I was first introduced to the pinqponq brand about a year ago now, and since then, I have become infatuated with their understated yet really quite cool offering of accessories (their bum bags being a particular favourite). Just the right size to fit all my essentials, in a perfect assortment of colours, usually with a discreet version of their signature red/blue dot logo. They say they are "committed to offering products that stand the test of time" and this is certainly true. I was delighted then, to have the chance to interview their designer; Annemarie Keizers, who I spoke with about everything from sustainability, to her eBay hobby.
Hi Annemarie, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. The first thing I would like to ask is: If someone isn't familiar with the brand, what should they know?
pinqponq is a contemporary fashion brand with its focus on functionality, sustainability and identity. We challenge ourselves to combine these aspects with the aim to achieve modern relevant products.
What inspired you to start pinqponq?
Back in 2014 backpacks had started to come back in a big way. Fashion, sportswear, outdoor wear and streetwear all started to come together and take inspiration from each other. As the different areas started to collaborate with each other and melt together that really made sense to us and was long overdue – especially if you look at it from the consumer side. Backpacks sit at the centre of all of these areas and bring them together.
What are the main things you take into consideration when designing a new bag?
When I design a new bag there are some aspects that come together. First, we are always quite limited material and workmanship wise since we do our best to be sustainable. Then for the further design, I look at all the hard facts: How does the person, that the bag is for, act, and what can support him or her while doing that.
Could you tell us some more about your design background?
I studied Fashion Design at the avantgarde-inspired Hogeschool voor de kunsten Arnhem in The Netherlands and gained work experience at fashion houses such as Vivienne Westwood and Giles Deacon in London. My studies were really progressive and ahead of fashion developments at the time, but I was quickly disillusioned by fashion world itself. There were too many sad people, too much hierarchy, too much time wasting, too few visions.
How do you find inspiration for a new bag?
I am mostly inspired by social circumstances and the visible codes that result out of that.
What is the most challenging part of the design process?
I think the most challenging part is the sustainable limitations. There are so many crazy, beautiful materials and surfaces, that I would love to use, but the ways they are made can be awful for the environment or workers, which is why we avoid using them. As a result, there remains a quite small range of ingredients for us.
Is it difficult to find a balance between style and practicality?
I don't think it is hard. Luckily the time is right. Functional details are used as design elements and fashionable aspects are wanted in practical wear. There is happening a crossing, that is long overdue, if you ask me. And there is still so much to do. If you look at outdoor clothes, there is still a really limited amount of identities that feel addressed by the style. On the one hand, there is much more space and variety for identification in fashion. But on the other hand, it makes so much sense to dress in the outdoor logic every day, not only when you climb a mountain. (layering, weather resistance, etc...) So, no limits, so much to do!
One of your core principles is sustainability, how do you manage to make the brand eco-friendly?
We work with organisations that help us to bring light into the jungle of manufacturing. It is so hard to check the whole production chain. That is why we work with independent organisations such as bluesign® and the Fair Wear Foundation. Their controls are very complex, and you can only remain part of the organisations when you improve constantly.
Was the plan always to be a sustainable brand?
Yes, it was. Though we were never perfect but keep getting better. When you start, it is so hard to be sustainable in the whole process, because you depend on an existing system, that is not sustainable in its core. We as a team think that you should do your part in making the world a better place wherever it is possible for you. As we produce and make, we decide. We try to set the screws in the right responsible ways, where it is possible for us.
You are PETA vegan improved, why did you decide not to use animal products?
This certification was a logical step to us. We aim to move forward in getting more sustainable from every angle. And to produce vegan products was one of these milestones.
What did the first pinqponq bag look like?
Funny, if you ask me. It was raw. But that is something I like. It was not shaped by opinions or improvements. It was a raw personality, but lovely and unique.
How has the brand developed since 2014?
We got more professional, we know a lot more about the business, but also, what is the most important. We do not struggle anymore about our own brand identity. We are quite clear now of who we are and what we can accomplish. That makes things so much easier.
You have a very distinctive logo, what was the inspiration behind it?
We started with inspirations from the beginnings of sportswear as a subcultural expression. Red and Blue are sort of base colours in that. Further we wanted to be bold, but also had enough of too serious, cool fashion brands. We wanted something strong, but potentially fun and playful. We did not take ourselves too seriously and started the brand with an attitude not to put ourselves first, but with the aim to provide senseful additions to the world.
Do you think that coming from Germany has influenced the brand?
Yes, totally. We as a brand are super German, but with an international mindset.
If you look at our team, we are not the hippest kids on earth. We are tidy, on time, hardworking, honest, social, straight forward, non-dramatic etc...
And that is also how we act to solve problems and how we make concepts for products or photo shootings. We deal with things in the German way, but with an international and open-minded approach. I think it is a precious thing to share your culture and show your way of reacting with other mindsets. It ensures a sort of relevance that is important to us.
Design, function and sustainability are the three keywords for your designs. Can you tell us about how you design your products?
