Interview with Marija Mojca Pungercar: On Socialdress brand

by deborah on 08/1/2009

Marija Mojca Pungercar is the founder of Socialdress clothing brand and workshop platform based on open source principles carried out in arts and crafts field.

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Photo: Nada Zgank (c) + excerpt from Socialdress fabric

Mojca is contemporary artist based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. A former fashion designer (1983–1987), she holds a BFA in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana (1989) and an MFA in new genres from the San Francisco Art Institute (2001). For one semester she has also studied painting as a guest student at the Academy at the College of Applied Arts in Vienna (1992-93). Since 1992 she works as a freelancer. Since 2004 she is the founding member of the Trivia Art (KUD Trivia).

In order to introduce you Mojca’s ‘simple selfsuplying system in the field of making clothing’, I invited her to share with us experiences with community workshops… and how it fits into actuality of our time, cause one of her latest projects was based on producing Microbes, inspired by  swine flu and similar plagues…

socialdress4.jpgPhoto: Socialdress

After so many workshops being held and, maybe the most important thing, the audience recognized it, where do you see this project? Where the whole thing is going on?

MMP: Well, I don’t know exactly, because I started the project very simple with models I’d brought, designed and let into practice. Now, especially this last year, situation has changed because the ideas come from the participants of Socialdress workshop. So, we are sharing this with all people.

It’s possible that this will be an option for the future of Socialdress project, spreading the framework of workshops and people creatively much more involved into the process of working and drafting. I believe that the workshop is going to the direction of creating new prototypes. Maybe, there will be some changes in directing the workshops, because for now, I’m running workshops by myself, but I would like if other people would slowly took their part in leading workshops.

socialdress.jpgPhoto: Socialdress

You mean to give them opportunity to guide Socialdress workshops in smaller cities…

MMP: No, I don’t have this ambition to spread it globally and something like that. I think there are people who are interested in this ‘workshop guiding principles’. People skilled in sewing who have enough expert knowledge and find it joyful could guide some workshops instead of me. Because, organizing and guiding are sometimes slightly difficult for one person, maybe it would be more affective if more people could work on Socialdress workshops.

socialdress1.jpgPhoto: Socialdress

People were pretty imaginative in their designs, practically from the beginning of the workshops. What was your idea at the beginning? Was this your idea to start with something simple in order to get to more complex designs, or it just came naturally while working…

MMP: The initial idea was very simple. I wanted to teach them how to do small creations that I was making for my friends and myself by transforming these pieces into prototypes I called Socialdress. I simply wanted to offer to people something as a base which they can use for creating new designs for themselves. I’ve started to work with really simple model of skirt made first for myself, then for my sister as a birthday present. But, at the birthday party were her friends who also wanted the same skirt. Since I had some material left I made skirts for all of them.

While I was doing it, during sewing, I was constantly thinking what I’m doing now. So, I was thinking a lot about the essence of sewing and I realized that it’s something very social, because I’m sharing something. Then I figured out that I want to share something publicly not only privately. Soon after that, it became social. After that, while I was working on devising the models for the first workshop, I decided to use some of the models I did for myself. That was my ‘fund’ for starting the workshop series. I’ve prepared all sewing patters and took it to workshop. After that, it’s quite easy; people are taking the pattern and remodelling them for their own needs. Not a single model looks alike.

socialdress2.jpgPhoto: Socialdress

Did you have this idea that complete beginners could come to start sewing on your workshops or was it something developed through your experience within the project?

MMP: I’d never thought about that, who’s skilled for sewing and who isn’t. I didn’t find this important, but I prepared all from technological aspect to be accessible for those who don’t know to sew. Everything had to be very simple and prepared through phases, so that every participant, with the help of assistance, can finish his creation during the workshop. Actually, models are half prepared. I mean, they are not cut-out, but everyone, no matter of experience, can fast and easily re-adapt it. Therefore, you can go fast into direction that fits you best.

spcialdress3.jpgPhoto: Socialdress (c)

Did you get any feedback from your participants as a result of your workshop? Did somebody got a job or something? I think this could be very interesting in this recession times, when many craft workers are loosing their jobs…

MMP: Well, I know that many girls in their initial enthusiasm bought sewing machines. Oh, there is one girl, Maja got the job in the puppet theatre. A theatre director came to my workshop in order to find somebody with good arts & crafts skills, and then she saw Maja’s creations and decided to give her a job. That’s a nice result of Socialdress workshop.

