Representing the creative future

Duran Lantink shoplifts H&M and Zara to create political clothes

The Dutch designer speaks out on the flaws of the fashion industry and actively works towards creating a more moral system

SistaazHood Durn Lantink

For Duran Lantink, Dutch designer raised in The Hague and now based in Amsterdam, design practice is all about questioning the norms of the fashion industry as we know it and breaking the status quo. Rather than try to fit into the archaic system of seasons, which has recently collapsed along with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lantink works with personal clients and collaborates with multi-brand stores, such as London’s Browns. Instead of working with sourced fabrics, the designer creates collections out of already produced garments – using clothes from his client’s closets, charity shops and designer stores’ deadstock sections, fearlessly cutting them up, and upcycling  into brand new pieces. Prior to the global lockdown, Lantink also launched his latest controversial concept – the ‘Robin Hood’ collection, made out of pieces shoplifted from H&M and Zara, with 50% of the proceeds going to communities that are mistreated in the production stage of the fast fashion industry. Even though he gained wide notoriety for designing Janelle Monáe’s ‘vagina’ trousers for her ‘PYNK’ music video and dressing teen pop star Billie Eilish , his sustainable and innovative practices have been equally acknowledged in the industry – in 2019, he was one of the finalists shortlisted for the prestigious LVMH Prize.

“It’s actually safer for me as a young designer and as a small business to work with a ‘no stock policy’, where I just only do collaborations”

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the way you’re running your brand? Have you taken a break from creating garments in the last few months or were you able to work at your regular speed?

We took a break for only about two weeks. I’ve always been working with dead stock in my studio. People are constantly speaking about the importance of having your own product instead of just only working with stock from different brands or different stores. The pandemic has proved that they’re completely wrong.  It’s actually safer for me as a young designer and as a small business to work with a ‘no stock policy’, where I just only do collaborations – if we do something, it’s already arranged upfront, so we don’t have to sell it afterwards.

How many people work in your studio and how big is the space?

Depends on the project. Now we’re working on two projects, so we’re working with 8-10 people. In terms of space, the studio is 300 square meters. We pay only 50 euros a month, because it’s in a squat. This gives us the freedom to invite more people to work here because we have a lot of space where we can keep the safe distance during the pandemic.

With your commitment to upcycling fashion, how do you go about sourcing the luxury garments that you work with? I know you’ve previously done a partnership with Browns.

I’m still working with Browns, we’re collaborating on a new project. Again, it’s always different. It’s about navigating towards new companies and multi-brand stores, so now we’re working with a multi-brand store from Hong Kong and Leclaireur, as well as on partnerships with smaller brands.

Duran Lantink

“I think often schools focus too much on a certain way of thinking about fashion, where it’s about [fitting in] a system. So they always want to teach you about it. For me, an art school or a fashion school should be about listening to the students. In the end, it’s their choice, it’s their career, it’s their future.”

That’s really interesting. I think this is a totally new way of working,  to approach stores in that way.

Yeah, I think so too. It’s also necessary because there’s such a weird policy with having to buy a certain amount of clothing, so people just stay with leftovers. It’s all based on a kind of fucked up economic system. So I think it’s also about doing something to help them and still make it aesthetically attractive.

What first drew you to the deconstructed aesthetic? Was it something that you were always attracted to, or  is it a way of working with the garments you already had?

No, I was always attracted to deconstructing garments. I’ve been doing that since I was a little child. I’ve never really found it interesting to work with flat materials and always saw a potential in clothes to transform into something new, changing a skirt into a jacket and so on. During my academic years, people were not always really fond of it because they thought it was a lazy approach, but it’s actually not, it’s just a different way of thinking.

You transferred from Amsterdam Fashion Institute to Gerrit Rietveld Academy because the teachers at the former didn’t understand your way of working. What in your view are art schools doing wrong in the way they educate  design students?

I think often schools focus too much on a certain way of thinking about fashion, where it’s about [fitting in] a system. So they always want to teach you about it. For me, an art school or a fashion school should be about listening to the students. In the end, it’s their choice, it’s their career, it’s their future. It’s not about trying to fit them in some kind of system, it’s about exploring their opportunities – giving people a broader perspective on what’s going on in the world and how you can change things.  I also don’t like the competitive nature of the courses, with the constant lookout on who has the most potential to succeed. Also, sometimes all the students somehow end up creating work that is similar because they’ve been taught by the same teachers. And I think that’s very tricky. I think it’s better to give students total freedom and let them stay true to their identity, rather than try to put them in this corner called ‘fashion’.

 

“For me, it just feels so good to cut a Dior open or cut a Prada and then mash it up together. I think it also has to do with dominance, it’s just such a good feeling to fuse very dominant brands together.”

What’s usually the starting point of your design process?

