Appreciative Inquiry: Studio Visit with Sandra and Tim

Appreciative Inquiry: Studio Visit with Sandra and Tim

For the very first interview for this space, I sat down with Sandra Nicoline Nielsen and Tim van der Loo, the co-founders of A New Kind of Blue, a company that has developed the technology to manufacture new denim from post consumer waste jeans. The processes they have developed focus on finding new pathways to keep materials, especially fibers, in use long after the first manufacturing. Our conversation touched on the ways that their work in circular economies has seeped into how they take responsibility for their own consumption and the value they place on objects around us. 

Vivian: What's your native language?

Sandra: Danish

Tim: Dutch.

Vivian: What are you working on right now?

Sandra: We have an exhibition coming up in Iceland that we do with a project called hands.on.matter That's actually how we started working together before starting a company. So we are making banana peel papers the next few days, from our own recipe… That's gonna be part of an installation at a group exhibition in Reykjavik.

Vivian: That sounds awesome. It's a paper not cloth, something you couldn't wear or could you wear it?

Tim: It's basically, like the banana peel itself. So it's a waste product and we developed a recipe to make really thin paper out of it. And what we want to address with this paper is the fragility of the banana in the current world, looking at the exoticness of it and how it's exported all over the world. This paper is really fragile, so we want to express that in an installation and it will probably also be a workshop, [how to make] your own paper.

Sandra: Most likely the banana, as we know it today, the kind we buy in the shops, we are not gonna be able to have that in a few years because globally there is a fungus attacking all the banana plants which had been contained, to Africa and Asia. But now it's also in South America, which is one of the biggest producers and exporters of bananas and it's something that's become so adopted in our lifestyles. Everyone always has a banana to easily snack in their backpack or whatever. So even in Iceland or in Denmark, or Germany, it's a very, accustomed, food to eat. So, yeah, that's why we're working with this. That's the starting point of this global economy and the fragility of all of that.

Vivian: I had no idea that, that, that was a thing.

Tim: It is a thing. It's very interesting that the travels and storage of the banana, as you all know it, it's really very interesting if you read up about it, like before the banana we had now, we had totally different bananas, totally different taste, and they're all cultivated to suit, human nutrition because they were actually filled with seeds. So there was no fruit flesh, I would say. So it's kind of, it's a really crazy story, actually, how it all turned into something that's taken for granted, you know, just buy it for a few cents.

Sandra: And not only is it one big monoculture, it's also that the plant doesn't create seeds. All the plants we know, come from the same plant. So they're actually genetically all the same plant. So, that, it's also why it's very prone to getting attacked,[and getting] disease[d]

Find out more about Sandra and Tim’s Banna exhibition here

Vivian: In what way does the art that you make slash the work that you do translate into how you dress yourself and what's in your wardrobe, in your closet at home?

Tim: We are also working on the New Blue project, this is a recycled, jeans material. This is a project already starting in 2019, it's my master project. And we work… with a circular economy, [and] Regenerative design, to create new garments out of waste denim. We developed a completely new material out of that. So it's not woven or knit. It's like a fleece made of recycled jeans and then embroidered to make a new kind of blue as we are called. This influences us of course a lot because of how we dress, because we are very engaged in the fashion industry, the fashion world. What is everybody wearing, and why, and how. 

I really love washed out denim. So yeah, I still love denim and jeans in general, but to be honest, it's very difficult to buy sustainable garments because it's very expensive. It's not really like a cheap option sometimes. So yeah… sometimes you have to buy from bigger retail stores, but I'm trying to keep it secondhand and combine it with some new stuff, but I'm very careful about the composition of material. That's really important to me. So it's not polyester mixed with cotton or, like polyester in general I would not buy.

Vivian: Because it would be hard to recycle?

Tim: It would be hard to recycle, but I'm more worried about microplastics that are in polyester. I wash a lot. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure. Actually, I think I wash [my clothes] too much. So I'd rather have garments that don't harm the environment. So I think cotton based secondhand is the best option.

Sandra: There is this activist, who's also a professor from the states. I unfortunately don't remember her name, but she made an article about how much plastic there is in a fetus. And she also wrote about how an average American consumes microplastics weekly, that amounts to the same plastic you have in a credit card.

