MA Design graduates 2016: Matea Pelko explores the environmental and human costs of a patriotic symbol

As her final project for the MA in Design: Critical Practice, Matea Pelko investigated what lies beneath the public image of the tie as a symbol of national pride in Croatia.


How did you decide on neckties as the starting point for your graduation project, and what was your goal for the project?

As I’m originally from Croatia, I wanted to start from my origins and ties were the perfect media to do so. Not so many people know, but the tie was created by Croats, and shortly after it became obligatory wardrobe for French soldiers. The style quickly spread to England, and neckties began [to be] an important part of men’s wardrobes until today. Croats forgot about the tie until 1990, when Marijan Buši, visionary founder of the Croata fashion brand, decided to share his vision and remind the world what is it so special about the Croatian view of the tie, and of the almost forgotten basic values that the cravat or necktie embodies. My goal was to deconstruct that view in order to learn more about my nation, values, and what exactly are we selling to world as a Croatian principle.

Can you tell us a bit about the context around ties as a symbol for patriotism in Croatia, and how this context evolved?

“These basic human values are deeply rooted in modern civilization, and are the foundation of a democratic mind set, making the necktie a multidimensional and timeless phenomenon that speaks a common language. These core values are deeply woven into the Croata fashion brand, making us patrons of modern knighthood and allowing us to leave a permanent mark in the world.” What was extremely interesting for me in this quote was the way the tie is presented. It is Croatian pride, but Croats don’t actually wear it, they (we) didn’t connect with it. Was it because we don’t see it as a something to be proud of? Or because we don’t agree with the message?

Tell us a bit about your research and how you went about investigating and critiquing the tie production process.

My research started from the core of the tie, which was its production. As a designer I care about certain issues, which are environmental and human rights. While deconstructing the production of ties I found out that we’re actually endangering those rights, starting with silk production, waste-water treatment, solid waste treatment and human rights. This is where I decided to act as a designer and create posters with matters of concern, in order to indicate problems and make society know about it.


What are the most interesting things you found out? Were there any unexpected results?

Waste-water treatment was an interesting and unexpected result. Enormous amounts of fresh water are used, and that fresh water gets contaminated. Before dumping it back into waterway, water needs to go thought waste-water treatment, but it is hardly ever the same quality. Silk production was quite an unpleasant result, as I found out that for 1 pound of silk we’re killing over 3,000 silkworms. Solid waste is an important issue, as steel, brass and other metals from sewing machines are dumped at waste disposal sites, which are in most cases burned in order to reduce volume. The open burning of waste leads to toxic releases in ground or air, which can lead to serious damage of the environment and have implications for health. All those issues are not something we can close our eyes to and wait until they disappear, we need to act, and that was the unexpected result for me, to see all those issues and majority of customers who doesn’t even know about them.

What is design to you? Do you have a philosophy or aesthetic specific to your work as a designer?

Before I started this course I haven’t had a philosophy as a designer. The most important view for me was only the design part; how to make an item, product, poster more attractive for customers. As I started to grow as a designer and a person I saw that the work of a designer is not only to create something attractive but also to send a message with his work. Therefore, I wrote my manifesto and started to act according to my design principles.


How does working as a model, and therefore knowing what it’s like to experience a different role in the design industry, influence your work as a designer?

Knowing both sides of the medal is always a plus. I started my modeling career when I was about seventeen, so I had the small advantage of seeing both sides quite early. The most important thing I learned was the power of media. You can be the best designer or model, have quality work, but if you don’t know how to present it or show your vision to the public, you haven’t really done anything.

What was your background before this MA, and how did you decide to study Design Critical Practice at Goldsmiths?

I finished my undergraduate degree in Applied Arts at the University of Applied Arts in Rijeka; during my studies there I embraced opportunity of an Erasmus exchange programme in Slovenia, that gave me the experience of living and studying abroad. During my studies I have been an active member of AIESEC where I have been involved in the development of several exchange projects, as well as part of the organization team for Youth 2 Business Forum. Even though I was a full time student, I have worked as a part-time creative designer for two years before my enrolment at Goldsmiths. As I always knew what I wanted to work and I had all the technical knowledge, Critical Practice was the perfect choice for my MA studies because I wanted to shape my philosophy and aesthetic as a designer.


How was your experience studying at Goldsmiths, and how did it compare to your initial expectations?

Goldsmiths has a special vibe for me. It’s more about your own research and growth than technical knowledge. Before the course started, I was quite scared and didn’t know what to expect as Goldsmiths has a really big reputation. After the first couple of weeks all the fear disappeared because of the amazing tutors and colleagues, so my experience was definitely better than my initial expectations.

What are your career plans now that you’ve graduated?

I always have more plans, but concretely after graduating I will find a job in branding, to gain experience and network, which I consider is extremely important. I’m also writing a blog about my travels, still working as a model and hopefully after some time, as I already spoke with some of my colleagues, to create a branding/design company. So, fingers crossed.

[This interview has been edited for clarity and concision]

You can find more of Matea’s work and thoughts on and