste deel van de bijgemengde brandstof bestaat uit eerste generatie biobrandstof.
Veel voedsel verdwijnt dus in de tank, en dat is schrijnend. Zeker nu steeds meer mensen hun dagelijks eten niet meer kunnen betalen vanwege de hoge voedselprijzen. Benzine of diesel bij de Nederlandse pomp bestaat uit méér dan 4% biobrandstof. Zonder dat dit wordt vermeld. En weigeren kan niet. Dat paar procent biobrandstof lijkt een klein aandeel, maar al met al is het een enorme hoeveelheid. Bijmengen moet volgens Europese en Nederlandse regels. In 2008 werd door de EU al bijna 3 miljard euro uitgegeven aan belastingvoordelen en stimuleringsmaatregelen voor de productie van biobrandstoffen. Indien er niets verandert met betrekking tot het huidige Europese beleid, kan de verplichte bijmenging van biobrandstof in 2020 elke EU-burger zelfs 30 euro per jaar kosten.
Wij betalen dus voor de lobby van biobrandstof, gooien voedsel in de tank, werken mee aan armoede in de wereld en een andere keuze lijkt geen optie. We kunnen wel wat doen om voedsel in de tank tegen te gaan. Ga naar en kom in actie. Nu!

woensdag 7 november 2012

The Alpine Review

Read the review (in Dutch) I wrote on the website of Athenaeum Booksellers about the great new magazine The Alpine Review.... which observes the things that matter.

woensdag 31 oktober 2012

Our Garden Birds

Since I've been working with my good work-friend Peter Graatsma on a trend lecture about identity according to birds, birds are everywhere. Funny to see how your focus in work can also focus everything you see. The fun, the beauty, the dangers that threaten them, the colours, what's written about them... endless inspiration. Peter gave me this lovely book by artist Matt Sewell.

Let me quote what he wrote about one of my favourite birds; the Blackbird:
"A healthy addition to any garden and a resident in most. Just by listening to the Blackbird's call, you can tell what's going on out there: whatever is happening he likes to sing about it. Danger, happiness and general comings and goings are all reported on, and of course he welcomes the sun every morning. The Blackbird sings with compassion, clarity and heart..... "

vrijdag 26 oktober 2012

Unless You Remove

Last Tuesday I went to the Graduation Show of the Design Academy during Dutch Design Week. Always good to go there, very inspiring. It's great having taught there at the then-called master Man and Humanity, and I might teach there again.
From all the projects I've seen many were good, some were brilliant, some were unnecessary and some keep popping up in my mind. Here's one of the stars.
Luis Gomez Barquin. He graduated from the master Social Design. His project Unless You Remove is poetical, a sign of the times as well as a proof of the past.
Ancient architecture was purely for protection. Against weather, animals or human enemies. It was done by removing soil or excavating rock. Ancient garments were also made by removing. A fleece from a sheep, a bark from a tree. These were remade. All this needed focus and dedication.
Today's dangers and lifestyle are more complex, so products as well as garments are way beyond the ancient pieces. But we lost the skill of removal. We constantly add. That's also metaphoric and reflects our lives which are reigned by consumerism, speed and distraction.
But we can learn, and remove. Focus again, reflect, commit.
That's why Luis designed items that will become ours by removing elements. Objects that ask for an action, he calls them.
I fell in love with the idea, for it's part of the questions we have to ask ourselves: what do we really need, what can go? I fell in love with the objects as well.

the blanket is too thick to wrap yourself comfortably unless....

the chair is uncomfortable to sit on unless..........

woensdag 17 oktober 2012

Campaign for Wool I

Raised by Prince Charles, spreading over the fashion and design world: the campaign for wool. Wool has a traditional place in our daily lives since centuries. Wool is beautiful, wool is warm, wool is natural and organic, wool is recyclable, wool is fabulous. Wool however is threatened. Farmers hardly get any money for the fleeces they sheared from their flock and often just destroy the wool. Some wool, like merino, is often taken from the sheep in a cruel, painful way. So it's time for a change!
We must emphasize the beauty and heritage of wool. And make a new future for wool. That's why I've joined the campaign for wool.
It's obvious that wool is my favourite material for my handmade designs. On sale at Options, April&May and Royal Tichelaar in The Netherlands, and Deshima in Tokyo.
From 6 till 11 November it's woolweek. Many events, constantly updated via facebook.

donderdag 11 oktober 2012

The Girl Effect

Despite the fact that not all twelve-year-old girls in poverty suffer this kind of life it's important to raise awareness for those who do. So have a look at this short, graphic film. Really well made and the reality of it makes you shiver.

zondag 7 oktober 2012

Little Sun

I've bought one when in Tate Modern last week. What a wonderful object, with an amazingly strong light for such a smally!
Great project, brilliant artist, Olafur Eliasson.
Have a look at little sun

dinsdag 2 oktober 2012

Buy Nothing New

October has just started and there's a very good initiative (originally from Australia) with a lovely website. Easy to do: just buy nothing new. First look at what we have; do we really need anything now and why? Closets, cupboards, shelves, sheds, attics and basements are usually full with stuff and clothes. There might be items that we forgot about. Why not polish them and re-use? Repair them and re-use? Customise them and re-use?
Or borrow, if we know someone who owns what we need. There are more online communities such as peerby on which we can connect and borrow or lend. A drill, a tent, a workmate. Anything.
I think it's good to reflect on everything we have, and sometimes just feel good not to buy. We have a lot, you know. Too much often. Live good, consume less, reduce .

