Material Experience Center, powered by Santoni: Interview with Eva De Laat Lily Bell May 20, 2021 Creativity, Designers, Interview Eva de Laat is the Head of Material Experience Center (MEC) powered by Santoni Shanghai and co-founder of Studio Eva x Carola. With over 20 years of experience in the innovative textile and performance field, she has worked with world-class brands to create innovative concepts, textiles, and sports apparel challenging the usual function and aesthetic of conventional designs. She’s known in the industry to re-think and re-engineer new processes for materials using Santoni’s circular knitting technology paired with bulk customization creating a yarn up approach. This goal is led by the vision of achieving a circular economy initiative and sustainable ecosystem from a long-term perspective. With Eva’s pursuance of excellence mindset and going beyond the boundaries of traditional manufacturing, she’s constantly exploring more opportunities of using and creating innovative textiles for a better future. Creative director of Santoni MEC, Eva De Laat. @evaxcarola Images Could you tell us about your background and what led you to become the Creative Director of the Material Experience Center? Within MEC and Studio Eva x Carola we work on ‘reversed knitting solutions that last’. We believe everything we do should be considered, functional and smart. What we use and wear should be helping and enhancing the person’s body and their experience. This has always been the red thread throughout my career. Starting from Nike, expanding towards our Studio philosophy bringing this into the Material Experience Center. Rather than making a design sketch leading to the development process, we take a reversed approach. With the concept in mind, we explore different ideas; we start with machine selection and research in yarns. This generated a great match with the mindset of Santoni Shanghai and how we initially started to collaborate which led to the creation of the Material Experience Center. Within MEC we’ve created a physical and digital space for inspiration, creation, implementation, and knowledge sharing. What are the main application fields within MEC? We focus on a wide variety of applications within MEC. Ranging from more ‘traditional’ fields such as activewear and intimates to lounge – and streetwear. However more and more of our applications go towards automotive, consumer electronics, interior, smart textiles, and so on. What are your key missions/goals for MEC? Bring reversed knitting solutions that last. They are functional, smart, and considered. It is estimated that over 80% of all product-related environmental impacts are determined during the design phase of a product. Working from the machine and yarn upwards we can develop products and textiles from the ‘ground’ up exactly to the needs of the consumer. Resulting in products that are more value-adding, personalized, and created to reduce the environmental impact of products. Human-centric products (are) built to last and for longevity. Why does the MEC focus on circular knitting technology? MEC is powered by Santoni Shanghai. Founded in 2005, Santoni Shanghai is a leader in the seamless knitting industry. Nowadays, Santoni Shanghai has expanded its advanced technology and experience to the production of other circular knitting technologies such as large diameter and socks machines. With R&D at its heart, Santoni combines the most renowned leaders in the industry with the broadest coverage of machines for the production of knitted fabric in several diversified segments, where functional garments represent the ultimate trend. Could you explain a little more about what a ‘yarn up approach’ is for creating new processes for materials? We believe by reversing the product creation process; designs are a result of material, yarn, and machine selection rather than vice versa – the result is a product tailored to the needs, wear and use of the consumer. Products that are made to lengthen the life cycle in opposite to the fast disposable part of the fashion system. MEC studio space What do you believe is the main issue of traditional manufacturing? The textile industry is the 2nd most polluting industry and builds around a take-and-make model. We believe with a reversed collaborative approach; we could build products in a more circular (cradle to cradle) approach. When working from the yarn and machine upwards, we work towards an all-in-one approach and truly make innovative products that combine aesthetic, function, comfort, and sustainability. We also believe somehow, with cheaper production means, the tactility in materials are lost. Consumers focusing too much on the ‘fashion’ aspect rather than what a garment or product can do for you is often overseen. What do you think the fashion industry will look like in the next 5-10 years? As remarked by a recent interview with The Fabricant, creators of a digital fashion house using 3D tech, we envision the future of the fashion industry where physical fashion becomes utilitarian in response to our planetary circumstances and the need to preserve natural resources, but the digital environment is where we let our fashion imagination run wild.’ A true merge of embracing multichannel strategies by offering ‘phygital’ experiences. Within MEC we are building a future towards sharing our knowledge, innovation, and experiences in circular knitting becoming an incubator that gives very early-stage concepts access to mentorship and other support to help them get established. Does this fit your vision of where you would ideally like it to go? Yes, absolutely. We are working hard in making several very exciting steps in this direction and launching cool new maker’s software and online platform developments later into this year. At the same time, we believe we can only reach our envisioned future via collaborations and partnerships. This year we will be actively getting involved in initiatives such as the Circular Fashion Summit this October. What do you think most urgently has to change in the fashion industry? Increased diversity in the actual making chain. A reflection of today’s society. Where do you think the fashion industry’s sustainability efforts need to be focused to create a more sustainable ecosystem in the future? Knowledge and understanding of the supply chain. Giving designers access and insights to the makers process. As the Co-founder of Studio Eva x Carola, why did you decide to focus on creating innovative textile for sports apparel? Carola and I always believed products needed to be more than an aesthetic. It should include consumer needs related to function, comfort, and sustainability. We first started to work with Santoni technology during our time at Nike. Working on circular and seamless knitting technology opened our world in having the possibility to ‘grow’ materials on a body. Creating textiles that really enhance and augments the human experience and wear. This is such a powerful tool for us where our Studio today has been built from that passion and spark we felt to make a change.. What has been one of your proudest achievements of working in the textile industry? Being a female leader (and part of a mostly female team) having the possibility to inspire, engage, and shape the future of textiles together with many other brilliant (female) makers.