Retailer G-Star RAW tapped fellow Dutch contemporary artist, Maarten Baas to give denim waste a second chance during Milan Design Week 2023. Through a series of thought-provoking art pieces, the duo sought to explore the capitalist tension of the desire for more and the need for less. The exhibition, entitled “More or Less,” included objects made from a new textile board material derived from recycled denim.
Baas summarized the showcase’s raison d’être in the following quote, “Every year in Milan I witness the tragicomic dialogue between green design and mass consumption. After all, we are all part of the same puzzle: we enjoy our prosecco next to this private jet made from recycled materials. We are not saving the world, but are we contributing to an improvement? More or less.”
The 17th-century church of San Paolo Converso housed the provocative showcase. For both the triptych of cabinets in the shape of jeans and the fifteen-meter-long private jet, Baas utilized scraps of jeans collected from G-Star stores across Europe via the “Return your Denim” program, which allowed customers to return their old jeans for recycling.
Call it waste or surplus, this duality between want and need is one of the fundamental predicaments of our time. But at the core, a bigger question arises: Do we need to make art from waste? By refashioning denim waste into artistic objects, such as a private jet, we are in a way, bypassing garments’ original purpose, and functionality.
However, according to Baas, the idea of creating a private jet was to spark controversy. The artist told Dezeen, “Each year in Davos there’s a discussion about 1,500 private jets flying there for people to talk about sustainability. That’s a great joke, that I could emphasize by making this private jet, the symbol of luxury and consumption, out of recycled materials.”
The cabinets, available to purchase on a made-to-order basis, on the other hand, are actually usable, which aligns with this idea of functionality, demonstrating new and creative possibilities in recycling and repurposing. Besides, during the exhibition, visitors could bring their worn garments to screenprint with the signature message “More or Less.”
Gwenda van Vliet, CMO of G-Star RAW, shared: “At G-Star, we believe that there is no limit to what denim can do. In this case, we’re spotlighting what our denim waste can become, and how we can change waste material into something meaningful that stands out – and that makes you wonder and think. Because we all want more, but our planet needs less.”
She added: “That uncomfortable reality we all deal with. Yes, we are constantly aiming to improve our impact on people and the planet, but at the same time, we realize we encourage consumption as well. That symbolizes the balancing act of being both a responsible and a successful brand at the same time.”
There is a lot to unpack and ponder about G-Star RAW and Maarten Baas’ showcase during Milan Design Week 2023, such as, are hundreds of surplus denim really necessary to spark a thought? Of course, to answer that question is to join one of art’s oldest debates, “Functionality vs. Aesthetics.”
Take a look at the gallery above to explore the showcase. In other design news, read about how XBOX’s recycled plastic controller taps into post-consumer resources.