Modularity, flexibility, and a strong relationship to the human body spell iconic design for Alei Verspoor
Modularity is not an easy-to-achieve quality, nor one that we can take for granted, especially when it comes to wearable products.
One designer has broken that continuum, though. Alei Verspoor has created a collection of modular bags (backpacks, totes, and sleeves) that can adapt and evolve over their lifetime. The PACK Bags designed by Verspoor can be disassembled into their components (a basket, sleeve, straps, and clips) and then reassembled into a new form, that responds to one's needs.
Suddenly, bags don't have to become redundant or be discarded when a single, small component, tears or breaks.
In addition to their functional prowess, there is a certain timeless beauty to the appearance of the PACK Bags. Their broad basket-weave like quality, simplicity, and richness of colors will make them attractive to users for years, and generations, to come.
This freedom from the effects of time can be seen in many of the Netherlands-based designer's works. In this article, we identify a few key themes in Verspoor's work and discuss both past and upcoming projects through the lens of these themes.
Recently, Alei joined ranks with the London-based Form&Seek collective and will now be showcasing her work alongside other designers from the group at the prestigious London Design Festival next week. We spoke with the talented and multi-dimensional textile, product and print designer, about a few of her signature products, her approach to materials, and her exciting new work for the LDF 2016.
Relationship to the human body
MD: Alei, how did textiles become an ongoing focus in your work?
Alei: I have always liked the inherent flexibility of textiles. Through my work, I wanted to relate to the human body, and the human scale. So, almost instinctively, I gravitated toward textiles, which are can be the closest to our bodies.
This pull towards textiles led me to an interest in fashion design. After a BA in Fashion Design, I spent a few years working as a menswear designer in the Netherlands. At one point, however, I found that my work was no longer challenging, or satisfying for me. I made up my mind to study textile and product design in depth.
At the Royal College of Art, where I earned a Masters, I spent my first year consciously working in every realm BUT fashion. I experimented with products for interior, and even vehicle design.
In my second year, however, I began to gravitate to textiles again, drawn to the sheer impact they have on us, on the human body. It was at this point that my projects began to move in the direction of what is today, the collection of 'PACK Bags'.
MD: Alei, the 'PACK BAGS' you have created, are iconic. They are modular and can alter with time, so they genuinely seem to represent and align with our generation today.
Tell how this product was born and evolved.
Alei: The PACK BAGS started with my year long graduation project at the RCA. For this project, I was seeking to make textile products that could be disassembled quickly.
I was always interested in outdoor-use products, like backpacks and such. But these are most often laminated, and fixed in their forms. If any single piece of such a product breaks or is damaged, one has to discard the whole thing eventually. This was something I wanted to change with a modular product that I was creating.
The challenges I faced, were the physical qualities of the materials themselves: Textiles are not geared to 'break apart' and be modular, nor are they rigid and easy to sculpt or shape. In response to these qualities, I began to look to Japanese techniques of wrapping and folding materials, and methods like basket-weaving.
After much experimentation with multiple fabrics and even plastics, I found my material of choice- heavy polyester webbing, from a webbing factory in the UK. The webbing was perfect– It could retain a shape, but was easy to disassemble. So, I created a backpack for myself this way and began to use it. People started to notice and pay attention to the bag, and that led me to create the collection of PACK Bags.
Today, the bags are available to purchase at stores, at design exhibitions and online. Some people will buy extra straps, clips, and sleeves along with the bag– they intend to disassemble and change the look and shape of the bag over time. Some users will buy the bag as is and want to use it in the same way.In either application, the PACK Bags have emerged as a product that is not confined by changing fashion and has a timeless design.
MD:'Fold Inn' is, simply put, a box that unfolds into a flexible bedroom. Tell us how this product you created, was imagined and created?
Alei: Fold Inn was the result of a collaboration with designer Lieke Jildou de Jong.
We were both fascinated with things that are flexible. Lieke had previously done an exhibition of works on the theme' Vacancy and Flexibility' and had significant experience with large-scale works and exhibitions. So, when we joined forces, we were able to combine our skills, and create this modular and flexible 'bedroom in a box'. Fold Inn was developed for people who need to work and stay in unexpected places, such as businesspeople and flex workers. A large space can be subdivided and occupied by Fold Inn.
We showcased Fold Inn at Dutch Design Week in 2014, as well as in Seoul, Korea.
At both exhibitions, we attracted the interest of diverse clientele, and in particular, were appreciated a lot by architects, who could imagine Fold Inn transforming their spaces.
New formats of construction
MD: Alei, what are you creating for the London Design Festival? And what is next for you, regarding new methods of construction and design?
Alei: In addition to the PACK Bags, which I will be showcasing at the BOXPARK in Shoreditch, London, I will be presenting a new series of modular tables at Tent London, as part of the London Design Festival this year. The tables are a hybrid of the woven polyester webbing for the flat horizontal top, with wood being used as a supporting vertical element. The tables will be modular in the sense that there will be a series of identical diameter cylindrical bases, but with varying tops, per the need of the user.
Following the LDF, I am excited to pursue a funded project in Taiwan. The project will operate in proximity to small-scale production facilities in Taiwan. I am eager to incorporate what I learn in Taiwan, into my work here in the Netherlands.
Another exciting fabrication method I will be exploring will be Willow basket-weaving. I am excited to experiment with this material and technique I have not worked with before.
Through much of this experimentation, though, my approach to materials remains and will remain constant– I like to celebrate the quality of materials themselves, keep things simple and avoid 'decoration'. I also try not to use any ready-made products and parts for what I design– no matter how small the end product. For example, for the PACK Bags, It would have been easy to use pre-made clips, but I wanted to custom-make them. I want each portion of a product to be crafted, and to fit perfectly into the whole.
MD: Thank you so much Alei, for speaking with us, and sharing with us, insights into your process and journey!
Readers, look out for Alei's new work at two locations at the London Design Festival :The London Design Fair and A popup shop at BOXPARK–both as part of Form&Seek, from 20-25 Sept 2016!