Van der Kooij designer Tash, on curating ideas and fashion as wearable art
Meet Tash, the designer behind Van Der Kooij. Her collections blend modern femininity with nostalgia, in her own words a sophisticated rebellion in the form of quality, consciously made garments. A modern bowerbird, Tash’s approach is a curation of ideas. She delves into these concepts as fully as she can - researching and dissecting concepts until they adopt the forms of her garments.
Here we delve into the origins of her brand, how sustainability guides her process and what is feeding her creativity during this time of social distancing.
On the origins of Van Der Kooij...
Van Der Kooij is actually my Oma’s maiden name. Even before I had a business I knew whatever I wanted to do would be called Van Der Kooij just because it’s my way of remembering and paying respects to my Oma and all of the women that have come before us.
I have always known that I wanted to do something creative, even from being a little kid I’ve always been either drawing or playing in the dress-up box. After graduating uni I worked for a few amazing Australian fashion businesses where I learnt a lot about working in the industry and especially about locally produced products. After a period of time I felt it was my time to branch out on my own so that’s when I decided to start working on Van Der Kooij. It’s always been a passion project of mine, bubbling along in the background then I decided to take the steps to build it up to where it is now.
On what she wanted to see from the industry...
For me the sustainability aspect, at the time I felt I was navigating what that meant and what that looked like because it was still paving it’s own way. (Sustainability) was a foundational principle for me that I wanted to implement and bring in as a core value to the business. So while creating really beautiful and unique pieces that can still be fashion forward, sustainability is a key component.
Her connection to sustainable living...
I’ve always been a pretty environmentally conscious, healthy person so I think that it was just a natural progression. As I’ve learnt more I continually wanted to be better in every avenue that I could.
I’ve been very conscious about what I want to create in terms of my product. A design focused product while having a sustainable ethos in mind. I wanted to be able to intertwine those two worlds together in a way that can reflect what I want to put out into the world.
Looking back, I always find myself in a really happy and grounded place when I’m in nature. I feel really connected when I’m immersed in it and really in awe - fascinated by all the beauty that nature can provide. I’m really proud of our plant a tree program, for every product that we create at Van Der Kooij we plant a tree in Western Australia. It’s our way of giving back, I get really excited when I see them - they send me photos of the winter planting which is really awesome.
On the inspiration behind the collections...
I’m inspired by a lot of leaders in their field - in terms of a sustainability mindset. I like to be inspired by a lot of innovative ways that others are taking lead in their industry so I listen to a lot of podcasts. Boyan Slat (Dutch inventor and founder of The Ocean Cleanup) is always really inspiring to me so I try to listen to anything that he’s a part of.
From a creative perspective it’s a blend of a lot of childhood memories or really charismatic characters that have inspired me over the years. Whether it be ballet, memories of being at my grandparents house down at the beach, a varied mix of things will inspire me creatively.
I’ve got a little book with all of the themes that I want to research and explore for every time I have an idea that I think ‘that could be great, I’d love to immerse myself in that and research that’. When I think about the next collection I have a look at my book and go, ‘what do I really want to delve into’. I go pretty in depth with researching a collection, I want to make sure I’m giving it a lot of time and energy. It’s one of my favourite parts of the process
On her present sources of inspiration...
A podcast I’ve been listening to on my morning walks that’s inspiring me from a different angle is Brene Brown’s new podcast called Unlocking Us. With everything that’s going on it’s a brilliant tool to help navigate through this time which none of us have necessarily all of the tools to know how to process. It’s one that I’ve really enjoyed listening to.
Another thing I’ve been finding amazing is the Australian Ballet have released a ballet TV edition of their 2020 digital season. Every fortnight they’re putting up a new ballet and you can stream their productions. I love movement, especially movement in fabric so I think this is definitely an idea I’ve played with (in the collections).
On her current routine...
My current typical day at the moment generally starts with a coffee, that’s the #1 thing I have to do. Then movement in some regard- that’s really crucial. I’m always doing a couple of laps of the block and taking my dog out to get some fresh air and some clarity.
I’m lucky that I have a studio from home that I can work from. I’m probably creating in there most of the day, and if it’s a really nice day and the sun is shining I’ll try and get a bit of vitamin D and sit outside. Especially at the moment while I’m researching that’s a good place for me to set up and do some reading. And just keeping in touch with friends and family, staying connected with people. Generally in the evenings I’ll reach out to them and make sure I’m communicating with everyone.
On her take on personal style...
Day to day my style is pretty relaxed but definitely one of my favourite things is to get dressed up and go out. So I have found myself on some days just getting really dressed up just to work from home, which has been fun too. The most treasured pieces in my wardrobe would be some pieces from my mum that I’ve collected - I’ve got a piece that she purchased on her travels this beautifully embroidered vest. She got it when she was 17, it’s a navy linen vest with gold and orange embroidery throughout the whole piece with some beautiful tassels.
I’ve also got her wedding dress which is a beautiful piece that’s also a favourite of mine - not that it really gets worn. It’s pretty relevant to today I would say, long voluminous sleeves and a square neckline with a long trail. I used to dress up in it as a kid, it was my favourite thing to do.
From the collection the Nightingale Knit Tunic is what I’m living in. It’s super comfy, a really beautiful piece to wear. That’s my go-to at the moment.
On her proudest moments...
I’m really proud of the amazing people I get to work with. Being a small business I’m building relationships with suppliers and other creatives in the community. I feel really inspired by their wealth of knowledge and I really appreciate what they bring to Van Der Kooij. I work with an amazing patternmaker, Linda, who I’ve worked with now for 10 years or so on and off, she’s a really beautiful extension of this team. A lot of the time they’re the behind the scenes people that you don’t get to see that really add so much value to the product.
On each Van Der Kooij garment you’ll find a special label, one that notes how many of each piece has been created. Tash explains the meanings behind this addition…
I just really wanted to communicate that what we’re doing is made in small runs, we offer custom pieces, depending on what the orders may be. That hand touch at the end, to signify that there might have been 6 pieces of this in the whole world that have been created. Hopefully that evokes feeling really special when you wear the piece. Just to know that they are more of an art piece.
Shop the latest from Van Der Kooij
Interview by Jessica Eva for Public Figure