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Embracing Complexity

September 19, 2020

Last week I went to our family home in the province of Zeeland. Away from it all to see through the complexities of our society and our company. Immediately followed by two intensive days organized by the Ignite Award, an award for social entrepreneurship for which we are one of the finalist. I took more than a week to re-examine the complexity of our company.

When Sjaak and I stopped our menswear label “Sjaak Hullekes” by the end of 2015 we took a step back for two years. We distanced ourselves from the fashion industry to reflect on what we really care about. To this day I think that is the best decision we could have ever made. It has enabled us to have a critical look at ourselves, the fashion system and our society. It also made me study business administration and management to better understand the ways conventional businesses work. During my studies I discovered why the current (fashion) system is so against my personal beliefs. The conventional way of working urges companies to focus on one interest and to regulate everything in linear processes. Unfortunately in our society we still believe that money is the only way to happiness. That makes turnover, targets and margins the main focus for conventional business operations. By focusing the interest of a company on financial growth there is (in the long run) no more attention to other things. Companies and people with a focus on pure financial gain are by definition contributing to exploitation of people and the environment.

No focus but complexity

We live in a pigeonholed society where we focus to try to keep a clear overview. That focus seemed to be working as you can therewith quickly achieve your goal, yet we forget so many interests as a direct result of that focus. Our society is designed for short-term thinking while complexity requires long-term thinking. The ongoing populism, the demonstrations, left- and right-wing extremism; they all are a reaction to the feeling of injustice in our society. That feeling is a direct result of the fact our society is unable or unwilling to work with the complexity of our world. Politics and businesses are fully focused on inputs and outputs, process optimization, money and the short-term. They forget the importance of their human capital, our environment and the long-term results.

To change the world we will have to embrace its complexity. We must take our responsibility for people, animals, the environment and society and put that above financial gain. By teaching ourselves to live in the midst of that complexity we will all come to see the importance of diversity; biodiversity as well as cultural and social diversity. Our world is complex; one cannot exist without the other and there is never a unambiguous cause of an effect. Holistic thinking and working is important to make the world a better functioning and more beautiful place again.

Every company must take its responsibility to embrace that complexity. That is a lot easier said than done, I can tell from my own experience. Embracing complexity means balancing a whole bunch of things and swimming against the current. Working with complexity also means that you have to unlearn yourself to be in control of everything and learn to trust your own intrinsic feelings. That is precisely something that we have been unlearning in our Western society. It simply does not fit in with things like time management, linear processes and their optimization.

Making a positive contribution to people, society and the environment with fashion

At Hul le Kes we have a clear goal of change: To have fashion make a positive contribution to people, society and the environment. That is a great goal and a goal that you cannot bring about with just changing one small part of the system. For example: only the use of organic cotton will not ensure that we really contribute to our change goal. To achieve our goal we as a team are working on, and are involved in, many initiatives. Within all projects we are committed to the reappraisal of imperfection as a means to bring about a paradigm shift in our society. A change whereby we can once again see the true value of our resources and people.

We are involved as stewards at The Linen Project to contribute, learn from and share knowledge about local linen production. Taking into account people, nature and the environment. I initiated Sustainable Fashion 025 to investigate the (im)possibilities of a local and circular fashion system. Via the Fashion + Design Festival Arnhem we ensure more publicity for fashion designers from Arnhem who make a positive contribution to the fashion system. Sjaak and I set up the Studio RYN manufacturing studio in collaboration with Rijn IJssel to regain clothing manufacturing in the Netherlands and to train students to meet the needs of a new fashion system. Within the studio we are now giving people who are at a distance from the labor market new opportunities. We give guest lectures at schools and universities to bring about change among students. We set up Hul le Kes to show with products that we can and should approach fashion and textiles differently. We enter into partnerships with larger players in the fashion industry to bring our way of working to the attention of a wider audience. We are involved in Culture.Fashion, in setting up a Cotton Cascade and, last but not least, we work internally with our team in a completely non hierarchical way, stimulating each other to remain innovative and creative.

Currently we are expanding our own complex way of working by adding a social workshop in addition to Studio RYN. Every person deserves a chance, but a lot of people do not get that chance in our society. Our society puts a lot of pressure on every individual and more and more people cannot handle that pressure. With Hul le Kes we are constantly working on the beauty of imperfection in products but also in people. By setting up a craft workshop for people with a need for mental or psychological care we want to show everyone can and should be able to make a positive contribution to our world. We can only achieve a better world together, by recognizing and acknowledging each individual. Thanks to this workshop we have now been selected for the IGNITE Award (you can vote for us to win the audience award via this link).

With all these projects our company is directly involved in almost all circular process parts of the fashion chain. In 2021 we therefore hope to offer products and services in several ways that together ensure a working circular fashion system. Products and services will not only come available to Hul le Kes but also to other fashion brands and private individuals. That means pioneering, innovating and constantly pushing new boundaries; something we are good at as a company.

We can only change together

Offering all those services and products is a lot of work, especially with our small, but highly motivated, team. We are convinced that it is through all these different activities that we will achieve the change we are working on. From the conventional way of thinking about entrepreneurship and operational management there is still little understanding for our way of working. It is therefore not always easy to convince people that we believe this complex and holistic approach is an approach that should be applied to every company. Financial interests serv our interest in society, the environment and creativity. We believe that we should not focus on just one aspect but should work on all those different interests in order to really set this movement in motion.

Fortunately we have help from our friends and family (in this case our biological family and our team, which I also like to see as family) to further initiate this movement. We can also always use your help to ensure the system will change. This can be in the form of internships, sponsoring, volunteering, collaboration or simply by purchasing one of our products. Only together we will be able to change the world to a working circular system as it is intended to be.

Do you want to help us change the global fashion system? Or would you like to comment on this blog? Feel free to send me an email.

Sebastiaan Kramer (35) is managing director at Hul le Kes. Together with Sjaak Hullekes he graduated from ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem. Ever since their graduation they work and live together. Although Sebastiaan started his career as a fashion designer nowadays he is working on managing the company. He studied Business Administration where he focused on non Western and alternative ways of management. Besides his job at Hul le Kes he also manages Studio RYN and is artistic director at Fashion + Design Festival Arnhem and Duurzame Mode 025 (Sustainable Fashion 025).


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