MDW22: Padiglione Brera Showcases Ways of Sitting at San Simpliciano (Design Milk)

In the very Italian setting of the main cloister of the San Simpliciano – a church in central Milan, parts of which date back to the third century AD and now home to Padiglione Brera – was a very British affair. Very Good & Proper (could you find a more quintessentially English name?!), SCP, and Case Furniture came together with Resident (the sole Kiwi brand being the exception that proved the rule) to explore what SCP called “Ways of Sitting.”

It was a delight to see Very Good & Proper’s Latte chair in person, having featured it on Circular by Design last summer. The outdoor chair is made using a new bio-composite technology that combines hemp fibers with 100% recycled European plastic, resulting in a CO2 footprint that is reduced by 85% versus a typical plastic chair.

Ilsa Crawford and Oscar Peña’s Bruno Chair has one arm lower than the other to accommodate new more casual ways of sitting, inspired by Bruno Mari’s 1944 poster “Seeking Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair.” SCP say the piece is made from 99% “sustainable materials” which includes FSC-certified beech and oak.

Upholstered in the same on-trend 1970s shade of olive green is Philippe Malouin’s Group – a sectional sofa that uses primary shapes to form the base, back, and seat of each piece, offering multiple configurations. The collection, which also includes armchairs and cocktail chairs, is the recipient of a Design Guild Mark.

I mean, it might have just been my very sore feet getting to me by this point, but how comfy does Camp (also by Philippe Malouin for SCP) look?! Trust me when I tell you that it’s even more comfortable IRL. Inspired by military camping gear and modernist furniture, it uses tensile cotton fabric to support the upholstered sections.

Gareth Neal is a master craftsman with a CNC machine and this collection of dining accessories (as well as the Orb Grinder below left) for Case Furniture are classic Neal. From left to right, the Splash and Petal chopping boards and the Plough serving board are almost too nice to use.

Trove is a series of minimal cork boxes by David Irwin (also for Case Furniture) for organizing and storing everyday objects. The tactile and sustainable cork combined with the modular stacking system makes them impossible not to touch and rearrange – perfect for a tidy desk.

This rechargeable and portable light by Patricia Perez (also for Case) is perfect for taking outside to elongate summer nights, but also works well anywhere indoors where you don’t want to worry about trailing cables such as bookshelves or bedside tables.

Last one from Case, I promise – this modular shelving system called Slot by Terence Woodgate comes in four colors so you can mix and match. Vitsoe shelving has held pride of place in design-conscious homes and offices since Dieter Rams designed it in 1960. 62 years later, is it time to shake things up a bit?

And last but not least, the Kiwi amongst the British brands – Philippe Malouin designed the Sasha Chair for New Zealand furniture and lighting brand Resident. They describe the fully upholstered dining or side chair as “comfortable, yet brutal and geometric” – I don’t disagree!

To read the article at its source click here.

MDW22: The Breathtaking Divine Inspiration by Lee Broom (Design Milk)

Can a lighting exhibition move people to tears? When it comes from London-based designer Lee Broom, it seems it can. It might have been the emotion of finally being back in Milan after so many years away, or the tiredness of overstimulation combined with too many late nights, but several people reported welling up as they walked around this impressive space. Broom is a stalwart of Milan Design Week and Design Milk has been following him since the very early days of his 15-year career, but this time, he excelled even himself.

Divine Inspiration showcased six new lighting collections inspired by places of worship throughout the ages and the design language often used to inspire awe and devotion among followers. Combined with in-depth research into the modernist and brutalist architecture that surrounded Broom as he grew up, these influences resulted in pared-back silhouettes presented within the context of an “ecclesiastical journey, contemplating how light is often linked to hallowed places, evoking a sense of stillness, reverence and contemplation.” True to Broom’s exacting approach, every last detail of his largest Milan show to date had been considered, from the dramatic soundscape right down to the choice of appropriately “churchy” carpet – and the experience was breathtaking.

Referencing the shards of light and shadow from lancet windows in church arches, Hail was showcased in a six-meter arrangement between rows of benches that subtly evoked pews. A mirror below created a sense of an infinite perspective, recalling the notion of The Rapture – the “end-time” event that some evangelical Christians believe will see all believers who are alive, along with resurrected believers, rise “in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.”

Requiem is a limited edition collection – only 15 editions will be made of each piece. Lee Broom himself hand-draped fabrics soaked in plaster around illuminated glass to evoke the marble drapery on ancient statues, creating a play between lightness and weight, movement and stillness, and hard and soft textures.

Bringing the brutalist and modernist elements into play, Chant was inspired by the pressed glass bricks often used in place of stained glass in 1970s religious buildings. The glass is blown into the “sphere within a cube” form, and then each cube is connected into single or two-tier chandeliers.

Vesper also draws on brutalist sculpture and modernist cathedral lighting – and is made using extruded aluminum in brushed gold or silver in a “join-the-dots” formation. “These suspended light sculptures emphasize the drama of vaulted spaces and the transcendent quality of light,” said a statement from the brand.

Carved from solid oak, Alter is a nod to Broom’s exploration into the angular forms of mid-century churches and alters and the warmer, natural materials of fonts and pews. The lights can be suspended as pendants as above or surface mounted.

Finally, Pantheum is inspired by the concrete ceiling of Rome’s ancient temple of the same name, as well as the clean, repeating lines often seen in brutalist architecture. Each piece is hand-cast in Jesmonite and sand-blasted to give it a rough texture, with a bulb shape to reflect its negative space. Here, symmetrical clusters amplify their impact.

Bravo Mr Broom – we can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for us next year!

To read the article at its source click here.

MDW22: Alcova Returns With Emerging Design + Experimental Projects (Design Milk)

(Image above) Poetic Jungle is a collection of hand-built ceramic lighting and sculptural furniture built using the coiling technique. Designer and ceramicist Elisa Uberti was inspired by organic forms found within architecture.

Now in its fifth year, Alcova is going some way towards filling a hole left in the hearts of regular Milan Design Week goers by the demise of Ventura Lambrate. Described by its founders, Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima, as “a platform for independent design,” it combines unusual venues (this year’s military base boasted soaring pine trees and a former psychiatric hospital) with emerging design talent, experimental projects, and a good supply of shaded tables served by food and drink trucks – a winning combination.

Alcova \\\ Image courtesy of David Gorrod, Seen PR

Canadian lighting brand Lambert & Fils collaborated with DWA Design Studio and New York-based wallpaper studio SuperFlower to create Caffè Populaire: an eight-day aperitivo garden set in Alcova’s vacant temple and surrounding wild garden. A table blooming with wildflowers and connected water sculpture featuring Lambert & Fils’ new lighting collection SILO were a sight for sore eyes on a hot June day.

Spoken Lines was a three-dimensional art installation by Beni Rugs, stylist Colin King and artist Amine El Gotaibi that brought the materiality of rug making to life.

The Kitchen for Cooking was a collection of playful, modular kitchens that suit modern living – enabling you to adapt them as your needs change and take them with you when you move – and are high enough for contemporary (taller) humans and designed by people who actually cook! Designed by Chmara.Rosinke – a Berlin- and Vienna-based research and design studio striving to “decipher delight and deliver design solutions in the context of food and contemporary culture.”

Estuary of Riptide and Reunion (far side) by Forêt Atelier showcased the hidden flora in the waters of the Oosterschelde in the Netherlands and their potential as a natural resource for biopolymers, cattle feed, and fabric. Seaweed and seagrasses in particular have huge potential for capturing carbon, reducing the methane emissions from cattle when used in their feed, and providing biodiverse habitats.

One of the notable shifts at Milan Design Week this year was away from “Instagrammable” moments and towards multi-sensory experiences. Taking “energy from the sun, inspiration from travel,” Alessia Anfuso’s emotional scenography for The House of Lyra represented “a ship traveling through different places, latitudes, and eras: swatches of fabrics as sails, the light of the lamp on the bow as the sun, source of energy to creation” – complete with a soundscape and bespoke scent. You really had to be there!

Holotype is a new collection from Chicago-based Refractory Studio in cast bronze, cast glass, and wood inspired by the mountainous American landscapes – all handmade in Chicago. Huge tubs of turmeric provided the scent while a collaboration with photographer Sarah Wilson added atmosphere and context.

With the AD ALL Collection of occasional furniture and accessories for Zeitraum Furniture, Mathias Hahn is exploring the in-between as well as celebrating wood as a material. “The objects are designed to migrate or moderate between spacial scenarios of the every day,” says Zeitraum of the collection.

A collection of eight chairs by Saint Petersburg-based design brand, studio, and manufacturer Delo incorporated recycled plastic, waste metal, and natural fibers – and all reflected the natural colors of their constituent elements.

There is an increasing move in sustainable design not to simply do less harm, but to actively seek to benefit the natural environment – Platforms for Humans and Birds is more than a bench – it’s a “modular cast landscape” with as much to offer our avian friends (edible insertions, water bowls, games, and perches) as the humans who co-exist with them. By Studio Ossidiana – a practice encompassing architecture, design, and art led by Alessandra Covini and Giovanni Bellotti.

To read the article at its source click here.

MDW22: Forest Tales Showcases Furniture Made From American Hardwoods (Design Milk)

Forest Tales was curated by Studio Swine – a collective established in 2011 by the husband-and-wife team of Japanese architect Azusa Murakami and British artist Alexander Groves who have recently relocated to Tokyo from London following the birth of their child (all three pictured below).

The exhibition at Milan’s Triennale showcased 22 pieces from 14 countries and four of the American Hardwood Export Council’s (AHEC) recent projects across two years – all with the aim of drawing attention to underutilized American hardwoods such as maple, cherry, and red oak. “It was crucial to do something bold and impactful which can do justice to the extraordinary works by all the established and emerging designers, whilst at the same time creating no waste,” said Studio Swine.

They created no waste by using the packing crates that the pieces arrived in as the plinths on which they were displayed, projecting a forest-inspired design by London-based graphic studio SPIN onto them once in-situ, which was then painted over, in such as way that ensured the packing crates could still be used for the return journey. The whole image only came together from one specific viewpoint in the exhibition hall – following the notion of  anamorphic perspective.

“Thought Bubble was designed to create a space for mindfulness and relaxation through the repetitive rocking motion of the chair,” said Bangkok-based interior and product designer Nong Chotipatoomwan of the piece above. “American red oak brings a warm and rich texture.” Maple, cherry, and red oak are all versatile woods that grow at a faster rate than they are harvested. Chosen because they are strong, practical, tactile, beautiful, and rapidly renewable, they are currently significantly underutilized by the furniture industry – something AHEC wants to change.

Three tables made by Milanese furniture-maker Riva 1920 – in the background Navalia by Rome-based architect Matteo Benedetti is made from “via di levare”: blocks of American red oak, carved and refined until the final shape is achieved. In the middle, Libra by Italian architect Federico Degioanni’s Oaka Table was subtly inspired by the shape of a dragonfly and is made from American red oak. And in the foreground, Morso by Alessandro Gazzardi is designed to be built by the user without tools – inspired by traditional carpentry, echoing the style of a carpenter’s workbench.

Kumsuka (Evolve Your Space) is an outdoor bench designed using thermally modified American red oak (timber that has been baked) for stability and durability. Johannesburg-based furniture designer Siyanda Mazibuko took inspiration from “isocholo, an African hat, and indlamu, a tribal Zulu dance.”

Studio Swine’s own Humble Administrator’s Chair and Table were also included in the exhibition. Drawing inspiration from the archetype of the traditional Ming chair and Chinese Gardens, the chair legs are made from steam-bent American red oak and the seat and table from cherry by UK-based Benchmark Furniture.

Stem by London-based design and architectural practice Heatherwick Studio is described as “a table that celebrates the power of biophilia by incorporating planting into curved CNC-machined American maple legs, clamped to a glass tabletop.”

Leftover Synthesis is “a chair that explores ways of making better use of wood scraps from furniture production, combined with computational design methods,” says Stuttgart-based industrial designer Simon Gehring.

Danish designer Maria Bruun uses an intentionally pared-back design to let the material do the talking in Nordic Pioneer. This stackable stool with a rounded seat pad is machined from solid American maple by Benchmark Furniture to celebrate the timber.

Concur is an American cherry lounge chair and book rest – “a companion object that encourages the sitter to tune out of daily life and focus on an analogue task in a warm and inviting space.” Is anyone else now obsessed by the idea of “companion objects?!” By the brilliant London-based artist Mac Collins.

Finally, the Kadamba Gate outdoor seating by Lausanne-based designer Ini Archibong (seen above left) is made by Benchmark Furniture from American cherry, red oak, and thermally modified red oak. The underframe was inspired by the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, while the American red oak tops are finished with a rich green stain and gloss finish, and intricate removable brass detailing, which doubles as drainage in its outdoor environment. “Forest Tales brings together a celebration of exceptional design, a love for timber and a much-needed call for balance,” said Venables (above right). “Balance in the way we use natural materials with particular emphasis on renewable ones, such as wood. The same balance on which today’s designers, as well as the entire sector, are called upon to reflect in order to address the greatest social and economic issue of our time: climate change; and the need to put an end to the current throwaway culture.”

To read the article at its source click here.

MDW22: SaloneSatellite Showcases the Best From Under 35 Designers (Design Milk)

SaloneSatellite is the part of Milan Design Week’s main trade fair dedicated to designers aged under 35 and to new prototypes that have not been produced or marketed – as well as design schools – with the aim of connecting them to research, design, and industry opportunities. It is always a Design Milk favorite and didn’t disappoint this year.

Lagos-based designer Lani Adeoye won first place in the SaloneSatellite “Designing for our Future Selves” award, and she takes first place in our roundup too. She was showcasing the Ekaabo Collection of furniture made in collaboration with Nigerian craftspeople more used to turning their skills to dressmaking, tailoring, and shoemaking. “Ekaabo” means welcome in Yoruba and the collection is inspired by West African hospitality, making contemporary use of heritage materials such as Adire, Aso-oke, and Bronze from Benin.

It was a delight to see Disharee Mathur having featured her previous collection on Circular by Design. Using traditional techniques from Jaipur Blue Pottery, her Passive Cooling Tiles are made from waste sanitaryware and waste glass and they absorb ambient moisture to prevent buildings from overheating – a climate-positive solution to fight the effects of global warming.

“If you want to mend the world, start by mending your socks.” Students at Art Academy of Latvia have chosen socks as a metaphor for any product of the 21st century that supports everyday consumption, because of their role in Latvian culture and the centuries-old tradition of gifting them to newborn babies, the sick, and soldiers heading to war – if you can mend, you should, is their message.

“Men like to award men,” ’80/20,” “Diverse jurys award more diversely,” and “overperformance” are just some of the words and phrases printed onto the plastic shroud that covered the graduate projects of students from Fachbereich Potsdam University of Applied Sciences – they used the opportunity of exhibiting at Milan Design Week to challenge the “social ceilings” that persist in design in an installation they called Stuck.

These glass vessels are mouth-blown into wooden molds which catch fire in the process changing both their shape and the shape of the glass. It’s a Finnish technique from the 1960s which Helsinki-based Russian artist, designer, and interior architect Katerina Krotenko is reviving.

Daniel Costa makes rugs, textiles, and paintings “anything tactile” working with farmers, spinners, and weavers in Nepal where yak, sheep, and goats are highly evolved to cope with the weather there. “Those mountains set the tone to life and survival, to mythology and craft,” says Daniel.

Inspired by ocean myths, Aphrodite “taking form from the goddess Venus born of sea spray” is an incredible lamp handwoven from fibers from the fast-growing banaca tree (closely related to the banana) and then hand-painted by Milan-based Filipina designer Mirei Monticelli who works closely with the same community of artisans as her fashion-designer mum!

This candy-floss pink freestanding modular kitchen by Dedaleo is designed to grow and change with you – a great way to reduce waste in interior design and architecture. “ilo+milo is a series of playful kitchen modular elements, designed to fit and adapt to any space and need,” say its designers. “With ilo+milo, the kitchen is no longer fixed furniture, it’s an interactive and never-ending self-renovating part of the house.”

Brazilian designer Tavinho Camerino is combining sustainability with his ancestry of handmade knowledge in the Taboa Collection. Created in collaboration with a community of artisans from Feliz Deserto, they combine aluminum bases with Taboa straw fibers, which are native to the local riverbanks.

The incredible S/M-W DESK by Italian architect and designer Anna Arpa is made from 15,000 tiny pieces of waste timber showcasing 10 underused wood species.

The Continuum Collection by Cyryl Zakrzewski, Boom Plastic, & Nowmodel.org reimagines waste plastic as a high-end luxury material. Cyryl is a sculptor, designer, and graduate of the Faculty of Sculpture and Spatial Activities of the Poznan University of Arts.

And last but not least, this modular flower stand is designed to grow and change with your life – and your plant collection! Its designer Timea describes the principle as similar to LEGO bricks – and it certainly plays into the trend for biophilic design.

To read the article at its source click here.

MDW22: MATTER by Norwegian Presence (Design Milk)

Milan Design Week is back with a bang. The Norwegians always put on a good show and this year was no exception – DOGA (Design and Architecture Norway) presented MATTER by Norwegian Presence – a celebration of materiality, ingenuity, and the culture that is informed by Norway’s abundant natural resources and challenging wild landscapes – all set within the resplendent Galleria Milano in the Brera Design District.

The Minus Chair by British and Norwegian duo Jenkins&Uhnger is the first manifestation of their aim to make carbon-negative furniture – depending on the production volumes, this pine chair is capable of storing more carbon than its production emits. “All chairs are designed to bear the weight of a man, but none to bear man’s weight on nature,” say the designers. “This is our mission.” The Minus Chair is also biodegradable and repairable and sales are limited to within a certain distance from Norway to make good on its carbon promises.

Anna Maria Øfstedal Eng took inspiration from crooked twigs and roots for her Vride Bench made from Norwegian Ash. “Mysteries, shapes, and materials of the Norwegian nature fascinate and in the making process, I often let uncontrollable formations control and beautify my work,” she says. The bench sits somewhere between sculptural form and functional furniture.

There is more to the Shift Stool by Hallgeir Homstvedt than meets the eye. A concealed gasket joint, inspired by skateboards, allows the aniline-dyed beech/ash seat to shift and rotate, moving naturally with your body. The stool pays homage to legendary Norwegian designer Peter Opsvik’s idea of moving while sitting.

Poppy Lawman’s Brent Collection comprises ambiguous furniture made from urban maple sourced from Oslo’s Sofienberg Park – the surface of the wood is treated with a traditional scorching technique to protect it, ensuing longevity, without compromising its ability to biodegrade at the end of its (hopefully very long) life.

The Offcut Chair by Pettersen&Hein (Norwegian artist Magnus Pettersen and Danish designer Lea Hein) was initially conceived for Copenhagen’s Connie-Connie Cafe as part of a project for which 25 artists were challenged to make seating from flooring company Dinesen’s waste. Sketching directly in the material resulted in a ‘sandwich construction’ and as little waste as possible.

Oslo-based Kurdish-Norwegian designer Nebil Zaman made Collective Division – a series of sculptural room dividers – from discarded city bus handrails, combined with plaster, wood glue, and natural resins. By taking everyday objects out of context he is exploring how our surroundings affect our lives and mental state.

Gudbrandsdalens Uldvarefabrik was established in Lillehammer in 1887 and is today championing wool as “nature’s own high-tech material” for its resilience, heat and moisture regulation, and flame-retardant and anti-microbial qualities. The depth of color and texture achieved in these upholstery textiles is testament to centuries-old knowledge and expertise.

Fjordfiesta pre-launched the Sverre Fehn Collection – of which this Norwegian pine stool is just one piece. Originally designed for specific projects by the late Sverre Fehn (1924–2009) – a Pritzker Prize-winning Norwegian architect of some repute – this is the first time the pieces have been made more widely available. The collection has been developed in close collaboration with his family to embody his poetic and yet rational approach.

And finally, Vestre premiered its new Kinn Collection by Anderssen & Voll – Torbjørn Anderssen and Espen Voll. The collection is made from 75% recycled post-consumer aluminum scrap Hydro CIRCAL, Scandinavian pine, and Swedish steel – the latter with a 30% lower carbon footprint than the global average to embody Vestre’s mission of “creating caring meeting places.” The chairs are super comfy too – and the gaps between the slats let the rain run right through.

To read the article at its source click here.

Henry Swanzy Makes Acoustic Wall Tiles From Wood + Chocolate Waste (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

Henry Swanzy is the founder of Less is Better and an award-winning British designer with a passion for creating beautiful, functional alternatives to mass-produced products. He has recently started investigating his own waste streams as well as those of local businesses as a source of raw materials for new products. We caught up with him to find out more.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design and sustainability.

Creativity began with tinkering around in a home garage/workshop with my dad. I was lucky enough to go to a school that placed importance on craft – it all started with the making. Sustainability has also been with me for a very long time. Asking what sowed the seed is a pretty profound sort of a question that I am not sure I have an answer to, but I can be sure that my thoughts and opinions were cemented by having an older sister who was an animal behaviorist and research scientist. It gave me a bigger picture awareness of our impact as a species.

How would you describe your project/product?

HexBix are humble things – acoustic wall tiles. Pleasing in form, especially en masse, but I see their role more in the message they bring and the conversations they will hopefully provoke.

What inspired this project/product?

Looking at our own waste stream as a producer of wooden furniture, and literally asking myself what I could do with that lot!

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?

Processing timber from ‘rough sawn’ to ‘prepared’ (which means flat, and of an even thickness) unavoidably produces significant and bulky waste. It is specifically the shavings off this machine (the planer/thicknesser) which are suitable. I looked at a number of other local businesses and the cocoa husks from Chocolarder (a bean to bar manufacturer two miles up the road from me in Falmouth, Cornwall) are added into the mix for some of the tiles.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

It has been gnawing away at me for some time. I then read a very interesting book called Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure and did a rather inspiring masterclass that is now part of Making Design Circular – that was just the catalyst I needed.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

Minimal. Filtering is the first process – by removing the smaller ‘dustier’ particles, it is possible to capitalize on the structural integrity of the waste material, and therefore minimize the amount of bonding agent required. That has always been paramount to my process: pushing the percentage of waste to the absolute maximum, and any additions to a minimum. The pure wood tiles are (by volume) 93% waste, the cocoa husks need a little more bonding and they are 89% waste. I’m pretty proud of those numbers!

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

In a word, no – I haven’t found a route for them back into the circular economy yet. The bonding agent used is PVA. This is regarded environmentally as a pretty ‘good’ glue, and under the right conditions, it does fully biodegrade. The chemistry around it is complicated and finding alternatives is definitely something I am looking to explore. I started my research using natural starches, which it would be wonderful to use – I am optimistic that in different (hotter, drier) climates there is real potential in this idea. With further research, momentum and commercial interest, I believe it will be possible to do better.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

Oh, it’s exciting alright – the sense that you are doing anything that perhaps nobody has done quite the way you are doing it before is what motivates me as a designer generally. Developing something from what was previously deemed waste – well, it’s a thrill!

How have people reacted to this project?

They have only just launched – at London’s Clerkenwell Design Week in May and the response has already been enormously positive. Interest came from across the board but specifically architects and interior designers within the workplace, hospitality and retail sectors. In the days since the show, we have had a number of architect enquiries relating to specific existing projects. There has been very strong interest from a significant nationwide retailer, and the Hive installation itself is looking like it is heading to a new restaurant in Reading. As launches go, we couldn’t be more encouraged!

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

Waste is now viewed with eagerly curious open eyes!

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

Well, a changing relationship that’s for sure. The more that is done with waste and the better it is, the more the producers will become attuned to it, and perhaps view it as ‘raw material in a different form’. If value can be added, then the more the whole cycle will be scrutinized, and it is intercepting waste, and potentially looking after it/segregating it before it gets labelled as such which is key to our maturing perception of all raw materials.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Henry Swanzy and Less is Better here.

Tarkett Panel Discussion, Clerkenwell Design Week

Katie Treggiden chaired a panel for carpet and flooring company Tarkett during Clerkenwell Design Week 2022. The discussion covered how to break the take-make-waste model from every angle of circularity, what more needs to be done to ensure the right products and materials are specified, their lives are extended as much as possible, and then how materials are reused at the end of their first life.

Panel members:
Marcelo – Tarkett EMEA Sustainability Manager
Sunand Prasad – Principal – Penoyre Prasad
Zoe McLeod – Associate – Sustainability First
Lay Koon Tan – Nature Squared
Nadia Themistocleous – Trifle Creative

Header Image credit Tarkett

Caesar Ceramics Keynote, Clerkenwell Design Week

Katie Treggiden delivered a keynote for Caesar Ceramics as part of Clerkenwell Design Week.  Inspired by Katie’s book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure, the circular economy keynote explored the potential of waste as an exciting new raw material. Katie’s talk opened a Clerkenwell Design week-long discussion focusing on waste reduction and reuse of waste as part of a broader circular approach to design.

