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For the most recent issue of WIP magazine, skater Maité Steenhoudt teamed up with longtime friend Pia Schiele, founder of Loutre, the London-based fashion label which focuses on sustainable, skateable clothing. The duo created a series of garments from upcycled Carhartt WIP fabrics, each specifically designed for Steenhoudt’s unique skate style, before putting them to the test on the streets of the UK capital.
Elsewhere in this magazine, Ben Powell wrote about the power of the physical skate shop; a space that not only acts as a place to purchase new tees or decks, but also as a hub for its surrounding skate community. Pia Schiele and Maité Steenhout’s friendship, however, was one sparked and then cultivated with no physical interaction – it started, not untypically, with a DM, then FaceTime calls, as they formed a bond based not on proximity but a series of shared interests and attitudes. That much was evident when we spoke to the pair this past June, as they bounced off each other, or jumped in to take up each other’s line of thought like a relay baton.
Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Steenhoudt’s rise to prominence within the world of skateboarding has been swift. Her first part, a self-titled five minute video for Element, revealed both an effortlessness and a goofy sense of humor that has since come to define her style. It is one that is intensely fun to watch. In another video for Thrasher, Steenhoudt combines her love of chess and skating. A board is placed at the edge of a bowl, and for each move she balances on the bowl’s precipice, straining every fiber to stay upright and then move her chess piece, before dropping in to skate again. It is both funny and astounding — she also wins, naturally.
Having grown up in a small town near Munich, Germany, it was surfing which initially held Schiele’s attention, seeing her move to Cornwall, in the south of England, and then London for a job she disliked in a city she didn’t really know. It was only on returning to the UK capital in 2018 that she began skating regularly, quickly finding herself part of the city’s burgeoning community, who have helped drive the popularity of her unisex clothing brand. Loutre is by no means a skate brand, but its clothes happen to be skateable, offering items like slouchy sweats and loose-fitting pants in off-kilter patterns. Originally, Schiele would use old curtains for these, but now often uses deadstock fabrics. Sustainability is at the core of Loutre, she says, and in the launch of Loutre Lab – as seen in this editorial’s improvised lab coats – Schiele is seeking to further expand her knowledge and research on sustainable techniques, wary of being just another well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful brand within the sphere of sustainable clothing.
This editorial, however, was also about fun, and an excuse for two friends to connect IRL. The clothes will also not go to waste, but be worn to death by Maité – the Kevlar® paneling designed to cushion her falls is already taking on a gravelly patina. Joined by Joseph Biais, head of skateboarding for Carhartt WIP, we sat down with Steenhoudt and Schiele to discuss their respective journeys, sustainability within skateboarding, and why nailing a chess move is better than landing a skate trick.
CG: Both in clothing and skateboarding, the concept of style matters. Was there a moment when you first realized that growing up?
Maité Steenhoudt: I’ve never liked it if everyone’s skating is the same. With style, it’s a big thing. You know, some people think, “She can do a kickflip. They can do a kickflip.” But actually, everyone does it a little bit differently and does their own thing with it.
PS: Growing up, we were always wearing handmade clothes. My parents had a metal workshop at home. Professionally, they made false teeth and in their spare time made jewelry and stuff. For my dad, our house was his project, so he made all our furniture himself. Everything had just always been done by ourselves. With skating or surfing, you perform better when you feel comfortable in what you’re wearing, the way clothes hang on your body. Nothing’s in your way, and you have the ability to move.
CG: Maité, what was it like growing up in Antwerp?
MS: Antwerp’s pretty nice to grow up in. I have some good friends who I’ve known and been skating with since I was six. My mom has always supported me. When I felt like I couldn’t do both school and skating, she still stayed supporting me.
CG: You also used to host your own contests with your friends, right?
MS: Yeah, when we were 13 or 14. Our parents sold beers to the other parents. I sold cookies… they weren’t very good. We would win prizes over the year competing at competitions. We’d keep a couple of things, but the rest we used for our contests as prizes.
My mom has always supported me. When I felt like I couldn’t do both school and skating, she still stayed supporting me.
CG: That sense of community is a really important part of skate culture. Pia, when you moved to London, did you naturally gravitate towards this community?
PS: Yeah, not the first time I moved there, because I had a crazy job and zero social life. When I came back the second time, I literally went skating the first day and it was completely different. I had a really good support circle and in the end, they were the ones who encouraged me to start making clothes.
CG: Was sustainability always at the heart of Loutre? I know some brands fall into it, because it’s simply cheaper to get a hold of deadstock fabric and so on.
