Art / Science / Fashion
Veerkracht Project uses soil microbes to inspire a more sustainable denim industry
”We want to fully focus on nature-positive and planet-centric solutions, finding new ways to develop and design with denim, which are less harmful and have less impact on nature,” says Jani Kaila, co-founder of the Finnish/Dutch initiative.
4 Jul 2022

Based in London and Amsterdam, Kaila is a creative consultant and curator of collaborative art and design projects. He recently teamed up with Maarten Wentholt, a Dutch sustainability consultant and denim specialist who has developed over 100 collections for major brands like G-Star RAW, to create the Veerkracht project.

— We have worked closely with global suppliers, brands, and retailers for decades and decided it was time for us to take a more independent approach to sustainability, free from greenwashing and the commercial framework, he says. Maarten is also a lecturer at Amsterdam’s Jeanschool, where we have listened to the concerns of the young denim designers about climate change and sustainability.

To create a united voice and open a meaningful dialogue about sustainability, Kaila continues, the duo approached the creative talent in our network in multiple countries and created a platform, Veerkracht, for designers and artists. 

— We want to fully focus on nature-positive and planet-centric solutions, finding new ways to develop and design with denim, which are less harmful and have less impact on nature. We started by setting up 4 FashionLabs in different locations to research biodegradability and how to work with nature and natural forces for denim treatments. In the Sahara, we worked with regenerative forces of sand, sun and wind. In Italy, we set up a soil FashionLab on a vineyard to study the biodegradability and the effects of soil microbes and bacteria and used the leftover grape waste, vinaccia, from winemaking to dye the denim fabrics. In Amsterdam and on an island in Finland, we studied the soil and water effects on denim in different latitudes and biodiversities. The results from the FashionLabs inspired the participants to create their own projects using natural treatments like rust, decay, clay, and waste materials as well as dyeing with fruits and vegetables, says Kaila. He continues:

— The Veerkracht project is all about collaborations and creative dialogue and we partnered with three major denim mills to bring attention to alternative, non-harmful denim development processes. We also want to celebrate their achievements with the latest sustainable denim fabric developments. Working closely with the sustainable denim mills has been crucial, as they also benefit from our creative work and we want to bring value to our partners. 

FashionLab on a vineyard.
FashionLab in Sahara.

The project has now run for 12 months and the creative dialogue has led to collaborations across borders and generations. A few weeks ago, artworks, installations and a selection of denim design works and garments as well as jewellery were presented at the first exhibition, supported by Taike Arts Promotion Centre Finland and The Finnish Cultural Foundation, during Fashion in Helsinki.

— The exhibition was a great success. We had over 1,100 visitors and 400 meaningful in-depth conversations in Helsinki with the Finnish crowd, so our story and message have resonated and the nature positive dialogue will continue and develop. We want the consumers to be aware of their denim choices, so they can choose wisely. For example, the trendy stretch denim is not sustainable and there are more sustainable options available, Kaila explains, continuing,

— The participants exchange and develop ideas with the curator and each participant has the freedom to focus on their own area of nature positivity. Josien Verwoerd worked with her unique natural rust process and developed amazing colours on Bossa Denim’s sustainable Rebirth Gold fabric, which was further designed and constructed by another participant, Luna van Kessel, into a spectacular denim dress. No harmful processes or chemicals were used, it was all 100% natural.

— We also collaborated with young Dutch designer Vince Reece Hale, who created the Fire concept for us. Vince’s capsule collection is a direct reaction to forest fires caused by climate change and the textile industry burning tens of millions of tons of unused garments each year. We encourage the participants to be disruptive and call attention to the fashion industry’s actions.

— In industrial settings, we also developed a jeans capsule collection with jeans that had first been treated naturally in the Saharan desert and then further treated with sustainable ozone and enzyme processes and with bio rubber and bio stone washes at Zaitexfashion laboratories, a chemical company based in Italy. With the Zaitex team, Maarten Wentolt developed innovative sustainable laser colouring techniques with eco-friendly mineral pigments., which the company is now using in their commercial presentations. Sometimes the art projects bring value and innovation directly to the industry.

Josien Verwoerd.
Luna van Kessel.

What’s next for you?

— We are now extending our collaborations with like-minded creatives as well as with companies developing new sustainable fibres. Finland was a good place for us to start our journey, as the material research and innovation there are inspiring. The team is currently writing our manifesto and developing our website and the curator is setting up plans for our London exhibition and partnering with a UK-based sustainability network, says Kallia.