Header image credit Caesar Ceramics.

Johnson Tiles Keynote, Clerkenwell Design Week

Material Lab invited Katie Treggiden to host a live event at Clerkenwell Design Week – part four of their studio partner, Johnson Tiles‘ Making it Beautifully series of RIBA accredited CPDs. Katie’s presentation “Beauty Reversed: The ugly truth about waste” asked designers to consider beauty in the context of how beautifully a material performs, for how long and its impact on the environment.

The keynote speech was followed by a hands-on waste workshop led by surface designer Olivia Aspinall, member of Katie Treggiden’s private membership group Making Design Circular. Olivia guided attendees through the process of transforming discarded tiles into terrazzo art.

Image credits Material Lab.

Virtual Keynote, New Balance

Katie Treggiden was asked by footwear brand New Balance to deliver a virtual keynote for their global design team to kick off a week of thinking about how they could become even more sustainable.

The keynote explored the ways in which waste can be eliminated from production and even used as a raw material. 140 members of the company attended the talk, Katie invited the audience to ask questions asked at the end.

Design Hotels Arena 2022 conference, Crete

Sarah Christensen Makes Home Accessories From Used Coffee Grounds (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

Sarah Christensen is a Welsh designer who had often felt a disconnect between her work as a furniture designer-maker and her personal values, so she decided to bring them closer together, by working with waste to create home accessories. She uses all the coffee waste from a local café and turns it into products that she sells back to them to offer alongside their drinks and snacks.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability.

I’m originally from Swansea and grew up spending time in The Gower, eating gritty sandy sandwiches during the summer and sledging in the Brecon Beacons during the winter. I spent a lot of time outdoors and was usually really into something – like my skateboard, which came with an inbuilt am/fm radio or my pogo stick, which for a while was how I got around, including taking it on coastal walks with my family. I was also a sea cadet for most of my childhood, so I developed a love of the ocean and camping. I suppose there wasn’t a huge amount of creativity in the traditional sense, but I was always quite good at art in school, which I then pursued in college as part of the International Baccalaureate. I took a year out before I went to university, partly to save and partly to decide what I wanted to do. I started studying interior design, but left with a degree in Fine Art. I also have a diploma in furniture design and making.

How would you describe your project/product?

Homeware is quite a broad product area, but homeware is what I make. I have focused on plant pots because, as well as it being beneficial to do some indoor gardening, plants help to purify the air in our homes. I make other products too such as soap dishes and candle holders which are intended to encourage us to switch off the lights and enjoy a soak in the tub. I really believe that living in a nice environment is important for our wellbeing and I suppose I am trying to reflect that in the products I make. As well as looking good, they are also intended to slow us down.

What inspired this project/product?

I have always been concerned about the environment. I love animals and the outdoors and I wanted to do something that wouldn’t make me feel guilty for existing. I got to a point where I felt that the things that I was doing in my personal life to be more sustainable weren’t enough. I wanted my job to be sustainable too.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them? 

At the moment, the waste material that I am using is used coffee grounds from By The River cafe in Glasbury, which is near to where I live and work. I targeted coffee grounds, because as far as waste is concerned, I think it’s quite a clean and acceptable material. I feel like there’s a sliding scale of acceptability when it comes to waste, that’s shifting all the time… human hair probably isn’t for everyone! I felt confident that I would be able to turn them into something with the help of Jesmonite, which is an eco and VOC-free alternative to other traditional resin-based products. It was also something that I could do now and not at some point in the future. The products I make consist of 40% used coffee grounds and 60% Jesmonite. Continuing to experiment with other materials is an important part of my creative practice and I hope to continue to research and develop new products based on the principles of the circular economy.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

I spent quite a lot of time surrounded by moldy coffee grounds before I figured out that I could cast the coffee immediately into sheets, which once set can be stored until needed. These sheets are then broken up into chips and used as a type of terrazzo.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

All of the products can go back into the circular economy and be broken down and then re-made into something else. I’m currently working on a way to ensure that products come back to me if they get broken, or even if they’re no longer wanted. They can also be repurposed in the same way a terracotta pot can be used as crocs in plant pots, or they could be recycled as building rubble.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

The first prototype that actually worked felt like a huge breakthrough but, in all honesty, it was a really unappealing color! It felt like I’d achieved a lot, but I was still a long way away from having a product that I could sell.

How have people reacted to this project?

I’ve had a really great response. I launched it at the Christmas markets because I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to get some feedback and then continue to develop the products. I didn’t expect to sell much, but products were flying off the shelves. It was important to me that the products look good in their own right and that it’s just an added bonus for customers that they follow the principles of the circular economy. Buying sustainably shouldn’t have to mean a compromise on aesthetics or practicality; it’s possible to have nice things that are made from waste.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

I think most people now feel that using waste as a raw material is the change that needs to happen. People are definitely changing how they choose to spend their money.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

The future is certainly looking bright! I think there are endless possibilities and seeing the amazing things that people are creating is really exciting.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Sarah Christensen here.

Designers are not to blame for the climate crisis (Dezeen)

Eighty per cent of the environmental impact of an object is determined at design stage. This statistic, which is usually credited to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, often gets bandied about in discussions about sustainability, and it is absolutely true. From material choices to end-of-life considerations, by the time an object goes into production its fate is largely sealed from a sustainability point of view.

But when designers hear that statistic, what they often hear is: “80 per cent of this mess is my fault.” And it really isn’t.

By the time an object goes into production its fate is largely sealed from a sustainability point of view

A report published in 2017 found that 71 per cent of industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 could be attributed to 100 fossil fuel producers. Much like the tobacco industry before it, the energy industry has not only contributed to the problem but worked hard to curb regulations and undermine public understanding.

Oil and gas giant Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago, and then pivoted to “work at the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed”, a 2015 investigation by Inside Climate News found.

In 1989, then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher gave a powerful speech at the UN. “It is mankind and his activities that are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways,” she warned. “Every country will be affected and no-one can opt out. Those countries who are industrialised must contribute more to help those who are not.”

These arguments were not new, even then, but coming from her they gained traction and environmentalism went mainstream.

However, Thatcher’s position was short-lived. In her autobiography, Statecraft, she writes: “By the end of my time as prime minister I was also becoming seriously concerned about the anti-capitalist arguments which the campaigners against global warming were deploying.”

And so, in a perceived trade-off between planet and profit, she chose profit.

The climate crisis might have been resolved before many of today’s designers were even born

Her policies in the UK led to urban sprawl that threatens biodiversity, to prioritising investment in roads over rail and bus services that could help us all reduce our carbon footprints, and to the privatisation of water companies that results in polluted rivers and oceans to this day.

But her influence in the Global South was even more profound. Under her leadership, Britain, together with the US, led World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation moves that forced more than 100 indebted countries to undertake now widely discredited “structural adjustment” programmes. These programmes pushed for deregulation and privatisation that paved the way for transnational farming, mining and forestry companies to exploit natural resources on a global scale.

In her autobiography she credits books by Julian Morris, Richard Lindzen and Fred Singer for her dramatic U-turn. All three authors were members of free-market think tanks receiving funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Had Exxon acted ethically on the results of its own research, had Margaret Thatcher stuck to her guns instead of being lured by the temptations of free-market economics, and had the momentum she galvanised continued, the climate crisis might have been resolved before many of today’s designers were even born.

If we’re looking to apportion blame, let’s look to enterprises making excessive profits while caring for neither people nor planet

But the villains of this story aren’t all from decades past. As of this year, Amazon is selling – and shipping – $4,722 worth of products every second. With a business model built on what Greenpeace describes as “greed and speed”, many of those items are returned as fast as they are ordered and in 2021, an ITV investigation found that in just one week, a single UK warehouse marked more than 130,000 returned items “destroy”.

If you’re a designer, none of this is your fault. Not the climate crisis, not the sewage in our oceans, not the waste crisis. If we’re looking to apportion blame, let’s look to enterprises making excessive profits while caring for neither people nor planet, the energy companies continuing to expand their fossil fuel operations, and the global leaders still lacking the courage to make meaningful commitments at COP26 in Glasgow last year.

It might well be their fault. It is certainly not yours.

But what about that statistic? If 80 per cent of the environmental impact of an object is determined at design stage, doesn’t telling designers that it’s not their fault let them off the hook? Quite the opposite.

Think about the last time you had a brilliant idea, solved a problem, or came up with an innovative solution. How were you feeling at the time? Guilty? Overwhelmed? Hopeless? I’m guessing not, because those feelings are not the soil in which creativity thrives. I’m guessing you were feeling curious, optimistic and collaborative – all the impulses that draw designers to our industry in the first place.

To design is to solve problems and this is the biggest problem humanity has ever faced

We need designers to stop feeling guilty, so they can reconnect with those feelings, tap into their creativity and become part of the solution.

The climate crisis is a “wicked problem” – a term coined by design theorist Horst Rittel to describe social or cultural problems that seem unsolvable because of their complexity, their interconnectedness, their lack of clarity, and because they are subject to real-world constraints that thwart attempts to find and test solutions.

In other words: there are no magic bullets. Previous generations might have kicked the can down the road hoping that future technology would save us, but we no longer have that luxury.

So, if you’re a designer, none of this is your fault, but it is your responsibility. To design is to solve problems and this is the biggest problem humanity has ever faced. It is not something the design industry can solve alone. Of course we need politicians and big corporations to get on board, but we can lead the way by demonstrating the power of creativity and innovation.

We have a unique, and perhaps the final, opportunity to tackle this issue head on and do something definitive. But we can’t do that mired in guilt.

To overcome the climate crisis, we need to design, not from a position of pessimism and shame, but in the mode in which we all do our best work: when we are driven by curiosity and excited about a future that, together, we can help create.

Katie Treggiden is an author, journalist, podcaster and keynote speaker championing a circular approach to design. She is the founder and director of Making Design Circular, a membership community for designer-makers who want to become more sustainable. She is also a Dezeen Awards judge.

To read the article at its source please click here.

Circle Events Talk, TOAST

Katie Treggiden was invited by clothing and lifestyle brand TOAST to talk as part of the launch or their clothes swapping initiative TOAST Circle. Since launching in 2019, over 1,500 garments have been swapped, fulfilling the second tenet of the circular economy to keep materials and objects in use.

Katie’s talk took place in TOAST’s Brighton store, exploring the ways in which mending and swapping clothes can contribute to both personal wellbeing and community building. The talk was followed by a Q&A and also broadcast live via TOAST’s Circle page.

Keynote for Sustainability Week, Populous

Katie Treggiden was invited to deliver a keynote for architecture firm Populous to kick off their annual Sustainability Week. Katie spoke at their London office and the keynote was also live-streamed to their other offices around the world.

‘I went to SXSW this year and Katie’s talk was every bit as inspirational and thought-provoking as the talks I heard in Austin.’ – Simon Borg.

A STITCH IN TIME (Hole & Corner)

Repair skills used to be passed down from hand to hand through the generations, until they weren’t. Before mending becomes little more than memory, a rising culture of craft is celebrating the lost art of repair – and the stories to be found in the stitches. Katie Treggiden considers three women who are turning the tide.

Ask people about mending and, chances are, they will talk about family: the grandmother who darned their socks or the mother who patched the knees on their jeans – and they do tend to be women. Family stories are intertwined with repaired objects, either embodied in the damage and repair itself or captured in the cross-generational conversations that take place while the mend is carried out.

Today, repair skills have all too often been lost in the sands of time. Of course, they can be learned from books or even YouTube videos, but more commonly hand skills such as mending and sewing were passed, almost literally, from hand to hand – from mother to daughter. When the next generation wants to disassociate itself from the past or from traditionally female skills, when they become cash rich and time poor, or simply surrounded by increasingly disposable consumer products, the motivation to learn just isn’t there – and both the skills and the stories are lost. In fact, in 2008, design historian Hazel Clark declared that ‘mending has died out’.

But since then, mending has been undergoing something of a renaissance and a search on Instagram for ‘#visiblemending’ returns more than 117,000 images. Contemporary mending is driven by a desire to honour the labour of garment workers, by environmental concerns, and sometimes by poverty. But it is also driven by a desire – in our increasingly screen-based, perfectionism-obsessed culture – to embrace the flawed realities of a life well lived and the storied patina of repair. London-based artists Celia Pym, Aya Haidar and Ekta Kaul have very different stories, but ask them about mending, and they will all tell you about family.

Celia Pym

Celia Pym describes herself as someone who is more interested in damage and the conversations it sparks than the act of mending itself, but even so, she has been exploring repair as a textile artist since 2007. Her fascination started with a rather odd gift from her father.

Her Great Uncle had recently passed away and her dad had found a ragged jumper while clearing out his house. ‘Knowing that I like things that are a bit wonky and a bit lopsided and damaged and wrong, he gave it to me thinking I might be interested in it’ says Pym. ‘And he was right, I was – in fact I was really quite taken with it.’ The jumper had been hand-knit from a cream-coloured yarn and was full of holes in the forearms. Remembering that her great uncle used to sit in an armchair with a wooden board across its arms and draw, she quickly worked out what had caused the holes. ‘My great uncle was an artist all his life, but as he got older, he would lean forward in this armchair and draw all day,’ she says. ‘So, when I saw these holes, I was really struck by how instantly I could see him sitting in that chair – how the damage could evoke the very particular and specific movements of his body.’ (She confesses that she is equally thrilled by the leg-shapes left in a pair of tights at the end of the day.)

Pym became curious about what she found so moving about this jumper and, as she looked more closely, she noticed that similar holes had been darned before. Her great uncle’s sister had undertaken a series of pragmatic and unsentimental mends over many years, using whatever yarn was to hand, but she had died a decade before he had. ‘Seeing her repairs next to this fresh damage, I couldn’t help feeling that we had somehow neglected him in these intervening years,’ says Pym. ‘And of course, he hadn’t been neglected. He was safe and well and had everything he needed, and yet, there were these fresh holes that nobody had been tending to.’

Determined to rectify that, and having missed the chance to learn from her great aunt, Pym took herself off to the library, looked up darning in a book, and started to repair her great uncle’s sweater. The rest, as they say, is history. She has trained as both a teacher and a nurse, but has always returned to her artistic practice which is grounded in repair. She was shortlisted for the Women’s Hour Craft Prize with two darned garments in 2017 and her work has been exhibited all over the world – and all because her dad thought she might appreciate a tattered old jumper that had belonged to his uncle.

Aya Haidar

As a self-described ‘mother, artist, and humanitarian,’ Aya Haidar’s creative practice focuses on found and recycled objects, through which she explores themes of loss, migration and memory, but it all started with a very special sewing machine. ‘Every day after school, I would go to my grandmother’s house,’ she says. ‘I would sit across the table from her while she sewed and mended things on a Singer sewing machine – and she would tell me stories from her childhood.’

Haidar’s grandmother and her parents are Lebanese. From 1975 to 1990, there was a civil war in Lebanon and so in 1982 they left. They came to England, via Jordan and Saudi Arabia, leaving almost everything behind – apart from that Singer sewing machine. At the age of six, Haidar’s grandmother had been invited to a tea party. She took a sweet from a bowl and popped it in her bag to eat later. When she opened it, while savouring its sugary goodness she noticed something on the inside of the wrapper. She had a won a sewing machine. It was duly shipped to Lebanon for her and from the age of six, this was the machine she used; mending and remaking the family’s clothes until her death at the age of 99. ‘To be brought up with someone like my grandmother as a principal figure in my life, I definitely credit her for that influence.’

For Haidar, mending today is a metaphor – a way of telling and retelling her family’s stories. For her Recollections series, she photographed sites around Beirut, printed them on to linen, and ‘repaired’ the cracks and bullet holes in the buildings with what Glenn Adamson describes in his book The Invention of Craft as ‘coloured bandages’. ‘It was about filling these voids with colour,’ she says. ‘It was a way of embellishing, but also highlighting, something that my family find ugly, not just ascetically, but in the sense that it reminds them of something horrific – but something that absolutely needs to be remembered.’

She continues to work with refugees arriving in the UK, running embroidery workshops as well as creating artworks that tell their stories. ‘I see my work as layering a story on top of a material that already tells a story itself,’ she says. Her Soleless Series comprises shoes that were worn by refugees across borders and are beyond functional repair, but now embroidered with images of their owners’ journeys. ‘Instead of throwing them away, I felt like they needed another layer, because they physically carried these people across countries,’ she says. ‘For me to embroider an image of that journey onto their soles tells that story so powerfully.’

Her education has taken in Chelsea College of Art and Design, the Slade School of Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a master’s in non-governmental organisations and development at the London School of Economics. Her career as an artist includes international solo and group shows in London, Berlin, Jeddah, Paris, Dubai and Turkey. And her humanitarian work makes a difference to thousands of women and children every year. But it is ‘mother’ that comes first in her description of herself, and talking to her, you get the distinct impression that her grandmother’s wisdom is being passed on to the next generation of women too.

Ekta Kaul

Textile artist Ekta Kaul sees mending is a matter of respect. She grew up in India where mending was part of family life, a reflection of its deep roots in the wider culture, where everything from ceramics, jewellery and textiles to electronic gadgets is routinely repaired. ‘I always felt very connected to the land and the resources it provides,’ she says. ‘My ancestors were farmers, so my dad would always explain to us that somebody had worked really hard to get the food to our table – there was always this notion of respecting the land and the labour that had gone into it – any leftovers were reinvented into something else the next day.’

And it wasn’t only food that her family saved and repurposed. Kaul describes her mother as extraordinarily creative. ‘Apart from being a brilliant scientist, my mother was also a prolific needle woman,’ says Kaul. ‘When we outgrew out jumpers, she would unravel them, steam the wool so it was nice and fluffy again, and then reknit them into new patterns she had learnt. She embroidered, knit and playfully reinvented textiles constantly. I absorbed this throughout my childhood.’

Similarly, at the start of each winter, Kaul would see beautiful quilts laid out on the side of the streets, soaking in the sun before being used again for the next season. The quilts would be unstitched, the wadding taken out and beaten, aired in the sunshine, and sewn back together – often using the same thread. ‘I’ve often wondered if the idea of rebirth and the circularity of life, which is so entrenched in Indian culture, manifests in our culture of recycling as well,’ she says. ‘Mending was and still is very much a way of life.’

It was quilts that provided Kaul’s entry point into textiles. ‘My grandmother had this huge bag – it was blue with embroidered flowers on it – and she would tuck into it any scraps of fabric, or parts of saris, that she wanted to save,’ says Kaul. ‘Once it was full, we would start making quilts.’ Kaul would layer up the pieces of fabric, so her grandmother could secure them together with long rows of running stitch into the resultant quilt. Stitching layers of discarded fabric together into quilts – commonly known as Kantha in the west – is a tradition practiced in several parts of India, each with its own regionally specific name. So, what Kaul and her grandmother were practising in was ‘gudri’.

Having studied at National Institute of Design in India, Kaul had come to the UK to do a master’s and was surprised to discover that a culture of mending and respect for materials was no longer part of the culture here. ‘There seemed to be this disconnect, where traditional knowledge – once passed down through generations – had been lost in the post-industrial era,’ she says. She soon found herself drawing on her upbringing within her artistic practice. Using techniques inspired by gudri, she now creates embroidered maps which explore places, history and belonging through stitch. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, won the Cockpit Arts Textile Prize and has work in the collections of the Crafts Council, Liberty London, the Gunnersbury Museum and private collectors. Having lived in diverse, vibrant cities like Edinburgh, Bath, Ahmedabad, Delhi and London, she describes her work as “rooted in the non-binary” and imbued with a plurality of perspectives and cultural influences – not least those of her family.

To purchase your copy of Hole & Corner issue 22, please click here.

Jamie Norris Green Turns Scallop and Oyster Shells Into Lighting (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

With a background in lighting design consultancy, Jamie Norris Green is an award-winning designer who makes contemporary lighting, art, and furniture. Drawing on his experience working with architects and designers all over the world, he has created a small collection of products that are “digitally handmade.” This may sound like a contradiction in terms but by combining traditional handcrafting with digital technology and machinery, Jamie creates one-off or small runs of unique pieces that are often infinitely customizable. They are 3D printed on demand to reduce waste and made from a bio-degradable polymer that includes waste oyster and scallop shells.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability.

I grew up with creativity in the family. My mother was a teacher and my father was a woodworker. Both had studied art at university and were keen painters and illustrators. As a child, I was obsessed with getting out my dad’s tools and trying to create things from bits of wood and various bits and bobs lying around the garage. My grandad was also a keen painter but turned his hand to everything from pottery to house building. Having lived through the war and served as a radio technician, he instilled a zero-waste mentality in the family that stuck with me. He fixed everything and threw nothing away. I can’t say I would eat some of the moldy food he used to though!

I initially studied graphic design at college, but soon found myself making sculptures and models to photograph and turn into graphics. I then enrolled in a 3D design degree at university. I spent most of my time in the workshop making rather than sketching, much to the annoyance of my tutors who wanted to see more sketches to tick their assessment boxes! I was also fascinated with digital 3D modeling. In my final year, I won an external luminaire design competition and was lured into the world of lighting design after exhibiting at New Designers.

My designs are a mixture of handmade and digitally created/machine-made. I like the term “digital handmade” which doesn’t seem to have caught on yet, but describes the process of combining traditional hand-crafting with digital technology and machinery. The process is a long way from mass production. Pieces are made to order and take time to produce. It’s very low waste. One of the processes I turn to the most is 3D printing, sometimes to make molds and sometimes to make the finished product.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

It’s only been the last couple of years that I have been actively looking to use waste as a raw material. At the same time, I had also been on the hunt for more sustainable materials to 3D print with. Most of my printing is done with a bio-degradable polymer derived from corn starch (PLA) and is more sustainable than petro-chemical plastics, but I wanted to find something better. I discovered that there are several companies now combining waste products with PLA to 3D print with! I tried quite a few different materials with various waste products added: wheat offcuts, spent grains of beer and coffee grounds, mussel shells, oysters, and scallops. I quickly found a favorite. The ground scallop and oyster shell materials possess a beautiful natural warmth and translucency that is revealed once the light is switched on and a slightly pearly cool white when unlit.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

The PLA bioplastic is melted and infused with very small particles or ground scallop and oyster shells reclaimed from restaurant waste streams in Normandy, France. It is then extruded into filament that can be 3D printed. Because there are no industrial dyes or additives like a lot of other 3D printing filaments the material has a very natural appearance. I wanted to preserve this natural look and convey the digitally handmade ethos. The digital 3D design uses iterative algorithms which make each piece subtly unique in form and texture. Every single 3D form I send to the printer is different. This adds a little time but creates unique pieces. The “misshapen” globes are then fixed to a jute-covered cord with raw brass fittings. An efficient low voltage dimmable LED lamp and transformer is provided with the luminaires.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

I design the products to last a long time and hopefully be timeless, however, interior design is like fashion. Should our products be un-installed, I will take them back at end of life and recycle them – I have recently started to use a local 3D printed waste company to recycle PLA for me. I am also planning to invest in machinery to re-grind and extrude any waste plastic back to 3D printing filament in-house, so I can use it again. This option means the oyster- and scallop-shell-infused material from the Aspera Sphera fittings could be directly recycled to re-print. The brass fittings can all be re-used too.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

The first time I saw the oyster and scallop shell infused material I was excited. I couldn’t wait to start printing with it. It has such a different appearance to standard PLA – much more natural looking with a subtle opulence. The fact that this came partially from waste products that restaurants were just throwing away really surprised me and has inspired me to find more waste products that can become beautiful things.

How have people reacted to this project?

Everyone who has seen it is surprised to find out it’s 3D printed. The natural color and translucency along with an imperfect form and surface texture make it seem like it has been organically created somehow.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

My opinions have certainly changed! A few years ago, I would have probably seen it as something limited to PR stunts. Now I think it absolutely must happen. We can’t go on with the way we consume and discard.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

I’m very optimistic that it will become widespread and permeate into most industries. In 100 years, I think it might just be taken for granted and people will look back at this time and struggle to understand why there was ever a time when we didn’t use waste.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Jamie Norris Green here.

Green&Blue Turns Clay Waste Into Habitats for Birds, Bees, and Bats (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

UK-based Green&Blue is on a mission to make homes and havens for wildlife. As a certified B Corp, they’re committed to doing this with consideration for people and the planet at the heart of what they do. From their Cornish workshop, they design and make a range of habitat products for different species with the Bee Brick, their innovative home for solitary bees, becoming a planning requirement within new builds in three counties across the UK – Cornwall, Brighton, and Dorset. We spoke to co-founder Gavin Christman to find out more…

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability.

