Pini Piru (Little Devil in Finnish) is a Dutch indie brand founded by designers Liesbeth Verhart and Barrie Kas. An ethical approach is at the heart of Pini Piru: everything is made of organic cotton, and is fairly traded. Screen printing is done by hand using water-based, non-toxic ink.
“Our search for cool T-shirts made ethically, with organic cotton seemed like a wild-goose chase. So we learnt to screen print, set up our own studio and got cracking! We design pretty much everything ourselves. But now and then we’ll use a guest designer if it’s someone who brings something fresh and exciting to Pini Piru (and who we think our customers will love).”
Being ethical is obviously very important to you. Besides sourcing your own products ethically, how are you getting involved?
For us it seems like the normal thing to do with things you buy, use, wear and eat in everyday life. If you see the horrible footage from the Rana Plaza collapse you know something is very wrong and that it really does matter. And that is just the fashion industry.
But fortunately there is a great movement at work around the globe with all sorts of people that develop, make and do amazing things to change that and we like to be part of it even if that means change in a very small way.
Can you tell us some more about your collaborations with other artists?
We are always looking forward to work with different artists and sometimes you just meet people that you connect with instantly. And it’s pretty great to work with people you like and admire. One of the perks of working for yourself! The artists we worked with so far all come from different creative backgrounds and they all have their own unique view on things which can make you see in a another way and that is very inspiring.
You even had a seven year old design for you… and it looks great! How did that happen?
Kaylee we know since she was a baby and she and her sister Amber are the first kids we asked to model our kids T-shirts (which they still do to this day). When they come over for a photoshoot we always make time to hang a bit before and after and we talk and drink lemonade and Barrie makes drawings with them.
Cini the Cat was just a tiny tiny black pencil drawing Kaylee made in the corner of the paper and we saw instantly it was a very raw, funny and great cat. We were not sure at first if it was a cat or a dog, which makes it even more fun. And when we asked her what to call it, she said Cini the Cat straight away. So that was sorted, it was a cat!
You live in Hoorn, which has quite a rich history. How does a young indie brand fit in?
Hoorn is a lovely old town and became a very prosperous centre of trade in the ‘Golden Age’ but they were not really known for their Fair Trade back then. To put it mildly. When the big celeboratory year of 400 years Kaap Hoorn was announced last year we thought it would be nice to make limited edition Kaap Hoorn T-shirts that so many years later were traded fairly.
This was one of the projects we did in collaboration with a graphic designer friend of ours who also lives and works in Hoorn. The T-shirts were picked up by the organization of this festive year and that helped put us on the map in the community here.
How important is it, besides selling online, to get out there and tell people about your brand? And what about community, both on- and offline?
Getting out there both on- and offline is pretty important, we noticed. When we started with Pini Piru we didn’t know much about all the different sorts of cotton that exist or how to screenprint and all the supplies you need. We found that the online community was an enormous help to get us started.
In return we like sharing things online that we think will benefit others. One of our most liked video’s on YouTube is about making your own screens with the proper tension of the mesh:
Offline we like to go to special markets every now and then, like the Sunday Market in Amsterdam. It’s a great way to get personal feedback and be in real contact with the people who buy your products. It really is different from online contact. And here in Hoorn we join in with activities that suit our brand so we get to know new like-minded people which is always fun.
You screen print just about anything, even edible posters with fairtrade chocolate!
Up until now screenprinting with chocolate is probably the most unusual thing we did. We were asked to help by the coordinator of Fair Trade Hoorn to get Hoorn an Eerlijk Winkelen (‘Fair Shopping’) route. When the route map was being launched a group of creative volunteers from Hoorn helped organize a four day Fair Festival.
One of the shops on the route map is a bakery that mostly works with organic and fair trade products including chocolate. We noticed the chocolate looked a lot like ink in its liquid form and we talked about experimenting with screenprinting chocolate. They very much liked that idea and we ended up making posters you could eat. It worked like a charm!
We do like a challenge, so unusual requests are very welcome. Even if you think it would not be possible… You never know!
Your workspace is amazing… Can you tell us more about it?
We work in a building that was used by the Ambulance and is attached to a huge empty building that was built as a missionary for the brothers of Mill Hill. It’s very quiet, wild and green. It’s a magical place that’s full of history and gives a lot of inspiration.
There is a lot of space to create whatever you want and you can make as much noise as you like because nobody hears you. It awaits a new owner, but that might take a while. So for the time being we work there very happily and keep an eye out together with the building’s caretaker.
Thanks so much guys, for taking the time to answer all the questions and providing the photos!
© all images: Pini Piru.