When young Dutch designer Pepe Heykoop gradu- ated from the Eindhoven Academy, he looked for a way to produce high-end design less expensively, without having to deal with dirty trade. Not easy. Fortunately, his entrepreneurial cousin Laurien Meuter came along – she wanted to set up an ambitious project in India. One thing led to another, and since 2012 the duo has been operating the Tiny Miracles Foundation, with Heykoop simultaneously running a company in the Netherlands that produces innovative, artistic, durable design.
Heykoop and Meuter started with 20 people in 2012; they now work with 70 mothers whose 105 children attend school. The ambition is to shift this small In- dian community from ‘very poor’ to ‘middle class’: by 2020, the duo wants to have lifted all their workers out of poverty, as fully independent, self-supported earners. Thus they all require the corresponding edu- cation and healthcare relevant to a middle class hu- man being, and an income of at least eight euros per person per day (instead of one dollar). “We’re working hard to make ourselves completely dispensable.” Not a simple aim for two Westerners in a contem- porary, multilayered, traditional, yet rapidly changing India, amongst impoverished people with very little schooling who often suffer from horrible diseases like TB, and in some cases are victims of incest, etc. It’s a titanic amount of work – or rather, it often feels like Sisyphus pushing a huge stone up the hill. "You have to resolutely abandon your Western standards or you’ll go crazy”, says Heykoop, who admits that he sometimes feels very much like pulling his hair out, out of frustration and misery. “How to make pa- per lampshades that should be folded into 74 pieces, with people who, for starters, cannot count?” Another challenge is to create interesting, beautiful, innova- tive design products within such a project, and then to launch these into the market at a smooth, com- petitive price. But, hey: after only two years, they’ve been quite successful. Meanwhile, Heykoop still very much enjoys freaking-out every now and then in his Amsterdam studio, where he deliberately creates pricey one-offs and indulges in exploring the artist in himself. Perhaps it’s an antidote?