Interview: Lisa Jaspers from Folkdays

Isabelle Dechamps & Lisa Jaspers | ©Julian Withalm

Berlin-based fair trade label Folkdays is collaborating with the Goethe-Institut Indonesia and bringing traditional handcraft to Germany. An Interview

Founded in August 2013 by Lisa Jaspers, a former development aid consultant, the fair trade label Folkdays is trying to close the gap between handcraft production methods and modern simplicity. Created in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut in Indonesia, it’s newest project is offering people with specials skills from around the world the opportunity to distribute their products more widely. Lisa talks with us here about her current project and her reasons for founding Folkdays:

How did you get the idea to found Folkdays?

I didn’t have much to do with fashion before Folkdays. I had studied developing economies in London and then worked for a long time in development aid, at first for the non-profit organization Oxfam and then for a consultancy company. However, I always knew that one day I wanted to be the boss of my own company. Exactly what that company was going to be, that first transpired during my time working in development aid when I travelled to a lot of emerging and developing countries. I encountered a lot of poverty on those trips, but also discovered the wealth of amazing handcraft in these countries. I wanted to bring that wealth of handcraft to people in Europe and, in addition, wanted to fill the gap of fairly-produced and also beautiful, high-quality clothing and products. Last but not least, we wanted to make a small contribution towards fighting the poverty in these countries. But fundamentally, it’s our craftsmen and their amazing skills that make Folkdays possible.

What role does Berlin play as a location?

Berlin absolutely made Folkdays possible. Essentially, it would have been more difficult in a city like London, Paris, or even Munich or Hamburg to realize our idea with so little capital. It’s important, especially at the beginning, to keep costs down as much as possible. We rented a desk and a bookshelf in a friend’s office for the first few months and could gradually expand from there. But we also found all of our wonderful employees in Berlin – Berlin still attracts more fascinating people who see the big picture, perhaps more so than other other cities.

What is the “textile residency” project about?

For the textile residency, we worked alongside the Goethe-Institut Indonesia and the non-profit organization Be Able to bring seven textile, fashion, interior, and product designers from Germany together with textile producers in Southeast Asia. Within the framework of the project, the designers had the opportunity to work intensively on location at a production facility for traditional textiles with a focus on handcraft, and then to learn from each other while developing products and building up sustainable working relationships. Our knowledge in terms of collaboration with handworkers, which we ourselves developed in the last few years, is something we were able to pass on to the textile producers and designers through workshops. The goal in that was to flesh out the product and design processes that make an international market for artisanal businesses possible and, through that, to open new means of income. The products that were developed, by the way, can be distributed through the textile production sites, the designers, and Folkdays. For us, it was especially important that the rights and the further independent development of the products solely lie with the production sites and that they aren’t dependent on us as the only buyer.

How would you describe the designers you invited to the project?

The designers that we chose are all very experienced in their fields and have also already made their own products. In addition, they all share an aesthetic sensibility that fits well to Folkdays. It was also important to us to bring together a variety of skills: So we brought Tanja Glissmann on board as a fashion designer, Stefanie Rittler and Sandra Schollmeyer as two experienced product and interior designers, Anne Hederer and the design-duo Anna Teuber und Franzi Kohlhoff from Teuber Kohlhoff as textile designers, and then also Frauke Maier, a designer who works more in a graphics direction.

Why Southeast Asia? Do you guys also have an eye on Europe or even artisans in Europe?

The focus on Southeast Asia came about through conditions that the Goethe-Institut Indonesia initiated. My project partner Anna leads the cultural sector in Southeast Asia at this chapter of the Goethe-Institut and approached me about a year ago with the idea of doing the textile residency. I was into it immediately and got my friend Isabelle and her company Be Able e.V. on board. The collaboration with all parties involved has really been fun!

But, as a social enterprise, our focus also lies on collaborations with craftsmen from developing countries. We find it exciting to give people with amazing skills that, sometimes, live in very poor regions, the opportunity to also sell their products in countries like Germany where handcraft and high-quality design and materials are held in high regard. Even if we’re also aware that there are lots of amazing artisans in Europe, at the moment our regional focus in on poorer regions. But, it doesn’t have to stay that way forever. 

Further information about Folkdays can be found on their website here or via their Instagram account (@f_o_l_k_d_a_y_s) here. All the details about the Goethe-Institut Indonesia can be found on their website here or by following their Instagram account (@goetheinstitut_indonesien) here.

Translation: Melissa Frost