I always have a look at the stock. And then from there, just start a puzzle in my head: I try to see what works or what doesn’t work and which materials can be interestingly combined. It’s a very intuitive process, but I start by just playing around. As for concepts, there’s always one, but it does not necessarily have to do anything with the aesthetic of the clothes because it’s always the same, it’s always reusing existing clothes. Sometimes people ask me, “What’s the next concept?” And I’m like, “It’s not a concept. It’s just a new way of creating collections.”

I think the way you create the collections is the concept. 

I think so! [laughs]

Are you brave with the way you approach the garments? Have you ever cut a piece and regretted it in retrospect?

No, I’m quite brave about it. It’s usually the people around me in the studio that are screaming and shouting and praying. For me, it just feels so good to cut a Dior open or cut a Prada and then mash it up together. I think it also has to do with dominance, it’s just such a good feeling to fuse very dominant brands together.

SistaazHood Project
SistaazHood Project

How are other designers reacting to using their deadstock in your collections?

They are usually very positive, I think it’s more the PR around the brands who have a negative opinion about it, because why should a designer be offended by it? We’re basically trying to keep the garments alive. It’s better to remake something and still get the value up, rather than it ending up in a sale bin.

Could you talk a little about the trans sex workers community from Cape Town that you work with on your collections?

Yeah, we’ve been collaborating with SistaazHood since 2015. We were planning to do a show in November in Cape Town. The girls live under the bridge around the Castle of Good Hope and their biggest dream was to do a show in the castle. Because of the pandemic, we decided that it would be more effective if we start collaborating and seeing if we could set up an atelier in the city instead. So we’re planning to do a collection with them, so that they can be self-sufficient and build up their own collections because they have an amazing style. They’re super creative and it wouldn’t be good enough to just do a show. What we really want for the girls is to have an option to do design and styling, because now the only option that they have is either dealing drugs or doing sex work.

“What if we start massively shoplifting at H&M and Zara, and then create sustainable collections out of the pieces, and 50% goes back to communities that got mistreated during the process of the fast fashion industry?”

What in your view makes your clothes political and what statement do they make?

Well, I think it’s about mixing. I mean, we’re living in a culture where everyone is mixing stuff up. So I think that’s also a political message when in Vogue there’s a full Versace look or a full Dior look. My reaction towards those bigger brands is, if you don’t want to be mixed, we’re just going to cut you up, stitch it together, and then you have to be mixed.

I also have recently created ‘Stolen by Duran’, which is a concept where we ask a question :What if we start massively shoplifting at H&M and Zara, and then create sustainable collections out of the pieces, and 50% goes back to communities that got mistreated during the process of the fast fashion industry? It’s a Robin Hood approach. A lot of people were like, “Maybe you shouldn’t promote it too much?” But, yeah, why not…  I presented it at the BFC’s Discovery Room. Some people were a little bit skeptical, but that’s good. I think it’s also about making people think about the whole process of fast fashion and the idea of stealing back from the biggest kleptomaniacs in a way. And also it was fun because people would expect me to do Saint Laurent and Dior, and they were like, “Oh, that’s beautiful!”. But I left all the tags on the clothes, and 30 seconds later, they realised it was Zara.

For me, as a designer and as a brand, I would like to play and fuck around with the system and see in what way we can change it. I think it’s super important because everybody’s walking on their toes. In fashion, you’re not allowed to say that, you’re not allowed to say this, you have to be careful with that – it’s always people trying to make you silent. You don’t want to do that because then that brand doesn’t want to work with you anymore. And I think that’s something that we, as young designers, are kind of fed up with. It’s also crucial to connect with other designers and instead of being competitors, create and stimulate each other – that’s the most powerful and effective way to change the system.

"Stolen by Duran" , a collection created by stolen garments from fast fashion chains

“Where I was kind of skeptical with the pandemic was when everybody was saying, “Now everybody has to be conscious”, but I didn’t really believe it because if you see the lines in front of Zara, it’s insane. People are dying to consume again.”

How do you think this pandemic will affect the fashion system and its over-consumption? And what changes in your view should be implemented?

Fashion should be more sustainable and conscious, people should know about the practices. You should actually want to know who made it. You should want to know the name of the woman who stitched the piece or where the thread comes from. It makes it more interesting. It gives more value to the product. It’s just about empowering people. Where I was kind of skeptical with the pandemic was when everybody was saying, “Now everybody has to be conscious”, but I didn’t really believe it because if you see the lines in front of Zara, it’s insane. People are dying to consume again. But with the Black Lives Matter movement, you slowly see people starting to talk about the low wages that workers are being paid by companies like Zara. That makes me feel a little bit more optimistic and hopefully, people will draw more attention towards the production stage. And it’s not only fast fashion, because luxury brands are also hugely underpaying people.

Are you planning on growing your business in the future or are you happy with the way it’s running right now?

No, I’m planning to grow. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean bigger collections. It could also be about starting to do interiors or launching more collaborations with communities. I’m also thinking of designing clothes from scratch, using deadstock fabrics. I think growing is about exploring and a big part of being an artist or a designer. It also probably has something to do with ego! [laughs]

"Sistaaz Knights"

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