This story is taken from Issue 17 of Highsnobiety magazine. You can buy the new issue here.
Experimental Amsterdam brand BYBORRE specializes in forward-thinking knitwear. Founder Borre Akkersdijk pays particular attention to textiles and how they affect clothing construction and consumer comfort. Innovation is an oft-abused term in a fashion industry where manufacturing and logistics processes have remained largely unchanged for years, but by starting at the base material level, BYBORRE is doing something truly exceptional.
If knitting still conjures visions of grannies seated on wingback chairs, slippered toes propped on a footrest and warmed by embers of a fire, you are living squarely in the past. Over the last decade, knitting has been transformed in the public imagination. While the process has, at root, been around for centuries (some estimate the technology to be roughly 8,000 years old), this decade it entered a new three-dimensional era. The convergence of automated machines, which arrived in the ’60s and ’70s, and fresh digital applications have brought knitting’s potential well beyond socks and caps into the realm of footwear and beyond.
Gone are the grandmas and in their stead are a series of technical wizards. An analogy: if knitting were a song, the best practitioners are now those equally skilled at writing a ditty, tuning the instrument, and having the confidence to improvise on a whim. And among the most innovative is Amsterdam-based BYBORRE. The studio is one of a handful of firms working to discover new knitting possibilities. Starting with yarn development, BYBORRE blends digital methods and handcraft in a virtuosic interaction with circular knit machines. This gives the company’s output an undeniably future-forward aesthetic, whether for its eponymous line or in collaboration with brands such as The Arrivals, Nike, Outlier, and wings+horns.
Borre Akkersdijk, the studio’s 33-year-old founder, was born in the Dutch town of Nijmegen on the German border. Raised by his mother and grandparents, young Akkersdijk was intrigued by textiles — particularly buttons and zippers — and was encouraged by his uncle to pursue an education in the arts. He attended the renowned Design Academy Eindhoven in his home country, where he learned about the influence materials have on design.
“The definitive decision to focus on textiles came when I started university,” he says. “It was clear to me at this point that I wanted to be part of the fashion and textile world, but instead of attending a focused fashion school, I decided to learn about materials and techniques from an overarching design perspective. Everything you create starts with material and function, and that’s where I wanted to focus my studies.”
Akkersdijk’s studies were buttressed by an internship in Paris with Dutch trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort (who later hired him as a freelancer), and after three years in Eindhoven, Akkersdijk left for New York to finish his studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. There he learned pattern-making and fashion illustration. He gained confidence in construction and draping — fundamentals of fashion design — and brought his various skills together with the founding of BYBORRE in 2010.
Since then, Akkersdijk and his team have developed not only a series of “crazy materials,” they have also formulated foundational fits and manufacturing techniques, making the studio one of the most recognizable, cutting-edge textile houses in the world.
Here, Akkersdijk describes the potential of textiles, his proprietary processes (including BYBORRE’s 8-Bit material), and working with fabric industry titan GORE-TEX.
What’s the biggest misconception about textiles?
This is something I could go on about all day. When you think about the world around you and your personal connection to textiles, it doesn’t take long to realize that textiles are one of the most used and beloved materials in the world. We use it to clothe, protect, accentuate, sit and lay on, and to decorate with. A textile’s potential lies in the value and function it gives to a product. When used for clothing, textiles give function to the garment by keeping you dry, warm, fast, cool, etc.
We use textiles in so many different capacities that the textiles themselves disappear and form the objects and garments that they’re used for. Because of this, people can lose their understanding of where a textile comes from or what it costs to make. The importance of the brand can overtake the materials, and users become detached and less interested in where their clothing comes from. This can unfortunately lead to textiles being made quickly and cheaply at a price to the environment and the people that make them.
The value of a textile lies in its story. The way that it’s made, where the fibers originate from, the people that produce, design, wash, and ship it, and the care that is taken into making a sustainable material. The foundation of what we do at BYBORRE is the attention to detail in each part of the process when creating one of our textiles, starting with the yarn to the end product, and continuing on to the dialogue we have with people and what they wear.
How has the perception of textile innovation changed or remained the same since you began?
I think that with performance wear gaining more mainstream popularity, textile innovation has become more prevalent and important. From the moment I started, what I did was always linked to innovation, from the way I approached working with industrial machines to how I was pushing the status quo of how to wear textiles and how they should feel against the body.
This story was picked up early on by the tech industry, much more so than the fashion industry. The tech world is excited about the potential of the human body as the next interface, but through projects we’ve done together, they also realize how difficult this is. When working within the fashion industry, textile innovation is seen as an opportunity to tell the story of a garment, starting from the yarn, to showcase the potential for creating a better product.
What have been the major innovations in the field since you began?
There have been multiple influential shifts in several of my fields of interest since I began. The first that comes to mind is the growth and influence that social media has had on the creative industry in general. It has become a big part of getting your work out into the world, so the quality of images and stories can often become more important than the end product.
Another major shift has been fashion’s turn to functional wear. Sportswear and outdoor gear have become fully mainstream instead of just being used for their intended purpose. Aesthetics are no longer the only important selling point in the clothes we buy. We, as users, now expect that our clothing does something for us, too.