I grew up on the edge of the industrial Midlands surrounded by glass foundries, metal fabricators, and ceramics factories. Though it was our industrial heartland, it’s woven together with stunning wild places, canals, and rivers, forging a lasting connection with nature. Growing up where I did, design and engineering are in my blood, as they are for so many from that area. Art college and then a design degree from Brighton followed before joining Dyson for what I thought would be my dream job.

How would you describe your project/product? And What inspired this project/product?

In 2005 I cofounded Green&Blue with my wife Kate and we set off to follow our dream of living and working in Cornwall. Our ambition was to manufacture wildlife products that would be made in the UK and designed to last a lifetime. As designers, our products are created in response to the challenges we see in the natural world. For example, the Bee Brick, a nesting site for solitary bees, is inspired by the way solitary bees have nested in brickwork or crumbling mortar for hundreds of years. Bee Brick seeks to replicate this for modern construction. As a company, our mission is to make homes and havens for wildlife, and to reconnect people with nature.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?

We make the Green&Blue range from locally sourced aggregates which are a byproduct of the China Clay industry here in Cornwall. Much of the stone extracted is used in industry but certain grades have very little commercial use. The concrete mix we have designed makes use of those aggregates, turning a waste material from a quarry just up the road from us into homes for wildlife.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

The innovation behind products like the Bee Brick lies in the fact that they can be used in place of standard bricks or blocks to make space for nature. Being designed for construction means the range needs to be strong, durable and trusted by the construction industry. This led us to concrete as a material, however we couldn’t ignore the environmental impact of cement. Knowing we had an incredibly strong and durable material in abundance on our doorstep allowed us to mitigate for this and create our own concrete mix using 75% recycled material.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

Each day in our workshop, waste aggregates are combined with a cement binder, they’re mixed and poured into product moulds, vibrated and then cured overnight before being removed from the moulds the following day and processed, ready to be packed into boxes or onto pallets for delivery to construction sites.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

Our products are designed to last at least as long as the building they are installed in. I believe sustainability is primarily about making products that last as long as possible and have the least amount of impact during their manufacturing process. Should a building with our products reach the end of its life the brick and stone elements will be reclaimed, crushed and turned into recycled aggregates for further use in construction.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

The first Green&Blue product that used the waste aggregate concrete was the Bee Brick. However it took many prototypes before we had a product that worked, perseverance is key to product innovation! There’s a degree of magic and alchemy involved in creating the concrete mix, but as a team, we are motivated by these challenges, by problem-solving, and by trying to reduce our impact on the planet at every turn.

How have people reacted to this project?

The response to products like the Bee Brick and our other integrated nesting sites like Bat and Swift Blocks has been really positive and is only growing. As we become increasingly aware of the crisis in the natural world we need solutions like these to halt our biodiversity loss. Once common birds like swifts, sparrows and house martins have been added to the red list for birds of conservation concern and with the amount of construction happening, we have to rethink those spaces and ensure they provide for wildlife as well as humans. We have to remember to exist within nature rather than separately.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

I believe people’s opinion of waste materials is changing but far too slowly, we seem reluctant to shift our lives away from consumer products that have little or no consideration for recycling. However, movements like B corporation and 1% for the planet are encouraging businesses to do better and to lead the way, we’re proud to be a part of that.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

I think a fundamental shift from using virgin materials is critical to our future. We should aim to judge a product’s success by how much waste material is contained, by how little it takes from the earth’s resources. This is one of the biggest challenges we set ourselves at Green&Blue, to consider impact within every part of what we do.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Green and Blue here.

Corrie Williamson Makes Jewelry + Mobiles From Offcuts of Other Makers’ Work (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

London-based jeweler Corrie Williamson makes jewelry and hanging mobiles – which she describes as ‘jewelry for the home’ – from wooden and metal offcuts leftover from the work of other designer-makers, usually of larger objects such as furniture and musical instruments. She has collaborated with brands such as Jigsaw, Toast, Amnesty, Tate Modern, and Selfridges, and works from a studio in her garden nestled between the hustle and bustle of East London and the serenity of Hackney Marshes.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability.

As a child, I was always making things and I have many memories of all the household materials and equipment I would use for my creative projects. My mum let me use her sewing machine all the time, the iron for making wax paintings, and the food processor for recycling paper into pulp. I was chopping up candles and using the kitchen pans to melt them down and remold them into things. She was a really supportive mum like that – I was and still am really lucky! I liked to work with whatever was around me in the house. As a kid, your world is a little more limited in that way and so I think working with waste materials has just become an extension of that. I did an Art Foundation course in Brighton and then had a brief change of plan and started an academic degree in Visual Culture at the University of Brighton. During the second year, we got to do a project for one term in the textiles studio and I got hooked back in. Luckily, the university allowed me to transfer onto the Textiles BA course so I ended up back where I was happiest; experimenting with materials, processes, and making things again.

I would often use found objects in my designs and as starting points for projects so I think the seeds were sown from an early age. While I was studying for my degree, I became interested in jewelry making and the scrap dealer I bought silver from would save me bags of broken watch faces which I used to turn into jewelry. I serendipitously got myself a jewelry agent in Japan, so by the time I finished my textiles degree I was already selling pieces of jewelry. It felt right to carry on with this after I finished and no longer had the access to the workshop facilities that came with being in education. After graduating I got a studio space with a whole collection of other artists, makers, and craftspeople and that really informed where my work would go after that.

How would you describe your project/product?

They vary, but the main thread is the materials I use. I make jewelry and mobiles mainly at the moment using a combination of metals and wood. The designs are paired back and minimal but they come from an experimental making process and I hope there is an element of playfulness in the work.

What inspired this project/product?

The mobiles I have been making lately were originally made for my daughter Pearl when she was a baby and they were an extension of my jewelry-making process. I use similar materials and techniques in both. The creation of the mobiles felt like a natural progression from the jewelry – movement was already playing a small part in my designs but because of the scale and limitations with jewelry, it wasn’t until I took it off the body that new ideas with movement and shadow could come through. I like the idea of creating jewelry for your home.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?

The wood I use is a waste material – I source scraps and small pieces from the offcut bins of furniture makers. Originally I had a friend whose Dad is a furniture maker who makes a lot of beautiful pieces from bog oak. I asked him if I could use scraps of his for making jewelry and he started to save me pieces that were of no use to his work but were perfect for what I needed. I found this way of connecting with other makers really enjoyable and it is a great excuse to have a look at what people are doing in their workshops and see what they are making and how! Now I have a few different furniture makers saving things for me, and at times I have had instrument makers saving me bits and bobs too. I try to build up a little stock of woods in my workshop so I always have pieces to choose from when I am making new designs rather than having an idea of what I want and trying to go out and find that piece.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

It has been something I feel has happened very subconsciously at first, but as I have progressed through different materials, the world has changed and awareness for creating things that have a lower impact on the planet has become much more to the forefront of lots of people’s minds. So for someone who feels very intrinsically linked to the materials I am working with, looking at their impact on the world is a really important part of this.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

The materials are mainly processed by me in my workshop, through cutting, sanding, and finishing, and then assembling – all by hand.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

I only use natural finishing oils that come directly from nature. I join the materials together and I have developed techniques for this that don’t involve any chemical glues so I am looking at the end of life of the product as well and if all parts can either biodegrade or be recycled.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

I actually don’t think I was aware that I was using a “waste product” as such until after I had been working in this way for a while. It came so naturally that it’s only on reflection that I have seen my work in this way.

How have people reacted to this project?

People have been really engaged with where the materials come from and the fact that no two pieces can be exactly the same. I have had customers send me pieces of wood from trees in their garden to use in the work. It is so brilliant to have customers so invested and engaged in the materials.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

I think opinions are changing in a positive way, but there is also a difficulty particularly where larger companies can use their use of waste recycled materials in a superficial way to tick sustainability boxes rather than engaging authentically.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

I think it is a very exciting field in terms of what we will see developing. There are so many innovative people out there coming up with ways to use up waste materials and it is these collective small changes that excite me.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Corrie here.

Stockholm Design & Architecture Talks, Stockholm Furniture Fair

Stockholm Design & Architecture Talks took place from Feb 8-10 as part of Stockholm Furniture Fair.

Katie Treggiden moderated a 2 virtual panels for the event. The first panel included Ana Cristina Quinones, Lay Koon Tan, Simon Ballen and Susie Jahren. They explored the notion of using waste as a raw material.

In the second panel Katie Treggiden explored mending and repair as tools to keep materials and objects in use with designers, makers and researchers. Katie was joined by artist Bridget Harvey, curator Hans Tan and Caroline Till, co-founder of Franklin Till.

With “Being a Game Changer” as an overall theme, Stockholm Design and Architecture Talks 2022 focussed on the most important issues facing the industry right now.

GOING FOR GOLD (Crafts Magazine)

After the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics incorporated electronic waste into their medals and as London’s Design Museum showcases an installation by artist Ibrahim Mahama made from electronic waste for its exhibition Waste Age: What Can Design Do?, Katie Treggiden, author of Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure, explores the concept of ‘urban mining’ and talks to the craftspeople using e-waste in their work.

Most of us remember learning the periodic table at school. Neat rows of boxes filled with mystifying combinations of letters and numbers, each representing one of the 90 elements that are the building blocks of everything on Earth. Sitting on those science lab stools, none of us imagined they might run out but, today, some are already in short supply. In fact, the European Chemical Society has released a new periodic table, putting 12 elements on an ‘endangered’ list. Gone are the ordered lines that appeared in our chemistry books. In their place, amorphous shapes depict the comparative availability of each element, and a colour-coding system highlights which elements are most at risk and those that come from minerals mined in conflict zones. Thirty-one of the elements carry a smartphone symbol, spotlighting that they are used in every one of the 1.56 billion smart phones we make annually. Five of these are already coded red – their availability under ‘serious threat in the next 100 years’.

Precious metals such as gold, copper and silver are among those becoming scarce, while antimony (used in batteries) and lead both look set to dry up in the next decade. Their availability is hampered not by limited existence – there is as much gold on the planet as ever – but there are few effective recycling processes, which means that the decreasing supplies underground and their location in conflict zones . Approximately 10% of gold produced annually and a third of silver is used to produce electronic goods, and yet less than a fifth of e-waste is recycled – even during recycling, most rare earth metals are lost. Increasingly, the elements we need are not in the ground, but in landfill. According to one estimate, so-called ‘e-waste mountains’ hold precious metals such as gold in concentrations 40–50 times higher than can be mined underground.

The Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama highlights the scale of the problem with a mountain-like installation made from e-waste at the heart of the exhibition Waste Age: What Can Design Do? currently at London’s Design Museum. It features alongside a film by design studio Formafantasma showing research from its three-year investigation into the recycling of electronic waste. Another output from Ore Streams – its multimedia project first commissioned by NGV Australia and Triennale Milano – is office furniture made from iron and aluminium extracted from computer cases and components. ’  says co-founder Simone Farresin. ‘The future of electronic waste is not in recycling, but in reusing components.

If the problem is being highlighted at London’s Design Museum, a potential solution took centre stage in Tokyo this summer, where medals at the Summer Olympics and Paralympics were made of recycled electrical devices. Approximately 78,985 tons of discarded devices were collected, classified, dismantled, and melted down before being turned into bronze, silver, and gold medals.

Designers and craftspeople are already thinking along similar lines. In 2015, the designer Jorien Wiltenburg put forward a ‘future design scenario’ as part of her graduate project at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam – her Micro Urban Mining project proposed that copper harvested from electronic cables could be used to weave and knit baskets and fabrics. ‘Restoring the connection between the creation and the use of an object gives us the strange but exciting feeling of having brought back to life something that was considered obsolete,’ she said at the time. It was entirely conceptual, but now pioneering makers and designers such as Sandra Wilson, Studio Plastique and Marta Torrent Boix are making such ideas a reality.

Dr Sandra Wilson. Photo David Cheskin.

Modern-day alchemist, Sandra Wilson

Sandra Wilson is a silversmith, jeweller, researcher and educator at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee, Scotland. She is interested in what she calls the ‘edges of things’. Her research exists in the spaces between jewellery and metal design and other fields – biology, psychology, anthropology and, recently, chemistry. For her Urban Gold Rush project, she collaborated with the Love Chemistry Laboratory at Edinburgh University to recover copper and gold from old computer circuit boards she sourced on eBay, using a technique called hydrometallurgy. ‘The process works with aqueous solutions using acids to recover precious metals,’ she explains. She used hydrochloric acid to recover all the metals from the circuit boards , and then employed chemical compounds or ligands (molecules or atoms which bind reversibly to a protein) to separate them. ‘I spend a lot of time shaking flasks with different solutions and filtering chemicals,’ she says. ‘I feel like a modern-day alchemist.’

Using traditional hand-raising techniques to create sterling silver vessels, Wilson paints the surfaces with her recovered metals in solution, allowing the water to evaporate and the metals to react with the silver, creating distinctive patinas. She has discovered that the process, known as electro-chemical displacement plating, was once used by pre-Hispanic Andean metalworkers. ‘We can learn a lot from historical processes that will enable us to address sustainability,’ she says. ‘Craft values that emphasise materials, where they come from, and how we work with them are incredibly important – and craft practitioners, alongside other disciplines, are central to addressing the big cultural issues of our time.’

Wilson is now collaborating with the National Institute for Design (NID) in Ahmedabad to create a new value chain for female jewellers in India. Such artisans are often charged more for raw materials and paid poorly for their finished products. ‘This project aims to connect female jewellers to e-waste recyclers and create a new “chain of custody” mark for their finished products, so they can charge a premium,’ she says. The project has been hampered by funding cuts and COVID-19, but she is hopeful for its impact. ‘It feels like we are only now getting going,’ she says.

Sand savers: Studio Plastique

Brussels-based Studio Plastique mines electronic waste for glass, rather than precious metals. Silicon (Si) is still categorised as in ‘plentiful supply’ on the European Chemical Society’s new periodic table, but sand (SiO2) is scarce, driven by an exponential increase in demand for concrete – China has used more in the last 11 years than the USA used in the 20th century. The problem is that desert sand – eroded by wind – is too smooth to lock together and form materials such as concrete and glass, so it is the angular, water-eroded sand that is used – and it’s running out.

But there is plenty of glass in landfill. The ‘odd material out’ in electronic waste, the glass windows found in washing machines, kettles and microwaves is often difficult for facilities to recycle, despite being eminently suitable. Theresa Bastek and Archibald Godts, co-founders of Studio Plastique, spotted an opportunity. ‘It is downright stupid to neglect those materials. It is common sense to find applications for them,’ says Bastek. Common Sands – a play on ‘common sense’ – is their collection of vessels, tableware and home accessories made from glass recovered from electronic waste. The colours and textures of each piece are a result of the metal oxides and coatings used within common household appliances, and each piece is marked with the origin of the glass from which is it made, in an attempt to restore the relationships between resource, producer and user.

The first prototypes were made using traditional and the pair is now investigating semi-industrial processes to enable them to scale up. ‘Our generation is facing the consequences of poor resource management and poor design,’ says Bastek. ‘There is too much nonsense in the way we harvest, produce, and consume – long-established, yet illogical cycles that are harmful to nature. There is no way around designing with waste in the future. What once seemed utopian will become obvious. But it has to be done right, it has to be done beautifully.’

Urban miner: Marta Torrent Boix

Spanish product designer and maker Marta Torrent Boix started working with electronic waste by chance. She wanted to explore pottery and, without access to a wheel, she set about making one. Realising that she would need an electric motor if she didn’t want to power the wheel by foot, she called a mechanic friend to see whether he might have one to spare. He didn’t, but offered her a broken washing machine instead. ‘I only ever intended to use its motor, but when I started disassembling it, I realised that inside this “white box,” there were hundreds of useable parts,’ she says. ‘I ended up making the whole wheel from washing machine parts.’ She has been making machines from electronic waste ever since.

For her Urban Mines – her final project for her Material Futures MA at Central Saint Martins this year – she collected dumped electronic goods from the streets of London and repurposed them into both a table and a clay extruder to add to her potter’s wheel. She now uses these machines to make ceramic tableware. ‘Urban Mines highlights the contrast between the intangible and mechanical parts of e-waste and the tactile part of ceramics,’ she says. ‘Through this project, I am combining old craft techniques with new and wasted technology to create unique ceramic pieces.’ The pottery forms have their own distinctive style. Relatively straight-sided and oversized terracotta bowls and mugs feature chunky extruded handles that bear the marks of her machines.

Although Boix is making use of electronic waste, she’s not convinced that what she’s doing is the solution. ‘The problem starts in the way these products are produced,’ she says. ‘Complex artefacts like electronic devices have to be designed, not just for assembly and use, but for disassembly. If there as a simple way to separate and classify the integrated materials, they would be easier to recycle.’


Formafantasm

Of course, these problems call for legislative intervention, and rules that go beyond the recently enacted ‘right to repair bill’ in the UK, but in answer to the question posed by the Design Museum, ‘what can design do?’ Formafantasma’s Simone Farresin agrees with Boix; it starts long before the end of a product’s life. ‘When you open an electronic product up, there’s no clear colour coding or labelling that tells you what is hazardous, because you’re not supposed to open it,’ he says. ‘A simple, universal colour coding system would not only increase the rare earth materials that can be salvaged, but also protect workers in the global South. Designers need to be involved because they can spot where things can be improved.’

From designers at the beginning of the process to craftspeople at the end, re-channelling the electronic waste stream is going require imagination and expertise at every stage. Luckily, it’s clear from the work of Wilson, Boix, Studio Plastique, Wiltenburg and Formafantasma that both already exist; it’s simply a matter of making the connections – a little ‘thinking around the edges’, as Wilson might put it.

Darren Appiagyei Turns Wood From Fallen Trees Into Hand-turned Vessels (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

Darren Appiagyei is a London UK-based woodturner. He graduated from UAL Camberwell College of The Arts, where he studied 3D design in 2016. Darren’s work is about highlighting the intrinsic beauty of the wood and celebrating features such as knots, cracks, bark, or distinctive grain, which are often seen as flaws. He works only with wood from fallen trees that would otherwise be chopped up for firewood. We caught up with Darren to find out more…

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability.

I was born in London to Ghanaian parents, who were very invested in the Ghanaian culture, so my childhood home was adjourned with traditional Ghanaian objects such as the Ashanti stool and the neem wood sculpture. I was very much a creative person in my own little way, I would endlessly draw for hours patiently shading and dotting away. I continued to be creative into my GCSEs and A-levels. It was at University where I developed a sense of direction; I studied 3D design at UAL Camberwell College of the Arts – in my second year we had a unit where we had to learn a new skill and I gravitated towards the lathe, which was hardly used. Learning how to turn was a gradual process of learning and developing with the help of YouTube and the university technicians. Through trial and error, I slowly gained a real appreciation for wood and its grains and textures. I fell in love with the material – I was absolutely spellbound as the wood revealed itself to me as I carved. My interest in sustainability developed as I researched a variety of woods further and understood their properties, depending on where the wood was sourced as well as the difference between trees that had naturally fallen and trees that have deliberately been cut. Once I graduated, I won The Worshipful Company of Turners and Cockpit Arts Awards in 2017 and started to develop a sustainable practice. I was introduced to Woodlands Farm in Shooters Hill, from which I source my wood, only using wood from fallen trees.

How would you describe your project/product?

Making with wood is a collaboration between me and the material. It’s an honoring of the intrinsic beauty of the wood; it’s all about allowing the wood to speak for itself rather than refining and polishing it into something it’s not. Enhancing the imperfections of the wood, my approach is simply about allowing the organic beauty of the wood to shine, whether it be a grain, a knot or just the texture of the wood. Every vessel is a representation of the beauty of wood in its natural state. I like to think of my work like people – everyone is different in their own way, with unique experiences and this is what makes both people and wood so special, every piece is so different even if it’s the same species. I work with a variety of woods; from oak burr – which is a diseased part that has to be cut off oak trees so it won’t cause the whole tree to rot – to spalted beech which has a highlighted element caused by fungi.

What inspired this project/product?

Being a lover of nature inspires me. Growing up in Greenwich, I was fortunate enough to have Greenwich Park just around the corner from home. The park has always been a peaceful haven for me – there is something about walking, thinking, talking with friends, living in the present moment and appreciating my surroundings. I find nature quite magical – can you imagine if trees could talk? The stories they would tell, the history they have lived through…

My cultural identity is another strong influence on my work – it has enabled me to be bold, to dare to break the mold, and to be authentic in my work. I also hope my audience can see the influence of African art in my work aesthetically.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?

The majority of the wood I used is sourced from Woodlands Farm in Shooters Hill. They have tree surgeons who remove wood that has naturally fallen. It’s a magical moment when I rummage through the woodpile and wait for the wood to speak to me, as I try to imagine what I could do with each piece and the shapes I could make to accentuate certain aspects of the wood. It’s a patient approach as I forage through the wood logs, which are most likely to be cut down into square logs and used as firewood otherwise.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision

We live in the ‘Amazon era.’ We order things and they come straight away without a thought. Going to the woodlands farm instead of going to a timber shop where the timber has been seasoned and cleaned up – seeing the raw wood in its natural state really made an impression on me; this wood has the potential to have a second life and deserves to be used effectively, rather than merely being used as firewood which eventually diminishing into ashes.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

My making process starts from the moment I am at the Woodlands Farm, when I envisage the shapes I could create as I observe the natural features of the wood. The making process proper ultimately begins when I start to carve into the wood and it reveals itself to me, it’s like an egg hatching – it’s a delicate and slow process. It’s a collaboration between me and the wood as I use bowl gouges and chisels. It’s a therapeutic process as I carve on my lathe (a union graduate lathe) and the wood reveals itself to me; it could be a detail, a knot, or a transition in tone that catches my attention. Instinctively, I allow the detail of the wood to dictate my design as I simply aim to enhance features. Once I am satisfied with the shape of the wood, I hollow out the inside. It can be an intense process as I thin the walls to my vessel – it’s a bit like grinding into concrete if it’s seasoned wood, whereas it’s like carving into clay if it’s green wood which has been freshly cut. The sanding stage is a slow and gradual process. I see sanding as quality control it’s a time to observe and remove scratches and mistakes. Depending on what I am doing, I may burn the surface of the wood or just leave it as it is. The most frequent question I get is ‘how do I know when to stop?’. It’s intuition, you just know. It’s like in Forrest Gump. Forrest starts running after his heartache with Jenny, he keeps running and gets to the point where people jog along with him, and then suddenly he just stops jogging; he is satisfied and knows he’s done enough. It’s a similar feeling when it comes to my work, once I am satisfied, I add a couple of coatings of Danish oil and it’s finished.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

The great thing about wood is that it’s quite a tactile material, especially if it’s hardwood. Of course, it is biodegradable, but I do romanticize the idea that my work could become a family heirloom, passed down from one generation to the next. I like to think it’s part of my legacy, that when I die a part of me lives on through my work. I have also been looking into how I can close the circle – my aim is that with every vessel I make, I will plant a tree to leave something for the future generations of wood makers.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

I was amazed by the details of the wood. It made me see the wood in a whole different light and I had an eagerness to work with the material again to explore further and push its limits. I was quite excited and I spent a lot of time observing the wood – touching it like a child who receives a toy for the first time, just playing with the material.

How have people reacted to this project?

I love it when people react to my work and understand the origins of the material, they compare it to certain details they may have seen on trees and that truly makes me happy. To know that something I have created has made someone appreciate nature, trees, bark and branches – all things they see every day in their life but may not have taken much notice of before, makes me very happy.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing? What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

I believe people are more willing and open to using waste; experimenting and finding solutions. People are certainly open to learning about how I use waste and understanding how even this stunning wood is waste, essentially. There is a curiosity about raw materials and a desire to change views and give wasted materials a second or third life. Ultimately the future is bright and it’s important those of us who who work with waste materials continue to do so; in order to educate and inspire the next generation of makers.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Darren here.

Pearson Lloyd Turns Waste Food Packaging Into Desk Accessories (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

bFRIENDS by Bene is a collection of desktop accessories made from discarded food packaging. Pen pots, trays, and a smart phone stand, are all 3D printed from 100% recycled PLA, a cornstarch-derived bioplastic, that has been diverted from landfill. The collection was designed by London-based Pearson Lloyd and produced by Batch.Works. We spoke to Luke Pearson (below, left), co-founder of Pearson Lloyd, to find out more.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability. 

