Nike ISPA with Jimmy Söber, Formbark

30.11.23 Footpatrol Discussions

Since 2018, there has been a skunkworks division within Nike known as ISPA. Every year, their mission is to come up with creations built around the idea of ‘Improvise, Scavenge, Protect and Adapt’.

Aimed at blurring the lines between performance and lifestyle, ISPA always aim to deliver a functional and practical offering. This can even bring a sense of ‘progress over perfection’ in the aim to highlight areas like sustainability. Like the ISPA Link Axis, the design is built of only three parts. All these are cleverly linked together via the lacing system and heel tab to create a zero glue sneaker with each part recyclable.

To celebrate their FW23 collection, we hopped on a plane to Sweden to meet up with artistic creator, Jimmy Söber, otherwise known as Formbark. With the huge rise in outdoor trends, his work has become super relevant in the sense of blurring the lines between art and the outdoors. With a ‘improvise, scavenge, protect and adapt’ aesthetic, we tasked Jimmy with creating 6 bespoke outfits to highlight each of Nike ISPA’s latest designs.

Check out the latest from ISPA online here!

Footpatrol: Hey Jimmy, huge thanks for joining us at Footpatrol to celebrate the ideas of Nike’s ISPA division with your Formbark identity. For those of our audience who aren’t aware of your page, could you give us a bit of an introduction to yourself and your work?

Formbark: Hey, thanks for having me! Well, I’m an artistic creator who explores the relationship between nature and man, the organic and synthetic, the grown and the created. Based in the Swedish countryside I spend a lot of time in the woods. I’m forever mesmerised by the multitudes of scale, making me appreciate the natural world not as a mere backdrop but also for our human existence. We can’t be too grateful for getting to be a part of.

For the past year, my focus has been on garment and fabric based outfits, modelled by myself. Common for all my work no matter the discipline, there is always a great influence and presence by nature. This is where I find most of my inspiration. I tend to bring that into whatever I’m trying to create with interesting combinations between materials, textures, shapes and colours. Making these outfits, I bring in lots of natural raw materials to get a wider aesthetic and symbolic toolbox. And also, I just love moss.

FP: What steered your work in the direction of creating these outfits, and composing these looks?

Formbark: Well, a while back I made a couple of sculptures out of sticks, moss and scraps of fabric. I made small scale garments and gave them little accessories which turned them into character like figures emerging from the same universe as most of my previous work.

It reminded me of character creation in games. Choosing what pieces of armour to match, how to dye them etc, it’s something I’ve always really enjoyed. That combined with an ever-present interest in clothes made me want to explore if I could create characters in another way, with more possibilities and greater freedom when it comes to the parts of which they consist. Because that’s what they are to me: characters. It’s not just composing an outfit, it’s creating a character, who in the best case will carry a healthy amount of mysticism with it. Evoking the beholder’s curiosity as to who this is and what they might be up to. Questions I never have any answers to, but really enjoy pondering.

FP: ISPA, Improvise, Scavenge, Protect and Adapt… That’s Nike’s breakdown for this skunkworks like division but what do those words mean to you and how do they connect to your work? 

Formbark: All of those things are actually a really big part of my way of working. Scavenging maybe the most prominent in this case. All the natural materials I gather myself from my surroundings whilst a lot of garments and fabrics are things I’ve randomly come across when least expecting to. Aside from those found items, I also work a lot with things from my own wardrobe, meaning there is a great amount of improvising and adapting as well.

Working with what I have to hand whilst still trying to create something exciting but that is an aspect I really enjoy. It forces me to be creative in another way. Now the ideas are sparked by my findings, rather than that I get an idea and then acquire what I need to realize that idea. In addition to being an enjoyable process, it is also a way to inspire the protection of our resources, to make do with what we have and utilize it to its full potential. All of this extends to my way of life in general, making it a very natural approach to my work for me.

FP: When it comes to foraging for your materials, we imagine it to be quite an enjoyable part of your work? The not knowing of what you’ll find or discovering something new that might take your work in a different direction, is that correct or is it actually a challenging piece to the puzzle?

