Berlin design col­lec­tive GmbH’s Guide to Mod­ern Living

A conversation about life, living and diversity with the zen-like founders of Berlin’s amorphous fashion collective.

Since launch­ing in 2016, new-gen label GmbH (mean­ing a cor­po­ra­tion with lim­it­ed lia­bil­i­ty in Ger­man) has quick­ly risen to become a synec­doche for Berlin fash­ion. Their native city’s rep­u­ta­tion as a tech­no Mec­ca, the brand’s for­mu­la­tion as a col­lec­tive” (it con­sists of design­ers and col­lab­o­ra­tors – many of whom come from an immi­grant back­ground, includ­ing the founders them­selves) and their use of recy­cled and dead­stock fab­rics are all fac­tors which have come to define GmbH. They’ve cor­nered the Berlin club kid aes­thet­ic by cel­e­brat­ing diver­si­ty and mak­ing sus­tain­able clothes. 

But there’s more to the brand than fash­ion buzz phrases.

Club cul­ture and music have always played a sig­nif­i­cant part in shap­ing our social lives,” explains design­er Ben­jamin Alexan­der Huse­by. After all, it was the club cir­cuit that brought Huse­by and his cofounder Ser­hat Isik togeth­er. Clear­ly, it’s an impor­tant aspect of Berlin but I real­ly feel that because we’re based in Berlin, peo­ple try to squeeze us into that cor­ner,” Huse­by says when I meet the duo at Huseby’s apart­ment in Neukolln, Berlin. We don’t play tech­no in our stu­dio and we haven’t even had time to go out since launch­ing the brand.” 

It is part of us… but we lead quite dif­fer­ent lives. There’s more to us than club­bing,” Isik adds.

The smart­ly designed inte­ri­or with min­i­mal­ist décor of the designer’s liv­ing space is the antithe­sis of a tech­no club run through with pul­sat­ing beats. Sat on the floor around a chabu­dai that faces the building’s inner court­yard, Huse­by and Isik talk me through their guide to mod­ern living.

DRINK KOM­BUCHA

There’s a huge cylin­dri­cal glass jar on the kitchen counter in Huseby’s apart­ment con­tain­ing gourmet kom­bucha. Huseby’s inter­est in fer­men­ta­tion and cook­ing stems from his upbring­ing around ani­mals, in the Nor­we­gian countryside.

I’ve always cared about what I eat,” says Huse­by, When I was 12, I lived across the street from the biggest slaugh­ter house in Nor­way and it was around then that I stopped eat­ing meat. But I usu­al­ly don’t say I’m a veg­e­tar­i­an because that makes it sound like you’re part of a sect. So, more as a joke, I usu­al­ly say I don’t eat any­thing with eye­lash­es,’” Huse­by laughs before con­tin­u­ing, It’s not about dog­ma but more about how you treat the ani­mals, how you respect the things you eat.”

Fer­ment­ing and drink­ing kom­bucha, he argues, feeds into this prin­ci­ple of being a con­sci­en­tious eater: If you do good for your­self, you feel good,” Isik tells me. 

EAT TOGETH­ER

GmbH’s empha­sis on col­lec­tive” men­tal­i­ty bleeds into many aspects of their pro­fes­sion­al and dai­ly lives, from fre­quent­ly col­lab­o­rat­ing with oth­er artists to shar­ing meals togeth­er with their col­leagues. Liken­ing cook­ing to med­i­ta­tion, Huse­by says they always cook togeth­er in the stu­dio. Every­one has to take turns in cook­ing,” Ser­hat adds, We get to be togeth­er and social. That’s some­thing we care deeply about.” In fact, Huse­by argues that eat­ing togeth­er is a pri­mor­dial rit­u­al of humanity.” 

Stadt­bad Neukölln is a pub­lic swim­ming pool in Berlin with opu­lent inte­ri­ors and an ornate­ly dec­o­rat­ed sauna that calls to mind the splen­dour of ancient Roman baths. And it recent­ly served as the back­drop for a casu­al din­ner to cel­e­brate the launch of GmbH’s ASICS col­lab­o­ra­tion; focus­ing on their love of col­lec­tive din­ing, they brought togeth­er a group of close friends and served dish­es cooked from local­ly grown organ­ic produce. 

Diver­si­ty was invent­ed by white peo­ple to sell more clothes, to pat them­selves on the back. Diver­si­ty isn’t some­thing we think about – we are just mere­ly rep­re­sent­ing our­selves, our world” – Ben­jamin Alexan­der Huseby

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A GmbH col­lec­tion is often root­ed in what Huse­by refers to as eso­teric research” into philo­soph­i­cal texts. It’s this approach to design that’s seen them work with the likes of Iran­ian-Amer­i­can writer and philoso­pher, Ashkan Sepahvand.

We do a lot of read­ing in gen­er­al,” Huse­by explains. And this research acts as a thread con­nect­ing all of our dis­parate thoughts. It accu­mu­lates in a col­lec­tion. With each col­lec­tion, we try to boil it down to some­thing that’s easy for the gen­er­al pub­lic to under­stand, like Rare Earth” for AW 2019 col­lec­tion or Sur­vival Strate­gies” for SS 2019 col­lec­tion. So you could say that they are about one thing but they are not just about one thing. With Rare Earth”, for instance, there’s all this research into ideas about brown futur­ism, sci­ence fic­tion, and going back to where we come from, where are we going.”

Our con­ver­sa­tion about research some­how leads us back to kom­bucha: I’ve been doing some research into bac­te­ria… since we’re talk­ing a lot about iden­ti­ty and human body and so on. An inter­est­ing part is that most of the cells in our body aren’t our own cells. Our body con­sists of four times more oth­er micro-organ­isms than our own cells…”

WALK THE WALK 

Both Huse­by and Isik have an aver­sion to being pigeon­holed into set cat­e­gories. It’s impor­tant for peo­ple to know that their label is con­cerned less about trend­ing buzz words, and more about the per­son­al sto­ries of their com­mu­ni­ty. As Huse­by explains, If any­thing, we design counter to those terms [diver­si­ty and sus­tain­abil­i­ty]. Diver­si­ty was invent­ed by white peo­ple to sell more clothes, to pat them­selves on the back and feel bet­ter about them­selves. Look­ing diverse’, that’s much eas­i­er than becom­ing tru­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of diverse cul­ture. You can hire POC mod­els but what are you doing struc­tural­ly with­in the com­pa­ny? Where’s the CEO? The cre­ative direc­tor? That’s where it has to hap­pen. Diver­si­ty isn’t some­thing we think about – we are just mere­ly rep­re­sent­ing our­selves, our world.”

Isik adds, First and fore­most, fash­ion can­not be sus­tain­able. Fash­ion isn’t some­thing you need. The most sus­tain­able way would be to not make any more clothes. But on the oth­er hand, we are inter­est­ed in beau­ty and telling sto­ries. And fash­ion and gar­ment are the medi­um through which we artic­u­late our mes­sages, tell our sto­ries and raise aware­ness of socio-polit­i­cal issues and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. So it’s more about dam­age con­trol – try­ing to make things work with­in the exist­ing para­me­ters. Going out there and say­ing you have a sus­tain­able brand…well, what does that mean exactly?”

We are care­ful about not call­ing our­selves a sus­tain­able brand,” says Huse­by. It just feels wrong to us. It feels like a mar­ket­ing tool.”


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