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PER/se

Just One in a World of Plenty

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How nice is it to make something with so much story and life to it that you simply don’t need another?

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Twins Hardeep and Mandeep Kaur began PER/se as a way of living out their own particular version of good design. Through a series of individual products collected under the banner of just one, the PER/se line encompasses both their goal of possessing less, as well as more broadly conscious living. Their own design ethos is reflected back in each of the products they create, involving the wearer, the user, in a deep and dynamic journey of self-discovery through examining cumulative experiences, embracing individuality, and consciously expanding the sources from which we draw our own inspiration.

Tell us about your background and how PER/se began.

MK: We have very different backgrounds. Hardeep studied literature at university and then did a Master’s in Shakespeare. I became a corporate lawyer. But we both have always had an aesthetic appreciation for things and been fascinated by not only how things look but how they work. We’re naturally like that, and spending a lot of time together we also reinforce that vision of the world. Indian heritage, too, looks very deeply at craft and instilled in us this sense of constant reflection. We both had a lot of interests outside of work and it came to a point that we decided we wanted to work together and create something. So our first iteration for PER/se focused on making outerwear that we created like a full on fashion collection, even going on to show it at London Fashion Week.

HK: The next iteration we decided to give our coat an update. We made it more into a type of uniform for the woman who is a doer, a thinker. She puts on that coat where she can carry a few essentials and she’s good to go. That for us was this empowering message to women who are doers, helping them leave behind certain expectations. It didn’t dictate that as a woman you should do this or look like this. It also reinforced our ethos of just one, with the underlying belief that just one product, just one thought, just one action really does make a difference. It made sense to us because we live with that mentality daily, and we challenge ourselves when we don’t.

MK: Despite having enjoyed creating the coat very much, we asked ourselves, is this exactly what we want to be doing? What do we love about what we’re doing, and what do we want to change? What we loved was feeling like we were creating less but better, making conscious decisions and feeling very much like we were putting ourselves back in control. Making the next product became easier, because we could ask ourselves, does this align with our ethos and our aesthetic vision? It’s a fun journey for us, because we’re literally living our day-to-day values through a brand which reflects that and allows us to then go out and experience the world through a lens of your own making.

What would you say is your design philosophy?

HK: We always strive for simplicity, to get at that elemental, singular thing. It’s so liberating from a design perspective because you don’t have to be overly abundant in your creativity. You’re forcing it at some point when you expect yourself to be that way. Our philosophy is that you can take just one product and keep refining it. With our coat, the additions that we launch every two months is that refinement process. We started with the silhouette, and then built in pockets, and update through collaboration. That’s our idea of simplicity done well, with depth. We’re recreating the rules to live our values properly and refine. It’s not the best business model, necessarily, but how nice is it to make something with so much story and life to it that you don’t need another of it?

MK: It has to be a balance. We don’t promote ascetic living, because the objects you surround yourself reflect who you are, including the people you surround yourself with and what you give your attention to. Everyone is a consumer, and there’s no harm or shame in being one, but I think lots more of us would just like to be a considered consumer who accounts for the origin of things, how it’s made, and whether it’s unique. We constantly ask ourselves, does this product already exist, and does it need to? It’s fine to consume, but let it have substance.

MK: When you practice thinking in this way, you become more critical in a positive sense, I believe. We’re all guilty of just doing things and going along with the flow, more or less letting life and your surroundings happen to you. What we hope is that you’re encouraged to start thinking differently, exploring more widely. When you make more conscious decisions in your life, you begin to feel a bit more human. For me it’s like I can hear my breath again. I can hear my thoughts again. I’m not just careening from one thing to the next.

Let’s talk about your latest project. How would you describe it?

HK: The Learner, is a product of our local experience of what it is to be your own learner and teacher at the same time. It asks, how can you use design not only to live better, but to think of new ways to live better, or have new perspectives without having to rely on other people to tell you how to do that? Simply put it’s a notebook or a journal. All we did, really, was inject it with our version of good design, adding some structure into it, and some prompts that give it a bit of a leap to a practice as old as time.