There is a difference between our editions and the main collection. The main collection needs to be accessible and should be a reliable and suitable partner (also identity-wise) in one's everyday life. In terms of materials we are really limited due to the sustainable standard, but that's OK. I like boxes. In terms of shapes, colours and stories, I am mostly inspired by society. In relationship to social developments or cases, I research for non-abstract things that can fulfil the lacks for the consumer. Then a visual world emerges, which is where I draw my inspiration from. We see that modern urban citizens want to take their electronic devices everywhere, need bags for different occasions but do not want 5 bags, take their outdoor backpack for grocery shopping, that work and life blends, that transportation changes. These are some of the things I have in mind when designing the products, but for the look and feel of the bags – especially for the editions where we can be more inspirational and progressive – I delve into more soft topics, longings, aspirations and lacks that our consumers, or we face.
What made you want to create a sustainable company?
It is much more expensive, all the more when you decide to work together with sustainability or green seals. But for us, it is simply the only possible way to work and still be able sleep at night. Everyone should feel the need to take some responsibility where it’s possible. I don't understand the other routes. I mean, we’re not exactly saving the world, but we are trying our best as a company that also has to pay wages. Of course there are so many areas that we need to work on. We are making an industrial product and the reality is that the whole network and system is not entirely sustainable. You have to find a way to make a difference across as many points as you can. That means that you also need the will to try and a certain level of education on such topics with the people in your workflow, but sadly this is rare. I think, this is also the main reason why only a few brands commit to sustainability, because it is hard to do. Everything takes more time, a lot of stuff is not possible and you really have to dig deep to understand which changes could potentially make the world a little better.
Do you think the only way to be truly modern is to be sustainable?
Yes, but not necessarily to make it your slogan. Sustainability is something that should be inherent in your company, but it doesn’t have to be the main story. If sustainability would be the main story of all fashion brands from now on, that would be really sad. Take a look at the eco fashion sector. Our approach is to have a story and a product that convinces without foregrounding the sustainability aspect.
How much of what you buy for yourself is new? And how much is used?
I buy a whole lot of vintage and make some stuff by myself, but not only for sustainable reasons. My biggest hobby is eBay I am really into it, I even know the coding language of the search bar [laughs]. I also buy new designer pieces now and then, ones that I fall in love with – not necessarily sustainable, but long lasting pieces – and I buy new underwear and knits. I don't have a car (an easy decision living in the city) and I try to reduce waste. For sure I’m no angel, but I’m also confused a lot of the time. Not so much with textiles, but a lot with food or reusable cups or electronic devices. There is almost never a good straightforward path you can go, it’s always a choice. I wish governments would find ways to make rules that made it easier and better for all of us and the world. I sadly don't believe in a revolution by consumers alone.
I noticed that you recently started a project where you use PET plastic bottles to make your products. That’s amazing! How did you come up with this idea?
It’s not our idea but that's fine. We are only the missionaries. When we started it was clear that we wanted to take responsible decisions in the supply chain. We researched for solutions that were ready to use, because we know how long it takes to develop a whole new section in that industrial business. This would have been a whole other project. So instead we teamed up with our brilliant fabric supplier in Taiwan. They are pioneers in sustainable solutions that can be used in an industrial scale and blue-sign members like we are. An important factor for us was that any solution could be scaled up, so we could potentially start something that could really make a change.
Can you explain the production process to us?
The bottles are from post-consumer waste (after using), they are collected, melted and spinned into yarn again. Quite simple! The process is being checked all the time to make sure that the bottles are really used and the yarn is really from used bottles and not new ones. But we are working constantly on better solutions. We are in developments to work with solution dyed yarn, a water free dye process, with algae foam, water based coatings (to be PFC and PVC free), recycled nylon, castor oil buckles, the list goes on.
Where are the bags made, and are the people involved paid a fair wage?
Yes, we are also members of the fair wear foundation. These guys have a true mission. Even our German workers are asked if we communicate with them fairly. I love it! But also before we were members of FWF, we searched for reliable partners that treat everyone fairly throughout the whole process. We see the workers in Vietnam as our colleagues and are there quite often, so we feel responsible. At the start there were a lot of subcontractors, where we didn’t know the conditions, because we just couldn’t control it. But now we are asking everyone involved to be audited or they can’t take part in the process. Let’s talk about the new Parachute bag! I love the shape and the colours are on point.
How important is the traditional fashion system (fashion weeks, trade shows etc) for you as a brand?
It is not that important, I think. I mean we are in the fashion system and need to attend fairs and stuff to make our sales. But for the brand it is important to be where the most modern things happen and that is not necessarily at Fashion Week.
What’s been the biggest struggle for you thus far as a start up brand?
I think the biggest struggle is to be economically successful and still stay true to your values.
What would you say to someone just starting out on this journey?
I would say do not limit yourself to the fashion world. Everything is fluid nowadays. Do what feels most modern, not what gives you easy success. And take care of yourself, don't get dragged into a competition. As a designer I would say, know the system, know the rules, know what's going on, but then forget everything and restart – be true and never blindly follow.
What’s next for pinqponq?
Sustainability wise, we have a lot of plans to improve. Also, we will broaden our product portfolio, as we want a bigger platform to show our identity and give a wider range of senseful products to the whole wide world.
Check out the brands latest collections here.
@pinqponq @lewismagazine @michaelrathbone