December 1, 2006
From Farm to Closet
Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma makes knitwear that celebrates its provenance.
You might be aware that your banana came from Costa Rica, but do you know which plantation? How about that new baggy sweater you’re rocking over skinny jeans? You probably don’t have a clue about the source of its fibers or where it was made; anyway it will fade, pill, and be yesterday’s news by next year. But if you had gotten it from Christien Meindertsma, you’d know and care. Her knitwear line Flocks—a response to the affordable hipster clothing churned out by H&M—is a sort of “slow clothing” that traces each item back to the sheep that produced the wool.
“I hate the really cheap products we buy from H&M these days,” Meindertsma says. “We think that a sweater just costs thirty euros, but that’s actually impossible. We are used to prices that undervalue things.” Accordingly she decided to devote her 2003 Design Academy Eindhoven graduation project to the issue. “I wanted to make a product that would show where it came from. I thought that if I made something out of wool, I could show which sheep made it.” Meindertsma knit only as many items as could be produced continuously from the amount of fleece one animal makes. “The longest line of products was a sweater, scarf, mittens, hat, and socks connected in a row by the yarn,” she explains. The designer adorned each sweater with a prize ribbon and a yellow plastic RFID ear tag identifying the donor sheep, and included a passportlike booklet with information about the animal’s breed, location, and date of birth.
The next year Meindertsma sourced a flock in Wales, adding a graphic designer, a specialty yarn producer, and a team of knitters to produce her expensive line of clothes. After seeing Meindertsma’s collection, Cok de Rooy—founder of Amsterdam’s Frozen Fountain (think: the Dutch Murray Moss)—invited her to exhibit a new line in the store this fall and winter. De Rooy challenged Meindertsma to consider a more commercial approach. “I told her a good product has a balanced price,” he says. She’s also expanding the materials she works with, so the new collection includes angora mittens, goat-wool hats, alpaca and sheep scarves, and sheep and yak rugs felted like dreadlocks. Meindertsma believes the Frozen Fountain is the perfect place for Flocks.
“I don’t really see it as fashion,” she says. “It’s fashionable, but it should last for years, like good furniture.”