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Interview with Lotte and Conny - founders of @bridgeandtunnel.de

· social,Upcycling,fashion

Modern society is very often greedy, unconscious of harms of fast-fashion to our planet and remains blind to struggle of socially disadvantaged people. On the other hand there are amazing, strong, and creative women shaping the todays reality. "We design society" is the slogan of a German brand @bridgeandtunnel.de. It is a story of sustainability, up-cycling, social engagement, cool designs and two power ladies behind it all. Our today´s #heroine_of_the_week are beautiful and very special duo on a mission - Lotte and Conny from Bridge & Tunnel.

Read their inspirational interview below.

Conny, Lotte, welcome to @ichselbstaendig! Your long-term friendship evolved in 2013 into a common project for a creative co-working space and not long after that Bridge&Tunnel was born: could you tell us a little bit more about the birth of your brand?

The idea for Bridge&Tunnel - and this really is not a fairy tale – literally came to us: I (Conny) am a cultural scientist, Lotte is a textual designer. After my studies I was working for a big urban planning project in Hamburg where I was in charge for the arts and cultural projects. The Stoffdeck – where Bridge&Tunnel produces today - stems from my pen. The idea for a textile co-working space seemed very important to me, because I knew the creative scene in Wilhelmsburg well, but also knew that lots of students who finished their studies in fashion or textile design were permanently looking for cheap studios which are very rare in Hamburg. I then developed the Stoffdeck with our current managing director, Gudrun Stefaniak, who has been working with her company Passage to reintegrate long-term unemployed people for many years. At the same time, however, it quickly became clear that as a cultural scientist, I could not lead a fashion and textile workshop alone. So we were looking for someone to take care of the workspace. When I posted the job offer on Facebook, Lotte wrote me a message saying "Dear Conny, you are looking for me!" That was 2013 and since then we have been running the Stoffdeck together.

In our co-working space professional designers as well as creative DIYers can rent professional sewing machines or screen printing on a hourly, daily or monthly basis. To set barriers low, we also had been offering workshops for DIYler as well as for people from the neighboorhood from the beginning on. When we found out that a German-Turkish sewing club met in a Wilhelmsburg mosque for sewing, we invited them to do their sewing in our workspace with our professional machines. When they accepted the offer, we were so stunned... For we could watch live, what magic hands many of the women had, although most of them never had been in a real job so far. At this point it was clear to us that we wanted to sew these two worlds: The birth of Bridge&Tunnel! Since then, we have been bringing together professional design – our daily workbase in the Stoffdeck - and socially disadvantaged people with nimble hands.

We love the social aspect of Bridge&Tunnel! What inspired you to break the rules and create not only products but also opportunities?

We knew from the beginning: Good quality needs good working conditions. For us that meant a production that does not take place in third world countries where everyone knows about the horrible working conditions for sewers, but close to where we – and our ethical standards - are. We liked the idea to create a label that is „design plus“. If you purchase a Bridge&Tunnel product you get more than the product, but you don’t see it at first sight. We strongly believe that people first have to fall in love with our design, if they then get to know what else is behind it – a production that is made in ethical and ecological responsible manner – the product becomes even more special.

We pay our team tariff wages as we find that textile work should be appreciated so much more. Through our own production we not only create short distances, but also transparency and a face-to-face communication with our team. That is how we can avoid mistakes or overproductions perfectly.

For us, we love the idea to bring production back into the city. The quarter we work in, Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, is a place that is very colourful, as people from many nations live there, but also poor at the same time. Lots of its citizens who have a migrant background have problems finding a job, but at the same time bring great craftsmanship from their home countries which can be of great use for textile production. We take this knowledge and professionalize it. For us this is just a win-win-win situation at all.

Working with our production team costs us a lot of time, but also brings a lot of fun. Since most of them had just sewed in their freetime, we invest a lot of time to professionalize their skills. Our accompanying often goes beyond professional life. Sometimes we help looking for a new flat, or we call the dentist or help with administrative papers or calls. Everyday, we notice what it means for our team to finally have their own job and contribute to the livelihood of their families. Because if you work, you get to kow people. And if you work, you feel needed. And so many women and men of our team havent felt needed and received appreciation for their work for a long time.