Formbark: Foraging for all the natural materials like moss, sticks, bark is definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this process. Like you say, the element of not knowing what to expect and being open to that surge of inspiration when you find something, and just following that not knowing where it will lead you. There are also endless ways to view nature. Whether it’s large or small, as long as you keep looking you’ll always be amazed and surprised. That said, it can definitely be challenging as well. Trying to reinvent how to make use of certain materials without it feeling repetitive can be really hard, but then again, it forces me to be creative and pushes my imagination.

Another challenging aspect is deciding whether to take or leave any given piece of nature. Because in the end, everything is already in its right place, and for me to rip something out of that perfect picture is something I morally struggle with constantly.

FP: When looking at Formbark, we notice you’re more than just your garment creations but actually more of a multidisciplinary artist. From intricate figurines to paintings, they all have a similar feel to what you do now. Did each one inspire the next step?

Formbark: Yes, they all very much inspire each other. Progression in one discipline might help me find new ways of doing things in another. However, I don’t see it as steps along a linear path of progression, but rather as several parallel paths. Sometimes you might find something alluring in the distance and to get closer to explore, experience and experiment with that, you may have to switch paths. Sometimes a path is blocked, so in order to progress you’ll have to choose another one for a bit, and then maybe come back to the original path later on. So yes, a lot of back and forth between different paths that are all kind of traversing the same universe.

FP: So, you’re currently based out in the Swedish countryside, not too far from Stockholm. I’d be intrigued to see what your creations would look like if you were to visit different areas of the globe. Is this something you’ve thought about doing or does the Swedish countryside stay true to what Formbark is? 

Formbark: It’s not something I’ve given any thought to actually, not until now anyways. As I mentioned earlier, there are endless ways of viewing and framing nature, so I feel there is still so much potential and the more I look, the more I see. In a way, the nature around here is what I identify with the most, having spent so much time in it, making it feel like the obvious choice for my work.

Here I know what grows when and where. I see the changes from year to year and have formed a relationship with this environment that feels deeply personal, making it something I feel confident working with. But I’d love to broaden my horizons in this aspect. Again, a lot because it would open up new practical possibilities for my work, but also because it would undoubtedly spark further inspiration and appreciation for the sometimes unfathomable, overwhelming and mind-bending beauty of nature.

FP: So, when we came over we brought with us a mixture of ISPA silhouettes that included a number of intriguing options. From the Universal, Mindbody and the Link, what did you enjoy about creating designs for each one?

Formbark: Well, all of the silhouettes are right up my alley, except for maybe the coloring on the Link though I think that is also why I enjoyed working with that shoe the most.

I had an opportunity to do something in terms of colours that I don’t think I would have ever done otherwise. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. When it comes to the Universal, I really like the weird organic vibe they have! The low, wide profile really planted it firmly on the ground, a super combination with skinny legs. Add to that the slipper-like feel and the colours, they were a treat to work with. As for the Mindbody, they are just a perfect match for the aesthetics I’m going for. It was nice to be able to have shoes to build the rest of the outfits on, something to give me direction when creating these characters, especially such unique shoes with great diversity between them.

FP: Out of the outfits you pieced together, did you have a particular favourite? 

Formbark: That’s hard to say! There’s always some parts of an outfit that I’m happy with, and others I wish I’d done differently. I might like a colour scheme or certain organic details but regret the way I did the layering, or how I’ve combined materials. Some of that stuff is hard to see when just putting the outfit together but might reveal itself when looking back at the pictures. In this case though, I really like the big hat, as well as the maroon Universal outfit. The moss turban really had something too. Especially since it wasn’t something I hadn’t planned for, but just something that turned out that way.

FP: Well, I think that’s it from us at Footpatrol Jimmy. A huge thanks once again for hosting us at your house and for taking the time to sit down with us and share a bit more with our audience. Do you have any words of wisdom that someone may have told you one day that you’d like to pass on to our audience who may be pursuing a career within the world of art?

Formbark: Anytime! And thank you for setting all this up, it’s been great!

I don’t know. I’ve never tried to pursue anything, as far as art goes, and I think that might be as close to wisdom I’ve ever gotten on the subject. To just do what you want and like to do, and for that sole reason, is to me the only way to approach the process. That will also enable you to create something truly personal, and that is when art gets really interesting.

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