Old Love Label When Caps Bring Happiness

Sarah | Photo (detail): © Nadja Ruby and Elisa Steltner

Elderly ladies enthusiastically crocheting are delighting fashion-conscious students, hip Atlantic surfers and other young people with their wool caps, and are being overwhelmed by a wave of appreciation: Alte Liebe (i.e. old love) – a label that combines social entrepreneurship and creativity in a trans-generational project.

“Do-it-yourself” is in: resistance is forming to the dress from the rack, apparel that has been cloned a thousand times and in part produced in outsourced production processes ranging from the murky to the indefensible. A resistance that can also be interpreted as a protest of individualists against mass cooptation and dictates, or as a foil to globalised fashion empires that, with their brands – those modern totem animals – can be found and purchased all over the world.

Alte Liebe Alte Liebe | © Photo: Faye Hintke “DIY” and “home-made” have recently acquired a special significance, not least demonstrated by the numerous websites where one can purchase these new witnesses to customisation and creativity, to “made with love” and the unusual. The portal Dawanda – an online market-place for the creative and unique – advertises “daWandaistic products”: one-of-a-kind items made by individual people; and one can personally select one’s textile patterns on a homepage named stoffn. And a closer perusal of relevant lifestyle magazines such as Impressionen reveals that items are being offered here that have a feel of individuality, signs of use and shabby chic. People – so it seems – want to leave their traces on the earth, their own finger prints, their experiences and ideas. Today, objects and fashions featuring such traces suddenly seem more valuable and desirable to a handful of people than the illusion of perfect, but anonymous consumer goods.

Granny’s crocheted cap for the outdoor freak

Alte Liebe logo Alte Liebe logo | © Nadja Ruby and Elisa Steltner When the Berlin fashion designer Susanne Wagner – alias “Frau Wagner” – adorns her individually styled recycling-dresses with the names of the ladies for whom they were sewn, one can identify the trend that today – more groundbreaking than ever – is leading hearts starved for genuine contact and love back to something that had been forgotten for a long time: to the one and only, unique piece of clothing that Mother or Granny had sewn or knitted for me (meaning for nobody else). Today, this very trend is culminating in, of all things, in an object familiar to us from earlier times: crocheted caps, uninhibitedly frumpy and cringe-makingly draped over toilet-paper rolls in Granny’s parlour!

Alte Liebe Alte Liebe | © Photo: Anne Walther They are celebrating their comeback and rehabilitation as head-coverings for surfers to protect their ears from wind, as caps for outdoor freaks and hats for individualistic young sports enthusiasts. However, in the project of Nadja Ruby und Elisa Steltner, two design students from Kassel, a number of additional aspects having to do with the crocheted caps mesh with the dense weave of the label “Alte Liebe:” here, modern design conjoins with traditional craftsmanship, social engagement with creative young entrepreneurship, caps and fashion, young and old are lovingly entwined with a fine thread of personal relationships.

Social Design and Entrepreneurship

Crocheting circle Crocheting circle | Photo (detail): © Nadja Ruby and Elisa Steltner Both the initiators’ innovative concept and the old ladies’ passion for handicrafts played decisive roles in the project’s success. When Nadja Ruby and Elisa Steltner presented their business concept in a retirement home in 2010, they encountered aged, experienced ladies who loved to crochet and were ready and willing to embark on the experiment. Since then, the home’s residents meet regularly for their crocheting circle, in which colourful crocheted caps of merino wool are produced according to the requirements and with the materials of the students. The students report that this integrates the seniors in a social network that promotes sociability and communication, and helps counteract the social isolation typical of a retirement home situation. The initiators have explicitly defined their project as a combination of engaged social design and entrepreneurship.

More than just a coffee-and-cake party

Christina Leippold Christina Leippold | © Nadja Ruby and Elisa Steltner “Alte Liebe products are hand-made with great dedication and traditional craftsmanship by experienced seniors. Through their fingers, the experience of an entire lifetime has flowed into the product, making it particularly valuable and exclusive – truly one-of-a-kind.” The caps are sold on the students’ own online shop, in Atlantic coast skater and surfer shops on Lanzarote, and in Kassel at events where the ladies present their products themselves. A personal relationship arises between the caps’ mostly young wearers and the elderly ladies through the way the products are marketed: each cap is lovingly placed in a box by its producer, with her name and a postcard that permits the lucky wearer to contact his or her “old lady” – who thereby receives appreciation and feedback. Young surfers converse in this way with their “grandmothers,” who all of a sudden can feel that they are a part of a mobile younger generation and of the world “out there.” Profits flow back into the project, and what remains is used for events with the seniors – not for coffee-and-cake parties and old folks’ get-togethers, but for jazz brunches, concerts and visits to Christmas markets together with the initiators, who – by the way – rave about working with the old ladies, whom they experience as humorous, relaxed and full of hearts’-warmth.

Thank-you card Thank-you card | © Nadja Ruby and Elisa Steltner An interesting step on the way to connections between people and things, young and old, and their locations: retirement homes and universities, beaches or bars, between grandmothers and grandchildren, and between work, creativity, money and love.