Growing up in a fairly rural setting meant entertaining oneself was key to not being bored. Having two creative parents, a painter father and a fashion designer mother, meant there was an abundance of tools and materials around me. I was lucky enough to grow up in a rambling, mostly undecorated, house which meant making a mess was okay. As a result, I created my reality and entertainment through the things that I made. A fairly frugal view of the world meant repairs were always attempted and my mother grew all our vegetables, so I’ve always shied away from consumption unless I really need something. The idea of waste has always troubled me and a ‘repair and make things last’ mentality found its way into my design thinking. Having toyed with the idea of being a physicist and engineer, the penny slowly dropped that design was what really excited me so a tiny prompt from my dad pushed me off to art college. At Central St Martins, my degree thesis was about conspicuous consumption and if we would, without legislation, be able to curb this desire. At Pearson Lloyd, we have always tried to be careful with what and how we design, but as time goes on the rules change and the boundaries tighten.

How would you describe your project/product? 

This is a very collaborative project that we instigated having met a young start-up opposite our new studio in London. bFRIENDS is a playful collection of user-friendly desk accessories for the office and the home produced by our long-term friends Bene and manufactured by start-up Batch.works. The collection ranges from very specific small items and ambiguous products with mixed functions to shared accessory trays for group work. All of it is 3D printed from recycled food packaging.

What inspired this project/product? 

For a long time, we have wanted to design a line of accessories, but the costs of tooling are prohibitive for what might be relatively small production runs. Additionally, the amount of tooling required means that, unless you make a lot of one single product, it’s highly wasteful in terms of the energy and raw materials used to make the tooling alone. Meeting Batch.Works during the lockdown last spring, who specialize in producing items in recycled PLA, was a catalyst. In these uncertain times, we wanted to make something with very little impact but also something that could be modified, updated, or even canceled with very little impact. Something smart and agile. Something fun. 3D printing offered the perfect process.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them? 

We are using PLA, which is the thermoplastic polyester most commonly used in 3D printing. Batch.Works were already working with a bioplastic PLA recycled from food packaging, so the bFRIENDS product has already had a first life. This lowers the carbon impact massively from virgin plastics made from the petrochemical industry. The fact the desk accessories don’t require very high structural performance parameters meant PLA was very suitable.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision? 

Recently, we are trying to persuade manufacturers to take bigger and bigger steps, but we have always discussed what proportion of recycled material can be put into our products and tried to ensure non-recyclable materials are kept to a minimum.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product? 

There is a roll of PLA filament a few millimeters in diameter, which is heated and squeezed through the nozzle of a 3D printer which effectively draws the shape in 3D. There is no handwork required.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy? 

Yes, the products can be chipped and made into new filament to make a new product. We are implementing a collection facility with Bene so that people can simply return unwanted items to a Bene showroom and they can be taken back for reprocessing.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype? 

It’s thrilling to make a new product out of an old one that has a totally different function but discloses no evidence of that previous life.

How have people reacted to this project? 

So far, people like not only the story and intent but also the playful shapes and colors we have used.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

Very quickly but not quickly enough. I think it’s still a first-world privilege in some ways to worry about waste, but sadly it generally affects developing nations’ economies and people first. The problem is visibility. So often what’s not seen is impossible to comprehend and what the world generates in terms of waste is terrifying.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material? 

A few years ago I took a group of RCA students to Brazil. It was hard to find waste in the city. Everything was scavenged at the end of the day and turned into something new or useful. Necessity and poverty drove this, rather than sustainability, but it made me consider waste as a valuable material in a new way. We have to shift our values, but as materials inevitably become more expensive, people will be forced to use them more carefully or use them again. I hope this is not too late. We need to change the culture now.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Pearson Lloyd here.

COP26 Opinion Piece (Crafts Magazine)

‘Craft skills and knowledge should be at the heart of the debate about our relationship to the planet,’ says sustainability champion Katie Treggiden

The writer and podcaster explains why it’s vital for the climate movement to encompass a far wider range of people and solutions

‘When you’re close to the problem, you’re necessarily close to the solutions,’ say Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K Wilkinson in their introduction to All We Can Save (2020), an anthology of writing by women at the forefront of the climate movement, whose real-world experiences and practical solutions are all too often ignored.

It’s a piece of advice that the organisers of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference seem not to have heeded. The event is conspicuous in its homogeneity and in its privileging of those whose business models and profits are put at risk by the very actions needed to avert the climate crisis. Despite the fact that women, people of colour, the populations of the Global South and Indigenous communities around the world are disproportionately affected by and concerned about climate change, the importance of their representation has been overlooked.

In September 2020, when the UK government announced its original line-up of politicians, lead negotiators and civil servants to host COP26, there wasn’t a single woman among them. Pressing ahead with the conference before widespread COVID-19 vaccination across the globe has led to the final line-up of delegates being disproportionately from Western countries. Right now, the very legitimacy of COP26 is being called into question by environmental, academic, climate justice, indigenous and women’s rights organisations, who say they have been excluded from the negotiations. Compounding the problem, the public narrative frequently erases perspectives from outside of the West. Last year, the Associated Press cropped Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate out of a photograph taken in Davos featuring Greta Thunberg and three other white European campaigners.

Craft has long been associated with the same historically marginalised groups who are barely present at COP26. Critic and curator Glenn Adamson argues that it’s not the case that craft is predominantly practiced by women and non-Western people, but rather that ‘craft’ is the term people apply to whatever they make – that it’s a constructed, ideological category applied to anything outside of the individualistic Eurocentric domain, designed to diminish their power. Historically, craft has been trivialised, along with the worldviews of those who practise it. The perspective that sees craft activity as somehow ‘lesser’ than other creative practices, and the one which regards non-Western contributions on climate emergency as secondary, are both rooted in the same webs of privilege and prejudice.

Craft offers not only a way of making, but also a way of thinking – one that is collaborative, inclusive and responsive to our changing natural environment. It is essential if we are to shift away from our current ‘take-make-waste’ model of production to a more circular one. Traditional forms of knowledge and practice should therefore be at the heart of the debate about our relationship to the planet, and yet the knowledge of craftspeople is often relegated in favour of technological and technocratic solutions and the priorities of global corporations.

A living root bridge constructed by the Khasi hill tribe, featured in the book LO-TEK Design by Julia Watson.

The circular economy, as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, asks us: to design out waste and pollution; to keep objects and materials in use; and to regenerate natural systems – all things that craftspeople have always embraced. Makers’ respect for natural resources, their material literacy and often mono-materialistic approach makes waste an abhorrence – and their sheer proximity to their materials during the making process makes pollution personal. Their ability to turn materials into useful, meaningful and valued objects that can be repaired or remade keeps materials and objects in use. And their sense of connectivity to those who have gone before and those who will follow, makes regenerating natural systems inherent to the craft process.

Indigenous rights activist Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset describes our current approach to knowledge and expertise as ‘a racially exclusive framework that has bolstered colonial scholarship and relegated Indigenous knowledge to obscurity’. And yet, there are countless examples of traditional craft techniques allowing people to live in harmony with the planet, and even actively rejuvenating the environment. For example, in India tea is traditionally served in unglazed terracotta cups known as kulhads. They are designed for single-use and thrown onto the ground as soon as the tea is finished, where they harmlessly degrade back into the earth, eventually forming more clay. In Northern India, the Khasi hill tribe has developed the only bridges able to withstand the force of worsening monsoonal rains, woven and grown from living rubber fig trees’ aerial roots into a latticework that only becomes stronger over time. As artificial bridges are washed away or rot in the humid conditions, we are reminded of why proximity to the problem generates better solutions. On the other side of the world, black ash trees, in decline across Oklahoma, thrive where Potawatomi basket-makers create spaces in the forest canopy for new growth by sourcing their material in accordance with traditional practices.

‘Can craft save the world?’ is the question that drives my work as a podcaster and writer – a provocation that plays with preconception of craft as small and trivial. And yet, as these examples show, it is anything but: those who practice craft have the power to help us transition to a more circular economy, in which we eliminate waste, keep materials and objects in use and regenerate natural systems.

In her celebrated book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, a scientist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, writes: ‘Many Indigenous peoples share the understanding that we are each endowed with a particular gift, a unique ability. Asking what is our responsibility is perhaps also to ask, what is our gift? And how shall we use it?’ As the craft community grapples with its responsibilities in the climate crisis, perhaps we should also be examining our gifts – and their potential to help us and future generations thrive in synergy with our one finite planet.

To read the article at its source please click here.

Martin Thübeck Turns Sawmill and Tannery Waste Into Modular Furniture (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

Stockholm-based Martin Thübeck graduated with a master’s degree in Spatial Design from Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in 2020. His Betula Collection features a frame made from identical pieces of reclaimed wood, connected by a single joint. For the chair, rawhide rejected by the leather industry is dried around the frame to hold it in place, while a dresser features cord – both designed for disassembly.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability.

For as long as I can remember I have loved to draw, paint, and create things with my hands. The ability to materialize my imagination gave me a strong sense of freedom and acted as a catalysator to imagine even more. My constant creativity landed me a middle spot in a school with a focus on art and design. During these years I spent a lot of time painting and as my skill grew, the pressure to continue that path only got bigger. When it was time to decide on a direction for senior high school, I was offered a spot at a prestigious art school, but the pressure from all the years made me rebel and apply instead for an education in cabinet making. A much less prestigious and more pragmatic direction, but something I longed for at the time. There, I found it very rewarding to have an artistic background when learning carpentry. I work for many years with carpentry before the passing of my mother made me apply to Konstfack, where I fully explored my pragmatic and artistic side. The education has a strong focus on sustainability and today forms the backbone of all my projects.

How would you describe your project/product?

The Betula project is a collection of furniture made from the waste generated by a Swedish birch sawmill. It is a reaction to the part of modern forestry that people tend not to see – and how the material’s origin is generating a lot of waste. In the project, I have experimented with the power of the single building block and how modularity can prolong the lifespan of furniture.

What inspired this project/product?

The project started out as an investigation into how Swedish forestry has evolved over the past hundred years and how this is affected by climate change. Sweden is one of the world’s largest exporters of forest-based products and this has affected how the Swedish forests look today, the majority of which have been planted. Today only 20% of the trees are ‘leaf trees’ as the biggest profits have been found in pine and spruce, which can be planted closer together. With the rapid change in climate it has become evident that these planted forests are very vulnerable to storms, pests, and fires. To prevent this there is a need for much more biodiversity of the sort you would see in ancient natural forests.

This made me interested in the third most common tree in Sweden, Birch. Birch constitutes 12% of the total Swedish forestry and is the most common leaf tree. To get an image of the birch industry I visited one of Sweden’s biggest Birch sawmills. Their clients expect only the best quality with as straight fibers as possible – and a pale color at odds with the natural reddish color Birch often displays naturally. In order for the sawmill to compete, the owner of the sawmill explained that roughly 70% of all the logs that come into the facility are considered waste and burnt. The way the production line is set up, all material goes through the entire refining steps and then gets sorted before the drying process. If something goes wrong in the drying process this can also discolor the wood and render it useless for the furniture industry.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?

At the sawmill, I saw giant piles of waste material that only have minor variations from the desired standard, that sometimes weren’t even visible. These piles inspired the idea to explore how the least amount of work could affect the value of the discarded material the most. By using the dimension of the material and only altering their ends, finding a simple joint that could fit both into itself in several ways and also join along the pieces. The result was to mill a cut one-third of the thickness and as deep as the widest profile of the material.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

Unfortunately, waste is such a widely accessible material, so I started using it long before I even understood the concept. As I got older, I started to question things more and I enjoyed showing the potential in the unwanted. When I started to study design and learning more about sustainability, the concept of using waste came very naturally.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

In this project, I wanted to explore how the least amount of work could affect material the most. The pieces are only cut in length and a groove is milled in either end, creating a ‘tongue and groove’ joint except that the tongue is the thickness of the material and the groove is the cut in the end of the material.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

I found inspiration in Gerrit Rietvelds ‘Krat’ system where he took inspiration from an object which denotes other functions, such as a packing case. And Enzo Maris ‘Autoprogettazione?’ project where he wanted to educate consumers about design. In both these projects, nails held the boards together. I wanted to explore if I could find a more flexible alternative way to hold the structures together – experimenting with paper cord and rawhide.

Close to the sawmill is a tannery and leather is a material that also has strong visual preconceptions and expectations. When visiting this tannery, I learned that a lot of the hides that come from the slaughterhouse have scares, mosquito bites and other defects that will show after the tanning process. These hides or parts of hides will then be considered waste.

Wood and leather have a long history of being used together. Instead of traditional upholstering I let the soft hide dry and shrink around the wood structure of the Betula chair making it sturdy and strong.

This was a way of prolonging the life of these pieces as they can be separated and put back together as something else.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

I think my first reaction was surprise at how little work could change the value so much. It went from being waste to a building block that I instantly started playing around with trying to figure out what to build. This process is still ongoing and the furniture collection is slowly growing.

How have people reacted to this project?

Due to the pandemic, the project has not been shown in its entirety but the few times I have had the possibility to show it, I have tried to engage people in the building possibilities. This way people have touched and reflected on the material in a much deeper way. Hopefully, the project can be shown soon and to be experienced, so more can learn about the potential in the unwanted.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

I believe more and more people see the potential, not only financially but also the necessity if we want to continue to inhabit this planet. I find hope in the growing number of projects showing ways of moving towards a more sustainable way of living.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

I hope that we soon stop viewing anything as waste and start to see everything as potential raw materials.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Martin here.

Visiting Lecturer Programme, Carmarthen School of Art

Carmarthen School of Art offer a college-wide Visiting Lecturer Programme, welcoming speakers from the art, design and craft world to deliver a lecture about their practice. Previous speakers have included Dr Zoe Laughlin, Martin Parr, Kirsty McDougall and Jessica Turrell amongst others. 

Katie Treggiden was invited to contribute to the lecture programme to talk about sustainability in craft and design, delivered virtually to students across FE and HE courses.

The Poetics of Persuasion (The Peninsulist)

The recent publication of the IPCC Sixth Assessment has been labelled a ‘code red’ warning on the climate crisis. What could craft possibly have to offer in the face of such a huge and ‘wicked’ problem? Katie Treggiden makes the case for craft as a harbinger of hope.

Craft as a tool in the fight against the climate crisis? Really?! I know what you’re thinking. Either you associate craft with Tom Daley’s poolside crochet, in which case you’re probably more than a little bemused, or you’ve seen independent designer-makers coming up with some pretty cool ideas, but you’re not convinced they’re scalable. Either way, craft is small; craft is marginal; craft is gentle. It hasn’t got the scope or seriousness to tackle the problems the planet is now facing, and certainly not at the scale we now need. ‘Independent designers with the greatest of intentions and the greatest of ingenuity are still the merest rounding errors of the real problem,’ says craft historian Glenn Adamson. ‘The real problem is of such hugeness that it requires a radical rethinking of our production and consumption patterns as a species.’ And he’s right. But what if craft – small, marginal and gentle as it might be – could help to prompt some of that radical rethinking?

Co-founder of Studio Swine Alexander Groves describes the Sea Chair that he and his partner Azusa Murakami designed as a ‘flight of fancy.’ Inspired by the crafts practised by seafarers for generations, it was conceived to provide potential solutions to both the plastics crisis and declining incomes from fishing, by providing fisherman with an open-source design they could make from ocean plastic while out at sea. However, he admits that they didn’t actually expect to solve either problem. So why design the chair at all? ‘Transforming the undesirable into something desirable makes you do a double-take and re-assess your perception of the world,’ he explains. ‘We wanted to bring [ocean plastic] to the public’s attention and introduce some poetry which we felt was lacking in sustainable design at the time. We wanted to engage people with the issue and demand change in the way we use plastics.’

With director Juriaan Booij, Studio Swine made a film depicting a day boat heading out to sea in the romantic light of dawn. It shows fishermen catching both fish and plastic, turning the latter into Sea Chairs as they gut and prepare the fish. ‘The film was as important an outcome from the project as the chair itself,’ says Groves. It went on to be awarded at Cannes and viewed by millions of people.

For Groves and Murakami then, craft is not necessarily about solving the planet’s problems, but about raising awareness of them with enough poetry to challenge perceptions and perhaps even spur the radical rethink that we need.

The argument often put forward in defence of such flights of fancy is that they serve as independent research projects, generating original ideas that, once proven, can be scaled up in collaboration with bigger companies – and sometimes this is the case. But what if this isn’t craft’s only role? ‘In the arena of poetics and persuasion, the designer is not necessarily coming up with the solution that will be scaled up and operationalised but rather using craft as a form of soft power – a way of getting people to attend to the problem of climate change and think in a more optimistic and hopeful way about potential solutions,’ says Adamson.

Now the evidence that climate change is not only real, but caused by human activity and taking us on a path towards our own extinction, is unequivocal, the communications task facing environmentalists is less driven by facts and more by emotions. The danger of reports such as the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment is that the facts engender feelings of despair and hopelessness. If we are to reverse, halt, or even slow climate change, the task ahead of us is vast and can seem insurmountably complex. And it is intersected with issues ranging from biodiversity to social justice. It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed, to bury our heads and to do nothing, but the crisis calls, more than anything, for action.

Craft offers an opportunity to create talismans of hope. ‘Iconic, attention-grabbing, beautiful, charismatic objects can serve as handles on a possible future – a future that is more functional, a future that actually works,’ says Adamson. ‘Maybe the soft power of craft is most important because it gets right to our human understanding of the situation itself.’ If craft can create hope, it can inspire action.

London-based designer Yinka Ilori agrees. ‘Storytelling is such a huge part of design; without a narrative, design is pointless,’ he says. ‘It’s got to make me feel something.’ Ilori’s If Chairs Could Talk project comprises five chairs, each made from the discarded pieces of others, which he uses to explore issues of both sustainability and social justice, by telling the stories of five of his childhood friends. ‘I suddenly saw chairs, not just as seats, but as objects that could explore power in society and, viewed in a gallery setting, perhaps even change perspectives,’ he says.

Similarly, designer Simon Ballan tackles both the colonialisation of his native Colombia and the waste and pollution generated by gold mining in his Suelo Orfebre (‘Golden Soil’) collection. The vessels are handblown using recycled glass and ‘jagua’ – the crushed ore left over after gold mining. ‘I wanted to use design as a narrative medium that must stop striving to ‘mirror’ the coloniser, but instead to foster practices that make use of our own local realities, to create objects and tools for discourse and empowerment,’ he says. He worked with the local community to develop the collection and in doing so demonstrated the value of something that was, until then, dumped into rivers at a rate of 100 tonnes a day, creating pollution downstream. ‘The people of the local community reacted with surprise to the transformation of the jagua,’ he says. ‘They perceived it differently after the transformation. It was no longer a waste product, but a material that could be transformed into something valuable. In the future I would like to think that, metaphorically at least, every waste stream could be transformed into gold.’

‘Artistic endeavour and wild leaps of creativity can sometimes lead to massive transformations in the way the material world operates and is understood,’ says Adamson. Massive transformations are exactly what we’re looking for. Perhaps we’ve just been looking in all the wrong places – and the poetics of persuasion are rooted in the small, marginal and gentle after all.

 

 

Creative Residency Panel, TOAST

Katie Treggiden was invited by clothing and lifestyle brand TOAST to host a panel discussion as part of their Creative Residency. The annual TOAST Creative Residency brings together their community of creative individuals. This year, they hosted their first blended Creative Residency, with a three-day programme of engaging talks, workshops and live demonstrations both online and in person.

Katie was joined on the panel by New Maker Corrie Williamson, artist Abigail Booth, designer maker Darren Appiagyei and craftsman and environmentalist Sebastian Cox. They discussed the reinvention and repurposing of natural materials and the benefits of collaborating with nature in design.

Disharee Mathur Turns Damaged Sinks and Toilets Into Vases and Accessories (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

Disharee Mathur is a graduate of the MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering program at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College, London. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and has worked at internationally renowned Interior Architecture firms – Studio O+A (San Francisco, USA) and Gensler (Bangalore, India). Today, she is an interdisciplinary designer working across products, interactions and interiors – and her NewBlue project reimagines damaged sanitary ware into vases and accessories.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design and sustainability.

I grew up in Jaipur (India) where hand crafting is part of the daily social fabric and culture – whether it is cooking cuisines crafted with spices or using block-printed textiles across the home. I come from a family of doctors who are also singers, writers and musicians. I used to draw and paint as a child. Later, I started doing still life painting at high school and was mentored by my aunt who is an artist. That was when I learned to observe both things and people closely. My interest in painting led me to design. I secured a scholarship to study at the Savannah College of Art and Design. At SCAD, I was enthralled by the possibilities that creative disciplines offered. I started with animation, learning about creating 3D environments for VFX drew me towards designing spaces, and ultimately I majored in Interior Design. There was a materials library in the department that made me feel like a kid in the candy store! After SCAD, I worked in the industry for a few years and wanted to diversify my scale of work across disciplines. I was interested in applying artistry to principles of strategic design and sustainability. These dots connected at the RCA and Imperial College, during my masters. It was exciting to learn about circularity and find overlaps between my cultural practices & crafts and the western definition of circularity in design – and “making with waste” was also not far from tradition at home – whether it was creating outfits out of my mum’s old saris or my grandma using lemon peels for pickles.

How would you describe your project?

NewBlue is a conversation between a traditional pottery craft, material science and design that sheds light on a new perspective on craft preservation and waste management. The project revives an ancient craft practice using ceramic waste as an ingredient in the NewBlue Pottery recipe. The waste is used as a strengthener while keeping the artistry and technique of the Jaipur Blue Pottery craft intact. NewBlue diversifies Blue Pottery beyond pottery, to explore new scales and applications for the craft and their product range into furniture and architecture.

What inspired this project?

Conversations with craft communities in Jaipur and the local government’s efforts to find land to accommodate sanitary ware waste. India has the largest concentration of craft in the world yet only 2% of the global handicraft market share. These numbers reflected reality when I started interviewing craft units and communities in my hometown. The Jaipur Blue Pottery craft was studied to understand the scenario from the ground up. While the craft is celebrated for its ornamentation and technique, less than 300 artisans are practicing today. Apart from the low incentive for the next generation to continue the practice, artisans mentioned material deterioration and low material strength as challenges to the development of the craft. This inspired me to focus on material innovation for craft preservation. Using the waste was also an incentive for the craft units to become eligible for state economic opportunities as contributors to local waste management. Recent craft preservation efforts were geared towards preserving practices as artifacts, rather than enterprises in the economy. I was inspired to find an intersection between traditional craft and scientific innovation to seek a contextual solution.

What waste material are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?

I am using rejected sanitary ware (sinks and toilets) from local retail stores in Jaipur.  Most of these stores have 3-4 rejected pieces in shipment with cracks and defects, that cannot be sold, so end up becoming waste. We use these pieces as a raw material for NewBlue in the Jaipur Blue Pottery workshops – they are used as a strengthening ingredient. These are processed using the existing workshop equipment. We selected this material after over 50 experiments with different waste materials and doing compressive strength and material hardness tests on all fired samples. The samples with the sanitary ware waste showed the best results. The artisans reviewed all the samples and gave feedback along the way. The selection criteria were accessibility of the ingredient logistically and economically while retaining the aesthetics and processes of the traditional craft. Recycling glass is already a part of the ancient recipe so introducing another waste material is not too far from tradition. We source this waste in the same way the artisans source recycled glass from local art-framing stores. The small quantity of the waste required in the recipe allows wider accessibility for sourcing.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

I first became interested in using waste because of its excess and, as a result, its accessibility. After learning more about the quality of ingredients in industrial waste like ceramics, that motivated me to experiment with the material as a potential resource for use. On reflection, it’s also a great tool for prototyping and testing ideas for form and textures.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

NewBlue material is made with the addition of waste as an ingredient in the traditional Blue Pottery process. Blue Pottery is one of the few pottery techniques in the world that does not use clay. They use locally sourced quartz powder, recycled glass, plant-based gum, and sand as binders ground together and kneaded to make a dough. The dough is then molded like a flatbread, sun-dried, and finished with intricate motifs in oxide pigments as an underglaze. These ceramics are fired only once at low temperatures of 790-800 degrees celsius. The traditional craft practice remains untouched as this material can only be made and used in existing Blue Pottery craft workshops. The NewBlue material variations are named as “A synonym and Antonym for Jaipur Blue Pottery” for this very reason. The Synonym material is synonymous with the craft in color and texture but with doubled strength. It is embodied as an end-table from existing traditional molds, showcasing the newly acquired strength and scale of the material. The Antonym is unglazed and embodied as passive cooling architectural tiles showcasing the material strength with porosity.

What happens to your products at the end of life, can they go back into the circular economy?

