With and innovative, artsy, forward-thinking and sustainable approach, Edwin de Rooij is pushing the boundaries of denim in particular and garment-making in general. The current Head of Design of G-Star knows perfectly what he looks for in a piece when he designs it: beauty, comfort, high-quality materials and finishes, technicality, and sustainability. But how does he achieve all of them?
I meet Edwin at G-Star’s jaw-dropping headquarters in Amsterdam, a huge, dark grey building far from the tourist-packed city centre. When stepping in, I already find three different sculptures made almost entirely of denim, which prove the brand’s close relationship with art as well as its original, inventive workers. “Being tied to art adds extra depth to the pieces”, de Rooij tells me when I interview him a couple of hours later. But this is just one example. Another one that is more visible (and buyable!) is the collection in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, one of the city’s most prestigious institutions, in which G-Star has merged its DNA with that of Rembrandt, the renowned Baroque painter.

As this year marks the 30th anniversary of G-Star as well as the 350th anniversary of the painter’s death – with the museum celebrating 2019 as ‘the year of Rembrandt’ –, a party was more than necessary. And taking into account the brand’s Fall/Winter 2019 campaign, which focuses on hardcore denim and on how a pair of jeans must fit perfectly your butt, what better way to celebrate it than in partnership with ADE festival, one of the biggest electronic music gatherings in the world? That’s how we ended up at the party called Raw Rave, a massive event taking place at the museum’s bicycle passage (I won’t even tell you how hard the music reverberated through our bodies, or you’ll just stop working and try to find a rave yourself…), where we got to see the acts of DJs Titia, Boys Noize, and rock band De Staat.

But before this fun madness happened, we were with the team of G-Star at the brand’s installations. We were lucky enough to pay a visit to the archives, where they store hundreds (or even thousands) of pieces. But don’t think of every denim jacket and pair of jeans they ever created, which of course they have. In addition to these, they have the widest selection you could ever think of, which ranges from military coats to plaid shirts, to leather jackets, printed shirts, trench coats, sporty hoodies, working jumpsuits, or even garments from NASA agency. A dream. Edwin de Rooij guided us through these archives and told us how the design teams from other brands request permission to visit them – which G-Star does. In the end, if you’re confident about yourself and what you do, why wouldn’t you? After being mesmerized by their archive and before heading to the Raw Rave, I found the time to sit down with Edwin to talk about the ongoing collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, sustainability, and the future of G-Star.
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After graduating from Artez Institute of the Arts in the Netherlands, you co-founded a brand together with Jeroen van Tuyl. However, you later worked for other brands until landing in G-Star, where you’re currently the Head of Design. Why did you go from your own brand, which is a sort of dream for many fashion design students, to work for others?
We first launched our brand with Jeroen, and then we split the work – he did the menswear and I did the women’s. We did that for a couple of years, but then I stopped because it was just too much. After that experience, I got out of fashion completely and started working at a bank, where I stayed for two years – I have a double education; I’m trained as a business manager as well, so I can do both.
That’s quite unexpected! And an unusual path, I’d say.
I was also launching new products there, it’s just that they were completely different, of course. And then, slowly, I got into the fashion business again: first, I was a managing director at a trend design agency, but several people there knew me already because we had either attended the same school or they had worked for me. In that company, I steadily got involved in the more creative part of the business, so I was ready to design again. After that, I became Head of Design of a womenswear brand in the Netherlands, but it was a short stay. And then, I worked for another brand for eight years, but when everything went well, I left – when there’s routine, I don’t like it anymore. And when I quit, G-Star came by.
So how are you facing the challenge of being at G-Star now? What makes you stay?
G-Star is a fantastic brand. It’s one of the biggest brands in the fashion world. Also, I love the way they work, their archives, etc. For me, it was a really interesting opportunity. The brands I worked for previously were not that global. And as a curiosity, I knew two guys working here already – a pattern-maker who had been my teacher, and a former classmate who’s working in the menswear design division.
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You’re presenting a collection in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, one of Amsterdam’s most important and famous. As this year is the celebration of Rembrandt – as well as G-Star’s 30th anniversary –, most of the prints are taken from one of the painter’s most celebrated artworks: The Night Watch. Why did you choose this one specifically?
You already gave the reason: it’s the most important one. The collection is about the celebration of the two – Rembrandt and us –, so we focused on his most important and iconic artwork, and with it, we merged both of our DNAs. I think it’s fantastic! And the collaboration with the Rijkmuseum is continuous, it’s not a one-off.
However, the prints of the painting are recoloured in deep indigo, which gives the pieces a certain mysterious, sometimes even abstract aura. Why did you decide to change the chromaticism of the original painting?
It’s our take on it. We tried to do it with the original canvas, but that didn’t work out well enough. We didn’t find ourselves too much in it, so we decided on doing everything blue. And it looks phenomenal.
