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Photo: Femke Poort

How Nienke Hoogvliet Reimagines Seaweed as Textile

Whereas many people might see seaweed as an innocuous artifact of the beach (and a nutritious superfood at best), Dutch designer Nienke Hoogvliet sees it as an opportunity for sustainable creativity. After graduating from the Lifestyle & Design Department at the Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam, Hoogvliet founded her art studio in 2013 in Delft, the Netherlands. Determined to follow her instinct and heart, she began focusing on working with raw materials that could contribute to a more sustainable world. For the past two years, Hoogvliet has been focused on the potential of using seaweed as textile, embracing a zero-waste approach to her material designs. Below, GC speaks with the artist about her creative background, her innovative dying process, and her upcoming projects.

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Photo: Hannah Braeken

GC: What is your background and how did you get into art/the design world? Did you go to art school?  

Nienke Hoogvliet: My mom was super creative; I got my love for textiles from her. I grew up with a lot of creativity around me, and this encouraged me to go to art school. I studied Lifestyle & Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam and received a very broad education that I used it to forge my own path.

GC: What was your initial inspiration for working with seaweed as a medium?

NH: Growing up near the beach in The Hague motivated me to work with plastic waste– I saw how we are damaging the oceans and I wanted to raise awareness for this huge problem. But I didn’t want my work to be from a negative perspective: I wanted to show the beauty and potential of the sea. That’s how I was drawn to algae and their amazing qualities. 

Photo: Hannah Braeken

GC: How sustainable is working with algae?

NH: At first, I found a yarn made of sea algae. I dreamed of a circular process, where the seaweed is not only used to make yarn, but also to dye the yarn. I started experimenting and was pleasantly surprised with the wide color palette I ended up with.

Seaweed is an amazing resource. It clears the ocean while it grows, it produces oxygen, and we don’t need precious land or (sweet) water to grow it. I believe it’s a very sustainable resource. The dying process [is sustainable] as well: I only use natural ingredients and prefer to dye with seawater, so no drinking water is wasted. And the waste water could return to the ocean, because only ingredients from the sea were used in the process to begin with.

“Seaweed is an amazing resource. It clears the ocean while it grows, it produces oxygen, and we don’t need precious land or (sweet) water to grow it. I believe it’s a very sustainable resource.”

GC: Do you think algae would ever be embraced by the main stream fashion world?

NH: Yes, I believe so. I only see benefits to the material and technique. It’s not only sustainable, but it’s a nice, soft material and I love the colors. How could it not be embraced by mainstream fashion?

GC: What are the challenges of using this material? Does it stain?

NH: The expedience of the seaweed dye has proven more than sufficient– the color takes pretty quickly.

Photo: Milou Snoeijers

GC: What are your upcoming projects?

NH: I’m working on a new collaboration with the Dutch Water Authorities. They developed a process of making bio-plastic from wastewater. Super interesting and sustainable. This material dissolves when you put it in the earth. I’m designing a series of products to go with that, which we will show during the Dutch Design Week (October 21-29, 2017).

I’m also publishing a book about my fish leather project in October. I already released a book about my seaweed research, so now I want to share my knowledge about making fish leather and inspire others to work with sustainable materials as well.

GC: One last question: What’s your favorite aquatic plant or flower?

NH: That’s a tough question, as I love every type of seaweed (and a lot of flowers as well!). Every species has its own beautiful characteristics, but my favorite seaweed to dye with is knotted kelp. It yields soft pink tones and those really are my favorite.

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Can’t get enough material art? Read our interview with futuristic botanical artist Lola Guerrera.

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