The artisans have traditionally experimented with mosaics to find ways to reuse the pieces and these can be broken down again to make smaller pieces to be put back in circularity. However, more robust research is required to make this reach its full potential at the end of life.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product /prototype?

It was magical! There were so many happy accidents as we experimented with different types of waste, from terracotta street vendors to a china clay factory. We found new colors and textures which we couldn’t use at the time to be strict with craft compatibility. But I’d love to explore some of those for other pieces!

How have people reacted to this project?

It has been really positive and encouraging so far – and I’d love to take this concept to more remote rural communities that were not able to test this in their workshops due to pandemic restrictions.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

There are different perspectives in the East and the West. Designers in the West are really open to using waste as a resource but are sometimes limited in finding sustainable manufacturing techniques to process it at all times, while the East has strong cultural traditions around using certain types of waste in their practices but is sometimes not open to use all types of waste materials. There is real potential in the two perspectives transcending borders to adopt the ‘waste is wealth’ method of making.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

It’s exciting to discover different types of waste as material resources that may further feed into the economy. I am always enamored with how beautifully nature creates and processes waste – dried leaves in autumn are a great example. I hope as designers we are inspired by nature’s processes to feed future circular systems – whether it is material movement or processing what’s left behind after use. The future of using waste material may also draw from past traditional practices of making with local abundance – waste or used materials.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Disharee here.

Science Museum – Climate Change: How Consumers and Businesses Can Make a Difference

Mon Terra Turns Waste Plant Pots Into Furniture and Accessories (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

Mon Terra was founded by Tamara Efrat, a multidisciplinary designer and entrepreneur, and Yuval Dishon, a process engineer and maker. Both are from Tel-Aviv in Isreal – although they met in Boston during a three-month social entrepreneurship program and decided their shared values and complementary skillset made them a perfect match. Together, they turn agricultural plastic waste into furniture and accessories. We spoke to them to find out more.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design and sustainability.

Tamara – I studied fashion design for my bachelor’s degree and design and technology for my master’s degree. After finishing my studies, I decided to be independent and to open my own studio, where I could vision, create and most importantly collaborate with people from different disciplines. My work explores the relationship between craft and contemporary digital technology. As a designer that creates new objects, I feel it is my responsibility to take better care of the planet in terms of the materials I use, the processes I implement and the quality of the products I create. In the past year, I decided that I wanted to focus on social and environmental issues. In 2019, I flew to Boston for three very intensive months to participate in a social entrepreneurship program where I met Yuval and we founded Mon Terra together.

Yuval – Growing up, it was obvious at home that we didn’t waste water, that we didn’t purchase unnecessary things and that we recycled (back then it was only paper); it just made sense to me, but I’m not sure I understood the reasons. I have always had a passion for understanding how things work and why they are the way they are. Over time, I have become more knowledgeable about and aware of sustainability, until it has become an integral part of my being. My academic background and some of my professional background are actually in medical research and devices, but about five years ago, I joined an urban agriculture start-up. Not only was this venture important for the environment and healthy living, but working there helped me find my field of creativity: problem-solving and process development. This was a good jumping board from which to launching Mon Terra with Tamara, who has such a complementary skillset.

How would you describe your project?

Mon Terra is an ecologically committed venture addressing the issue of plastic waste produced by the agricultural industry. We collect plastic plant pots discarded by local gardeners and nurseries, then clean and shred them before using them to manufacture our products.

What inspired this project?

Seeing the huge amount of plastic waste Israel produces alone every year: over one million tons of plastic, only a quarter of which is currently being recycled. It is estimated that 26,000 tons of plastic waste are produced annually by the Israeli agricultural industry.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those? particular materials and how do you source them?

We start the process by collecting the precious raw material – discarded polypropylene plant pots – from gardeners and nurseries.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

The pots are cleaned and shredded using an industrial plastic shredder, which turns them into tiny plastic flakes. Great care is taken in shredding and stocking the different types of flakes, based on parameters such as color or quality. Although the pots are all polypropylene, they may contain different additives and therefore behave differently during the reincarnation process. The plastic is carefully weighed, placed into molds, and melted using a variety of techniques. Polypropylene’s melting temperature is rather low (130-170 degrees celsius), rendering this process relatively low-energy.

Finally, each product requires a set of post-processing steps, like drilling, wiring or sanding. During post-processing, some plastic waste is created from the raw product. This plastic is collected and reused in other products, so nothing ever goes to waste.

Each and every product is handmade by Mon Terra. This ensures that each product is of high quality, and also renders each product unique. At Mon Terra, we believe in “truth to material”, so although most of the products require some post-processing, we aspire to make as few changes as possible to the raw product – the manufacturing process is thus apparent in each product in a unique way.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

Initially, we were designing an ecological product for urban agriculturists. While researching raw materials and manufacturing facilities, we were alarmed by the magnitude of plastic waste produced by the agricultural industry, an industry crucial to our health and our environment. It became clear that we should devote our efforts to helping the agricultural industry to join the circular economy. We began collecting discarded plant pots from gardeners and nurseries, who were happy to collaborate, and then we started researching and experimenting with small-scale plastic recycling. Quite a bit of research, experimentation, trials and errors were involved in perfecting the “plastic reincarnation” process as we like to call it.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

We design and manufacture high-end and durable products so they are long-lasting, and we make them unique so our customers feel connected to them and keep them for much longer, but yes, absolutely. All our products can be recycled again when they finish their lifecycle. We constantly receive offers for collaborations with different designers and manufacturers, but unfortunately, we must turn them down as they normally propose mixing our raw material with theirs, which would render our products non-recyclable. We take great care to avoid mixing different types of thermoplastics, and therefore we currently limit our products to only polypropylene.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

When we first saw the transformation we were amazed! The new reincarnated material we developed looked similar to stone and marble. Honestly, it was astounding, we were expecting to recycle the plastic and hoped it would look nice, but we immediately realized we are actually upcycling. When we started posting our products on social media we also started getting many offers for collaborations from different artists and designers. When we started getting attention from large manufacturers and sellers, we realized we had managed to transform and upcycle the original material – plant pots – into a very interesting material.

How have people reacted to this project?

We get amazing responses from people around the world. People are amazed when they realize the products are not stone or marble, and even more so when they find out they are made from 100% recycled plastic. We have also been contacted by other designers, manufacturers and sellers. All this wonderful feedback has provided amazing motivation and made us realize we must be doing something right – both design-wise and in terms of the environment.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

In Israel, where we come from, people are not very familiar with buying sustainable products, at least not as much as in the rest of the Western world. One of the main objectives of Mon Terra was to expose as many people as possible to the opportunities of waste utilization. We know many people envision recycled products as low quality or something they see their kids do at kindergarten, which is why it was crucial to us to develop high-end, design-led products.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

We think waste as raw material is the future. There just isn’t any other way – our resources are diminishing quickly. This field is developing these days but not fast enough. At some point, it will become inevitable. We believe that generating less waste is key, alongside its recycling. We believe waste should stop being called ‘waste’, as it should always be raw material for other applications, and if a waste product cannot be recycled or reused – it should have been made of a different material to begin with. We believe in the numerous interesting, inspirational, intelligent circular economy ventures that are developing these days and are happy to be part of this movement.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Mon Terra here.

Back for good: the fine art of repairing broken things (The Observer)

(Header image Aya Haidar – credit Roo Lewis)

New legislation coming into force this summer gives UK consumers the ‘right to repair.’ The last time we were encouraged to ‘make do and mend’ was during World War Two – this time the imperative is environmental. Podcaster Katie Treggiden explores what a return to a culture of repair means for five artists and designers already making and mending.

When Aldous Huxley wrote his dystopian novel Brave New World in 1932, he imagined a society in which the importance of discarding old clothes was whispered into children’s ears while they slept (‘Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches’) – so vital was the imperative to drive consumption of the new. He set his novel 600 years into the future, but in the foreword to the 1946 edition, suggested that its ‘horror may be upon us within a single century’. He wasn’t far off. Just 63 years later, in 2008, design historian Hazel Clark declared that ‘mending has died out’.

Another 13 years on, it has, and it hasn’t. Product lifespans are getting shorter – in fact one UK-based fashion company advises buyers to work to quality standards that assume a dress will stay in its owner’s wardrobe for less than five weeks. And it’s not just clothes that we no longer mend. Household appliances can be cheaper to replace than repair, with spare parts often available only if harvested from retired machines. Something as simple as a depleted battery frequently spells the end for today’s hermetically sealed electronic devices, and simply attempting a repair can render warranties invalid.

This summer Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Regulations, dubbed the ‘right to repair bill,’ come into force, requiring that manufactures make spare parts and maintenance information available for their products. The intention is to overcome built-in obsolescence, enable repairs and extend lifespans. The government now expects white goods to last for up to a decade, rather than the seven-year average reported by the Whitegoods Trade Association.

But ‘right to repair’ campaigners such as the co-founder of The Restart Project, Janet Gunter, argue that the measures don’t go far enough. ‘This has been widely reported as “problem solved”, but in fact, the rules only apply to lighting, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges – and they only give spare parts and repair documentation to professionals,’ she says. ‘We have to keep fighting for all the other things in your house – we want to see ecodesign legislation applied to other hard-to-repair tech products, such as laptops and smartphones – and offer the right to repair to everyone, including people who want to repair their own machines at home.’ Philip Dunne MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee agrees. ‘There should be no contest: consumers should have every right to fix items they own,’ he says. ‘Making spare parts available is the first step in creating a circular economy where we use, reuse and recycle products. We must stop using and disposing quite so much: we must take action if we are to protect the environment for generations to come.’

Assuming things go their way, we are likely to see a move away from throw-away culture and a return to repair. Not since Make Do and Mend during the Second World War has there been such an imperative to fix the things we own, but now the motivation is environmental. The second tenet of the circular economy, as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is to ‘keep materials and objects in use’ and repair is one of the simplest ways to achieve this. Today, artists and designers are leading the way in exploring what mending really means. They might not be offering to fix your broken toaster, but through exploring the practice of repair, they are laying the groundwork for new ways of thinking about the objects we surround ourselves with. Perhaps by following their lead, we can move away from the veneration of newness that is exemplified by the trend for unboxing videos on YouYube and ‘box-fresh’ trainers, and instead learn to celebrate the storied patina that comes with care and repair.

Aya Haidar 

For self-described mother, artist and humanitarian Aya Haidar, mending is a metaphor. Her Recollections series comprises photographs of war-damaged buildings in Beirut into which she stitches multicoloured embroidery thread ‘repairing’ the bullet holes. ‘It was about filling in these voids – these holes that are scars, remnants and traces of something that is dark, ugly and traumatising, and filling it with something colourful and joyful,’ she says. Her Lebanese family fled the war in 1982, moving first to Saudi Araba and then London. ‘For my family, those damaged buildings are ugly, not just aesthetically, but because they remind them of something terrifying, but something that does need to be remembered.’ By embellishing and filling the cracks with beautiful, colourful threads, she emphasises them, so the war that caused them is not forgotten. Haidar’s work focuses on found and recycled objects and explores themes such as loss, migration and memory. In the Soleless Series, she embroidered images of migrants’ journeys onto the soles of their worn-out shoes. ‘The shoes physically carried refugees across borders and across lands,’ she says. ‘They were so worn and torn that they were not fit for purpose, but instead of throwing them away, I embroidered images of their journeys onto their soles, adding another layer of meaning. I couldn’t return the function to those shoes, but I could tell their story and show their value.’ Haidar runs youth workshops for refugees from countries experiencing conflict, such as Syria and Somalia, and uses craft as a way to help them process traumatic experiences. ‘The physical act of mending works towards an emotional repair,’ she says. ‘Because craft is a durational process, because it is slow, considered, repetitive and thoughtful, the women who take part in my workshops are left with their own thoughts and the time to process them in the flow of making. It is a solitary process, but also a collective experience. The conversations that come out of the workshops are very real, very honest, very raw – there are a lot of exchanges about personal experiences while we’re crafting. There is a beautiful sense of healing that starts to happen.’

Jay Blades

For Jay Blades, presenter of the BBC’s Repair Shop, mending is about community. Described by the BBC as ‘a heart-warming antidote to throwaway culture,’ the  programme sees members of the public bring broken objects to a barn in the grounds of the Weald and Downland Living Museum, get them fixed, and take them away again. ‘On paper, it doesn’t sound that interesting,’ laughs Blades. And yet some 7 million people tune in to every episode. The secret of its unlikely success can perhaps be found in its origin story. Katy Thorogood, creative director of production company Ricochet, took a chair that had belonged to her late mother to be reupholstered. When she got it back, she fell in love with it all over again, but that wasn’t the magic moment. The magic happened when the upholsterer handed her a framed sample of the original fabric as a keepsake. She simultaneously burst into tears and had the idea for her next hit TV show. ‘The upholsterer didn’t need to do that, but he did it simply because it was a kind thing to do,’ says Blades. ‘What makes the Repair Shop so special is its community – its love. It’s about doing something kind for someone that you don’t know.’ And that’s a theme that runs through Blades own story. He established Out of the Dark with his then wife Jade in High Wycombe in 2000 to enable disadvantaged young people to learn practical skills from the last generation of furniture makers in the area. ‘It was about turning furniture that someone had written off into something desirable and trying to explain to the young people that there is a direct connection between that and giving them the skills they needed to go into a job interview with their heads held high.’ When that project came to an end due to the perfect storm of cashflow problems and the end of his marriage, it was again the community that stepped in. He had been living in his car for a week when a friend came to find him and offered him a job and a place to stay – and he’s been living with that friend’s family ever since. Having got back on his feet, he was already running Jay & Co, his own furniture-restoration business, when the BBC came calling. He can now count Mary Berry among his fans – she requested him specifically as a guest on her Christmas special, Mary Berry Saves Christmas and told Blades she and her husband watch every episode. ‘Of course, The Repair Shop is a celebration of craft skills, but at its heart, it’s about caring for people by repairing the things that matter to them,’ says Blades.


Image credit Matt Jessop

Chris Miller

For Chris Miller, restoration is a direct response to the climate crisis. Skinflint, the vintage lighting website he co-founded, specialises in sourcing lighting from the 1920s to the 1970s, usually from non-residential settings such as hospitals, churches, and factories. The company has already saved 50,000 lights from landfill. The lights are made safe and functional and then get what Miller calls a ‘light touch’ restoration, maintaining the patina of their age, before being sold to architects, interior designers and house-proud consumers the world over. The decision to source mainly industrial lights is about availability and volume, and his chosen era is bookended by the advent of mainstream electric lighting in the 1920s and the introduction of plastics in the 1970s. ‘Buildings such as churches were the first to be electrified and we still salvage 1920s church lights, because they have had quite an easy life – they’re only used once a week and they tend to be quite high up,’ he explains. ‘After the 1970s, you start to see the language of planned obsolescence and failure engineering coming into the documentation and the effects of engineers handling a material they didn’t yet fully understand.’ So far, so pragmatic, but it was actually a tragic personal experience that motivated the decision to set up an environmentally driven business. Miller was in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit the country’s eastern and southern shores on 26th December 2004. ‘Ordinarily, we make travel up as we go along, but on this occasion, we had booked various places in advance – and that’s what saved our lives,’ he says. On 24th December, he and his wife reluctantly left the waterside hut they’d been staying in and moved inland to a pre-booked jungle lodge for Christmas Day. Just 48 hours later, the tsunami destroyed those waterside huts, taking the lives of many of the people they’d been sharing drinks with just days before. It was a wake-up call. ‘We all experience signpost moments every day,’ he says. ‘Most we miss, some we see but don’t act upon, and some just hit us smack in the face. We left our jobs in London and moved to Cornwall with a three-month-old baby. Skinflint was officially launched two years later.’ For Miller, running a restoration business is a response to an event made more likely and more severe by climate change. ‘We simply can’t go on in the way we have been for the last 100 years,’ he says. ‘The resources are just not there. You can layer provenance and storytelling on top… but the key driver for our business is the environment.’

Bridget Harvey

Former artist-in-residence at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Bridget Harvey might actually offer to fix your toaster – alongside her artistic practice, she is the co-organiser of Hackney Fixers, a community group modelled on the Dutch Repair Café initiative that pairs the owners of broken things with volunteers in order to find a solution. But her work as an artist is concerned with what we make, how we make it, and why that matters. ‘What I’m interested in is the human condition – the human psyche,’ she says. ‘How we move through the world, how we interact with objects, and whether their repair is embraced, rejected, or something in between – it is all a really interesting window into how we think, how society operates and how objects define us.’ Her work spans clothing, ceramics, and hybrid objects that embrace both. ‘Blue Jumper 2012–2019’ is about to join V&A’s permanent collection as part of their reconfigured fashion galleries curated around garment lifecycles, but it began life as a second-hand woollen jumper in Harvey’s own wardrobe. When it got damaged by moths, she carried on wearing it, darning the holes in contrasting colours. When the moths got it again, she simply kept darning, and kept wearing it, describing herself as the ‘disobedient owner of a disobedient garment’. Her Mend More jumper is a more direct statement – made as a placard for a climate march, the navy-blue sweater is emblazoned with the words ‘Mend More Bin Less’ on one side and ‘Mend More Buy Less’ on the other, which she appliquéd on, making each letter from yellow fabric scraps left over from other projects. ‘Kintsuglue Plate 2019’ is a commentary on the increasing popularity of the deliberately visible Japanese repair technique Kintsugi among Western repair practitioners. Instead of using the traditional urushi lacquer and gold powder, she has used a Kintsuglue – a copycat product emulating Sugru, a mouldable ‘glue’ that can be manipulated like plasticine for 30 minutes until it sets into a water-proof silicone. With these layers of influences, and not having designed or fabricated the plate nor the Kintsuglue herself, Harvey is exploring notions of authorship within repaired objects. In other pieces, she has patched a blanket with tin cans, and bridged the gap between two halves of a broken bowl with a beadwork section, rendering it repaired but useless. She is playing at the fringes of repair, asking us to question when something is truly broken and when it is really mended.

Hans Tan R is for Repair

Image credit Khoo Guo Jie

Singapore-based designer, educator and curator Hans Tan wants to champion the role of repair in contemporary design. ‘In most Asian cultures, mending is seen as something you do only when you can’t afford to replace something,’ he says. ‘Buying something new, for a festive occasion such Chinese New Year, is important as a symbol of prosperity – and mending is not seen as a profession. I want to reposition repair as an aspirational activity that can generate inspirational outcomes.’ He has started to do that through R is for Repair, an exhibition at the National Design Centre, Singapore earlier this year. Commissioned by DesignSingapore Council, the exhibition proposed that one way to reduce the 0.74 kg of waste the World Bank estimates we each generate every day, is through extending the lives of objects we might otherwise throw away. Tan invited 10 members of the public to submit broken objects and paired them with 10 contemporary designers. Tan gave Tiffany Loy – a Singaporean artist trained in industrial design and textile-weaving – a Calvin Klein tote bag that Arnold Goh bought with his first pay cheque. Once his pride and joy, it had developed holes, and been relegated to use as a grocery bag. She flipped the bag inside out, taking advantage of the undamaged lining, and added a cord mesh – both to strengthen it and to form a handy external pocket. Hunn Wai and Francesca Lanzavecchia, co-founders of Lanzavecchia + Wai, were given a $15 watch with a broken strap that its owner had owned since high school. It had already been replaced with a like-for-like replacement but held sentimental value. ‘We are both quite romantic designers – we seek to re-humanise situations and objects and bring about new behaviours, so we were really happy to be given a timepiece to work on,’ says Wai. ‘A watch is a powerful object – it’s got a lot of narratives and unwittingly becomes part of your identity over a period of time. Even though this was a cheap watch, it was well made and still working.’ They encased the mass-produced timepiece in a bespoke walnut case with brass fixings aligned to the quarter-hour, turning it into a precious clock. ‘Commonly, we perceive sustainable practice as something that comes with inconvenience, cost or sacrifice,’ says Tan. ‘But sustainability can be articulated and practised in an attractive, purposeful way – and as designers we are uniquely placed to reposition repair as aspirational. In each case, we wanted to end up with something that was incrementally, if not fundamentally, better than the original, so that people might see repair, not as an inconvenience, but as something they love to do.’

Read the original article at its source here.

 

 

Anti Turns Discarded and Broken Umbrellas Into Desk and Table Lamps (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

We’ve all experienced that frustrating moment when an umbrella gets blown inside out, the force of the movement breaking the spindles and rendering it useless. The thing is that the majority of umbrellas are simply not designed to last, with an average lifespan of just six months. In order to turn this frustration into something positive, Anti takes discarded and broken umbrellas, disassembles them, and upcycles them into desk and table lamps. We spoke to UK-based founder and CEO Mark Howells to find out more.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design and sustainability.

I grew up In Hertfordshire in a working class family. My mother can draw and paint and my father is very musical; writing and performing electric and acoustic guitar-based music to this day at 70 years of age. My first exposure to design was via a foundation course in art and design at Watford in the 1990s. I was drawn towards the traditional arts as opposed to design, until I was asked by a tutor, who ran a 3D Design class, to select an object from a series of waste objects she had scavenged from a beach and produce a new product. I chose a section of a washed-up bicycle tire and made a watch strap that buttoned over the tire tread. I loved the process of learning to unsee the original utility of an object and unlocking a new purpose unseen by anyone else before. This led to an explosion of designs using waste. At the time I had a cleaning job in the evenings at a very large office and I would collect items of interest that had been discarded in bins – in particular, computer components – and repurpose them. It was these designs that secured me a place on an Industrial Design degree at Cardiff University. Although I learned a huge amount, I really had no real interest in becoming an Industrial Designer – the assembly line approach of the time was a far cry from the work I had been doing to secure my position on the degree course in the first place. This was the ’90s and sustainability wasn’t a mainstay of the curriculum. I decided to take the drafting skills I had developed and head towards engineering. I worked for various environmental consultancies, which led me to building and land surveying, eventually as a board-level director of a successful surveying practice. In this role, I gained exposure to starting new business units and small businesses – which inspired me to fulfill a long-harbored desire to return to sustainable design.

How would you describe your project/product?

Anti’s first collection is upcycled lamps made of discarded umbrellas that were otherwise destined for landfill. The collected umbrellas are disassembled into their separate materials groups (e.g. plastics, metals, nylon) and are made into desk and table lamps. Over 1 billion umbrellas are made each year but are not designed to last, with an average lifespan of just six months. Anti addresses a waste issue by designing with waste, not creating it – and the new products are easier to disassemble at end-of-life than the umbrella was in its original state. This is the first waste stream we are concentrating on, but there will be others. One of our key focuses is to design repeatable upcycled products that can be made/manufactured at scale. The more we sell, the more waste we reuse, and the more good we can do.

What inspired this project/product?

After living in London and Tokyo, I became very aware of the wastage around umbrellas. In Tokyo, umbrellas are everywhere, you see endless rows of broken umbrellas at railway stations and outside shops. On a typical rainy day in Tokyo over 3,000 umbrellas are handed in to lost property, London underground deals with a similar problem. Our research suggests as many as one billion umbrellas are broken, lost or discarded each year worldwide. Umbrellas are just one example of an everyday product that has an important utility and value, but is flawed. It solves one problem but causes another. In the case of umbrellas it keeps us dry, and is portable, cheap and available on every street corner, but is made of different material types and so it’s difficult to disassemble at the end of its life, which makes recycling at scale difficult.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?

Both lamps are made from discarded umbrellas. We have collected these over the last few years primarily from lost properties and from city streets, bins and train stations. We also use a 3D-printed recycled plastic filament for two components and several metal components that are made from recycled materials.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

The design potential of using waste has interested me since higher education, however, the first real exposure I had to the environmental impact of how we were dealing (or not dealing) with waste was when I was a junior technician at an environmental engineering consultancy. I saw how landfills were designed firsthand and even had the opportunity to see one being built. Landfills were recognized even by the landfill designers at the time to be a poor solution with many issues e.g., the plastic membranes often split or ripped leaking the toxic water (leachate) that had percolated through the waste over time and into the soil and worryingly possibly into the groundwater. To see these vast cavernous sites being built, often in areas of countryside, just felt wrong and you could really see the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality we have associated with waste. The new items we purchase are made of the exact same materials we were throwing away; I have always believed that it’s our perception of what we deem as waste that needs to change. If you view any perceived waste item by its material type and form as opposed to its original utility and the stigma associated with something old or used, then it’s free to take on a new role. It’s down to us as designers to unlock this potential.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

The umbrellas have to be disassembled into their individual component types and, in some cases, cleaned and repaired. The 3D-printed parts also need to be cleaned and finished. Then both lamps are primarily made through a process of assembly as opposed to manufacturing. This is also more energy-efficient.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

I encourage each customer to return our products at end of life via our Take Back scheme. We will happily take back any of the products produced at our workshop. These will be disassembled and reused as the basis for new designs or as a last resort disassembled for recycling. Having these products returned really is of great value to us. Both lamp designs are easy to disassemble, which allows us to recapture their material value very quickly.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

It really does feel like a kind of alchemy when you get it right. My objective Is to produce beautiful products from waste streams that at first, or even second, sight have no reference to their original purpose and utility. I know my work is done when someone suddenly realizes that what they are looking at is not what they thought, and yet it was there in front of them the whole time. To provide that surprise and joy is the best feeling.