In addition to Rembrandt’s painting, there’s another artist who inspires this collection: photographer Karl Blossfeldt. Why did you choose him as well?
I think it’s mainly about the way he approaches the things he sees. We never look at something directly, we’re always looking through something else or the way it’s done. In this case, we took all the subtle layers of the way he sees flowers and plants. It’s a very interesting approach.
Do you draw any relationship between Rembrandt and Blossfeldt?
It’s separate because they’re two separate collections, they came out at different times. So for us, it’s just completely apart.
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The interplay between fashion and art is something we’ve seen a lot – from Yves Saint Laurent’s collection inspired by Mondrian to the Fall/Winter 2019 collection you’re now presenting. How do you feel this relationship will continue to evolve in the future? Are you planning more artsy collections for G-Star?
Yes, because we have a continuous collaboration with the Rijksmuseum. However, we’re always looking to make art from denim. That’s also part of our approach, as I’m sure you’ve seen at the entrance of the building or in other rooms: everything you can imagine, we can do in denim. We’re interested in the thought process behind art because it seems to come out of nowhere. Our creative director is always thinking in that way and comes up with, let’s say, the ‘craziest’ ideas, and together with us [his team], he executes them just perfectly. We try to keep this way of thinking and combine it with our industrial approach, which later translates into the garments. Being tied to art adds extra depth to the pieces. And we’re currently working on a new collaboration with the Rijksmuseum…
I’m already looking forward to it! Any sneak peek?
(Laughs) Let’s say that this time, we’re focusing on naval art. After deciding on the theme, there is a process: we go to the museum, where they talk us through everything. Then, we come back to the headquarters and have talks and discussions about it. The only thing I can say is that we’ve taken all kinds of objects from ships and that we’re working on really luxurious artwork techniques combined with denim. But that will be a collection for next year!
With the pressing issue of global warming and climate change, the fashion industry is shifting towards a more sustainable, eco-friendly mentality. G-Star is as well, naturally, and we see it in the materials of the collection, for example: sweat unbrushed organic fabric, canvas woven, organic cotton, etc. Tell me more about how you approach sustainability when designing and producing.
For us, sustainability is very important and also a fantastic source of innovation. We’re working with natural dyes as well as recycled. Together with our suppliers, we try to come up with new ideas. For example, for next winter’s collection, we’re working on recycled dyes on recycled nylon, especially on puffer jackets. So you get something that’s never been done before. That happened because we were working on the two separately – the dyes and the nylon –, and we thought of combining them together, so we spoke with our developers to achieve it.
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It’s easier said than done though.
Sometimes, it takes a long time because they’re quite complicated processes. However, this sustainable approach brings out your most creative part because you have to get it going. For us, as an innovative and forward-thinking brand, using just organic cotton and labelling yourself ‘sustainable’ is not enough.
So, in addition to the fabrics and the natural and recycled dyes, is there anything else you’re working on to be more sustainable?
Now we have printing techniques that are fully sustainable, also with recycled dyes – like black dye, which is very difficult to get sustainably. So we’re just continuing to challenge ourselves, and in consequence, we also push the market to come up with even better ideas. Next to that, I think it’s also really important for us to focus on quality. In the end, the best and most sustainable garment is a quality garment because it lasts longer and you’ll wear it for a longer time. Making clothing that is timeless, well-made, with high-quality fabrics – and of course sustainable – is the best combination.
This change can’t happen from one day to the other. One of G-Star’s plans is to use only organic cotton by 2020, which is ambitious, in addition to the other solutions you’re already presenting and working on. What other plans do you have to make the brand designs even more sustainable in the upcoming years?
We look at each part of the process and of the garment – the finish, the fabric, the trims, the pocket plaster, the yarn, etc. We want to make every aspect as sustainable as possible, and we challenge ourselves to achieve so every time. For example, sustainable solutions are layered on top of each other, meaning, once we innovate or add something to a garment, it stays for the next collections. And from there, we keep adding more sustainable aspects. That way, you build a more and more sustainable collection every time because you keep innovating and adding layers of sustainable solutions. That’s a very important aspect of our approach. As I said before, sustainability is a great source of innovation because you have to be inventive to stay ahead.
Another thing we’re looking into is 3D-printing trimmings. We’re not there, it’s just something we’re exploring. It’s a first research, so we don’t know when we’ll have it – maybe next year, maybe the following one, who knows. We also use washes on denim that barely need water and use less harmful chemicals. Or the coatings, which we use a lot; we’re trying to make them as sustainable as possible too. Our approach to fabrics is industrial as I’ve been saying, it’s very technical, so we’re working closely with fabric and trim developers. From a design point of view, we challenge them all the time.
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