One of the more impactful changes for BYBORRE was the shift from knit being old-fashioned and destined for some musty attic to a modern, innovative material. A major driver here was the footwear industry, which is enormous and saw the potential in knits, leading the whole industry through this shift in thinking. For BYBORRE, as a leading textile and specifically a knit studio, we’re very excited about this positive shift.
Describe what 8-Bit means. What is the process and how does it work in comparison with other materials?
The name 8-Bit comes from the eight yarn feeders of our in-house circular knit machine, which we use to make our 8-Bit jersey terry fabric. Every feeder knits a single dot, a pixel if you will, within the textile. Having full control over the whole process means we can engineer what every individual pixel on our material looks like, along with deciding what yarns to use on either side of the fabric depending on the yarn’s properties.
In a way, we’re highlighting all the different parts of the process, from the machine to the different yarns and how they all come together in a fabric. With complete control over every component of the fabric, it becomes a platform we can adapt exactly to the specifications of how we need it to perform for each use case.
How do you define your Fundamentals? What inspired the silhouettes and patterns you use?
The BYBORRE Fundamentals are what we at the studio see as the “ideal form” of typical styles within most wardrobes. We know that everyone basically has their own version of a T-shirt, sweater, hoodie, pants, and shorts, and so our Fundamentals are our way of saying, “This is what the BYBORRE T-shirt looks like. This is what the BYBORRE crewneck looks like,” and so on.
The majority of the initial shapes and linework seen throughout the Fundamental silhouettes come from a project we did with the Dutch national gymnastics team. I observed how the gymnasts moved, which lead to strategically placing seams and panels for flexibility and comfort. We wanted maximum mobility without making the pieces look overly athletic.
In a way, our Fundamentals serve as both a restriction and a challenge for us to design. Having these silhouettes that stay consistent season after season, the design steps back and gives the materials the spotlight. Every “Edition,” which is what our seasons are called, is divided into two parts: Fundamentals, which are unchanged each season aside from gradual improvements; and the Experimentals, which are garments where we use Fundamentals silhouettes as a blueprint to explore where our research takes them.
The latest collection sees you working with GORE-TEX. What does that mean to you?
For BYBORRE as a label, it’s a very interesting dialogue that starts with understanding the end consumer and the unique properties of both materials. We feel we have a similar approach as material brands but are at vastly different stages along the journey. In that sense, we also recognize that this partnership is an amazing collaboration and encouragement that we’re doing the right thing.
For many people, GORE-TEX is simply a membrane, but the company is always innovating. How does its newest stuff work with your newest stuff?
I think it’s very interesting you put it this way, because for a lot of people there is the recognition of the name linked to quality and GORE-TEX’s "Guaranteed to Keep You Dry." What we wanted to focus on instead was playing freely with their materials in combination with ours. This was possible for the first time due to the recent introduction of their INFINIUM line. We can use all aspects and properties of GORE-TEX INFINIUM materials without the constraints of having to make sure the garments are fully waterproof.
GORE-TEX’s "Guaranteed to Keep You Dry" goods were made for keeping the wearer protected while doing things like scaling the face of a mountain, because being soaking wet under those conditions can mean life or death. However, we also know that at BYBORRE we don’t design for those circumstances. Our focus is the urban user who may get caught in a rain shower when cycling around the city but is heading to a friend’s house and wants to be comfortable when they arrive. The key to our pieces should be to keep you comfortable. GORE-TEX INFINIUM has allowed us to combine the best of our garments with the targeted use of GORE-TEX fabrics to provide relevant levels of weatherproofing where most needed.
What function does GORE-TEX provide in the collection?
It’s all about comfort, in some areas through weatherproofing, and in other parts through the characteristics of the materials, like the four-way stretch, which is a main function of the GORE materials found in a couple of our Hybrid pieces. It’s about letting the materials do what they do best.
What we’ve done is to identify which areas would benefit most from the characteristics of each material. A good example is the HS1 hooded scarf, which is one of BYBORRE’s signature scarves, with a panel of GORE-TEX INFINIUM material applied to it in such a way that, when worn under a jacket, this panel sits behind the front closure of your jacket and gives another layer of wind protection. It, of course, then also has a lightweight hood, which is packed in its own pocket at the back of the neck and provides the level of water and wind protection we’ve come to expect from a GORE-TEX piece.
Where does it allow you to go that you haven’t been able to go before?
As a studio, we are focused on knit innovations, so working with the GORE-TEX INFINIUM materials has opened the doors to working with GORE-TEX’s amazing catalogue of comfort and protective woven materials. To combine the different properties of their materials and ours, a whole new world of potential has opened up in terms of functionality and aesthetics.
I think that we too were able to inspire the people at GORE-TEX on how their materials could be combined with knits in a way that they probably never could have imagined. What this partnership has already proven is that it’s possible to combine materials from radically different sides of the spectrum in a way that not only makes sense, but also looks nice. We’ve only just begun.
Highsnobiety magazine Issue 17 is available now from our online store and at select premium stockists and boutiques worldwide.