Human Nature, designing the equilibrium
a collaboration between Creative Holland and Connecting the Dots
Text by Viveka van de Vliet
Portrait by Boudewijn Bollmann
Simone Kramer & Petra Janssen from Social Label
The Social label Foundation does more than just design attractive or even sustainable products. In the seven or more years that it has existed, it has demonstrated that collaborations between makers with a distance to the labour market and leading designers are valuable and offer new opportunities. Social label is a growing movement of people who strive for a socially sustainable, inclusive economy.
An economy that improves society leaves nobody on the sidelines. In fact, ‘it is the only way we can design’, Jordan Hruska, a journalist at The New York Times and The Economist, said at the Social Label exhibition in Milan last year.
You could say that Social label designs labour. Its founders, Petra Janssen (owner of Studio Boot, together with Edwin Vollebergh) and Simone Kramer (C-mone, office for culture & communication), strongly believe in an inclusive world that can be achieved through the power of design and communication. ‘Everyone wants to participate in society, develop, and earn their own income, but an ever-growing group is unable to find that connection easily’, says Janssen. ‘This group falls outside the system, remains invisible in remote workplaces in ugly environments, and is barred from entering the regular labour process.’
Like modern-day knights, Janssen and Kramer go to battle. They open doors that are closed and break down pigeonholing and the division in society between rich and poor, by having everyone participate in the workplace and working together as equals. In order to achieve this, Social label conceives innovative concepts for product lines. This results in collections of special and high-quality sustainable designs, such as tableware, brooms, furniture, vases, and lamps. Developed in twelve workshops in the Netherlands in collaboration with designers such as Roderick Vos, Kiki van Eijk, Kranen/Gille, and soon with Joost van Bleiswijk and studio Rens. Janssen and Kramer visit the workshops and then look for a suitable designer/teacher with whom to develop a collection. ‘In this way, we ensure that people with a disadvantage on the labour market have challenging work every week, and that they feel proud and appreciated. They can be trained as craftspeople and develop themselves. We also offer them a platform at Dutch Design Week and Milan Design Week to show their designs to a wide audience. We call this collaborative contribution to an economy that improves society socio economics.’
Social label was not deliberately conceived but resulted from an initiative by Studio Boot: the Huttenfestival de Vlek in 2011, where the collaboration between Studio Boot and C-mone began. The festival was a research project to find new ways of building and living together. Architects, designers, artists, people with daytime activities of a work-related nature, everyone was invited to help build a village in Tilburg. This led to the first collaboration between Piet Hein Eek and woodworking shop Woodworks of the Amarant care institution in Tilburg and resulted in the edgy collection entitled HOUT. All products are sold by the designers as well as by the Social Label foundation and the workshops, and thus they connect to a social economy.
Social label is growing as a community that allows various groups of makers and professionals to collaborate in all kinds of ways. In May, the Social Design Lab will open in het Werkwarenhuis in Den Bosch, where the design shop of Social label and club/ restaurant Van Aken are also located. Care partners, companies, municipalities, governments, educational institutions, cultural and social initiatives, scientists, and designers are working on a different view of work, participation, and learning.
Social label exists alongside their own businesses. There is not that much difference between them, Janssen and Kramer say. The mentality is the same: out of idealism, the teaching practice and the need for new forms of collaboration through the power of design and communication, they want to make society more social and beautiful.
This interview belongs to the project Human Nature, designing the equilibrium. Part of this project are live interviews and an exhibition during the Milan Design Week 2018.