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HK: Within The Learner, there is a structured page on one side where you can be specific and focus, and then on the other side there is a free flowing page where you can note-take or draw, doodle, anything, but we also have a series of introspective questions every so often. It’s in-built for you to notice patterns, and to have a natural sense of retrospective on your activities. The cumulation of those patterns is empowering, because you look back and realize, this is what interests me, and these are the things I love to do. It’s quite surprising to discover things about yourself that you wouldn’t ordinarily notice because they disappear into a blur. Happy surprises like that in design, however subtle, accumulate over time. They begin to form our habits. I had noticed I always recorded formative things over the course of a day that I’d read or heard or seen. That’s really the structure that we’ve built into The Learner. It’s the things that we record that we think of as commonplace that are not actually all that common.

MK: Even if you’re just practicing writing these things down once or twice a week, over time that really accumulates. It’s a muscle you exercise. It’s liberating to look at time in a different way, just finding little moments to set yourself towards those things that represent more considered pursuit. When you take the time to write something like that down, you’ve suddenly created a plan for yourself. Life feels a bit different, because you’re becoming more proactive. I think you’re always taught there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things, even journaling, so we created an experience that would be more interactive, and completely on your own terms. It becomes a companion rather than a chore.

HK: That’s why we decided to call it the Learner, as well. In writing things down that interest you, you begin to put things into your daily program of learning. It’s how you frame the experience, regardless of your discipline and your background. You could be a scientist who makes a note of a design exhibition you saw advertised that intrigues you. Scientists are incredibly creative, in fact, especially Nobel Prize winners. There’s an overwhelming trend skewed toward scientists who were also writers or artists, compared to scientists who just stick to their own field. It’s really about pairing yourself daily with things that you love, while being available to be surprised by something new. It takes time to learn to think like that, but once you start, you see possibilities of your own making. For PER/se, it’s all part of that same universe of experimentation and introspection that manifests in physical products.

That’s so central to innovation, this cross disciplinary approach towards learning and creativity that evolves an idea into something remarkable.

HK: Ideas need oxygen. They need to live. Unless it’s a pure, passion project, where you’re in the laboratory of your mind, you need that interaction where you’re exposed to new things. It’s that fusion of new ideas, new examples, new applications. Design done well fits into your life intuitively and reaches a broad range of people. Ubiquitous things from cups to cutlery can be extraordinarily well designed, but they also have to have utility. We live in a day and age when a lot of things that you buy or come across, they’re not actually that useful.

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The real philosophy of PER/se is this attitude of intentional design. We have this adage of just one because individual designs, people, products can have an outsized impact on your perspective and how you live. That’s why we always prefer singular designs, because it allows you, through a product, to live out this open-source approach to learning and improving something. We think that can be applied to any kind of product or service. It’s like the Bauhaus, how it began as just a philosophy of design that was then imbued into all kinds of objects. I think that for us as creators is so rejuvenating, that value can be added  from any discipline. We live that value.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a background in something you want to create. We don’t believe in that. You test, you experiment, and do. That’s the best way to learn. Trying anything and weaving in different influences is really what we’re about.

MK: It’s so necessary to cultivate those outside influences in your thinking, especially as you grow older and continue on in your career. You are sort of taught that you should stay in this niche which ends up determining your interests and socialization. It lulls you into becoming this cliche of what someone with a particular training does and what they don’t do. You start to realize that you’re now living a very particular life where a lot of the decisions you’ve made aren’t considered, they just became your norm because you studied this, so you do this, and this is what you read in your free time because that’s what your colleagues read. You end up following

this path where perhaps it would never occur to you that something outside of that bubble would interest you or that it could inform your own work in a unique way. Hence the Learner is structured so that you capture things from anywhere. It should be a cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives. Everything can have value. We shouldn’t be so quick to discount things that don’t fall into a neat box. We all need routine, but it’s important to challenge your own norms and habits. If you don’t have a constant refresh, life can suddenly become boring. Which is completely mad when we have so many resources available to us! It’s almost overwhelming how much. Do as much or as little as you like, but be in control and let your decisions be considered ones.

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