vrijdag 3 augustus 2012

Summer Flowers

On my balcony. A while ago I planted the seeds, with hope for growth ( see post 11th June) and now here's the result. For good summerwishes!

donderdag 19 juli 2012

Textile Design

At the moment I'm experimenting with combinations of different knitting techniques and different types of wool. Hand- and machine knitting, linen and wool, yarn sizes etc. Some things work, some don't. As usual, with experimenting! years ago I took knitting classes in Ireland, on the Aran islands. Besides wonderful days, I gained so much knowledge about how stitches actually work. Aran knitting is complicated, but also quite systematic. The teacher was strict; when it wasn't really perfect, she would undo all these stitches and you would have to start again. It was funny to see our behaviour in the class; we wanted to hide the mistakes from her, even while we were there as professionals to learn. And of course in the end we were glad she was so strict. I became much more confident and fluent in the process. So after this experience I'm able to design with knitting, rather than just be a good knitter. I'm sure there are many much better knitters than myself. But to understand the process, that's important for design.

maandag 16 juli 2012

Rutger Kopland 1934-2012

The much appreciated poet passed away earlier this week. His poems have a lyrical atmosphere. Looking at nature and reflecting on nature are important in his work. Here's a poem  translated by  James Brockway:


Things are happening here and I am the only
one who knows

I shall name them and also say why

there's an old garden seat standing under the apple-tree
there's an old football lying in the grass
there are old sounds coming out of the house
there is an old light in the sky

this is happening here: a garden in the evening

and what you don't hear and don't see- the places
where we dug holes
and filled them up again, weeping

I teel you this because I do not want to be alone
before I am

donderdag 12 juli 2012


Inspiration is an ongoing process. Everything can be useful as a source. For design, for a concept, for cooperation, for a process itself. Images, exhibitions, packages, books, articles, objects, samples. It's a great part of work to collect, organise and display. Here are some examples.

vrijdag 6 juli 2012

Miscellaneous Labour

Malawi: farms and construction sites. All farm work is done by hand, all bricks for buildings are moulded by hand and even most tools are handmade. So labour is very demanding. Slow but steady!

woensdag 4 juli 2012


Last Friday I read an interesting article in NRC Handelsblad after which I dived into the subject. Nothing inferior, B- Corporations are the companies of the future. B is benefit. These companies are now legally supported in the USA to have social and environmental responsibility as objectives for entrepreneurship. IceStone is an example; workers are earning twice the minimum wage, work in daylight as much as possible to save energy and work with recycled materials. And still make beautiful work surfaces for kitchens. Patagonia outdoor gear is another example. No child labour, environmental awareness and even a think-before-you-buy-policy.
Different from multinationals who want to keep growing while proclaiming to reduce their footprint. Ofthen there's a lot of clever marketing involved. Juliet Schor, sociologist from Harvard says in her book 'Plenitude' : Responding to our current moment, Plenitude puts sustainability at its core, but it is not a paradigm of sacrifice. Instead it’s an argument that through a major shift to new sources of wealth, green technologies, and different ways of living, individuals and the country as a whole can actually be better off and more economically secure.
Of course also in The Netherlands we have these kind of companies which are focusing on corporate responsibility. Quite a few I would say.  But to have it as an objective, that's quite radical. So it's good news that in the huge USA this kind of entrepreneurship is supported. It could be a game-changer!
Truly redefine business, truly redefine profit, truly redefine entrepreneurship. Wow.
In the end consumers have the power, of course. These products will not be the cheapest. But in the long term they might be. If you really think ahead....

dinsdag 3 juli 2012


I've been on a very beloved place for a few days: Terschelling. The most beautiful island in The Netherlands. I made a long walk with my father along one of the most amazing beaches the world knows. 'De Noordvaarder' is a nature reserve at the edge of 2 seas. The sands seem endless, birds are breeding and caring for their young in this time of year. The seals are swimming in the floods  and curiously watch the passers-by. However, also here the threats of plastic seem to be around. Sitting, watching the glorious view while having lunch I encountered the most tiny black shells in the sand near my feet. Or? No, they were tiny pieces of plastic. Dissolved from larger objects now almost invisible. It can't be said often enough: plastic does never disappear. Imagine these floating in the water, being part of the seals and fishes daily meals....
Anyway, it's a warning again and even more important to cherish, take care and enjoy these places.

zaterdag 23 juni 2012

Fashion in the Countryside

Fashion in rural Malawi consists of a few elements: tradition, evolution and market. Traditionally women in Malawi wear a chitenji, like many women all over the African continent. A simple piece of fabric with colourful patterns which is tied around the waist. When pregnant they tie it around their chest, above the breasts. Most of the women still do. Sometimes the pattern is a message; from a women's organisation, the Catholic Church or an agriculture association. And more and more you see young women just wearing skirts, and they become shorter. Traditionally it was not allowed to see anything above the ankle, nowadays some skirts are just over the knee. The same for shirts; traditionally they were always with sleeves, but sleeveless or even just a vest becomes more common. That's the evolution.  And the market comes in as well. The second-hand clothes market in countries such as Malawi are booming. The crocs that Europe is bored of are widely seen here. Also the fake D&G's, the postmen-uniforms and the marketing. Besides the main load of shirts, trousers and jackets. So the colourful mixture also becomes a style mixture. For men it's slightly different. They roll their trousers, wear polo's, checkered shirts and uniforms. But there's nothing better than a man in a plain white shirt.