I had many workshops in smaller cities in Slovenia, but it’s interesting that many people didn’t know each other before. I don’t have a continuous contact with my participants because there were so many of them, and I don’t know if some of them are still sewing something. Sometimes, the same people from my previous workshops are simply not interested in my workshops with different concepts. As for my assistances, they came first as participants, but later they became my collaborators.

Did you ever thought to take into consideration Socialdress as an anti-brand?

MMP: No, No (laughs). I always thought about it as brand. I find it as the funnier part of Socialdress. It’s really not anti-brand. It’s a brand! You always get a label with a name on that can be sewed last into the product. I initiated this, because I think people have automatically different relation to the object and the reason is very simple. You have an original piece of clothing that can’t be bought anywhere. Normally, you can falsify it, but who cares. This fact, that it’s ‘kinda brand’, that’s great to me and especially to participants. They had all agreed that this labeling process, this stamping is making it from a crafted home DIY piece an actual finished product. But it’s fun, because you know all the time that this is not a factory product. That’s actually a twist that makes this story intriguing.

But, as for branding, I never thought about creating a kind of a collection in order to make a massive production and to start to sell them. First, I would never have such fun and enthusiasm in that kind of production. Second, considering the situation today, there wouldn’t be any financial effects to do so.

socialdress5.jpgSocialdress (c)

But you invested in printing your textile few years ago…

MMP: Yeah, but smaller editions and only two times. We printed 2 designs on 100 meters of textiles.

Those were designs with printed images of your workshop participants…

MMP: Yes. Their figures and stories on sewing at the workshop were published on fabric. I wrote down their thoughts and drolleries on their sewing experiences they had while we were all working together. Then we printed it on textile so it could look like a magazine and journal. We used that material on several workshops as the follow up process making some dresses. Because it was an industrial printing, but in low-release numbers it turned out that 200 meters of textiles had an quantity, an organic respond from the participants, it was rather sufficient for their real needs. We used non profit prices, so that people could afford it. We closed naturally this creative circle by using these 200 meters of material. Even with 300 meters we would made a business risk, no need for that.

It’s very interesting how you are combining these traditional elements like women’s’ gatherings in villages, or women sitting in their salons in the cities doing some embroidery, with unisex trends of Open Source and DIY sharing combined with personal geekery and ‘nerding’…

MMP: I just wanted to have sort of modern type of workshops that won’t be village gatherings. I think nobody would come because of this label. I don’t want to offer something conservative, but sewing (laughs) maybe could be perceived as conservative.

Sewing’s by young virgins… (laughs)

MMP: (laughs) Yeah, young virgins sewing their wedding-gown. But, I didn’t want to force the concept into technology terms exclusively, you know, to make it only as a trend. I wanted to avoid this labelling, and yet I’m not forcing this abetment to share or to be companions at workshops. It’s up to participants, it’s their choice, whether they want to share or enjoy the company. Nobody is obliged to share the knowledge. If it happens, it happens naturally or automatically. I think the work itself does so. We are only working and all the rest, this open sourcing you mentioned previously, happens without any intention in a way people find appropriate. I want that everything flows smoothly.

I would find it so tragic if I would have to ask my participants at the beginning of the workshop to introduce themselves and to say something about their lives, you know, something like this: Hi! I’m John!, and then we answer: Hello, John! (laughs) This is not an option, not at all. Because we are all pretty happy to work together, just like that. So, while working we start to communicate to each other. When you need something, for example scissors, you ask other people and this is how the communication and interaction happen from real needs. Because, participants do not have the whole set of tools for sewing, they have to ask each and borrow it from each other.

socialdress7.jpgSocialdress (c)

How did you manage this framework regarding sponsorship and so? Because it’s not an easy task to get sewing machines and all material for the workshop… How many machines do you need for Socialdress?

