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Working Clothes / Werkende Kleding


My living room floor is slowly becoming a fluorescent Orange carpet with an occasional yellow spot. I sit surrounded by fluorescent Orange mountains, unable to create. Every other colour in my life becomes dull and boring. I cannot work when the sun shines, the Orange reflects against every wall. I cannot work in the evening, when light comes from one clear source. It makes me restless and unable to sleep.”


In 2021 Thyrza Coenraad executed an artistic research to discover the social ramifications of the fluorescent workwear worn by the public cleaners of the municipality of Rotterdam. By going onto the street, experiencing the work and talking to the public cleaners as an outsider she was able to uncover issues that were hidden before. The results were processed in costumes made out of the used and rejected workwear from the municipality. Examples modelled by the public cleaners themselves: the feeling of vulnerability of the body while doing the hard work; the effect of fluorescent orange on mental wellbeing getting overlooked by strict physical safety regulations; the lack of fitting women’s wear in an already man-dominated work field; an evergrowing cape visualising the 1.24kg of clothing that leaves the Rotterdam harbour every year.


By putting the municipality officials that ultimately make the workwear decisions into the costumes, they were able to get an embodied experience and understand better what the public cleaner actually needed in their workwear. The results of this artistic research formed the base for the design and decisions made for the next edition of workwear for the Municipality of Rotterdam currently in development and to be seen on the street beginning of 2024. The test run will start in March 2023 and this time the power of the final decision is finally in the hands of the wearer.

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Models: Gino, Kelly, Helio. Public cleaners of Rotterdam.
Costume design: Thyrza Coen
Photographer: Thyrza Coenraad

Special thanks to Rogier Quak, the public cleaners of Rotterdam and the Municipality of Rotterdam.

First phase of the project is realized during the master studies Social Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven.

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