PS: I cared about it from the beginning. I got so frustrated with the people that I was working with in photography and graphic design who didn’t do enough, in my opinion. In fact, I think I'm putting a lot of obstacles in my own way by having the values that I have. It could be so much easier if this wasn’t the criteria, but it's not really about me. It’s more about where the world’s heading in the next two decades. If you have a brand it needs to lead by example.
CG: Are those kinds of sustainability conversations happening within skateboarding right now?
Joseph Biais: If it’s a big brand, yes, because it's part of the whole corporate discussion. But at smaller brands, not so much. Skate brands cut down trees and produce decks out of them. There have been trials to use less polluting glues, but at the end of the day, we consume a lot of wood. So by its very nature, skateboarding is not particularly eco-friendly. And as skaters, within the industry, we consume a lot of products. There’s not really any brands that have found a good formula to create products that are really sustainable.
MS: Yeah, the wood thing, you think about how many boards get used or snapped. Some people are trying to refurbish old boards, though.
JB: I can’t remember what brand it was, but they had a recycling program to give back your old skate shoes. Then those shoes were either given to a skate school or used to rebuild other products.
PS: There's a difference between pushing for more sustainable materials and creating circular economies. Regenerating from old materials is important for a sustainable future. There are also small things that brands are doing internally that consumers don’t see, like not shipping out boards in plastic bags anymore or replacing plastic screen-printing tape, for example. I’m seeing a lot more skate brands that care about this and who are making changes, which is quite exciting.
CG: Last year was hectic for all of us with the pandemic. How has it been for both of you?
MS: It’s been pretty nice, actually. In the beginning it was bad for the trips, but for the first lockdown, it was nice to be home. The weather was amazing, I was with my friends, we built a treehouse, so I had nothing to complain about. Then, in the summer, I went to London to start a video part, so it was chill. And I made double the amount of videos, everything was filmed during Covid.
PS: It did kick me out of my routine. I became more efficient with sourcing materials and found some online vintage resellers. I was lucky because we were also selling online, so it actually got busier. People were shopping online more, but I think they also had the time to do more research on sustainability.
CG: What’s the difference between Loutre and Loutre Lab?
PS: Loutre Lab is the research and development arm within Loutre. I'm very interested in new technologies, rethinking the ways we’re designing within the studio, so I want to move towards material research and generating more awareness of it.
CG: This is random, but Maité, I saw the amazing video of you skating and playing chess at the same time. How did you get into playing chess?
MS: Almost all the skaters in Antwerp play. We chill, smoke a little, then play. There’s always a chess board when we go to the park, sometimes we even meet up just to play chess. It keeps us smart. It’s nice to learn from your friends and no one is really that competitive.
CG: I saw you say in an interview that nailing a move in chess gives you the same rush as when you land a trick.
MS: It’s for real, I sweat so much in a chess game. I have this weird rush in my body, like landing a trick, but even more! Playing chess can sometimes be a bit more intense.
JB: What was the process and the thinking behind the clothing made for the editorial?
PS: It was a combination. I wanted Maité’s feedback on what would be practical for her when skating. We brainstormed and created two sets of garments with different properties: One for warmer weather, and one for cold. Maité rides goofy, so all the garments are asymmetrical. They’ve got Kevlar® and side knee panels because she falls more on one side than the other. She cycles a lot, too, so things like visibility at night and adjustable trousers with repurposed straps were important. I also wanted to make a jacket that turns into a gilet when it gets warmer, so you can adapt it, take parts off and put them back on.
MS: And the weed pockets [Laughs].
PS: I always make a secret stash pocket for Maité on her trousers – only for Maité though. The original jacket that we made the pants from had this long, awkward pocket. I just recut it, so that Maité’s little stash would be on the inside of the leg. You could fall and nothing would get damaged. It’s a very important pocket.
CG: What was it like to skate in the clothes?
MS: It was really nice, I want to steal the jacket. The pants with the zipper were great – heavy, because of the material, but I like it when pants are heavy. It was perfect.
CG: Did the Kevlar® work?
PS: It worked perfectly. It was a bit of an Easter egg, because Maité’s skate shoes with adidas had just come out a few weeks before and they have red toe-caps, so with the Kevlar® I made it black with a red underlayer. The more it wore down, the more it revealed that dyed under-color. They look amazing worn-in now. They were made to be wrecked.
The latest issue of WIP magazine is available from Carhartt WIP stores, select global retailers, and our online shop.
Images: Sirus F. Gahan