How have people reacted to this project?

It’s been really positive so far. I think people are genuinely surprised that you can create something that looks beautiful from something that is not considered so. I’ve been particularly pleased with receiving great responses from fellow designers and sustainable designers.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

I believe people are now more accepting of recycling and products made from recycled materials and in many cases, there’s now a demand for these. Upcycled products, however, are sometimes devalued in what people might pay for them due to the monetary tag associated with their previous life. That’s interesting because, in my opinion, the creative innovation to successfully develop an upcycled product (particularly at volume) is far more challenging, and ultimately more impressive, from both the point of view of the creative process and the end product point.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

Ultimately, we should get to a stage where we do not see waste as rubbish. I believe circular economy principles will be the panacea to the fear and hurt we are feeling more strongly than ever towards the damage to the planet. Politicians, businesses, designers, and individuals will genuinely want to change the way we live, you can see the younger generation are already asking all the right questions and have the hunger to find the answers. Upcycling, in the sense of taking a linear lifecycle product and transforming it into a circular lifecycle product, can be a stop-gap to buy us more time until we are designing with circular principles ingrained into everything we manufacture from the outset. Developing biomimicry and biological fabrication where we can grow our products and they can safely return to the earth without the need for retrieval systems is a really exciting future. Although there is incredible progress in this area, we are, realistically, many decades from this becoming mainstream, and therefore the role of upcycling is critical to providing the time to achieve that transition.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Anti here.

Circular Podcast – TOAST Renewal: A panel discussion

Do we always need to mend? How can mending help to nudge us towards significant behaviour shifts? What are the materials innovations that might help? Are there self-healing materials – or even self-destructing materials?

In this bonus episode, I’m leading a panel discussion with TOAST, including amazing insights from Seetal Solanki, Tom van Deijnen, Celia Pym and Bonnie Kemske.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is Circular a podcast exploring the intersections of craft design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers, and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take, make waste models of production and consumption and walking towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repack. I think that part of what that comes from is Kintsugi like many, many things really, it can be a fad. Let’s be honest, it can be a fad. And I think that’s what we see when it’s just fashion with no nothing underneath it. But Kintsugui is actually a way of life. Just like this, all the mending that we’ve been talking about here, it’s a way of life. It’s a sustainable way of life and a beautiful way of life.

 

Not just a fashion that’s going to be over next year. This is long-term, a long-term approach in a way to establish and strengthen and reinforce that relationship that we have with the objects that are important to us. Back in April, the clothing brand toast invited me to chair a panel event, a conversation, exploring the importance of repair and reuse through the lenses of sustainability culture and storytelling.

 

We brought together visible mender, Tomofholland, author of kintsugi, the poetic mend, Bonnie Kemske, renowned textile artist Celia Pym, and Seetal Solanki, a materials researcher, designer, and author of why materials matter. We talked about their different perspectives on the functionality of repair or esthetic approaches and the Japanese art of Kintsugi, of course, the importance of forming relationships with our belongings and the acceptance of natural life cycles.

 

It was such a wonderful conversation that I’ve decided to include it as a bonus episode on the podcast. I hope you enjoy it. I’m Katie Treggiden, a podcaster author of wasted when trash becomes a treasure. I’ve got a stack of books next to me, because we have a couple of authors with us and a journalist championing a more circular approach to design because planet earth deserves better stories.

 

And I really believe in the power of storytelling to change the way that people think. And I’m joined on the panel today by an incredible group of humans dialing in from Lagos Seetal Solanki is a London based materials designer, researcher, and writer. She’s the author of why materials matter the heaviest book on my pile, which I highly recommend. She’s the director and founder of materials, research studio master, and a fellow at Hereford college of arts. Celia Pym is a trained teacher and a trained nurse, but now works as an artist exploring damage and repair primarily in textiles. She was shortlisted for the woman’s hour craft prize and her work is held in permanent collections of the cross council in the UK and the nouveau musée national de Monaco, Bonnie Kemskew is an artist, researcher and former editor of ceramic review.

She completed her undergraduate degree in religion before traveling to Kyoto to study the Zen Buddhist art form of tea ceremony, where she discovered her love of ceramics. And only as the author of this book, I mean, you guys are going to be filling up your hopefully not Amazon baskets bookshop to all baskets by the end of this. And this book Kintsugui, the poetic mend, and Bonnie also has a PhD from the RCA. Tom Van Deijnen otherwise known as Tom of Holland is a Brighton based self-taught textiles practitioner found out of the visible mending program and a volunteer at the Brighton repair cafe and thinks he was probably the first person to use the hashtag visible mending on Instagram. And that hashtag now has more than 105,000 posts attached to it.

 

So you’ve got some answering to do for that. I think so, Bonnie, perhaps I can come to you fast as I think your expertise is probably the area that viewers will be least familiar with. Can you first explain briefly what Suki is and what it means or meant within Japanese culture? Sure, sure. Let’s start with that first. I’m going to start with something to look at.

So this is a Kintsugi mended pot. It’s a traditional Raku Wabi tea bowl that was broken in transport when it was sent to me and I had kintsugi repaired. You can see the gold outline of the seams. So that’s what we’re talking about. So Kintsugi is a Japanese repair technique. It’s used for many materials, but most often used for ceramics and it uses lacquer and gold to produce these scenes that appear to be solid gold.

 

And it takes a lot of fine skills, a lot of highly skilled artisans to do this. And it takes a lot of time and it takes expensive materials. So it tends to be used only for those objects, which are that we cherish those objects that are important to us either because they have high monetary value or more likely because they have a story behind them.

They have, and they have more sentimental value or they connect us to something or someone. So in Japan, there’s an aesthetic concept that many of you will have heard of which is called Wabi and it in Wabi in, it comes through tea ceremony and Zen Buddhism and other things. But what it is is that we develop an appreciation for the beauty that can be found in both irregularity and in imperfection.

 

So Kintsugi very much fits into this sort of Japanese tradition. Although I would say that not every Kintsugi repair is Wabi but, we need Wabi in order to be able to have Kintsugi the acceptance of the imperfect and the acceptance of the irregular and the uniqueness of it. So hope that that does explain it enough to…? That explains it very well to get us started.

Thank you, Bonnie. And you mentioned Wabi there, and I think in the west, we’ve sort of clutched onto this idea of wabi-sabi without really knowing what it means. So could you perhaps pull apart those two terms for us and just give us a bit more understanding? Well, the terms are used together, they’re often conflated together because they are related and interwoven to some extent.

 

And I have to say that in Japan, a lot of people won’t articulate these terms. They’re, they’re considered, you know, enough where you can’t really define them, but as we’re in the west and as I’m American by background, I’m allowed to. So what we see in tea ceremony, we sort of see Wabi is the irregular, the imperfect and Sabi as the worn,

the, the, the quality that shows the use of something, something that’s damaged by age. And it has a sort of an overtone of a beautiful loneliness or a beautiful almost sadness, sort of like some music, you know, which is just hauntingly beautiful, but very sad at the same time that sort of rolled into that concept as well. Brilliant.

Thank you. I think that gives us a little, little bit more of a rich understanding of those terms that so often get used out of context in the West, and you’ve talked about repair as an apology. You’ve talked about repair as a hug and the metaphorical side of Kintsugi again, is not something that Japanese often talk about, but you know, it’s,

It’s sort of implied. Is that something you could sort of just explain a little bit more as well before we, before we get onto the other? Yeah. Well, and this is the same in, in any visible repair, it has a story. You can’t look at it without knowing that there’s something that has happened to that piece. So every, and that’s where the metaphor comes from. So first of all Kintsugi does three things. It restores function, it adds beauty or decoration, and it shows a narrative. It shows that story. So one way I’ll explain this. So when I was in Japan and I was asking people, doing this research and I was asking people about Kintsugi metaphor and they all sorta just looked blankly at me and then they would tell me a story.

 

So one was, we went to visit a very famous Potter named Raku Kichizaemon on the 15th. So he’s a 15th generation of potters in his family going back to the 15 hundreds, okay. So here we went to meet with him and his wife would brought out a bowl that was repaired using silver instead of gold Kintsugi. It was called Nekowaride, which means it was broken by a cat. That’s another story. So there’s a whole story in that, but she told me that they had a very close friend who was a very, very wealthy businessman. And in the crash that happened in Japan a few years ago in the economic downturn, he lost everything. His business was destroyed. He lost all of his assets, everything was gone and they invited him over. And in the tea room, they served him a bowl of tea using Nekowaride and a year later, he wrote to them and he said that he was at his lowest point when they had served him tea, but that in using Nelowaride, he had realized that that brokenness could be put back together.

 

And he said it was by thinking about that bowl and how that bowl had been put back together after it had been destroyed. And in the end, it was more beautiful, more meaningful, stronger, and more valuable than it had been in its original state. So that’s the metaphor that underlines every Kintsugi repair. Yeah. That’s a really beautiful story.

 

Thank you, Celia. I wonder if you’d like to come in here? Your interest in mending, I know, has less to do with the kind of functionality of the men and more about the stories and conversations that the damage and the process of repairing brings up. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your approach? I’m actually quite moved, just hearing that story from Bonnie and I was thinking we could spend the next to five minutes just telling stories about less than perfect things we’ve encountered, but to answer your question about, you know, my interest is often in the story rather than doing something practical when I mend garments and mending clothing in my own expert way. When I say that, I mean that I’ve largely taught myself over the last 14 years. I’m much more interested in mending other people’s things than many of my own things people often say to me, oh, do you wear your mended clothes out? I really don’t. I w I’m much more excited about other people’s stuff than my own. And early on when I started doing this, I sort of, when I first became curious about damaged clothing and it was exactly as Bonnie described, I lean towards liking the imperfect. I’ve always been attracted to the slightly damaged thing.

And so when I started thinking about how that might marry with repair and mending, I had to become an expert in holes. Like I have to really know holes. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all out. And I would hold these events where I would just invite people to bring me damaged goods. And what I discovered very quickly was that if you ask someone,

do you have a hole in your clothing, you very swiftly discover an awful lot about a person that you weren’t expecting to learn. You learn who their relative is, how the thing got damaged. You learn about maybe someone who’s important to them and I was like, I’m onto something here. Because I’m fundamentally quite a nosy person. I’m always, if I’m on a bus person who wants to talk to my neighbour, or if I’m, you know, someone falls over, I want to run and help them because I well, and then all of a sudden you’re talking anyway, my point is, is that I was very excited and moved to discover that clothing and this invitation to repair clothing would invite all this conversation. And they actually thought a lot of the stories that’s interesting, funny, sort of described quite a sad story in a way or positive and sad that the businessmen who came to the tea ceremony was in a low app. He was having a hard time because I found that quite often, that when I’ve held events, open events, asking people to bring me things to mend, there are mixed in quite often quite sad stories.

 

There’s something about looking at the damage the government that provokes, and there’s a sort of reaching out. And I remember one woman saying who brought me an item that had belonged to someone she loved, who just recently died. She said, I think my friends are tired of me talking about my grief. And I said, I didn’t say anything, but I thought, you know, there is that ease to talk about sad things with strangers. Sometimes I’ve experienced it myself. And so, I don’t know, I’ve gone off in a bit of a segway here, but I know that I like other people’s stuff. No, no. I think it’s really peaceful. And you’ve actually collaborated with these workshops in the past. Haven’t you Wonderful.

 

So toast. It was such a perfect marriage for me. So we did a project which I called. I have sharp elbows, but my needle is sharper where we did what I have done in the past. We invited people that own Toast clothing to bring in items to me in need of a man. And we had a short conversation about the garment. And I said, if you’re keen to participate, I’ll mend your object. I mean, it was very generous by Toast because the men were free. And the idea was this exchange that they would tell me a kind of history of government that I would then write up. And I was very curious about it. I sort of saw these Toast items that I mended as a kind of family of sweaters.

 

Because they do all the originators in this same place, by similar designers. And then they left and going out in the world and got burned and torn by Blackberry bushes and stretched out of shape by children and moth-eaten and all these sort of not very dramatic damage, actually quite humble, simple damage cats were involved, I think with one person. But this act of noticing that I thought was so nice.

 

And I liked seeing it notice as a group as well as very similar garments. So yes, we did that with, and it was cool to have sharp elbows, but my needle is a sharp flush men project because one of the participants said I have shelf elbows and always that left elbow, right. Elbow, can’t remember how it goes, and I felt there was something restorative about the needle.

It was like, you may have a shell elbow, but don’t worry. I got this sharp needle. And yeah, That’s lovely. I like that. Now Seetal, within the context of Toast, we’re obviously talking about really high quality clothing and a lot of these mends are objects that we care about. They have sentimental value, but the sort of imperative to mending is, is really an antithesis of the sort of fast fashion problem, you know, clothes that are made largely in the global south shipped up to the global north where we wear them a few times and then effectively send them back again. Why is that cycle so problematic? Why is it important that we break out of that? So many reasons. And I think a lot of it really comes down to the fact that we don’t really care or respect these textiles even, and the clothing that they become and how they actually adorn our bodies. And because we haven’t really formed a relationship to those pieces of clothing in a way where we build a relationship towards care respect, because we actually don’t know where it’s they have derived from because the supply chain of a lot of the textiles being made for clothing is really convoluted and complicated and deceitful also, I would say. So it’s really quite challenging to kind of therefore understand where things are being made, how they’re being made and where they end up even. So we’re so disconnected and so far removed from what things are made of simply and therefore that kind of relationship. And this actually comes back to the storytelling component, which is what the first part of this conversation has been about.

And clothing tells stories very much about Celia, what Celia Pym does. She’s very much about telling stories about clothing or fabric or yarn even, and like what, how it can be rebuffed somehow and tell her another story, someone else’s story you’ve been, I think textiles have the ability to do that, but we don’t understand that story enough. And what happens is the clothing cycle begins to be even more complicated when we dispose of it because it tells a colonial story.

I think the way everything is being made and manufactured, it’s going back to colonial history, because like you said earlier, things are manufactured in say the global south shipped to the global north, but then actually disposed of in the global south again or dumped should I say? And I think that’s incredibly problematic because we’re not really taking accountability or responsibility for our actions. That is really down to the fact that we don’t really care a respect for it.

 

We’d just dispose of it at our leisure. And we don’t really have the transparency around, like what happens to these items that we actually own. I think it really does come down to the fact that we need to relate to materials and form a relationship toward them. And that can only really come through. Right. I mean like brands like toast, for example, they tell stories about their clothing and where it comes from and are very conscious about that. And I think building awareness in that way is really, really crucial for that kind of relationship towards care and respect for cares. So yeah, I think a lot of that needs to change in this, not just a colonial problem history that needs to be shifted the narrative about it, the systems around it, it’s a systemic issue, but that’s also a behavioural issue, right? So it can be done through a bottom-up approach, but also top-down. So I think there’s policy change involved, but there’s also just human behavior that can actually be shifted. And I think you make a really important point because I’ve spent a long time thinking about the power of stories.

You know, the little strapline I use for my work is planet earth deserves better stories, but I haven’t thought of it in the way you just articulated it before, which is the danger when those stories become hidden. So the fact that we don’t know where our clothes are made and we don’t know who’s made them that the supply chain is deceitful and complex.

And the fact that we then don’t know, okay, where our clothes go, there are parts of that story that are being suppressed and that’s almost as dangerous as the power of the positive stories. So that’s, that’s a really useful refined, thank you Seetal. Tom, you described your approach to mending as more pragmatic. You’re more interested in a functional and sustainable mend than an artistic one.

 

Although you do talk about wearing a darn as a badge of honor. So I’d love you just to unpick that for us a little bit and explain a little bit more about your work. So yeah, that’s, I do favor a pragmatic and practical approach to mending, but you know, it’s been the highlights of that thing already by all the other panelists’ stories behind what you’re repairing are very interesting.

And, you know, I also hear a lot of stories around clothes and I, I really enjoy that part of, of repairing. And I, I, for me personally, I think repair is successful mostly if it’s, if it means that the people who asked me to repair it or my, for my own clothes, that they will wear it again,

as opposed to I’ve got the sweater that I really like again, fix it. And then I fixed it and it’s really beautiful, but they’re scared of wearing it. It kind of feels like somehow failed a little bit in my, in my repair, but I do feel, I, I think it’s because I, I, when I started repairing, I really wanted to try and do invisible mending, and that says that to be very difficult, you know, you know, if it’s visible anyway, why not really look at the, take that as a, as a starting point and make it a feature. And I think by doing a visible repair and one, you can build up a relationship with an item, you know, people that make their own clothes already have a relationship with whatever,

you know, the articles that they’ve made here. Like you have to look for patterns that you find in your fabrics or your knitting yarn. So you’re really infested in that item. And I think with shop bought clothes, you might not have that initially, but there might be something that attracts you to it. And then by adding your own repairs to it, or ask somebody else to do it for you, then it becomes a more unique item and you start building that relationship and make it stronger. And hopefully, that means then you want to wear it for longer as well and keep it in active use because I think that’s really important if we want to work on, you know, this circular economy and do something about fast fashion than the, one of the most important things I’ve seen is the clothes you already own are the most sustainable ones that you can have. So, You know, making those last is really important, I think. Yeah, lately. And I think you can reduce the environmental impact of light clothing by 30% if you extend its life span by nine months. Yeah,

Absolutely. Now you’re behind the visible mending hashtag, which is a phenomenon. I mean, hundreds of thousands of mend worldwide and Toasts, Toast to time to make hashtag has been gaining momentum this year with all the visible, with all of that virtual workshops and things that have been happening. Now, I’m interested in kind of whether there’s a danger in this becoming trendy and therefore a trend and the kind of the fine line between mending, because I think, you know, there are some, there are instances of sorts of people having something men did that wasn’t broken because they want amend and they kind of want to be part of the gang, but actually, you talk about the idea of mending, the plainness of a garment and mending techniques being used as a form of embellishment. So I’m really interested to explore that a little bit.

Yeah. I think first of all, the, the visible mending hashtag, you know, I’m sure it wasn’t the only person, but I, I, I, I do think I was one of the first people to use it consistently on the Instagram before it’s, you know, started to go through the world and it’s very exciting to see how many people use it, because it’s a, it’s a great way for people to share inspiration and for people to find inspiration. So I think that’s kind of one part of your question. And then I find repairs really beautiful. And I think, you know, talking here in Bonnie about talking about Kintsugi and Celia about mending and stories and, and highlighting the repairs, and also seats are saying, you know, it’s good to have connections and not try to hide things. I find the stitches used and the techniques used beautiful in itself. And even if they are not traditionally embellishment techniques are, I do think there is a way that you can start using them as sort of embellishments. I’m not such a fan of making something fake old, which I’ve been asked to do previously as well. Now that doesn’t feel right to me. You know, if something needs mending, it really needs, in my mind, it does need to have something wrong with it. It needs to be broken, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use mending techniques as a sort of embellishment technique. And I started exploring that about a year or so ago with an exhibition in Norway, where I made a, some kind of a wall hanging that wants to take the, the stitches or the mending techniques away from the clothes and ask people to appreciate them in their own merits. And I was really excited when toast approached me and used that as one of their talking points to see if we could have some kind of collaboration. So I’m really excited to say that I am working on a mini collection with squares.

I do around, we are exploring exactly that, you know, not necessarily repairing things, although there will be some actual repairs involved as well, but also, you know, how can you use it as an embellishment technique? And I think it would be nice. What I’d like to see happen is people embrace men that things more. So, you know, maybe in, in this particular collaboration that might be more about, you know, small banishment. But if we start appreciating that, then hopefully people also start appreciating actual mends and that will no longer be seen as something, you know, outrageous perhaps even, or, or looked down upon. So yeah. So fake mending I’m firstly, not such a fan of like, I don’t like people that come to me and say, oh, I’ve got these jeans that I bought with holes in them. Can you fix them now? And you know, it’s like, well, why would you buy jeans with holes and to start with that’s something that I, Yeah, yeah. It’s a strange phenomenon. And also the processes by which those holes put into those jeans are not great for the environment.

 

Are they? No. There’s a lot of problems there. So I’m trying a few different things. Why is supporting the podcast this time around? So we’ll be back after a short break and thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season Happen, Extreme weather, rising seas, species extinction. Our blue planet is on fire this year as a host of 26, we are calling on the governments of the UK to recognize the importance of a thriving ocean as a solution to the climate crisis,

go to sas.org.uk/ocean and climate petition and sign the petition today. Help put this fire out. Steve, I know you’ve also had requests for mend where there wasn’t necessarily a hole, which I’d love for you to talk about. And also just then when Tom was talking about taking the mending techniques away from the clothes, it made me think of the mending map that you made.

So maybe you could talk about those two things briefly. Oh, so it’s so funny on zoom. I want to respond to everyone’s conversation as we go and leap in because I loved what Seetal was talking about. Maybe we can get to that later in response to a question. I have mended things, not very often, but occasionally that have no particular damage.

And one example I can think of was for the project I did with toast. A woman came to me who said, I love Toast sweats, and I love them so much. She may even be here tonight. I don’t know. There’s so much, I take really good care of them and I don’t wear them very much. And I said, well, I can’t really help you. And she said, oh, there must be something we can do. And, and, and so, I mean, what I think is interesting is that actually we then go into a sort of longer conversation about her clothing and being careful with clothing and really the invitation she wanted to participate in the conversation and not so much the need to mend something.

I think actually some Seetal brought up this idea of building a relationship with care and respect with garments, with the materials. So the cloth of your clothing with the clothing itself, I felt that was what was being said. And she, she wanted to have, she had these feelings about her clothes that she wanted to discuss, but, and lots of people do have clothing that gets a bit stuck in their lungs.

 

Sometimes they know they want to keep wearing North, throw it away, sort of sit in a quiet space and they will do it. Doesn’t get seen a lot. And so I feel like I’ve seen a lot of items like that that are not necessarily a need of mending, but as somehow sort of stuck somewhere in the end, we decided actually that maybe there was the potential for future damage in the elbows.

And so I did in fact, reinforce the elbows of this garment, even though there wasn’t damage right there, we were anticipating the damage for the way this person would wear that. And that was the way of resolving that situation. Yeah. I think it’s fascinating, isn’t it? An item of clothing might not necessarily need a repair, but it might need something they might need some love or a reframe or an embellishment or, and that enables it to be worn again and kind of go back into that use cycle, which is interesting. Bonnie, does this happen in kintsugi? Do you find people breaking ceramics just so they can mend them with beautiful golden joins? Yes, it does. It’s not very much in the spirit of consuming. I have to say at the same time, that’s not to say the breakage can’t be important and be properly employed. So if you look for instance at the artwork of Claudia Claire, contemporary ceramicist and feminist artist. She uses the drama and the violence of breaking her work to represent the violence that many women around the world experience in their own homes. So she’s making a statement through that. Breaking probably it’s different if you just take a pot that has not a lot of, not a lot going for it and you just smash it so that you can stick it back together using gold. I think that part of what that comes from is Kentucky. Like many, many things really, it can be a fad. Let’s be honest, it can be a fad. And I think that’s what we see when it’s just fashion with no nothing underneath it.

But Kintsugi is actually a way of life. Just like this, all the mending that we’ve been talking about here, it’s a way of life. It’s a sustainable way of life and a beautiful way of life, not just a fashion that’s going to be over next year. This is long-term a long-term approach in a way to establish and strengthen and reinforce that relationship that we have with the objects that are important to us.

 

Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s a really important point. If anybody has got questions, I’ve got three more questions for the panel, but if you’re sitting in the audience watching and thinking, I must type the question into the Q&A box, do it now, and then we’ll have them all in there. By the time I finished, I finished with my questions. Seetal, are there materials innovations that might help here or there sort of self-healing materials or self-destructing materials,

you know, do we always need to have this relationship of a break and then amend or, or other sort of new things on the horizon that might change that relationship? Yeah. There’s many material developments that we already have as well as perhaps new innovations that are due to be released commercially, but maybe I will start with the premise or not everything needs to be repaired actually.

