We are Currently Living a Materials Revolution

I remember my first year at Design School Kolding (DSKD). The projects I created almost never had a shape or form in mind to start with. The Textile Design course seemed like a natural fit. I would always start with a technique and the method would control the outcome; I loved experimentation. In Norway at that time textile courses were offered primarily in an art context, but I was in need of some of the purpose that ‘design’ inherently brings. After some quick research I landed in Denmark and, to be honest, I had no idea where Kolding was located. I thought it’s a small country, how hard can it be to get around?

And though Kolding might not be the centre of the universe, it was for me, for four fruitful years. The people, the facilities and the ability to focus were key to my journey as a designer – added a good portion of Danish frankness, I dare say!

I have worked with a broad range of projects, but my interest always originates with materials, colours and the feeling they create. Today I live in Portland OR, USA working as a material designer for NIKE Inc.’s footwear design department. As a material designer I work on projects spanning from future innovations, special projects and collaborations with other brands/designers. Material design is a broader scope than my original background in textile design, but in many ways it comes down to the same philosophy of storytelling and problem solving through fibres, textures, harmonies and contrasts.

Nike has always been known for inventing new technologies and methods of making. Back in 2009 I didn’t even know there was such a job as a material designer, especially within footwear. Unknown to the world, their designers were tinkering away with the early stages of Flyknit, and this new technology required designers with a different mindset than traditional footwear design. It literally ‘changed the game’. I happened to join the Nike team just as Flyknit was ready to be launched, and it was exciting to see how the brand revolutionized the footwear industry on a global scale. Going from traditional cut and sew construction to a one piece, zero waste fabrication; that is a monumental feat. So there I was the typical DSKD textile nerd in the land of opportunities, and all of a sudden the hottest topic was knitting. Today we are seeing a material renaissance in nearly every industry – the skillset of material designers has been widely recognized and I find that my fellow textile graduates have an advantage in the way they are able to create not only functional, but also sensitive and emotional product connections.

To be truly innovative today, industries/companies need to start all the way down from the core, using fibres and constructions – even breaking machines to test their limits. Materials have always helped to define our time, and I believe we are currently living a materials revolution. It’s an exciting time to be a textile designer!