MMP: About 7 machines… Every time it’s different. For the last one ‘The Workshop of Recycled Ties’ I had sponsorship. Domestic company that produces sewing machines ‘Elma’ gave us for the workshop 7 machines. Usually organizers take care about that, but if they can’t, we all ask privately our acquaintances and small companies to borrow their machines. Sometimes, we don’t need so many sewing machines, maybe 2 or 3.

This is one aspect: machines. But sewing machines are not a crucial problem, because a lot of people actually have sewing machines, but they are not using them. Sewing machines were in the past just like computers are for our generation, a part of every household. But the rest of the material, textile for example isn’t cheap. Although when I’m buying textile it’s usually enough for several workshops in a row, thus I’m only supplying with the new one.

The space is another issue, because I don’t have a stationary space or atelier for work where I could take in people. Till now, all workshops were organized and placed in museums, galleries and for three times in department stores. There is no difference among them, hyper markets are also great spaces for our work. Yeah, it has to be arranged in advance, that’s the reason Socialdress workshops are not the simplest workshops from this aspect. You have to coordinate all these things and, of course, people.

What did you learn from this experiences?

MMP: My main impulse is… I don’t want to talk in a sense what I’ve had learn because I insist to entertain myself primarily… My joy is that when I design something at home, this could be something ridiculous, I put it on my site and in some particular moment this object might be accepted in Socialdress. My main motif is to extend this experience in order extend life of ideas or objects. The idea for organizing workshop based on ties didn’t came from me, so I learnt a lot, too. I had to ‘conquer’ technique, so I could be sovereign and confident when guiding other people. Hence, it was fun for me, simply to include myself into somebody else’s process.

In the moment when everything has to start, when everything is ready for the beginning of the workshop Socialdress my pleasure stops, because that’s the moment when the pleasure and joyfull of my participants start. I only have to prepare everything before it starts and then, you participants have to find your pleasure in all of that. If I succeed that all of you feel great by finding your creativity within the workshops, then I can say: That’s it!

Sewing is considered as something we chicks do. Rare are man that like sewing, but when they sew, they do it great. Usually they do something with leather or with heavier materials… Pedlars, for instance were always man… How often boyz are applying for you workshops?

MMP: Very rare. I had till now, maybe three guys on workshops. For my latest workshop with ties, two man applied, but they didn’t show up. Actually, those were two ambassadors. I don’t know what was the motivation for ambassadors to register, but it would be much funnier if we would have mixed company.

When I had this few boys on Socialdress, it wasn’t something you could notice immediately, seems like all differences fade away. They sewed the same things as women. One of them made a skirt for his imaginary girlfriend keeping it for the moment when a girl will appear in his life. That was sweet. The other guy, Dusan made a box, something very practical. Now, his box is for keeping money at SCCA where he works.

socialdress6.jpgSocialdress (c)

Obviously you really made something now… you have assistance, concept… even financially sensible guyz coming to workshops…

MMP: The great thing is that institutions like museums and galleries recognized it, because they already have space, facilities and concept. In this space we enter to fulfill their programme. Something slightly wider then contemporary art. In that case they can attract more people into their spaces. Grown ups, what is very important. This is particularly good, cause contemporary conceptual art workshops usually do not get attention or do not extend to people visiting museums and galleries.

This is very strait circle of people who are interested. My Socialdress events are pretty attractive to people, so till now, I didn’t have problems with participants. It’s good that it could be incorporated in already existed systems. But at the other side, this concept can be developed in its own system. If I could manage this basics like space, material and machines it could be autonomous. Maybe something wider then only in Slovenia. For now it’s based on ‘who knows me and who needs me’ principle. It would be good, to make something in this direction. I believe that this will be achieved organic, like all things in Socialdress.

OK. Let’s wear some Socialdress!

MMP: Yeah, wear it and tell us how do you feel. I wear very often clothes I made for myself, but I do not sew for myself at workshops. Yeah, I wear a lot my own clothes combined with stuff I bought. I have a real need to make something for myself. Nothing can stop me when I have some piece of textile I like.

Mojca, TNX a lot!