After more than a decade as the Head of Women’s Design at G-Star RAW, Rebekka Bach is now using her creative superpowers to make a positive impact on the world. In this episode of Citizens, we talk to the freelance designer and denim specialist about her journey into the industry, finding ways to include sustainability and humanitarianism into all her future designs, and the inspirations behind her latest projects.

24 Apr 2019

Paolo gattone

Hey Rebekka, did you always know you wanted to be a fashion designer?

“Yes, since I was very small I had always wanted to be a fashion designer. I told my mom, but she always told me I can't make a living from it. So, her and my dad, they more or less forced me to study to be a doctor. When I had some of my first biology classes where we had to dissect a piglet and find out how it died, I had to throw up or stand outside the classes. Still until today, I can’t look at needles. It's very strange because I work in fashion, but every time I see a needle I almost have to faint. Knowing I wasn't going to be a doctor, my parents were convinced I had to do something like law. So, I went to business school and after one year I was like, ‘no, this is also not me’. Finally, I went to fashion school and I was like, ‘this is me’ and they could see that it really made me happy."

You’ve been dubbed a ‘denim specialist’. What made you choose denim?

“Actually, I never had an urge to work in a specific fashion direction. It’s the creative process that I enjoy. It suits the way my mind works. I have worked in semi-couture and with all sorts of different types of materials and fashion. But I think it all changed the moment I met the Head of Design of G-STAR in the Amsterdam Airport – the legendary denim master, Pierre Morisette. He literally ran after me at the airport to ask me where I bought the jeans I was wearing. They were jeans that I had designed myself and made at a factory in Italy. He was like, ‘Oh, I love them. You have to come and work for me.’ and almost a year later I quit my job in Italy and joined him at G-STAR. I was there for 13 years."

Do you still have those jeans today?

“I do! They are in a box somewhere. Every time I’m cleaning and I find them I always think, ‘No I’m going to keep these’. I must say I’m a little bit of a collector."

What do you collect?

“I’ve actually been decluttering my whole wardrobe lately. I really enjoy getting rid of stuff. It feels like a relief. But instead of throwing it out, I have started reselling them. I like the idea that some of the clothes I have can have new owners and can actually be used again properly. So, I don’t keep clothes, I prefer to only collect denim. Most are old jeans, but if I see one special pair I’ll keep them. It’s super nerdy sometimes, like for example, the other day I saw some denim pieces from a Levi’s series called Type 1. The concept involves a heavy stitching with 1-1.5 cm in between the stitches. It's technically more advanced as they may have been stitched by heavy-duty sewing machines and the designs are bolder and more outstanding than classic and authentic jeans. These pieces are from the 90’s and from a special capsule. That’s the type of thing that I like to keep. It's not for wearing or trying, my collector’s pieces are often too big because they are men’s jeans. It’s just for me to study."

Do you like designing things outside the world of denim?

“I must say denim is always the thing that keeps coming back to me. I think it’s because I naturally acquired a lot of experience with it. I love the denim industry, I love the people there, and I love the materials. But with fashion in general, I like the impact of what you can do with shapes and colours and also the connection it has in society. I like to see what it can do for individuals but also for a larger group of people. For example, one of the recent projects I have worked on involves jewelry and supporting women in Afghanistan in secluded areas. It’s a female empowerment project initiated by the United Nations and organized by CRS/Sustainability advisor, Caterina Occhio, who is also the founder of the meaningful jewelry brand, ‘See Me’ and the ‘Heart Movement”."

It’s really cool you get to work on projects like that.

“Yes, I love to work freelance now. I love the flexibility and freedom I have in terms of working with so many interesting and different people, companies, and industries, like the jewelry project, and looking into what I can do to help other people. Now that I have my own company I choose to work primarily with sustainability. So right now, I’m working freelance for a creative and innovative Dutch label, which is rooted in upcycling premium and luxury fashion. The brand is called, ‘1/OFF Remade in Paris’. Each piece is unique and re-designed from high-end vintage garments. It’s a great challenge. I like these kinds of projects where I actually feel the purpose of my work has a bigger impact."