 

And not all materials are meant to be yeah. Living long, really not all materials will have a long lifespan. And I think that really stems down to the fact that there are materials that are meant to naturally biodegrade and that’s actually okay. And we need to be more accepting of the fact that things die. Everything has a, a bath, a life, a death, and a Rebbe, and that exists within the material world, human world, animal world, plant world. It’s, it’s just, we are so fixated on the fact that everything has to be long living. And I think this is a sense of renewal that needs to be kind of understood a bit more. And that really comes down to this cyclical, the natural cycles of materials as well, that we need to kind of address rather than forcing a material to kind of do something that maybe it’s not meant to be doing. And yeah, I think that really comes down to the fact that we don’t understand materials enough, but there are materials that are being addressed as self-healing or naturally antibacterial naturally antimicrobial.

 

And even that even exists with fibers like nettle, for example, or bamboo, you know, things that are actually already existing and think not, we need to pay attention to what we already have available to us and not always think about the newness of things as well. And it’s about perhaps thinking when designers are sorts of creating garments or objects already thinking about the end of life and whether they can be repaired, whether they can go back into natural systems and biodegrade and sort of thinking about making those end of life decisions at the beginning of a, of an object’s life. Totally. I think we really need to bring in the end of life as a part of the design process And we as designers need to be responsible for the end of life. And therefore there’s an accountability there and yeah, who’s accountable for it. Is that a material will that we need to address in this? You know, so that’s something that I would, I’m hoping to work on at some point, but yeah, I think not all materials are meant to live long. Yeah. I think that’s a really important again, shift in perspective. And what we’re asking for sort of in response to the environmental crisis is a huge series of shifts in perspective and shifts in behaviour, both as we’ve discussed kind of at a systemic level and personal level, how can mending and some of these other conversations about materials start to adjust towards some of those shifts. So shifting behaviour really is about a shift in narrative first. And I think that really has to happen with our role as creatives and how we present things. And aesthetics are a really big part of that I would say.

 

And I think changing the narrative around what sustainable fashion is, has really happened. And, you know, we’re not seeing like jute stacks being worn as, you know, pieces of clothing in the way that it was perhaps in the sixties, it’s a very different aesthetic and maybe more appealing to people because what happens is it looks familiar, but it’s made from something unfamiliar.

 

And I think that encourages curiosity and questioning ultimately, which means that people are wanting to learn ultimately. And if they’re wanting to learn, that means that wanting to understand what things are made of, well, at least ask a few questions around it. And I think if that starts to trigger things and they, a whole world is opening up there. So there’s just so much to learn.

 

I will never know everything about materials ever, and I will never claim to even feel like an expert in it because I think I’m always a student in it. They are way smarter than I am and will ever be. So there’s always this kind of ongoing exchange and engagement of learning about each other much like human relationships. So yeah, I think there’s just a change in narrative needs to happen first, which informs behavioural change and then informs systems change. So it has this kind of knock on effect and it is quite cyclical as well because once those systems have been changed, we might need to go back to a narrative change. So that kind of feedback loop that happens. And I think that sense of what you were talking about, about you learning from materials and having that dialogue with materials, there’s a sense that sort of humans use materials. Whereas you talk about materials very much as being on the same plane as humans and being in dialogue with one another. And I think that’s a really interesting perspective shift as well, not just for the materials, but you know, for the, for the world and the environment and you know the sorts of planet that we live on.

 

And in general to kind of not just treat these things as resources, but to, to encourage that dialogue Celia, I know you wanted the opportunity to respond to some of what Seetal has been saying. So I’m going to give you the last question from me. There’s an imaginative shift required here as well as a sort of functional behavioural shift. And I,

and I love some of the things that you’ve sort of talked about in terms of the magic of, of mending and how that imaginative shift can take place. So perhaps you could sort of mention some of that and, and respond to what Seetal said. Oh, I’m definitely cool. I find that a story of something of an event, especially if it isn’t a story that stirs up emotion and it’s in my imagination for much longer than a pack, they don’t stay personally. They don’t stay with me in the same way. Whereas there is a magic to stories and your response to aesthetics and to, to, to things that live in you in a different way. And that there’s a real power in that.

And so sometimes I think the power of mending something it’s not actually, for me, necessarily telling everyone to mend everything, it’s planting the seed of an idea that there’s beauty in this act or in this material or in this thing. Because actually for me, I know that will, for instance, is a material that I have a great affinity for, and I really love mending, but one of the reasons I love mending wool is because it wears down in a way that I really love. I mean, I think if I’d had the chance to work in ceramics, I mean, I’ve had the chance to work in ceramics, but if I’d chosen the path of ceramics, I might feel that way about ceramics. But with wool, one of the things I do is you can have the thinnest remnants of fiber that you can sort of stitch back into an old fiber.

You can keep the very most fragile traces of a sweater intact by adding more. And you can keep repairing something. I was thinking about this sort of end of life conversation. I have this fantasy that there may be objects that I mean for a hundred years if I live for a hundred years and that the original, whether the original traces of that thing would still exist in that object or government down the line.

 

But that this act of repair is sort of with that particularity of wool materials is this constant shape-shifting and softening and changing, but it begins with this essence of the first. And so, yeah, I think that there is a strength in narrative and a power in narrative and storytelling, oral history storytelling to, to fix in our imaginations so that messages or ideas spread,

and they need to be true stories either they can be mixed about a garment or a thing or an object. When I think about it for yourself, I want to be the one you said how says how’s accountable to the end of life decisions about materials. I want that job. It wouldn’t be the decision I care about end of life and the end of life, maybe I’ll start with wool, and then other, other categories can come in. Brilliant we’ll send you all to Celia. I think that’s really lovely. And I think it’s important, you know, that it’s not just individuals mending their own clothes, but you know, brands like toast with toast renewal kind of amplifying that story and using their platforms to tell those stories on a wider level.

 

So thank you so much for that guys. That’s all of my questions. I’m going to hand back over to Madeline. Who’s going to curate some of the best questions from the Q&A in the chat and share those with us. Yeah. Hi everyone. Firstly, thank you so much, a really interesting conversation and thank you to everybody for sending in such thoughtful questions.

There’s a lot that we’re going to try and get to as many as we can, but thank you so much for sending them in. There’s one I’d love to start with, which is around this idea of people wanting to participate in conversations by breaking. What’s not broken mending, where there are no holes and maybe that actually speaks to a deeper need to create care and relationships with belongings.

 

And do you think that this is actually a possibility? Could you, sorry, could you, so the question was that people desire to add repair mending where there is none and they were wondering if that, could you just repeat the question? Yeah. So it’s by the, is it sort of speaking about a deeper need for care and connection with their belongings and because that wanting to take part in the conversation.

 

So do you think it is possible to create this deeper connection? I’m happy to start no doubts minds in response to that. There’s a wonderful book that I refer to a lot by Vladimir Arkhipov called homemade, and it’s about sort of mended and homemade objects from the Soviet Union. And I think the more you mess around with things you own, what I mean by that is that you play with them, touch them. No, notice observe when they start to age or change, the more you’ll build up material vocabulary and language and knowledge. I don’t mean words. I mean like your fingers will know how to hold something or pull something or stretch something, that what you’re trying to do is build your material, knowledge of the world. And that is through.

So it’s about noticing, which is your favourite mug and thinking, why does that mug sit in my hand just right. Or why does this garment, why does the colour of this garment make me feel so phenomenal and amazing drape or the handle of it? And so something that I advocate really strongly for is a sort of material knowledge. So it’s not that you need to break it or care for it before it’s broken.

 

So there’s plenty of care, material care you can do. But what you’re really aiming for is to notice the materials and the damage and the things so that you’re starting to observe and understand in your body, as well as in your brain, what you love about the material wealth that you’ve built around you and why you choose the Formica table or the, I don’t know the stone floor or why you love a house with bricks versus a house with wood fills or something.

I think there’s also something that Springs to mind. I wrote my dissertation for the master’s I did relatively recently on various different sorts of mending, but I compared make do and mend with the contemporary visible mending movement. And I compared borrow and Sashiko in Japan with the shoddy industry, which is currently how we process a lot of waste textiles. And one of the things I found was that the reasons we men have changed. So it used to be that we mended out of poverty and need and things were garments particularly when men did, because that was the only one we had and it was broken. So it had to be mended. And there’s a lot of shame that comes with that. And I think it can be slightly problematic when we kind of directly appropriate those techniques and kind of use them in a different context,

but there are new imperatives for mending. So it’s very rare that we mend an item of clothing now because it’s our only one and we need to wear it, you know, it’s because we love it. Or because we care about the environment or because we want to respect the person who made that for us or, and so I think the imperative to mend are changing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t. So I think kind of, I’m not necessarily advocating, breaking things just to mend them. But I think as Celia says, the more you think of it, think of it as hacking. There’s a whole hacking movement, right? Where we take something that doesn’t quite work for us and we change it in some way.

 

And I think that’s really empowering because, you know, at the moment, so many of us are in a position where we’re consumers. And if we don’t quite like something about a garment, our option is to send it back and wait for the powers to be, to decide whether or not we’ll get a refund or a replacement or a different size or whatever it is.

 

Whereas if we can have the kind of agency to hack items and say, actually I want it a bit more like this. And maybe if I just did that, I think that’s tremendously powerful. And I think that starts to make us citizens rather than consumers. And there’s then a whole chain of events that can come from that, that can start to tackle some of the systemic stuff.

So, yeah, I think it’s not necessarily as black and white as kind of do or don’t mend for different reasons. Does anyone else have any thoughts on that? Yeah, I, we spoke about this previously, Katie. I struggle a little bit when people call my work, the new make do and mend, because, you know, I do know that was initially a campaign from the British government during the second world war, trying to preserve materials towards the war effort. And, you know, that’s, I, I’m not concerned about that and that’s not why I’m mending. So I just find it a little bit. Yeah. I always find it a little bit strange to call out the new make do and mend because I’m not making do I’m choosing to mend.

 

I think it’s a bit different. Although, you know, the techniques that they advocated, I do use a lot of those techniques in a different way than they would anticipate, you know, in the past it was always, usually very important that things were repaired, invisibly, you know, something that Jessica has written, I believe for the toast renewal, local websites. So, yeah, and I think for me, I also sometimes feel if you don’t like an item of clothing and it’s kind of stuck a Celia has said and you can do something with it, whether that’s, you know, you might dye it or you might embroider something on it in some way, that’s also mending. I feel because it means that you might start wearing it again and restore the function of that object.

I think that’s right. If, if the function is lost because you no longer want to wear it, then a repair will be, we’ll make it functional again. Yeah. Even if it’s not a, you know, fixing a hole, it’s still repairing the phone. Yeah. I think there’s also something to be said around who decides when something’s broken.

 

And I think that’s something we need to kind of be more aware of, like the voices of what’s broken and how we fix things. And I even don’t like the word fakes because it means it’s a solution and it doesn’t, it’s fixed and it doesn’t have this kind of evolution of gross or change. And yeah, it feels very static and rigid.

 

And if it doesn’t have its own life and, and to breathe really, I think what’s quite interesting with things that are deemed to be damaged or broken, that can be a new life for it. And maybe it’s, non-functional actually, and I think there’s a sense of, you know, a new life right in that way. And maybe what we need to also do is change our perspective on what is deemed to be broken as well.

 

So I think we have to almost go back to being more imaginative and something that you mentioned earlier, Katie. And I think our imagination is something that we’re not really tapping into as much because we’re living a life of convenience and therefore we’re being told how to live rather than questioning how we want to live. So, yeah. And I think purely from a sustainability point of view, the second tenant of the circular economy is to keep materials and objects in use, not just to keep objects in use. So sometimes when the functionality of that object is kind of not fixable, it’s fine to take those materials and do something else with them. Right. Exactly. And has a different use for it. And therefore that material is reaching another potential, which is incredible. All materials are really versatile. So let’s embrace that more. I just want to respond that I find it, that because I think that’s one area and fashion were used items or encouraging used looks is really celebrated. And that’s in the denim heads world, you know, some people are really into that denim and they really value they don’t wash them for months and they’re really work hard to get all the holes in the authentic holes through use.

And so that, you know, in some areas there is an acceptance there and also talking about reusing garments in a different way than, you know, making them wearable again. I can’t quite remember now what brand this, but there is a furniture brand that I think that the Bouroullec brothers, they made these chairs and they’re basically, they’re just bundles off of wastes and clothes, just tied together into the shape of a chair so that you know, that there are some examples to be found out already, which showed the possibilities. It’s really exciting to try and explore that further, I think. Oh, yes. Yeah. Yeah. I’m just going to say it really quickly. Cause it relates to what Tom was just saying.

 

There’s a wonderful quote by Kate Fletcher. Who’s an amazing academic in this space? And she talks about how close the moment you buy them rather than being the sort of pinnacle of perfection or actually a blank canvas. And it’s only when you start to wear them and put the creases into the elbows and the creases into the hips that they become imbued with life.

And I think that’s a really lovely way to look at clothing and certainly, denim jeans are the place that, that seemed most, most vividly, I think, sorry, Celia, go ahead. No, I was just, it was a sort of response to Seetal and I’m normally quiet. I got invited once to look at an archive of costumes, silk costumes that have been worn on the ballet for about a hundred years old, 160 years old. And they’d invited me to think they were, they were very open, and ended the museum. They wanted me to look at the archive and they, but I think they thought I would recommend repairing them and that I would do it in a certain way. And they kept looking at these costumes in this archive.

 

And I was so excited to even have this privileged access to this archive. And I kept thinking not a lot of people get to go behind the scenes in a museum and see these extraordinary things. What was funny, the silk cuddle rotted, it had aged and the metal sequins were sort of holding the skeleton of bits of silk together. So you could kind of still make out the costumes.

And I went away and thought about it and they said, what do you want to do with these? And I thought about it. And all I could come up with at the time was I want more people to see these things, not necessarily to mend them. And I also thought mending them will take me years and be way too big a task, and it’s not worth their money or anyone’s energy. And so what we decided on in the end, I said, what if we start, they were designed for performance. So why don’t we take them out and let people perform in them again? And we’ll, we’ll dance in them until they’re complete dust. And so we held these events where you could wear these fragments of costume and these sort of skeletal costumes and we danced and we danced, we danced and we sort of put everyone on, we made playlists. I mean, there was a whole structure to it and it was one of the best pieces of work. It was such an exciting piece of work to do. And we caught it in photographs, but not much else. The difficulty was that we, of course, nothing turned to dust from dancing.

 

The sequence still had in place. And now those that are preserved in the archive are something special. So my idea was that we’d have nothing at the end, but of course, some of the material lasted and went back into the collection and became more precious with me as a result of this very active, non-precious activity with the costumes. Thank you for sharing that Celia.

Madelin, do we have time for any more questions or if we talked for far too long on the first one, Well, we all really, really near to the end, but I suppose I would quite like to ask this one to you or whether you think that there are parallels repairing material objects and international cup recovery from kindness. That’s a good question.

 

I’m definitely not going to go first. Who wants to take that one first? Yeah, go ahead buddy. Absolutely. I mean, I think because of the metaphor, I mean a metaphor is actually a good metaphor is transformative. It’s not just something that’s out there. It’s not just an English trope. It’s actually a transformative thing. So if you see things that are mended,

things that are repaired, things that are made more beautiful, I think it’s, it somehow moves us to do that. We know that we can recover. We know that not only that, but we know that we should make it better. So when we make that repair, we should make what was better. I shouldn’t go back to what it was.

 

You’ll never be as good as new again because we don’t want it to be either doing, we want it to be actually better. So yeah, I think it does personally. I think I can think of, I’m not quite sure how this answers the question, but this comes to mind. There is a wonderful question, wonderful company down in Cornwell, where I’m based called Walter Hall and they make litter pickers,

but they make litter pickers from litter. So currently collecting all their little disposable masks that we’ve all been wearing during the pandemic, collecting them all up and turning them into the pickers with which you can pick up more masks. And there’s something about that. That just makes me think there’s a way to sort of use repair and remaking as a solution. Thank you.

I think that is a lovely place to end. I wish I could go through all of the questions we’ve had so many really, really good ones. So thank you all for being so engaged and for staying in and joining us today, it’s been a joy to listen to you or I could probably talk to each and every one of you for hours to be honest and listen to all of your stories and learn more about what you do,

but thank you to everybody for joining us. Thank you Katie, for, for leading this discussion, it’s been lovely. And for those who are interested in renewal, if you have any questions on it, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Please go head to your local store. If you are near one and do talk to our community about it, we would love to, we would love to hear from you. So thank you all so much. And I hope to see you again soon. Thank you. If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest. I don’t really understand how the algorithm works, but I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast.

 

So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram @katietreggiden.1. You can subscribe to my email newsletter by our link in the show notes. And if you’re a designer-maker, you should really join my free Facebook group, Making Design Circular, see that part of my commitment to 1% for the planet, I’ve donated the ad spot. In this episode to surface against sewage an organization I’m really proud to support the episode was produced by Sasha Huff.

 

So thank you to Sasha and to October communications for marketing and moral support. And to you for joining me, you’ve been listening to Circular with Katie Treggiden.

Circular Podcast with Lauren Chang

How does conservation differ from repair? How is it similar? How have the tenets and ideas of best practice with conservation changed over time?

On today’s episode, I’m talking to Lauren Chang,  a textile specialist, who spins, dyes, weaves, and writes about textiles on her website interstitial-spaces.com. She holds a B.A. in Art and Archaeology from Princeton University and an MA in Textile Conservation from the Textile Conservation Centre in the United Kingdom. Lauren worked as a textile conservator at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the British Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular. A podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers, and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take, make, waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair. I think our relationship with the world has become somewhat transactional, somewhat disposable, and I think manufacturing has moved us in that direction, but I don’t really think you get very far by lecturing people or shaking a finger. So I want people to experience what I experienced at NMAI, and I want people to experience what I, what I feel or sense that the farmers they work with are experiencing. It’s so much better to have that aha moment yourself.

 

But then it’s sort of like what the child says, which is you have to unpack that emotional response. So if you unpack that emotional response and you can help people understand that you, this beautiful five, this beautiful hat, this beautiful  shawl you have, is a result of my relationships with these fiber producers who are working so hard to create this fiber and doing all these amazing side things like regenerative, agriculture, et cetera. I met Lauren Chang for the first time when I interviewed her for my 2018 book weeping contemporary makers on the loom published by luteum. I asked her to give me some feedback on the chapter intros, and she was brave enough to be very honest. She kind of came to London to take part in a panel event for the book launch at the Tate modern.

 

And she’s been someone I trust for honest uninformed advice ever since. Lauren is a textile specialist. She spins, dyes and weaves as well as writing about textiles on her website, interstitial-spaces.com. She holds a BA in art and archeology from Princeton university and an MA in textile conservation from the textile conservation center in the United Kingdom. Lauren has worked as a textile conservator at the national museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian institution, the Los Angeles county museum of art, the British museum, and the art Institute of Chicago. She trained in weaving structures with Milton Sunday and through the international center for the study of ancient textiles in Leon, France. Today, Lauren focuses on making cloth and balances her academic training with her relationships within the fiber and maker communities, her work centers around natural materials and the shepherd asses and farmers who produce them.

 

My work and writing have been featured in Spin off magazine, published by interweave press and in November, 2017, she presented a couple of projects, cloth cultures, future legacies of Dorothy K. Burnham, and a conference at the Royal Ontario museum in Canada. Lauren, thank you so much for joining me. I would love to start right to the beginning and ask you a little bit about how repair and mending and fixing showed up in your childhood and early life if indeed they did. Thanks for inviting me to be here Katie. Let’s see… Really, there was no way that mending and repair showed up in my childhood. I was the youngest of four. So I actually, maybe the tangentially related would be hand me downs, sort of like paper stuffed in the toes of my soccer shoes kind of thing. I did learn to knit when I was seven and I made this terrible scarf that my oldest brother who was in boarding school actually wore and just to let you know how things were my family, I made a baby sweater for my sister, like decades later and my mother said I was finally getting the hang of the knitting. And then the first, the first day I showed up to sort of interview for my first pre-program like before graduate school, textile conservation interview at the Philadelphia museum of art, I was wearing my mother’s hand me down 1980s coat. I could see the shoulder pads, like in my peripheral vision and as I was leaving the door of my house, my partner, the hem fell out and I stapled it. So just really… With an office stapler? like a… yeah, like an Office stapler. Amazing! It was a tweed coat, so I was like. She saw it, she knew, like they knew. So mending and repair was not part of your childhood at all. No, not at all. That’s fascinating. I think you’re perhaps the first or second person on the podcast who said that, which is interesting. So you are a first generation Chinese American. How do you think attitudes to repair differ between Chinese culture and American cultures? Yes, I’m a Sylvan of immigrants.

 

And I, again, I hate disappointing you at two questions in a row, but I’m not sure that I would know. I grew up in a community where we were pretty much one of maybe four Asian families. So I didn’t have a lot of connection with Asian families outside of my own. Also, my grandmother would be horrified if I was teaching anything about Chinese culture or saying anything about Chinese culture.

 

I’m American born! But I, I have like two really, I have two really strong memories about her from my mother and then one really poignant conversation with her that really informed my professional life. And then, the conversation that informed my professional life is that she went to Greece and she called me up when she got back. And she said, Lauren, why is everything over there broken? And of course she’s talking about the ruins, like the parthenon and things like that. And she said in China, we would never leave it like that. And, you know, fast forward to maybe a few years later, and I had my first trip to China and I was in the forbidden city and that’s quite restored.

 

I mean, quite brilliantly colored and completely restored. And I remember thinking, oh my God, this is really intact, like restored. So we kind of have like the two opposite ends of the spectrum. And then I remember from my mother, her telling me about my grandmother, that they were a rather important family in China. And so during the war, my grandmother had to host Western dignitaries. So my mother was telling me there was nowhere to get dresses for the war and she would make these beautiful dresses and to achieve members one in particular that was beaded with a top hat and gloves, so like all over. And then my mom also says that she remembers as a kid, that she would, my grandma would unpick sweaters, like the seams and the, my mom would remember, it’s like having to unravel them and scan them up. And then my grandmother boiling them to knit a new sweater. And it makes me think of like, that’s not thrift, that’s not the environment, that’s war, there’s no choice. There’s nowhere else to go. And it also made me think of like, there’s an element of dignity there, right? So you don’t, she had to show up in a beautiful dress, like a cocktail or evening, evening dress. And so it couldn’t just be something you threw together. And there’s also this idea of innovation and creativity, where you take one material and you don’t just reinvent the same thing. It was always a different sweater as an opportunity to make something new and to do something different.

 

And my grandmother was super, super creative and has incredible design sense. I think my mother got that from her too. And then there’s also that element always of care, right? She wants her to make something lovely for her daughter. Yeah, I think that’s really interesting what you mentioned about the kind of mending coming from the environment, poverty or the war.

 

And I think when I’ve spoken to people in sort of different cultures and from different family backgrounds, thinking back across the podcast episodes I’ve recorded, those things have happened at different points in time and in different generations. So by the time we get to the people I’m interviewing, those things have either been lost because they were too many generations behind, or actually they’ve just about made it. And my auntie is just about old enough to remember make do with mend during the second world war in the UK. And when I spoke to her about Don and she sort of said, you know, gosh, I’d never wear that darn item out of the house. Those are for housework and gardening. And I’d feel very sorry for someone if they were wearing a darned item.

 

So for her, there was very much this sort of wartime poverty association still, but I think that’s certainly changing in Europe. You know, there’s a, there’s a big sort of visible amending trend now almost. Is that something you’re seeing in the states as well? Oh, visible mending is really, I think it’s kind of not to sound flippant, but I think it’s all the rage. I really, you know, between doing your jeans and sort of the overstate jean and darning your knitting, but I feel like, I feel like, I, the patchwork repairs, something I see much more in the states. Yeah, I was going to say there’s a, there’s a big heritage of quilting, isn’t there in the states? And that’s a form of mending and repair and reuse.

 

Is that something, Is that something you were aware of growing up sort of amongst your friends and contemporaries, no? No. I mean, I think sports growing up, like I did the last sports and my goal was to be an orthopedic surgeon because when I got through my training, all my sports heroes would need me like this is, you know, a typical 9, 10, 11-year-olds dream. I just, I was not, I, I,I’m, I’m remembering now that I had my piano teacher was also a friend of the family, gave me for my birthday sewing lessons. And it was like these cutout owl shapes. And we’ve made these pillows and I distinctly remember being incredibly disinterested in that. I love it.

 

So, you studied archaeology and then textile conservation. So how did you go from disinterested child by our archaeology to textile conservation? Tell us what happened. There’s the theme in these questions and you’ll see them. And, and, and I’ll just say upfront, I’m the youngest of four, but… This is your excuse for everything that follows, is it? So I took a class in every department at Princeton, except economics. I was interested in everything. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I knew I had taken some art history at boarding school and we had taken a trip to Europe. I loved art, but then my oldest brother that was going to Princeton had told me I had to take this class with this amazing professor in classical archaeology.

