Intro: Suzanne Oude Hengel

Hi Conceptkicks lovers ! 

A huge thanks to Daniel Bailey aka Mr. Bailey for inviting me to become a contributor, Conceptkicks is a fantastic platform and a great community of people that want to share, help and exchange. Mr Bailey’s approach and generosity to encourage and share information has set the tone in the way I work and the people I surround myself with. 

Being a contributor is about giving an impulse to connect with creators in divers field, enlarging perspectives, collaborating, sharing work and inspiring each other to make changes happen.

For my first post I will introduce myself and the timeline of how I got to where I am ! It worked out being a little longer than expected but maybe it is better that way so you can understand my approach and where I come from. In my subsequent posts I will share what I have found interesting related to footwear over that month and try to give you further insight into what I am up to !

Photography credits to Studio Masha Bakker

I am Suzanne Oude Hengel, Creative entrepreneur, Knit researcher and Footwear innovator based in Arnhem (the Netherlands). I also work as a Knit Technician at the Textielmuseum where I handle, repair and program industrial knitting machines.

I am Dutch but grew up all over. Two weeks after I was born my parents went back to Bhutan, a small country in the middle of the Himalayas. My father is an engineer in tropical farming his work made us travel in my childhood. My first 4 years I lived in Bhutan and then we moved to India for 3 years. My parents bought a dairy farm in France when I was 8 years old, where they still live. I am very grateful for this childhood and this unusual but amazing way of growing up ! I came back to The Netherlands to study BA Product Design and to discover what being Dutch is really about.

I graduated in 2015 as Product Designer from ArtEZ University of Arts in Arnhem with a collection of knitted shoes. My fascination for material experiments, particularly with flexible materials, led me to textiles. During my studies we didn’t have access to textile knowledge and machinery, so I decided to go on exchange to Aalto University in Finland. There I was able to get basic technical information in both knitting and weaving, which made me even more convinced that this was my way to go.

Returning from my exchange I created my graduate collection ‘LOOP, colored feet’. This collection explored my curiosity in developing knitting techniques and taking them out of their traditional context by applying them to footwear.

I was triggered by how I could bring shape to a flat piece of knitted fabric by using shaping techniques, colour and structure placed on aesthetically pleasing lines.

I analysed the properties of these samples and how they could be applied in a functional way. The result was a collection of 14 shoes that each explored a different element from my sampling process. 

Photography credits to Studio Masha Bakker

Footwear is the perfect medium for me because it has all kinds of restrictions that create challenges that I find very interesting to overcome. Within this collection, I was searching how to simplify the manufacturing process of conventional footwear by investigating how to minimise the steps and reduce the pattern to a one-piece upper. I created endless samples exploring how to create the right shape and what yarns worked best. Investigative experimentation is something that is still hugely important in my current work.

I get a lot of questions about how I make my soles. Just like the upper I wanted to reduce the steps in the manufacturing process taken. I am against the use of glue because it is very harmful for the environment and also to the people involved during the manufacturing process. I think there are other smart ways to connect two materials together.  

That is why I explored how the inherent properties of rubber could be used. By assembling the upper and then dipping it into the wet rubber, it bonded to the textile, eliminating the need for glue. Additionally I developed a detachable sole that allowed me to think about the possibilities of a washable upper and how the shoe could then be recycled. 

After graduating I was selected to be part of the Santoni Pioneer Program in the headquarters of Santoni Shanghai. I wanted to gain more technical knowledge and this was the perfect opportunity. Santoni is a manufacturer of circular knitting machines, they need designers to show what the machines can do. Right after my graduation minimize this was like a dream come true, being surrounded by knitting machines for two whole months.

Photography credits to Studio Masha Bakker

At Santoni my projects started around the idea of how I could tailor a tube into an upper of a shoe and how I could integrate as many functionalities directly within the bindings of the knit. Knitting machines always produce a long tube of knitted material and this is something I wanted to explore to see if I could change. 

I worked on a variety of machines including a hosiery machine, where the challenge was to try and create a heel. Alongside that I also worked on a sock machine in which I investigated the possibilities to create folding lines by zonally applying terry structure which is normally found in sports socks. The idea was to create folding lines that would automatically wrap around a last.

Check out the images from this work in the link below :

My interests have always been in pushing a machine to its limits and taking it out of its intended context, which can be difficult as some technicians often just say “no”. I wanted to learn why they say no, and how I could transform the ‘no’ into a maybe, that’s why I decided to become a technician myself  so I could talk the same language. 

During my time in Shanghai I was able to see the whole knitting industry including yarn spinners and mills. This was an insight that is normally impossible to get without the right connections and I am still very grateful for the opportunity ! 

In the same period, my work got posted on ConceptKicks and it opened doors I didn’t realize that were at my reach (here is a ink to the first post). This post gave me a huge boost to my network and I realized I could promote my work by using social media smartly. A few days after my work got posted, Nike reached out, which led to interviews both in Portland and in London. Through this experience, I realized I wanted to develop my own practice and further investigate what I really wanted as a designer. Gathering more knowledge either by schooling, training or working within companies was also something I wanted to explore. Having the ability and room to work independently, choosing the projects I wanted to work and developing personal projects, I realized where all things important to me. However, the appeal of working for a large, world renowned company was extremely appealing!

After the summer of 2018 I started an internship at the TextielLab, where I now work part time. The TextielLab is part of the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, where we are able to show visitors the advancements in textile technology. I work as a technician running the Stoll industrial knitting machines and also I have the access to the machines for personal projects. This has allowed me to gain further technical knowledge and become a hybrid between technician and designer.

Photography credits to Studio Masha Bakker

So far this post was about where I come from how I got to where I am now, so in the next post I will tell more about my studio, how I work, some of the projects I have been working and what I do on a daily basis.

Feel free to reach out on IG if you have any questions and I will respond in my stories in the upcoming week or I will take into account in my future posts !

Suzanne Oude Hengel

Creative entrepreneur, Knit researcher, Footwear innovator and Technician @textielmuseum

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