She is a fashion consultant, creative strategist and colour aficionada. Stella Verdult is one of the many creatives vested at TAC. We visited the durable designer to talk about fast fashion, her passion for colour and upcoming exhibition ‘Orange is also red’.
Davy de Lepper
Seasons, trends and collections. We are constantly chasing the new, better and improved version of a product we might already own. Fast fashion is a dirty industry that responds to a desired way of living while seriously polluting the environment. Before a non-original hoodie goes on sale at the local H&M store, it has already crossed the world several times leaving toxic traces. Luckily, more and more companies – in and out of fashion – are transitioning to more durable products and sustainable solutions. Even new brands emerge that make it their mission to produce fair and transparent, while supporting local and smaller factories. This brings us to TAC resident Stella Verdult; someone that started her career in fast fashion, but now specializes – amongst other things – as a durable designer and consultant.
After working in the fashion industries of Paris and Spain, you moved back to Eindhoven. What made you decide to come back?
When you live abroad for more then 5 years and work in foreign languages, in my situation French and Spanish, you feel a barrier in your vocabulary. I missed my native language. You are not as fast, smart or funny in another language. New friends base you on your version in another language, quite a curious fact. What was interesting is that it gave me the space to be bolder. Language was certainly a reason.
I also really wanted to take a risk and start my own business. I preferred doing that in a small and reliable environment. I wouldn’t start as a young entrepreneur in Paris, that would be a recipe for disaster. If you challenge yourself, try to make it easier in other areas.
What inspired you to switch from a career in fast fashion to durable design?
It took me a long time to actually make that switch. At a certain point you become cynical in your own profession. In fast fashion, for example, everything is based on sales figures. That also influences the way you design. You then create certain formulas for things that sell well and they are repeated. For example, I worked at Zara and there was a database of best-selling products. There, these designs would be adjusted a tiny bit each year.
I also found it difficult to see the company’s relationship with manufacturers and suppliers. Manufacturing and working conditions are an undisputed topic in the Spanish scene. At Zara it was almost a kind of motto not to inform the staff about this. It was a taboo fed with fear and ignorance. As long as your staff is scared and naive, you have a well-oiled machine. But how long will they be happy? My former colleagues were often loyal to their work and happy to have it. In my case it was different. If you make an effort to build your life elsewhere, then you also have more reason to question things.
How would you describe the Stella Verdult brand?
Actually, I am now slowly phasing out my clothing brand, but I will come back to that in a moment. It is conceived with the idea that standard clothing sizes do not work for most people. At Zara we designed on Spanish models. The Spanish size S is of course different from the Dutch size S. That is why I couldn’t envision making a clothing line with standard sizes. I also wanted to work with crafts from the area, so the solution was to make custom pieces and listen more to my creativity and interest.
The clothes I made were timeless, minimalistic and inspired by my own favorite pieces. They were the foundation for your wardrobe. Every now and then, a new item of clothing was added: a new variant or the same piece in a different fabric. The reason I am now phasing out my brand is because it is difficult to make 1 item of clothing for 1 person. That is not profitable. As soon as you promise custom, the customer suddenly has many other wishes. People start to look with different eyes: once an item is made in the Netherlands, no buttons should fall off. This can of course always happen. I still design clothes for my intimate environment and always will. Professionally, my path is heading somewhere else.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start paying attention to a more sustainable lifestyle?
You have to dare to always ask yourself WHY. Why do I want this sofa, why do I want this coat and so on. Why is it important that your sofa is beautiful? As you continue to ask this why question, you will come to a place of uncertainty. For example, we want to have products that others also like. When you go to that insecure place, which is very scary, you suddenly realize that you have a lot less to do. For example, on vacation we only wear 1 pair of trousers and 1 shirt, and we are happy with that. Embrace being allowed to be a hypocrite, as long as we dare to do it better little by little. Fun fact: I tried washable diapers for my daughter. I quickly changed those back to disposable diapers.
“What are the polluting consequences of our vanity?”
You call yourself a colour aficionada, something you started specializing in during your study at the Willem de Kooning Academy. Where do you think this passion for colour comes from?
Maybe it comes from my mother, she is a painter who works a lot with color. When she got home, she spoke enthusiastically about the new tubes of paint she had bought. These then had, for example, a specific color yellow. She couldn’t wait for the day when that color yellow would be important. I didn’t understand that at the time, but now I recognize that with my textiles. I often buy fabrics for no specific purpose, but only because they appeal to me and I know I will use them one day. My fabrics are one of my most beautiful possessions. The passion of looking at color may have been translated from my mother.
When I would look at a tangerine I could be incredibly inspired by the color orange it had. When I then wanted to make a garment in the same shade of orange, something went wrong in the translation process. In the fabric store I suddenly associated all colors of orange with Dutch holiday King’s Day. It was this misinterpretation of color to clothing that inspired me to graduate in color. It made me realize that color is determined by the object it contains. The poppy also contains such a beautiful shade of orange, but just look at a coat at H&M that contains the same magic in that specific color.
‘Orange is also red’ is the name of your upcoming exhibition at TAC. How does this poetic title reflect on what visitors will get to see?
There is such a wide spectrum of reds and reds that become oranges. But when is something red and when is something orange? The title is a poetic push in the right direction. Ludwig Wittgenstein has written a very beautiful and philosophical book about this called “Remarks on Colour”. He tells about a painter who wants to depict a window. That painter still needs color to indicate the transparency of the window. What do you do with color to show that you are looking through a cloudy window? Reading this book gave me the space to talk about color in an abstract way. I can say things that don’t make sense, but feel good when I say them.
What I hope with the exhibition is to open up the conversation about color. You may hate a particular color at first, but what if it is used in a different way? For example, a peacock has the most beautiful colors of turquoise in its feathers, but I don’t have to find a tray of the same color in my interior. It’s those gray areas of how you look at color that are interesting. The purpose of the exhibition is therefore to broaden your color vocabulary. When your reference grows, you can start seeing more. To see more greens is to appreciate more greens. You can also translate this into sustainability: If you know better what the value of something is, you will appreciate it more and then take better care of it. Activism is not my language, color is my language.