Van Eijk & Van der Lubbe / Imperfect Design
video by Robert Andriessen / text by Jeanne Tan
Since Niels van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe’s first collaboration with Imperfect Design in 2011, it’s been a memorable rollercoaster ride with steep learning curves. Cantel, their collection of striking recycled glass vases, is made by glass blowers in Guatemala; the vivid colours derive from the original tints of the glass. But overcoming challenges and cultural differences has been well worth it to help the cooperative of glassblowers improve their livelihoods. The collection’s success sparked a second and third Cantel series, and the collaboration now incorporates ceramics and woollen textiles, all made with Guatemalan craftspeople.
Imperfect Design pairs Dutch designers with craftspeople in emerging countries to produce handcrafted lifestyle products, with an eye to a Western audience. As the name suggests, the imperfection of handcraft is celebrated in the label’s designs. It combines producing attractive, affordable designs relevant to today’s audiences, with generating new long-term income opportunities for the craftspeople it collaborates with, which in turn supports positive social growth of the community. Importantly, focusing on both social and economic opportunities ensures more sustainable collaborations in the long run.
Designing these collections requires a total shift in approach. “Normally we begin with an idea but in this case we start with the limitations of the possibilities!” explains Miriam van der Lubbe with a laugh. Through collaborative hands-on sessions with the craftspeople in their workshop, the products take shape. It’s a rewarding learning process that has taught Van Eijk and Van der Lubbe patience, and in turn, the craftspeople gained insight into new ways to diversify and contemporise their repertoire, for example by making a bigger variety of products from existing moulds.
While imperfection is the underlying goal, this needs to be balanced with quality to meet consumers’ expectations. “Each piece has variations and we have to constantly check as to what extent these imperfections are still acceptable,” continues Van der Lubbe. “The Cantel collection is rich in colours and shapes, and its irregularities and robustness, instead of the delicateness associated with glass, become its unique selling points.”
Produced in partnership with Stichting DOEN and Beroepsorganisatie Nederlandse Ontwerpers