Marina Toeters aims to push boundaries with ETT students
For the sixth consecutive year, the TextielMuseum is organising the European Textile Trainee (ETT) programme. Nine talented, (inter)national master’s students with a passion for textiles, technology and materials, will immerse themselves for five weeks in the possibilities of textiles. This year, the TextielMuseum has invited a special guest to lead the exchange programme. Textile expert and designer Marina Toeters will coach the students throughout their stay.
Toeters (1982) graduated in 2007 from MAHKU in Utrecht with a specialisation in fashion technology. For her master’s thesis, she looked at how technicians collaborate with fashion designers. She came to the conclusion that, despite claiming to be highly innovative, the fashion industry was driven largely by change from outside. Her aim thus became to bridge the gap between technical innovation and clothing. As a result, the application of electronics in clothing – also called smart clothing or wearable electronics – is one of her specialities. She uses her expertise to project her vision on the world, and draws much inspiration from technicians. “All sorts of bizarre things are being developed. That’s very exciting,” she says.
It is no surprise then that Toeters, an expert in intelligent textiles, is involved in this edition of ETT. This year’s programme is also thematically linked to Building with Textiles. This forthcoming exhibition is part of a larger, overarching project on which the TextielMuseum and TextielLab will be working for several years. It includes a long-term research and development plan, museum collection commissions and expert meetings.
As a coach, Toeters hopes to open the students’ eyes to a world of new possibilities, and thereby inspire them to become visionary designers. She will devote particular attention to ‘meaningful design’. Students should understand the relevance of their own designs, she says. In addition, she sees a challenge in moulding her students and their existing knowledge. “I hope to understand quickly what their ideas are, and so be able to concentrate them individually. We will have to identify the breadth of our focus in the first two weeks and the depth in the final three weeks.”
She also plans to introduce her students to technology. “One of the first things we’re going to build is a soft-button circuit, to show that technology isn’t scary and can be very simple,” she explains. The trainees will also visit the Technical University in Eindhoven. “I want them to see what we’re developing there and the range of options that are available to them to open as many doors as possible.” Outside of the fixed elements of the ETT programme, Toeters loves improvisation and will respond as necessary to the individual needs of the students.
The focal points of the exchange programme, according to Toeters, are innovation and the incorporation of interactivity in textile development and product design. “Circular, sustainable thinking will of course be discussed. It’s a logical component of the design process, in my view, but is perhaps less automatic among students. It’s something that I definitely want to emphasise, without depressing them all!” she laughs.
Toeters sees her primary role as providing expert input, enabling the trainees to identify their strengths and personalities. As a coach, she believes in showing students the benefits of making choices and using them to delve deeper into a subject or material. “I try to understand their vision, to see where their strengths lie, and then to link those to the real, outside world. I can tell them which area to focus on, which companies they should approach and which words to Google for their papers. Based on that frame of reference, students can assess whether they are still on the right track, or whether their qualities in fact lie elsewhere.” She adds: “I haven’t met the ETT students yet, but it usually takes me only a few minutes to get a good idea of who they are. I intend to push them to their limit,” she says resolutely.
Life-long learning is at the heart of that ambition. “The programme will hopefully contribute to the students’ development in their later lives. I hope that the ETT will be the start of or a boost to the direction they want to go in and will guide them towards an even more defined specialism. If I succeed, I’ll be very happy. Whether it takes 30 or 300 samples, or a finished piece that is ready to be exhibited, the students will have to determine that for themselves based on their own vision.”
Toeters anticipates that the ETT programme will result in numerous experiments and only a few physical end results. More important, she believes, is that students focus on their vision during the final presentation. “The necessity of the product should be clear. I expect to see lots of ideas that have the potential to become good solutions, rather than fully developed end products.”
Living Google machines
She sees the ETT programme as having enormous added value for everyone involved. “Students are young and often much more focused. They have so much energy and enthusiasm and elicit reactions. They also ask highly critical questions, which I learn from as well. They are like living Google machines that provide me with new information. In turn, the students can offer that energy and knowledge of the latest applications to the TextielMuseum. They will ask difficult questions, which we will have to find answers to. That helps to keep all of us sharp and may lead to many other wonderful things. We have to learn from each other. That’s vitally important for the future.”
During the ETT programme, students will make optimal use of the TextielMuseum. The library, the collection and the TextielLab will all be available for experimentation and research. “In general, designers are inspired by references, by other works, aesthetic designs and the museum itself. The TextielMuseum has all these elements at its disposal.” Toeters herself was inspired by the technology in the TextielLab. “The product developers know exactly how the machines work. I find that both gratifying and inspiring.”
Toeters is excited about leading the ETT programme and, in particular, getting to know the students. She is also looking forward to the first time the group works with textile equipment. Finally, her message to the students is: “Be a visionary and serve our world. And don’t forget to find your passion; that’s super important.”
Pictures by Josefina Eikenaar