Social Label – Designing labor

Social Label

Interview | Social design

Interview by Viveka van de VlietStichting Social label is more than just designing attractive or even sustainable products. It has shown in the more than seven years of its existence that collaborations between makers with a distance to the labor market and leading designers is valuable, and offers new opportunities. Social label is a growing movement of people who strive for a socially sustainable, inclusive economy. Because an economy that improves society leaves nobody on the sidelines. In fact, “It is the only way we can design,” said Jordan Hruska, a journalist of The New York Times and The Economist at the Social Label exhibition in Milan last year.

You could say that Social label designs labor. The founders, Petra Janssen (together with Edwin Vollebergh owner of Studio Boot) and Simone Kramer (C-mone, office for culture & communication), strongly believe in an inclusive world that you can achieve through the power of design and communication. ‘Everyone wants to participate in society, develop and earn their own income, but an ever-larger group does not find that connection easy’, says Janssen. ‘That group falls outside the system, stays invisible in remote workplaces in ugly environments, let alone that they can enter the regular labor process.’

As modern knights, Janssen and Kramer go to battle. They open doors that are closed, breakingpigeonholing/sterotypical thinking?and the division in society between rich and poor, intelligent and less clever people, by having everyone participate in the workplace, working together as equals. In order to achieve this, Social label conceives innovative concepts for a product line. That results in a collection of special and high-quality sustainable designs, such as tableware, a broom, furniture, vases and lamps. Developed in twelve workshops in the Netherlands in collaboration with designers Piet Hein Eek, Roderick Vos, Edward van Vliet, Kiki van Eijk, Haiko Meijer, Borre Akkersdijk, Dick van Hoff, Edwin Vollebergh, Kranen/Gille and soon Joost van Bleiswijk and studio Rens. Janssen and Kramer visit the workshops and then look for a suitable designer/teacher to develop a collection together. ‘In this way we ensure that people with a disadvantage on the labor market have challenging work every week, that they feel proud and appreciated. They can be trained as a craftsman and develop themselfs. We also offer them a platform at the Dutch Design Week and the Milan Design Week to show the designs to a wide audience. This collaboration to an economy that improves society, we call socio economics.’

Social label was never deliberately conceived but stemmed from an initiative by Studio Boot: the Huttenfestival de Vlek in 2011 where the collaboration between Studio Boot and C-mone started. The festival was a research project in finding new ways of building and living together. Architects, designers, artists, people from a day-to-day work, everyone could help build a village in Tilburg. This led to the first collaboration between Piet Hein Eek and woodworkshop Woodworks of care institution Amarant in Tilburg and resulted in the sturdy collection entitled: HOUT. All products are sold by the designers as well as the Social Label foundation and the workshops and thus they connect to a social economy.

Social label grows as a community that allows various groups of makers and professionals to collaborate in all kinds of ways. They organize roundtable discussions and public lectures together with scientists. In May the Social Design Lab will open in het Werkwarenhuisin Den Bosch, where also the design shop of Social label and club/restaurant Van Aken are located. In addition to workshops from participating workshops and designers, care partners, companies, municipalities, governments, educational institutions, cultural and social initiatives, scientists and designers are working on a different view of work, participation and learning.

Social label exists alongside their own practice. There is not that much difference between them, Janssen and Kramer say. The mentality is the same: out of idealism, the teaching practice and the need for new forms of collaboration through the power of design and communication, they want to make society more social and beautiful.

Thanks to Connecting the Dots
Portrait by Boudewijn Bollmann


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