Same goal, different approach: Spread Group and their new neighbours in western Leipzig “war mal deins” offer unique products to their customer bases. Yet only the latter work with 100% used material for their creations. Their philosophy and commitment to sustainability was an eye-opener for us and ended in us collaborating for an upcycling project. We met up with Iris Ebel and Lisa Koops to talk about contemporary fashion and why it’s a topic which affects all of society.
Spread Group: First of all, we’re interested in knowing how you got into fashion design?
Iris Ebel: I’ve been making my own clothes since I was 13 years old. Since then, fashion has been a big party of my life and I ended up applying for a design degree at the Art EZ University of Arts in Arnhem. Being half Dutch myself, it seemed like a pretty easy decision. Just like Lisa, I made it through the tough application tests.
Lisa Koops: It’s a pretty similar story for me. I have always been into fashion, and was drawn by the vibe in the Netherlands, there are a lot of highly renowned fashion schools there. Back then I couldn’t speak Dutch but that wasn’t necessary as all the courses were in English.
Spread Group: Were you always primarily focused on sustainable fashion, or did this occur during the course of your degree?
Lisa: The internships I did during my studies showed me that I didn’t want to be part of the fast fashion industry. When I worked at events like London Fashion Week 2019, I noticed just how tough some of the working conditions in the industry are. The long working hours just became normality: There were times in the degree when I was working for 9am to 9pm on some designs. My atelier was essentially my home.
Iris: Yup, it was pretty crazy. I had an internship which involved sitting at a computer, editing designs and sending them off to manufacturers. The design process consisted of converting technical drawings onto the computer. Not exactly what you’d expect, and not particularly creative.
Lisa: That’s true. But we still never even considered completely giving up on fashion design. We love fashion, especially the creativity of it.
Iris: Exactly, and then the second-hand shops in the Netherlands began to catch our eye. They really inspired us and made us realise how amazing it is to work with used materials.
Lisa: It’s also cheaper. The material was simply given to us by friends. We had built up a network and some proper orders just started coming in. For our graduation project pieces, we naturally used designs we’d made from used materials.
Spread Group: Is this where the idea for your own fashion brand “war mal deins” came from?
Iris Ebel: Effectively, yes. We took the English phrase “used to be yours” and translated it into German. We had already thought about opening our own second hand shop, which we recently opened up on Weissenfelser Strasse. Additionally, we offer screen printing as well as embroidery and sewing workshops. These are all ways for us to show our approach to fashion with people who want to learn.
Spread Group: Is there really such a big difference between your approach and classic fashion design?
Lisa Koops: Of course. Our approach flips the design process upside down. Normally, you think of an idea, draw it, and then look for the right materials. For us, the materials – which customers can bring along themselves – dictate the design process. We develop our ideas based on the materials and then start drawing. It’s a very intuitive process.
Spread Group: We gave you a box full of new T-Shirts and hoodies from our returns and were blown away with what you did with them. You’ve really got your own style. How would you describe it?
Iris Ebel: The logo print and the patchwork is typical of us. We’ve got a big denim collection and the material is extremely reusable. If we look at our donations, it seems like the skinny jeans era is coming to an end.
Lisa Koops: A bit of a street style, a bit of elegance. Just contemporary fashion – not only through our sustainable goals.
Spread Group: That’s a nice description of contemporary fashion.
Iris Ebel: Thanks, we agree. We’re seeing the consequences of the fashion industry through the donations coming in. Sometimes we even get unworn products, still in their original packaging because people have missed the deadlines for sending them back. Others bring bags full of used clothes. On the other end of the spectrum, we had a woman who brought a piece of silk clothing that was over 100 years old. Apart from a small hole it was impeccable.
Lisa Koops: We don’t want to judge anyone’s behaviour. Fashion is often a personal topic but not always. Our actions influence different processes all over the globe. Tons of our old clothes are sent to Africa, where there’s a lack of infrastructure for the fashion industry to develop. Others are sent to Indonesia, including brand new clothes, where they are burnt. That means it’s much more sustainable to keep clothes and try to locally make something nice out of them.
Spread Group: How can our readers learn more about you? And how can they get hold of some the unique items from our upcycling project?
Lisa Koops: Best thing to do would be to swing by our shop or send us a message on Instagram if you want us to reserve something for you. You can also take some photos of some of your old treasures or just bring them round. We’ll then think about how we can upcycle it.
Iris Ebel: The costs depend on how long the task will take. T-Shirts cost about €30, and trousers can be anything up to €150.
Spread Group: Sounds amazing. Thanks for the talk and those stylish pieces you designed for this collab!