Clarks has always nurtured talent and passion for new design, so it’s no surprise when a fresh creative face passes through our door. Casper Notenboom, a Product Design student from the Netherlands recently stopped by for a one-off internship, arranged by his visiting lecturer and former Senior Designer for Clarks Originals, Marijke Bruggink.
Keen to promote industry links with design students and challenge perceptions of Clarks as a brand, Marijke set Casper a brief, then introduced him to the people and resources within Clarks to explore his ideas. “Casper has taken a very experimental route and gets the freedom to experiment here. I trust him with that,” she says. She believes such schemes can provide valuable insight for students from design schools all over the world.
We caught up with Casper for a quick Q&A on his projects and progress so far…
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m a 4th year Product Design student studying at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem, and I’ll graduate in June 2016. At 31 I’m an older student as I actually worked for nine years. When I was 15 I started work in the metal industry and was specialising in welding in the industrial sector – everything you can imagine that’s made from steel, I did! And when I was 24 I thought, “OK, now I have to go to school.” So, first I did industrial design and I was actually missing the creative part. Though I think the work I did in industrial design gave me confidence.
Were you always creative, even as a child?
Yeah, I was always building things – and I was also always outside looking at things. My mother says for example, in the park all the children wanted to go on the see-saw, but I was always looking at how these things work! She was always laughing about it…
So are there any particular products you’re interested in designing?
At art school you can choose to specialise, for example in accessories or furniture – indoor and outdoor pieces. But I’m doing a specialisation in materials. Because I like to believe I can design everything – not only shoes – I think materials is the best specialisation for me. I’m interested in the design industry as a whole and how products are being produced, so I think it’s important to understand materials in order to be able to design anything. I previously worked with Marijke on an assignment for Clarks where we had to design a shoe and a slipper, and she set up this internship for me because she saw the line between my work and Clarks.
What was your knowledge or perceptions of Clarks before?
I knew the classics like the Desert Boot, you know. And my perception was that the company was not that big. But the first thing I found when I came here was, “Wow, it’s so big!” And there’s a lot of knowledge here. I really like that Clarks has its own database of all its shoes – it’s really created a strong foundation, which comes from its long history I think. And it’s nice to see that it’s changing with time, you know. Some old companies stay with their old thoughts, but I think Clarks is trying to move with the times. And I think they have to, because the shoe business is hard if you don’t change.
Can you tell us about any ideas or people you’ve worked with so far?
First I had a look around, so I’ve seen how they make the lasts, plus the 3D printing and all the machinery. In the last-making department I found it very interesting that though the shoes are made by machines the lasts are still handfinished from the old shapes. So, I’ve been thinking about different materials and different ways to make a shoe. I thought maybe I need to look at different ways to make a last, to get ideas? So I made a different style of last. I’ve looked at the vacuum former and created a 3D print and then I’ve made changes to the last. I’ve also done a bit of construction because you have to see how things combine together.
It’s been great to work with Oliver Saunders, a Design Engineer working in the Children’s Product team who creates digital 3D models and 3D prints.* Also Graham Muttram, the Last Modellist, has helped me, and Paul Rees the shoemaker and Workshop Manager will ask, “How’s it going?” and I’ll show him my ideas and he’ll give me feedback.
(*Olly concurs: “Working with Casper is inspiring and fun. Coming from a welding and industrial design background he approaches shoe making in a different way to us, which is refreshing and sparks new ideas!”)
How has all this helped develop your thinking?
I find something interesting and my interest grows – for example in the lasts – it’s something that grows when you’re in a place like this. Next week it could be something else! It’s often the small things you learn that surprise you. It’s really experimental. But what I’ve also learned is the amount of effort it costs to get one shoe into a store. Clarks has let me see how much work it is to get the high quality – it’s really crazy! I always kind of thought, “I have a design,” and “OK, it’s a shoe, I’m gonna make this,” but now I’ve seen how much effort and how many people are working to get it into the store. It’s really surprising. It’s also made me start thinking more about leather and using other materials to make a shoe. I did a project for Clarks before and I went to a rubber factory – it was the biggest in Europe – and I made a shoe without glue using a vacuum former, so it was a real experiment. It was nice to make a shoe without leather but which had the same qualities. And Clarks is open for it, and open to ideas. What I like about Clarks is that you can get a lot of knowledge from its people, and when you’re inside the company they always want to help you.
I might go on to do some more shoe designs when I graduate – I have ideas for a series of products, so there might be a shoe in it!
You also did an internship in China – can you tell us about that?
I chose the internship in China because I wanted to experience the small studio, to see the difference between a small one and a big one like Clarks. It was at the Studio Henny van Nistelrooy in Beijing, and I was there for two months. The designer I worked with created interiors and furniture, but also within an exhibition space. He’d build it all up then see how people reacted when they came into a room, how they responded to the space. The whole experience was amazing, I’m definitely going to go back. I think it’s because it’s not that long in China that they’ve had the chance and money to express themselves, you can feel it – it’s like an energy. There are lots of opportunities. When you look at Chinese art, people are very curious about everything. I think it’s the time for them to get more open – a lot of students would work and cover what they are working on – but I think that’s the old way. You have to share your things. That’s what I think.
What are your plans for the future once you graduate?
I’m definitely going to start my own business. Myself and a classmate, Lennart Bras, we have the same mind and way of thinking, so we’re going to do it together. We’re also going to graduate together, like a team. I really like working collaboratively, I think it’s the best way. Sharing ideas – it’s the new thing.
Specifically we want to work together with industries. For example we have some ideas for the packaging industry. They are developing such high quality materials, vacuum formed packaging – like blister packs. These can be so strong and hard to open, qualities you could apply to using them for furniture or maybe a small house for developing countries. So we are thinking about working together with some big companies.
I’d like to go to Beijing Design Week, or the Dutch Design Week or Italy. And I see myself maybe in the future, living and working in China…
What I like about Clarks is that you can get a lot of knowledge from its people, and when you’re inside the company they always want to help you. I might go on to do some more shoe designs when I graduate – I have ideas for a series of products, so there might be a shoe in it!