MEET: Pepe Heykoop

Pepe Heykoop

Pepe Heykoop sits on a chair from his Skin collection, made entirely with discarded materials. The chair was picked up on the streets of Amsterdam and clad in leather offcuts.

Based in The Netherlands, Pepe Heykoop started his own firm Studio Pepe Heykoop in 2008 after graduating from design school. His graduation projects, the Lightness of Being lamp and A Restless Character chair, went on exhibition at Milan’s Spazio Rossana Orlandi in 2008. Pepe now has various awards to his name, too.

Pepe doesn’t pursue commercial success and is perfectly happy doing one-off design art pieces. In particular, he tries to turn waste materials, whether these are leather strips or discarded furniture, into items that are both beautiful and useable. His more recent works include Leather Loops and The Paper Vase, which was birthed out of a collaborative effort with the Tiny Miracles Foundation in Mumbai. In this interview, we asked Pepe about his ecologically conscious philosophy.

How did sustainability become such an important feature of your designs?

It’s always been there. I’ve been visiting flea markets since I was very young, and most of my clothes are second-hand. Where I live in Amsterdam, there’s a daily flea market that I visit four to five times a week. I like the idea of finding a use for something someone else has rejected. When I go on holiday, I bring an empty bag with me – when I return, it’s always full of the things that I’ve found!

Where do you find the items you use in your work?

In Amsterdam, people throw their unwanted items on the street. I cycle around, pick them up and bring them back to my studio – which is full of broken items! For example, the framework of the products in my Skin collection are all items bought second-hand or found on the street.

Sometimes, one thing leads to another. When I was producing my leather lampshades, I discovered there were alot of leather remnants left after production. That’s when I thought of putting them to good use as a “skin” for furniture.

The pieces you create are pretty unique and “one-off”. How you balance this with the commercial aspects of being a designer?

I was struggling with that for a while. The Restless Character chair took three months to make, and the Lightness of Being lamp took four-and-a-half months. I thought: I can’t survive like this. I set up a small production unit in India to create leather items, which made my designs more affordable. It was a completely different way of thinking for me. For my other work, I didn’t have to think about how to package it, the size, the pricing and all that. That’s why I started my own workshop instead of working for others when I graduated. I am my own boss, with my own vision, and I can change the design any time I want to.

Where do you find the inspiration for your work?

About two years ago, I collaborated with my cousin, who had started a foundation in Bombay called Tiny Miracles to bring street kids to school. The mothers of these kids were hired to make my leather lampshades, and the proceeds went to educating their kids. I found out that 25 to 30 per cent of the leather was wasted because the hides came in an irregular shape or had blemishes such as insect bites. We started a project to use them to cover old stainless steel water vessels. We gave the community new vessels in exchange for their old ones.

You use a range of different materials for your creations. If there weren’t any technical restrictions, what material would you like to work with next?

I always say that everything is possible. When I wanted to do the Restless Character chair (which has flexible rubber joints that move with the user), my tutors and 20 other technical guys said that it wasn’t technically possible. It took a lot of time, but I finally created a prototype for my graduation project. I’m like a pit bull – I’ll keep holding on and make it happen. Making mistakes is interesting, failures are welcome. Let them happen. At least you tried. You might get amazing results just by trying.

In your opinion, what is the role of a designer?

Realistically, the designs we create won’t change the world. Communicate your vision and your ideas to others so they will think about it, too. You can be a catalyst. I see my role as a catalyst for change. When it comes to being ecologically conscious, we first have to make people see. Then they will be aware, and then they can make a choice.


Learn more about Pepe Heykoop and his work at www.pepeheykoop.nl.