Your creations are unique in design and patterns, who is the creative head behind your products?

The design stems from Lotte. She is a professional textile designer. But we both share a very similar aesthetic view on design, I think that is very important. So when Lotte comes up with a design idea, we usually start brainstorming how do develop it further or which type of product could be the next. We are also both big denim lovers, the textile has so many facettes and beautiful colours. Although we are not a denim label, we just cant let go of denim so far...

Was there a point at an earlier stage of the project, where you felt discouraged or helpless? What helped you overcome the challenge?

When we created Bridge&Bunnel we were soo on fire and just wanted to get started. This is still how we feel today, but the implementation just took us longer than expected. After we came up with the idea (that was in march 2015) it took us more than one and a half year until our webshop went online in july 2016. We just needed the time to develop the design, find the right team, raise our financing, construct our website and much more.

Financing was a big topic for us, and we were so happy went it turned out well. For us it helped a lot that we are a team. If one of us feels stuck, the other one is always there to spread positive energy – and the other way round. We really admire people who start a business all by themselves, because we believe it is a great gift that we can work together and share the good moment but also support each other when we feel stuck.

Bridge&Tunnel with its motto “We create society” is awarded with many prizes and received a lot recognition. How does it feel to see such positive feedback to your idea? Do you feel that you influence the way people think about consumer goods?

Of course it feels fantastic to receive all these prizes and read the wonderful articles people have written about us so far. Not because we like to be in the spotlight, but because it brings so much spotlight to topics that are essential to us: the idea to combine social goals with the help of entrepreneurial acting, the importance of a different view on peoples’ biographies as we believe that every single person just has so much more to offer than his or her CV tells you, and last but not least the idea of sustainability that for us comes with the topic upcycling. Denim is a textile that is very harmful in its production, but so durable at the same time. We love the idea to give – even non-sustainably made products – a new life.

Many consumers are fast-fashion-spoiled and have little sense for the huge amounts of sorted clothes that add up to a huge number very year even in Germany alone. We find it very important to create an awareness that low-cost clothing is produced by "real" people too and therefore wearing it for only 1 or 2 times and then throw it away is simply too bad. If we can add a little awareness against this just-throw-it-away mentality, we will be very happy. Buy less, choose well, make it last – for us that’s the future of consumption.

What is your vision for 2017? Are there collections to follow your Denim line? Do you plan to go international?

At the moment we are still overwhelmed by the numerous possibilities that denim offers as a textile. Here, we are not at the end of our inspiration yet! Especially as we just started to work with pre-consumer waste denim. We created our first fashion pieces out of it and are just soo excited how people will like it.

We also love the idea of getting deeper into customization. Before christmas, we had a special where people could send in their own beloved old jeans, from which we then made an individualized backpack or weekender for them. Because people liked it that much, we now added it constantly to our webshop. And we would love to adapt this idea to all our other products.

In the future, we would love to work with changing materials and manufacture various products out of them such as accessories, interior design or fashion. The next collection, which will use old school curtains that for 40(!) years had hung in a Hamburg school hall and were beautifully bleached by the sun, will be launched around easter 2017.

Lastly, it would also be great to enlarge our team. We could imagine - in addition to our own label - to enlarge our team that much that we could also produce for other designers who are keen on ecological and social commitment and who are interested in a fair and local production.

Anyway, we are sure the future will be anything but boring with Bridge&Tunnel!

We would like to try something new in this Interview: normally we would ask our Heroines at this point to tell us, which woman inspires them. Today we want to know:

Conny, what inspires you in Lotte?

Lotte is full of energy and can do a thousand things at a time – without losing her optimism! I also like that she loves challenges. For our website she just taught herself how to program, I mean how cool is that? And I really love her life setting that if you believe in your own idea 100 percent, it can only prosper!

And Lotte, what is it that inspires you in your friend and partner Conny?

Conny ist he bravest woman I know. If she is really into something she will not let go until she archieved her goal. I admire her positive approach to new situations and her ability to master all difficulties with a smile. Do you want to see a person who sparkles? It’s her.

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