Inch by inch - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle
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Historically, the city of Arnhem was known as an industrial centre and a focal point for Dutch-German grain trading. But more recently the city, in the east of the Netherlands, has blossomed into a creative hub – a development triggered by the opening of the ArtEZ academy in the early 2000s, which offers courses in fashion design, dance and fine art, alongside a host of other creative disciplines. A number of homegrown labels and boutiques, such as Judith ter Haar’s Jones, have helped build this reputation even further. 

For designers and ArtEZ alumni Sjaak Hullekes and Sebastiaan Kramer (who follow in the footsteps of other famous ArtEZ graduates, such as couturiers Iris van Herpen, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren), the city’s compact size and sense of community offer an opportunity to return to traditional ways of making clothes and building a fashion brand. In their world, a customer can easily drop by the atelier to ask for an alteration or a repair and know the makers by name. 

Hullekes and Kramer, who were disillusioned with the fashion industry’s waste footprint, founded their label, Hul le Kes, in 2018 with the goal of returning to the basics. Working in a small workshop in the Van Oldenbarneveldtstraat area next to the Rhine, the duo is committed to producing every piece that they design within their atelier’s four walls. More than 90 per cent of the materials that pass through the workshop are recycled and given a new lease of life.

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Co-founders Sebastiaan Kramer (on left) and Sjaak Hullekes
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Linens are often sourced from French flea markets

What we would buy:

The Cremer jacket: Crafted entirely from upcycled vintage woollen blankets sourced from donations in the Netherlands.

The Abramovic jumper: This oversized garment made using recycled cotton from an interiors company was inspired by the raw edges often found the work of Serbian artist Marina Abramovic.

The Rodin shirt: A modern silhouette created from deadstock linen pays homage to the iconic Parisian sculptor.

Inside the workshop, sewing machines hum with activity as the Hul le Kes team of 50 tailors, pattern makers and apprentices painstakingly sew, stitch and steam natural or recycled fabrics. “We wanted to get back to the knowledge of manufacturing that is almost non-existent in the Netherlands,” says Kramer. “Arnhem doesn’t traditionally have a strong textiles know-how. The city is known for its fashion and design prowess but not for manufacturing – that tends to happen in India and China. This is the craft that we are trying to renew.” 

Streamlined production allows Hullekes and Kramer to see the process through from start to finish, meaning that their craft is evident in every small design detail, from the hand-crocheted edges on the pockets of parkas to the loose cuts of their trousers, a nod to old sailor uniforms. “The Hul le Kes style is informed by an antiquarian aesthetic, reminiscent of the old-money style of dressing, but reimagined for the contemporary wearer who seeks practicality,” says Kramer.

“The city is known for its fashion and design prowess but not for manufacturing. This is the craft that we are trying to renew”

The names of the garments pay homage to the likes of Dutch author Jan Cremer, US painter Jackson Pollock and French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir – a testament to the designers’ penchant for honouring the past. In the same vein, antique markets are the perfect hunting ground for the duo, who are always scouring French flea markets to find old linens (which often come embroidered with family initials), unwanted tablecloths, blankets and deadstock from the fashion industry, which is most often discarded because of minor defects. Arnhem’s recycling initiatives and The Salvation Army also donate unwanted materials to the brand, as do the locals. As the reputation of the label has grown, Arnhem’s residents now make sure to save yarns from old pieces of clothing and make regular stops at the Hul le Kes atelier to drop them off.

Streamlined production allows Hullekes and Kramer to see the process through from start to finish, meaning that their craft is evident in every small design detail, from the hand-crocheted edges on the pockets of parkas to the loose cuts of their trousers, a nod to old sailor uniforms. “The Hul le Kes style is informed by an antiquarian aesthetic, reminiscent of the old-money style of dressing, but reimagined for the contemporary wearer who seeks practicality,” says Kramer.

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Hul le Kes showroom is in a former ironmonger’s
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Pieces nod to the duo’s penchant for art
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The dyeing process

The names of the garments pay homage to the likes of Dutch author Jan Cremer, US painter Jackson Pollock and French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir – a testament to the designers’ penchant for honouring the past. In the same vein, antique markets are the perfect hunting ground for the duo, who are always scouring French flea markets to find old linens (which often come embroidered with family initials), unwanted tablecloths, blankets and deadstock from the fashion industry, which is most often discarded because of minor defects. Arnhem’s recycling initiatives and The Salvation Army also donate unwanted materials to the brand, as do the locals. As the reputation of the label has grown, Arnhem’s residents now make sure to save yarns from old pieces of clothing and make regular stops at the Hul le Kes atelier to drop them off.

Once the recycled materials are secured, a natural dyeing process follows, using onion peel, avocado skins, rust and walnuts collected from forests and restaurant kitchens, giving each piece its own identity. It’s a lengthy undertaking – the studio only manages to produce some 150 pieces a month – but they’re in no rush because the Hul le Kes ethos doesn’t revolve around trends. Instead, collections are painstakingly developed with both the previous owners of the materials and the brand’s future consumers in mind. “Knowing where your clothes have come from is an important part of the recycling procedure,” says Kramer. Each piece comes with its own passport, documenting its place of origin, the date it was completed and the origins of the fabric. 

Once ready, pieces make their way to the brand’s flagship boutique, which opened last summer. Located in a former ironmonger’s within walking distance of the atelier, the airy boutique also has an events space, where the brand’s creative clientele – a mix of film producers, architects, graphic designers and gallery owners – get together to host panel discussions, see exhibitions or celebrate their own milestones. Opening up their space to others is part of having a “regenerative mindset”, say the duo, so they make sure that part of the shop is always available for clients to hire.

Though Hul le Kes is slowly building up its business – it participated at Florence’s Pitti Immagine Uomo this January – it only plans to work with a handful of retailers who share the same passion for craft and artisanal manufacturing methods. “We like to compare ourselves to a family business where you know people personally,” says Kramer. “We don’t want to lose the sense of where Hul le Kes started.” 

In many ways, the brand has gone back in time by running a business that is so intricately connected with its local community and with slow, handmade production. It is a bold statement that is also decidedly modern.
hullekes.com

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