Photos by Johannes Schwartz
A pair of Dutch designers are turning the tables on “fast fashion.” Tired of playing the role of “unpaid vendors of ideas” for high-street retailers, which have largely built their billion-dollar empires on cheap and trendy knockoffs, Alexander van Slobbe and Francisco van Benthum are taking production remnants from the likes of H&M, Mango, and Zara and making them their own. The result is Hacked, a project currently on display at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam as part of its “Temporary Fashion Museum” initiative. An indictment of the fast-fashion phenomenon and its nebulous relationship with the laws of man, nature, and economics, Hacked offers, in the words of the designers, a “radical alternative to the growing range of fast-fashion chains,” while serving as a springboard for discussions about intellectual property, consumerism, and waste.
TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY
“There’s something scandalous about it,” van Slobbe said in a video for the exhibit. “If you’re a big chain, you can easily use all the designs around you. They have been hacking all their lives. When a new Prada collection comes out, these designs end up in the big chains in no time. … The Buma/Stemra of the fashion world is nowhere to be found in fashion.”
Unlike other creative industries, fashion offers few protections to its designers. “It’s very simple,” van Slobbe said. “You can take any design, introduce seven changes to it, and it’s a different product, while it remains directly visually recognizable.”
But beyond the issue of copyright, and the competitive advantage fast-fashion retailers hold over their higher-end counterparts, Hacked is also a meditation of sorts on unchecked consumption.
“There’s a story behind it because the way we create the collection deals with issues of overproduction,” said Van Benthum, explaining that they hijack production surplus not only to make a point (and keep prices low) but also because there’s just so much of it.
“We want to have this discussion because our contemporary time is about these issues,” he added. “Does the consumer even know there is so much deadstock in the world? There is far too much production for the demand, [so] instead of starting over again, we use what is already there, what might otherwise end up in the shredder.”
Van Slobbe and Van Benthum use the retailers’ original designs as templates, modifying them with an embroidered detail here or additional pockets there.
That’s not to say the garments are just a variation of the same thing.
“For us it’s important that we are involved in the whole process as designers because we choose the item we want to work with and also decide what to do with it,” van Benthum said. “It’s also important for us that our signature is present in the piece. We want to present a designer collection and introduce it to a market. Our techniques and thoughts are always important.”
Hacked, along with the rest of the “Temporary Fashion Museum,” runs from now through May 8.