We are Simone Kramer and Petra Janssen, and we founded Social Label together in 2014. Simone also has a business of her own, C-mone, which is active in culture and communication, with the objective of embedding art in society. Petra has a design studio, Studio Boot, where she works as a designer of visual communication. She has also taught design at the Design Academy Eindhoven and ArtEZ for more than 20 years. The connection between these 2 different backgrounds is a passionate engagement for making the world more sociable and beautiful and to forge strategic plans to affect changes to systems. We currently do this with 17 designers, 14 workshops and 150 makers who work together along the fringes of society. We design customised work that everyone can partake in based on their skills, and so experience rhythm, appreciation and pride. At the same time, we work on a socially sustainable design collection that you can come and see at our Social label Lab in Den Bosch, but also online in the web shop. It is our vision of another world. In light of the current crisis, more urgent than ever.
Speaking of the corona crisis, many design events are cancelled and the number of commissions is noticeably decreasing for many designers. What impact has it had on you so far and how do you look to the future?
We are experiencing the immediate impact on our manufacturing capacity because the workshops and occupational centres are closed. Which is why we are involved in setting up RADIO SOCIAL LABEL. It is important to be part of the community. The benefit of being a designer is that you can always initiate something yourself. A crisis is good for creativity. Online 9 April!
You shared a photograph on Instagram of the warm cuffs made in collaboration with RENS. You often work designers, among others Piet Hein Eek, Rianne Makkink, Borre Akkersdijk, and Kranen / Gille. How do these collaborations come about?
The request comes from the workshop, because they want to be involved in society and the social economy. From activity to valuable work that is seen. We explore the idea in the workshop and meet the people. The designer is selected based on the presence of facilities/machines in the workshop and the skills and the rhythm of the makers from the target group. These include people with a disability, psychological problems, homeless people and school leavers. How can people at the edge of society get on board? We also ask the designer to act as a mentor with us in practice. In this way the designer serves the community and the change to the system. Everything stems from the person and their skills. The product is a subsequent creation. Throughout the process, the focus is on making together.
What does a typical Social Label project look like? And how can people recognise your work?
It is a team effort for change. From care to self-reliance and from commercial to social firm. For each label the directors, managers, care workers, mentors, the initiators of Social Label, designer and the makers work together. The final result is also presented as a group. We call this Collection and Community. So Social Label is more than just a social sustainable design collection. It Is a movement towards another inclusive creative economy in which no one is left out. This manifests itself in the Social label Labon the Tramkade in Den Bosch through various activities.
You say that through the Social Label products you tell the makers’ stories and, in doing so, involve the public. How do you do that?
We approach this in different ways. First of all, we have a physical shop where you can purchase products. When you buy something here, you stimulate work directly for people at the fringes of society in the Netherlands. In addition, we organise tours of the Social label Lab, live workshops with makers, lectures and various sessions. For the general public too. To tell the complete story, we wrote a book in 2019,Social label Works. Here, we explain in depth our debates and public lectures, and we share background stories about the makers, the designers and our methods with regard to a different perspective on working, learning and collaboration. It also includes various essays by scientists. The book is a warm plea for a social economy in which care of people and social sustainability are brought to the fore. This is necessary if we are to achieve a change in the system.
Not too long ago even Dutch Queen Máxima visited you. What was that like? And how did you prepare for such an exceptional visit?
Maxima opened the Social label Lab in Den Bosch. It made it really very special and we worked closely with the RVD. It was explicitly expressed that the Queen was interested in the makers and a different design of the economy. It is also clear that she is a design lover. Petra had the good fortune of meeting her a number of years ago at a round table discussion about Design at Dutch Design Week, this is where the initial contact was made. The makers of the various Social Label products could tell the Queen personally what they had made. It left us with unforgettable memories.
What is the most special or remarkable that ever happened to you?
The Queen’s visit of course, that was a crowning moment for everyone’s work. But also certainly winning a Dutch Design Awardin the category Best Commissioning in 2018. That was a real encouragement for everyone who is involved in our movement. From makers, scientists, healthcare professionals to designers. In 2017 we had already been nominated with the product VEEG (ed. sweep), a collaboration with designer Dick van Hof. The project was part of the world expo Broken Natureby Paola Antonelli at the XXII Trienale in Milan. And of course, last year the Dutch Design Awards nomination in the category Habitat. Finally, the photo sessions with makers and designers and the live workshops at various design weeks, from DDW to Salone del Mobile in Milan, all unforgettable memories too.
If you were able to choose anyone in the world to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist or someone else), who would that be and why?
We would like to bring in an economist who has an advisory role in government and, as well as the new meaning of economy, also understands the urgency. We are hard at work on bringing this about. This is all about multi-disciplinary working and thinking. We already have splendid collaborations between design and science.
What would you still like to achieve with your work?
We want this engagement, that we mentioned in answer to the first question, to become socially sustainable. We also want other people to share our insights and that design plays a role in this.
Do you have any news you would like to share with the DDW community?
This crisis has made it ever clearer that our work is far from done. Last year we presented a campaign at DDW, Save the Planet and her People, not knowing that we would now be in the thick of it. Isabelle, a maker of the storytelling crockery for Cello, has a quote, ‘LIFE IS A BITCH”. Motivation enough for us to continue with these changes.