Vivian: Sandra, the projects that you're doing, the topics that you're researching, how does that affect your wardrobe/ your personal style?

Sandra: It's a very topical question because since we started working on this, I have been buying new clothes, but like extremely minimal. It's been like, you know, underwear and tops and maybe a few cardigans and I do want to go more and change my, style from retail into more cool, colorful, unique second hand, but I just don't really have the time to go out and find things that fits me, and in all of this. It's also an investment of your time and your effort and your attention, which in the end gives you so much back, because then there's a story behind every garment you have. In general, what has happened with my consumption the past three years is that I went from being a really like bad consumer, going a lot in the big retail stores to completely changing my point of view and just using what I have.

Vivian: Do you have a favorite sustainability trip, trick or swap? 

Tim: Well, I've lately been selling a lot of  my old clothes online... and this is actually very helpful for me because it's also [a] pleasure. It's kind of justifying that if I sell some clothes and I can make someone happy with those clothes… I could use this money to invest that again, into a better wardrobe that's more sustainable. 

Vivian: The thing that I've been thinking about recently, because most of the clothes I'm buying are from Vinted, is, is it okay to be buying fast fashion second hand because it is keeping it in circulation? and yet I don't really want to support the people who are selling the fast fashion second hand because then maybe they're gonna take this money and go buy more fast fashion.

Tim: Yeah. I'm definitely not doing it. I'm also like, financially, don't see the value of selling it because it's most of the time, very, very cheap, like talking in the 10 Euro kind of garments. Like the whole logistics of that is personally not really worth the investment. but I think it's, yeah, what you say in one way, it's really good. It's keeping [the clothes recirculating] but It's also a matter of quality and quantity. It's a complicated question. You can talk ages about this, but I'm trying not to [buy second hand fast fashion]. 

Vivian: Do you have something that you would wanna add to that about sustainability tricks or things that you're doing differently now?

Sandra: Mm, yeah, I, well, I just moved and it's the first time I actually put so much time aside to go through my things and sell it on eBay, Kleinanzeigen, things I could donate to a Stadtmission. [I was] really trying to follow the waste hierarchy and be like, all resources have some kind of value if you put it into the right system. So before I was prone to throw out some textiles, like really used towels or bed linen or underwear, whatever. And now I made a system where I had a bag that was like, this can be recycled, this can be given to [the] homeless, this can be sold… and it just felt really good.

I think to research and put effort into where you can give your things away can create a lot of value, and it makes you feel really good! It was so nice to give something away that I had a lot of pleasure with and seeing how happy people were that they got a plant for 20 euros and a new pot or something for the kitchen. There's nothing revolutionary about what we are saying, but just to emphasize that the pleasure you get out of it is real. And it does have an impact.

Vivian: What advice would you give yourself a year ago?

Tim: Relax. Don't worry. Take it easy… You're doing as much as you can. Don't make yourself crazy. 

Sandra: Well, a year ago [I] was doing everything I could and I was doing the right things. So it's just like, you're doing the right things.

Vivian: Do you have a favorite park or green space in Berlin or in another city?

Tim: Actually what I really like is the area around Funkhaus... If you go to Treptower park and you walk completely up, up, up, up, you have this little ferry that goes to the other side of the river and then you bike a little bit down and then you have the Funkhaus. There you have a really beautiful view as if you're not in Berlin, and sit somewhere great to have a drink. …It's just really simple, but also kind of like fairy-tale like.

Sandra: Berlin is great because there's so many green spaces and I love all of them. My favorite is Hasenheide because it feels like you're in an actual forest, but then at Tempelhofer feld you get the most sun, and Treptower park gives you this excursion feeling. Everyone is out on a longer walk with their families. Being along the Spree … becomes almost like [a] beachy, holiday vibe. So like, yeah, I love and treasure all of the green spaces in Berlin. And also that you can always find a little green spot around the corner.


For more Information about Sandra and Tim’s Project New Blue, as well as their upcoming exhibition at hands.on.matter check out their website here or instagram here.

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