We spoke with Comme des Machines, the Basque laboratory behind Mango's latest 3D-printed collection

This Basque laboratory has carved a niche for itself in the sector thanks to the digital crafts that allow them to obtain their 3D printers. This is the second time they have collaborated with the Spanish firm

By Nuria LuisWe spoke with Comme des Machines, the Basque laboratory behind Mango's latest 3D-printed collection We spoke with Comme des Machines, the Basque laboratory behind Mango's latest 3D-printed collection

They are able to turn potato and corn compounds into any accessory we can think of. It's not magic. Neither is science fiction. It is technology that has made Comme des Machines a company that has already attracted the attention of firms like Burberry. From Bizkaia, this laboratory is at the forefront of 3D printing, a specialty that fits the sustainable needs of fashion like a glove: “3D printing only uses the material it needs, neither more nor less. It does not generate waste or unnecessary stocks”, Aran Azkarate, CEO of this company founded in 2016, explained to Vogue Spain a few months ago.

His work with these tools, which already contribute to making product development a more environmentally conscious process, has kept industry collaborations happening all the time. The path for them has been lonely: “Nobody thought in those terms. They were all handicaps that we saved by 'cheating', hacking, looking for a way around it. We didn't fit in anywhere”, Azkarate recalled about his beginnings, when 3D printing was something of a minority. In recent years, Moisés Nieto, Corres, Betolaza or Becomely have been some of the names in the sector in our country that have added to their enviable resume. Also Mango: “Working with them meant making what we have been defending from the beginning a reality: scaling crafts. Being able to offer sustainable, handmade products, made with love and for everyone and not just for a few”, Azkarate commented for the April issue of Vogue.

In 2021, Comme des Machines once again collaborates with Mango to create a collection of precious accessories that include 3D printed details made with recyclable materials: “The idea was never to do a single collaboration”, declares its CEO. “We all wanted to repeat and improve it, take it further. In the end, you have to think that it is about traveling together on a new path. Building a new manufacturing system that completely challenges the way things have been done through the traditional manufacturing system… And you know, Rome wasn't built in a day”, he maintains. From the firm they review the "titanic effort" behind a proposal like this, "apparently simple". Flowers are the absolute protagonists of necklines, sandals, bags and earrings and necklaces that evoke the artisan spirit of the 60s. We have talked about it with Aran Azkarate.

Tell me about the accessories and collars you've made, how did the whole inspiration process come about?

Being the second collaboration, everything runs very smoothly. Getting to know each other, sharing concerns about exploring new territories and feeling very proud of having carried out the first one, which was a milestone, are a very good starting point. The enthusiasm and desire were felt in both teams.

We spoke with Comme des Machines, the laboratory Basque behind Mango's latest 3D printed collection

This time, Mango's creative team was very clear that they wanted to work with the crochet universe. They wanted to give a twist. Take it further. So a first moodboard with ideas is sent to us. From there, as in any creative process, a coming and going of ideas begins, video calls, first tests, ideas that are discarded, others that evolve... and little by little everything is taking shape. There is a lot of work and love behind it.

Can you tell me a bit more about the creative process, including the materials you used?

Mango wanted us to be as sustainable as we could be and that the collection had a strong artisan imprint. That a new spirit be felt at first sight. The challenges were tremendously ambitious.

As the aesthetic starting point was crochet, we had to work with flexible materials. There are no (yet) biodegradable materials on the market that are flexible enough to develop the project, so we work with recyclable materials. Sticking to Mango's premise, we tried to design the most efficient parts that we could possibly be able to design. These flowers are zero waste. We have not generated any waste in its manufacture. That is a huge achievement.

On the other hand, there are natural dyes. Conceptually, merging tradition and innovation is one of the points that most characterizes our work. The creative team at Mango thought this was something very attractive on which they wanted to influence. That's where the idea of ​​natural dyes came from. It helped us to develop and strengthen both ideas: sustainability and craftsmanship. So we started doing all kinds of tests to offer Mango a rich color range. Finally, we use turmeric, sandalwood, indigo, onions and spinach. The factory was filled with beautiful colored buckets in which we manually dyed each of the pieces. We are in love with the result. No two flowers are the same. The result could not be more traditional and less standardized.

For you, what is the most special piece?

We can't choose one. We are not objective. For us, each collection of this size presents so many challenges, we put so much of ourselves in the development and we are so aware of the importance of doing it well that we have a special attachment to each and every one of them.

One of the concepts you use is "digital craftsmanship". How does the idea of ​​'craft' work for a fast fashion collection where orders are not limited?

We use the concept of digital craft because for us the greatness of this manufacturing system is that it moves halfway between crafts and industry. Digital manufacturing will undoubtedly be the manufacturing of the 21st century because it is the only one that is capable of responding to the demands of the new century.

You have to think about it, the fashion industry (like all other industries) is no stranger to the fact that it is facing a new paradigm. It faces a new era in which it will be required to be more sustainable, more personalized, more inclusive and plural, more flexible. Traditional industry and economies of scale are not capable of responding to this because its profitability is based on manufacturing, distributing, storing and selling huge quantities of the same product. Traditional crafts either because their capacity is very limited, not very agile and very expensive. For the future we need a hybrid. Something halfway between both positions. And that is digital crafts.

All large, medium and small brands face the same challenge. For the little ones it is easier to transform and adapt. They can be more agile. The larger ones face a much greater challenge. They are less agile but have more resources. Your efforts and achievements are a very important lever of change. If we want a different future, a better future, we should be aware that we must all collaborate and work together. We can all add.

How long can it take to make pieces for a collection on this scale?

We take between 10 and 14 weeks. These are very competitive times and we are still a very small team. That on the one hand, on the other, the exponential development of the technology itself. In the near future, 3D printing will be the tool we all dreamed of, capable of revolutionizing all industries.

What has cost you the most about this collaboration and what challenges has it brought you in the middle of the pandemic?

Both the Mango teams and we have faced all the challenges in the world. If innovating requires a lot of courage and determination at any time in life, imagine in times of a pandemic...! It has been necessary to be very imaginative and very rigorous at the same time. But, above all, the greatest lesson we take with us is to trust both in oneself and in each other. And that... is a life lesson!

In general terms, how has the pandemic affected you in terms of working with other firms?

Last year was very difficult for everyone. You felt their fear as well as your own. Fortunately, since we are always very close to our clients, we cultivate a relationship of trust with them, which makes managing difficult times much easier. After the initial shock, the brands began to find new channels but the contraction and caution were still there.

This year, however, we are very optimistic. There has been an indisputable change in the industry. Brands are very aware of the need to manufacture nearby and to do so in a sustainable way. The pandemic coupled with climate change and the Suez Canal crisis have accelerated the ongoing transformation. We have proposals and projects on the table that would have seemed unthinkable to us before the pandemic. It is encouraging to see that, indeed, all crises bring with them regeneration and reinvention.

BUY: leather shoes with flowers, from Mango (99.99 euros).

BUY: dangling earrings, by Mango (25.99 euros).

BUY: organza collar with flowers, from Mango (29.99 euros).

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