Is it hard to break into the Dutch fashion industry as a foreigner?

“Mmm. Well yes, I think maybe it is. But in the years that I worked here, it was for an international company so most of our activities were global and I never had to face any issues integrating into the Dutch fashion scene.

Are you interested in exploring the industry in other countries?

“First of all, I’m really happy to live in Amsterdam. I was travelling a lot over the years and had cities in mind where I would think, ‘oh, I could definitely live there’. But through the years, I realized that whenever I was in Amsterdam I could really relax. There’s something very soothing about the bikes and the canals. I love it here. As for other cities, there’s something about Japan that connects with me. I think I would like to explore and live there for one or two years at some point in my life. Also, I love Copenhagen, I lived there before. I was raised in Denmark but was born in Korea. I was adopted and recently had the pleasure of meeting my birth family there. I found Seoul to be a beautiful and very interesting city. The people as well. It has a strong connection to me."

Your Danish and Korean background must influence your design aesthetic.

“I think so. When you grow up in Scandinavia, you grow up with a certain kind of aesthetic that you’re being impacted with all the time and you don't even realize it. Danish design aesthetics are Nordic, natural, simple and minimalistic. I can feel how the Italian, Provence, and Parisian influences differ from the Scandinavian. I find it inspiring and appreciate the difference. But I do definitely think that my Danish upbringing has an impact on my view of things. My Korean side, I don’t know. I was three when I came to Denmark. Maybe it’s more in my personality. Sometimes people say Koreans are very strong-minded. [Laughing]"

Do you wear your designs?

“I often get inspired by what I’m working with or wearing. A very great example is the first freelance job I had after my years with G-Star. I was working with the Belgian brand, Essentiel Antwerp, and their design values are nearly opposite to G-Star. It’s all about flower print, pink, fun, and colourful. I had been working with blue, black, grey denim for so many years and was so ready to get out of this monochrome colour card. I immediately was like, ‘let’s go and jump all in”. I really enjoyed it so much. When I design something radically new, I need to try it for myself. For example, I need to know what it feels like to walk out in a complete neon pink jumpsuit. I think it's a great experience to understand what it feels like for the consumer. I think it's like being a chef. You need to taste what you’re cooking."

And for our last question, what has inspired you lately?

“Uhhh, so many things. With the upcycle work at 1/OFF Remade in Paris, I’m getting inspired by all the unique and beautiful pieces of vintage clothing. When you work for a conventional fashion brand you often start like: this is the concept, this is the colour card, these are the silhouettes per season. But with this brand, the clothes are already made, it’s genderless and seasonless. So, you have to think about what you can do to redesign and repurpose it in order for a person to find it relevant and desirable today. For example, for SS21 we designed a beautiful tracksuit made from 3 different vintage sports garments like Nike and Adidas, and a vintage Hermes scarf in a hybrid with a Ralph Lauren shirt. One of the iconic pieces is a beautiful fusion between the classic tweed Chanel jacket and a Levi’s denim trucker jacket. It’s a very fascinating combination. Each garment tells a story and gives inspiration."

“Besides this, this summer I was working on a denim capsule and they weren’t specifically asking for sustainability. Like with many companies, it isn't really a high priority due to the pandemic and other business issues at the moment. But I thought I would try to push them. They wanted a small capsule for a spring/summer campaign, so I made a whole concept for them that was sustainable, very masculine, non-dyed denim, organic cotton, with performance characteristics such as an antiviral coating which was inspired by what’s going on today with Covid and virus protection."

“And lastly, for the current jewelry project I’m working on, I’m very much inspired by the location in Afghanistan. In that area, there are mountains with certain types of gemstones. These stones are said to be spiritual and have certain meanings and properties like healing crystals. I was reading all about it and buying all these vintage books about stone energies and the history of jewelry. I think during these times with the pandemic, we feel extra sensitive and drawn towards having extra energy or a spiritual gem in a necklace or next to our bed. So yes, all this inspiration is coming from what’s happening in the world right now."

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