 

And I could never read the myths. Like I said, I, I, one time I said, this poor Hermes everyone makes go here and there. He just has to go everywhere for people. I’m the same professor said, messenger of the gods, Ms Chang, Wingard feet, this Chang. And so I took his class and I fell in love with the way he asked us to think.

 

And I do remember him saying to us, or maybe it was in a precept. I don’t, I don’t remember. I do remember him saying, you know, everyone has an emotional reaction to art and then our job is to do the, do delve deeper and figure out the cultural literal, you know, political look at the literature, find the context,find out the why and the how, and, and contextualize and place that. And you send the other flip side of that is you have to be able to communicate that, like, it doesn’t help if you just keep it to yourself. And so that’s kind of stuck with me. And then also I did my thesis with him and the thesis that I would, period, that I concentrated on was that point in Hellenistic art, where suddenly to express two conflicting things, you don’t need to figure. So you don’t need like the conquer and the vanquished. You have within a single sculpture or a single depiction of a figure, both of those elements. Oooh, like that! You can, feel you can see, you can sense it. You see it reflected in the literature of the time and philosophy of time.

 

And so that’s kind of where I think I get started to have this idea of opposite and conflicting ideas occupying, occupying in this case, the same physical space. And so that’s stuck with me and he’s, you know, luckily I’ve had him in my life intermittently over the years, so it’s been very nice. So that was kind of how I ended up in archaeology because I just liked the way he made us or asked us to think.

 

I think that’s so important and something that is, you know, for all the talk of having to think for yourself, the undergraduate level, I don’t think I ever really was challenged to think in that way until I did my masters and the incredible course leader, program leader, that I studied undeclared Imani had this expression of sitting in the discomfort of not knowing. And it was the first time I’d ever had to do that.

 

You know, I, I was lucky that I’ve always picked up concepts fairly quickly and would move fairly quickly from a question to an answer. And it was only when I, when I studied my masters, that I was forced to sit in the discomfort of not knowing and not understanding and nuance and complexity. And I think that in itself, I mean, obviously, everything that I learned factually and the methodologies and all that stuff I learned were incredibly valuable, but I think that was perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I took from my masters. I think that it’s, you know, I remember learning the Greek concept of hubris and I think it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s that idea of, right? That if you, as soon as you start to think, you know, everything, it was very simplistic. It’s not a classical definition, like knock it down, right? And I, it’s so funny because sitting in the discomfort of not knowing might’ve been like the tag phrase of the day since I got your questions at this moment now. But it’s like, I think that it’s, that it’s kind of the, for me, it’s, it’s feeling more like the ebb and flow of energy and learning. So like, which is really nice because it’s made me think about like expertise and mastery over versus mastery with. And what’s really nice is if you never get to, you can never get to the final point of knowing everything.

 

But as soon as you get to know something, there’s always something more. So you’re always going to be uncomfortable. Why is this to see? Who knows what she does not know, right? Exactly! And just , you know, collapses of exhaustion at the end of her life, right? So how did you go from archaeology to textile conservation? Okay, so then my older sister… There’s a theme?

 

Well, my mother basically said your interest in so many things, just throw everything into a hat, pick something out. She was kind of just like, and she basically, it wasn’t so much frustration as she had the knowledge to know it’s going to change over time. When it feels really dire. When you’re young to have a career and an identity, she was like, you’re just going to change. But my sister who had been studying in London had, had spent some time with portfol, had seen this textile conservation center, who is just like, oh, you know, you like art and you like science. I think this could be really good for you. And so then I inquired at the Philadelphia museum of art and showed up in my, you know, actually, I was working at the buildup museum of art and the paper over there introduced me to the Piccolo conservative, but I remember sitting down and just loving everything they asked me to do. So I, I hadn’t stitched. So I had to do a sampler and learn how to stitch. And I was like, and then I had to sit for hours and like pick cut stitches out of a rather famous bed cover. I didn’t into it at the time, anything. So I just sat there. And it turned out there were like 5,000 stitches. I didn’t pick off 5,000, but you just sit there for hours and you pick the stitches out and you put them on like some tape put on the back of your hand, so they don’t go everywhere and I thought, this is fantastic! So then I went down this rabbit hole of like learning the hands-on art, like the studio arts and so 3d design and drawing, painting, and learning all the textile techniques, teaching myself the spin and taking a weaving course. And I think, I think I always kind of wanted a hand skill, but I was really shy because they didn’t think I had any hand skills.

 

And I thought that was something you had innately. And then It’s funny how we do that with creativity. Nobody, nobody says, oh, I don’t have a language. So there’s no point in me learning one. People go out and learn them. So I knew I couldn’t draw and I still can’t draw. But I took this, I took this painting class at the Pennsylvania Academy of fine arts.

 

And I had this great teacher and the first, like everyone there’s a painter, right? This is life drawing, right? So just like the mom goes and he says, we’re going to do some croquis. I don’t know what a croquis is. I don’t know what a croqui is. What’s a croqui? So like these, these quick sketches where you get like the gesture of her body, the body really hard. So I sat there and he watched me for like, you know, they would change, you know, quick changes of poses and I, it was blank, blank. So this is back one  day and he was like, bring a Walkman, bring us, like, you need to like, get out of yourself.

 

So he did this and he walked me through a lot of things. And then I learned skills and made a painting that looked like, and, but it’s hysterical because at one point he, he brought in a book, he brought in like this big monograph and it’s really thick and it just come out and he said, Lauren I want you to spend the first half an hour just leaping through this.

 

So everyone’s painting and I’m leaping through this. And he goes, what do you notice? It was done chronologically. And you know, he really wasn’t very good at the start. That’s right, it took him years! You’ve got time! So, it was, yeah, I learned that, like, there’s a real difference between talent and skill. Yeah, right. Which was, Yeah. I think that’s really important.

 

It breaks my heart when people say I’m just not creative. It’s okay. You can enjoy things you’re not good at that was like a super, really good lesson to learn. Yes. I read a really interesting article, which if I can find it, will pop up in the show notes and the guardian recently about how people aren’t allowed to have hobbies anymore.

 

We have to have side hustles. So unless you’re good enough at something that you can sell it with somehow not allowed just to enjoy doing it for the pleasure of it and that, that is a real loss. But I want to talk to you about textile conservation because you worked for many years. Some of the most respected museums in the world. And conservation is, of course, a type of repair,

but it differs in some significant ways from the sorts of domestic repairs that we might do at home. So I’d love you just to dig into kind of some, those differences for our listeners. So conservation is quite a rigorous and practical and theoretical discipline. So practically speaking, there’s specifics, like when you’re stitching, you always move your needle or you place your pins through the interstices of the textile.

 

So the spaces between the works and laughs it’s like, you never split breath. So that’s practically speaking, maybe quite different. There’s also really stringent parameters around light the materials you select. So they don’t cause damage just by sitting next to or how they age and the grade. There are also kinds of philosophical differences and part of it is the, you don’t often choose what you repair.

 

So for example, if you, perhaps, if you work in it and a museum it’s usually exhibition driven, so… Right. Pieces. You might be consulted for the choice of them looking at the condition, but the selection is usually made by curatorial staff. And if you’re in private conservation, you kind of get what the client brings to you. So you also don’t make, you know, often unilateral decisions about the treatment.

 

You might do a condition report and a traditional treatment proposal, but that proposal is discussed by the stakeholders. And perhaps that’s the curator, perhaps that’s the client, perhaps like in the case of if you’re working somewhere like the national museum of American Indian, we worked with community consultants from the communities. And so it’s, it’s just weighed in approves. You’re not acting unilaterally.

 

And then you also document what you do. So both with images and texts and you document, not just what you did and what you used, but you document why you chose those methods and why you chose those materials. So it’s, it’s a, there’s this element of accountability. There’s this element of thinking about the objects, future life and someone who might come in when you’re gone and be able to understand where this piece picks up.

 

And aside from that documentation, we touched on the sorts of current trends for visible mending, but conservation is often invisible and reversible. I think I’ll do the invisible first cause it’s yes and no. Okay. So yes, in that conservation treatment should be in service of the object. So for example, if you have a dress that has tears and breaks in and cannot be put on, say a dress form or a mannequin, we might repair it so that it can be seen as worn. So there you’re working with stabilizing and you’re making it readable as a dress. So you would still be able to see the damage?  Yes. And you kind of don’t want to, you don’t want the damage to be distracting, but you want them to see, is this dress, but in no way, would I, would I be embellishing the dress or with a, I would be picking a, they call it sympathetic materials and colours so that, that’s, you want to blend it. You don’t want to be the thing, first thing people notice. And if you have something like, like resist-dyed mordant printed textile from India with a big scene of like a tree in the middle and the flowers and the birds on the sides to say the bottom corner where the bird is completely, you know, torn, you know, you’d work to kind of bring all those tears together and make, make that image readable. But I probably wouldn’t go in and like put in extra parts of the bird, like, okay, it’s kind of, yeah, what is, what is there. And then the visible part is that under close examination or under an analytical, whatever, somehow my hand needs to be distinguishable. Okay. The documentation helps with that, but you want to make sure that no one ever makes mistakes, what say, what I would do is as part of the original dress or something like that. Right. Yeah, that’s an important distinction. And that is partly because at some point someone might want to undo what you’ve done and redo it with a more contemporary method. Right. Or say, oh my God, they had polyester back then? This can’t be this date, that sort of thing. Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah. That’s fascinating. I’m trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break and thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen. If you’ve never heard of sugru.com and you’re in for a treat, it’s the online repair shop for people looking to fix everything from clothes and homewares to kitchen appliances and charging cables, pick up some Sugru moldable glue along with other innovative products. Fixing is good. It’s good for us and good for the planet. And so how have some of those tenants and ideas of best practices changed over time?

 

I think there’s, there’s, there’s three. So there’s a lot that goes back and forth. And again, I haven’t been in concentration a long time, but these are things that were really at the forefront, sort of when I was working in conservation, I still think they’re kind of meaty conversations now. And the first one is kind of the idea of restoration versus conservation.

 

So conservation is kind of this idea that you can serve what’s in front of you right now. You don’t bring it back to whatever former glory and restoration is that you would restore to some earlier incarnation. But I’d like to point out that conserving the point at which an object is when it comes before you is still a choice of a point in time. It’s conservation, it’s mitigation. We can’t just freeze. Things are just going to you’re fighting entropy. So things are just going to keep going. And, but it is a choice to stop there. And I think there are times when things get restored, you know, if something has been modified and modified and modified and modified to no longer represent sort of this part of its life, you might go back and restore it to its more historically significant or culturally relevant period. So it’s not, it’s very little, this black and white, the other tenant is kind of the one you mentioned, which is reversible. And I think the conversation there has been kind of reversible versus reinterpreted. So when you’re talking about stitching, you can take the  stitching out.

 

But if you’re talking about cleaning, you’re never going to put the dirt back in. So reversible, and I think we’ve kind of moved towards the idea of concert dependent, move towards the idea of reinterpreted, which means that future as new scholarship, as new ideas, as new people come in, you’ve preserved the ability for the object to be interpreted. And I also, it’s also interesting to me, that reversible seems to be a word that relates to physical properties. Whereas re interpretable to me has a link to ideas of story narrative, which kind of leads us to the last set of tenants that I think are always thorny. And that’s the conservation of tangible versus intangible heritage. And there are written, you know, national, international community, and conservation communities that is about preserving intangible heritage versus tangible heritage. But there is a lot of discussion about how that really works. And I was trying to think of an example because I think theoretically speaking, it’s a little murky, but even when you’re in, it’s working and my memory isn’t perfect here, but for an open exam, the open exam in grad school, we were each given an object and we had to like under these exam conditions, you look at the condition, report and analysis, and then come out with a treatment plan. And I got a bathrobe that was thought to be Jeremy Bentham’s stuff. Right. And there’s a lot of like, I think that was fairly conclusive, contextual evidence, but not physical, right physical evidence.

 

And it was this printed cotton, you know, like a previs coloured cotton with little tiny flower prints and then a more dense flower print around the edges. Very typical at the time. And it was super yellow with acidity and have these patches of brown staining and without lowering the acidity and the cotton, the fibres was just started to disintegrate. So they already have the loss of physicality.

 

But the brief also stated that there was some idea that the brown stains might be Bentham’s blood. And this was right in the heyday of DNA testing. I think they had just been Lincoln’s blood at the Chicago history museum. And so there’s a DNA analysis could tell us if this is definitively associated with that. But to do that analysis would mean that I would have to like cut out this like a big square of the bathrobe.

 

Right. And, and in my mind it could be chocolate, right? Like, we didn’t know. So there’s this idea that you would, to save the whole bathrobe. I would have to, to lower acidity, the best treatment is to do it, put it in a wet cleaning. But if I put it in the wet clean to save the whole bathroom, I might wash away the blood evidence. And then we don’t want to wash away the blood evidence because that’s Jeremy Bentham on the bathrobe. So it’s that tension of, do you do? Yeah. Which takes precedence? And I guess, do you then say, okay, I’m going to cut out the bit to send it off for DNA testing or I’m going to leave it and wait 50 years until they just need a tiny thread for the DNA testing?

 

It’s those questions as well. Isn’t it? That’s what I kind of, that’s the, that’s the question I brought up in it and it was, I think, I think my examiners were unsatisfied with my waffling. I think that’s fair. So let’s talk about some of the power dynamics, that plan, because the people orchestrating the conservation, the people deciding what gets conserved and what doesn’t and how are usually dominant cultures, right. Whereas the objects being conserved may or may not come from those same cultures. Yep. That can often be the case. And I think that the best way for me to address this question is through my own personal experiences. And just as a caveat, this is with the 15 to 20 years of hindsight. So I want to go back to kind of where I sort of laid the groundwork, talking about my grandmother and her being concerned about everything in Greece being broken, but it reminded me of a conversation in graduate school. My conservation Corps ran in tandem with a museum studies course. So this was a class where we had both sets of students in it. And we were on the topic of the linear progress in history. And I remember raising my hand and saying, well, what if you believe time is cyclical or circular? And I gave the example of a lamp and it’s the last lamp on earth. And we don’t have the materials or technology to make the missing piece that will make it work. So the only way to make it work is to make this like pink plastic. And it really got into this lively discussion with people who are like, no, don’t do it. You cannot put anything foreign in here, foreign objects in here. And other people like, well if it doesn’t work, doesn’t work. So let’s make it work. So really bringing up ideas of authenticity and the primacy of materials. And so then from there, we fast forward to my time at the national museum of American Indians.

 

I’ve done some projects on Western conservation efforts in China. And I was interested in seeing how a federal institution might work with native communities. It was my first fellowship after school. So I was a newly minted conservator equipped with the science, the handling skills, the know-how to preserve all cultural heritage and solely by virtue of that education. I had the privilege to go into storage, to handle materials, to study the objects up close. And I don’t think I had realized it at the time, but I had, in some ways become a gatekeeper, each fellow had a research project and I continued my exploration of intangible heritage. So I was looking at an<inaudible> collection of dance regalia from Northern California. This dance regalia is quite stunning. It’s got these Hyde rat skirts and these aprons and tops and everything is heavily embellished with shells and beads.

 

And so when they are dancing and moving, they make this really incredible sound, but anything that moves is often on weekends. So then we as conservators would go in and stabilize it. But when you stabilize things, are you changing the sound? So I was interested in the sound, but definitely from a materials perspective. Right. So it’s that sort of trade-off between tangible and intangible heritage And how they work together or don’t work together sometimes.

 

So, so I was looking mainly at fuller and Karuk material, and I was fortunate to be able to work with  who is a tele language, keeper, dance regalias specialist, baskets, or specialists, just the tradition bearer of the community and his wife, Lena, who is Karuk incredibly knowledgeable and just a force of nature. They came, I think, to an artist residency. And so then I would work with them as they, I would learn from them to work for them while they worked with their collection. And so literally a gatekeeper. So you can imagine we’re in a room and it’s an institutional museum room with fold-out tables and their collection of the dance regalia is laid out flat on tables and it was really tense.

 

But I remember Lauren saying, oh, these pieces haven’t been sung to or danced to in a really long time. And that’s why they’re in such bad shape right. Saying that. Yeah. And then he sang to them and we started working with them. He started telling me about the history and how they were made and how they were used and how that relates to the contemporary traditions and the community.

 

And he moved the pieces as if they would be danced. And towards the end, they dressed me in his aunt’s regalia, which was such an honour, but also so incredibly moving. And I think these were all acts of preservation and care. And the power had really shifted because I only learned as much as they were willing to share. And they also brought up a lot of ideas about conservation for me, because it was clear that I could learn to care for the materials, the physical aspects of the dance regalia, but it was also clear that I could not care for them in a way that actually preserved them. So raise the question of what is my role as a conservator, what is the best cure or best practice? What are we conserving and how do I fulfill my role in providing the best care for the collection?

 

And that’s because you couldn’t sing to them or, or dance to them. You couldn’t do that part of the conservation, right? Right. There’s only one level in which I could provide care. So then I went away and I came back and I was, the conservation league is offering an exhibition with 11 communities from the north Pacific coast. And one of the initial things we always did with communities gathered is handling restrictions.

 

So who can handle what, what times? And so one exhibition in the community that gets down there, their area was based on Shonda materials. Their exhibition was based on Shellman materials. And so I thought I would gather a long list of handling restrictions. But when I went to the community curators and asked them about healing restrictions, they replied,

 

Honey, you don’t have the power. And it was just a huge relief not to have the power. So you haven’t got the sort of shamanistic power that they’ve got to bring those materials to life, that’s what they meant. Right. I cannot elicit any type of power. They are just objects in my hands. So just the physical, physical aspects. So then, the final example is with the Kwakwaka’wakw community, they, there’s a piece in the collection, a hand saw mask made by a very famous Kwakwaka’wakw artist named Mungo Martin, and that was collected by the museum and around 1950 and the Kwakwaka’wakw community curators wanted to include this in the exhibition, and these are the bird mask. So it’s carbon wooden painted, carved wood it’s painted, and his mask would sit on the dancer’s head. And it has this long beak that can be controlled by the dancer to make these snapping noises. And then the body of the dancer is concealed with strips in Cedar bark found Cedar bark which are by the very nature incredibly vulnerable to loss. Right. So this very famous mask had lost its Cedar bark.

 

The feathers were bugging and it had a few repairs that community curators thought were not appropriate. So they wanted it in the exhibition, but it would never be shown in its current condition. It would never be danced in that condition. And so what they wanted to do a refurbishment or rejuvenation of the mask. And so after much discussion, that’s what happened.

 

That’s what happened. And the community prepared the Cedar bark materials and then an artist from the community executed the actual refurbishment or rejuvenation and conservation’s role was to sort of document and observe and see what happens and support what happened. So this project for me was really an implementation of what I learned what the bomb was I couldn’t provide this care. I couldn’t do this preservation, but I also want to acknowledge that it was a really, it wasn’t an easy decision that involved a lot of conversations. It brought up a lot of intense feelings. Would this be? A Mungo Martin mask? Who gets to decide that this is being done? And who gets to decide how it’s being done? And who gets to decide who’s doing it? And these were,  brought really strong feelings, not only within the museum but also within the community itself. But what I think is important is that having the messy discussions, asking these questions of who and how these decisions are made, puts this concept of stewardship into actual practice and moves us forward. So it’s kind of that same idea of holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. You don’t necessarily have a happy universal resolution that you have actual movement forward, you have to keep moving forward.

 

And I think that when things are made, we have to remember these things are made by people for people, and we are incredibly messy. We’re imperfect, we’re always changing. And so I’m not sure why we would expect the process or the work to be any different. Yeah. And I think getting comfortable with that discomfort and, and kind of going into those messy conversations with an open mind is such an important part of this process.

 

Isn’t it? Well, it’s funny, this is 15, 20 years ago, right? For me, and even you, us talking about it and you asking me these questions, like put me into a place of discomfort so that I have to sit with and figure out, I kind of had to Wade through and figure out where the discomfort is. So it’s because it’s an imperfect process that is still in evolution.

 

It’s not finished, I think. Now, you’ve now taken this deep material knowledge and all the context that comes with that, that you are quiet and refined during your work as a conservator and sort of translated that to your creative practices, a spinner, a Dyer and Weaver. And of course, a very eloquent writer on all of those subjects. You collaborate really closely with farmers and shepherds to source the fibers for your yarns.

 

Why are those collaborations so important? So right to the origins of an object, why is it important to be in dialogue with the people who’ve produced those fibers? Well, I should start by saying that I love animals. So that’s the first thing. And I’m a materials geek. So you always want to go to the sources of materials. And then this, the clinical answer is also, I, I remember listening to the audiobook of Dan Barbara’s Their Plate. And he talks about like, his whole point is like the carrot that’s grown in the soil. That’s grown with, you know, with the care, care to the carrot, care to the farm, care to the land. That’s also the care that tastes best.

 

Yeah. And I think you can translate that into just about anything that is tended to, but the farm, like my relationship with farms, first of all, I kind of want to be, I had seen how museums, I kind of seen how narratives were made. Like I could see it on the other end on the like, after, like, if you look at like, Appledore, I have coffee talking, you think of that biography of objects, you’re always popping in at some point and then objects life. Yeah. And I had this opportunity to pop in at the beginning or somewhere near the beginning. And so that was really exciting to me because I hadn’t been at the beginning and from working with, you know, with the, with communities and at the national museum of American Indian, I really, I really found and discovered how much relational learning and you just learn so much more. So you don’t have these transactional relationships. It’s kind of like when you were talking in your book about how people used to know their butcher and their baker and you know, you would get the better cuts and they would, it’s because you had a relationship. It was not just a transaction as here I am, you know, it was not Amazon. Yeah. So that’s kind of what I wanted with my, with the people who work with the fibers. And the other thing is when I started doing this, I was living in Chicago and farms are really far away.

 

Like it’s not the small like on the coast, things are more tightly, but it is 300 miles. So, farmers and fiber producers, I like we’d have conversations and they would send me a tweed. And so we had to get to know each other. And then I would, I usually send a scan of hand spawn or something made out of that tweed back to them.

 

And it would start having these conversations where they would. I remember the first time I got this, the farmer was like, Lauren, you finally get me, like someone finally gets my sheep. You get it. I Love that. Then I just sent some, this year, a pair of mitts off to a farmer in New Hampshire. And she said, she said she opened it.

 

And she had tears rolling down her eyes. And I just was like, I can’t believe this is my, this is my flock. And then I had another woman this year say, wait, this is my fiber. And I know what it’s like to be on the other side of that conversation. And I don’t know, it just starts the back and forth, which becomes a relationship, which reminds us of our interconnectedness to each other, which I just think can’t be a bad thing. And I don’t know, it’s just this idea of, of possibility. And I do think I listened to this. I felt very good because I listened to the podcast about how to save the planet. And did you listen to disaster preparedness? I don’t think I’ve heard that. There’s one part where the professor actually says, like they turn to a professor and they say what’s the best thing you can do for disaster preparedness. They’ve gone to make go back and everything. The professor says something like bake muffins and take it to your neighbor. Yeah. I was at a conference once where it was just before Brexit and we had to imagine a situation where it all gone horribly wrong and nothing could be imported or exported out of the UK.

 

And so each table at this conference was given a list of the resources they had. So you might have like a bicycle and some water, but no food and the table next to you got food and fuel, but no car and the table. And we had to, it was a really fun exercise. We had to basically kind of barter with the tables next to us to get what we needed.

 

And every time you made a connection, you tied a piece of wool to a chair on that table and drew it over and tied it to a chair on your table. And by the end, there was this incredible web across this huge conference space. And everybody had got what they needed. And it was just this lovely idea that actually with those relationships and with the community, we’ll all be okay. And I think there’s something really, really powerful in that. So you talk about the garments you make as physical embodiments of your relationships, the seasonality of materials and the research and handwork of your collective experience. Now we’ve started to get into that, but would you unpick that a little bit more for me? Oh gosh. It’s so much easier to write it, it’s much harder to explain it.

 

I think my goal and I’m just starting to understand this. Cause I think it is a process trying to help repair people’s experiences with the physical world. I think our relationship with the physical world has become somewhat transactional, somewhat disposable. And I think manufacturing has moved us in that direction, but I don’t really think you get very far by lecturing people or shaking a finger.

 

So I want people to experience what I experienced at NMAI and I want people to experience what I, what I feel or sense that the farmers I work with are experiencing. It’s so much better to have that aha moment yourself. But then it’s sort of like what professor Giles says, which is you have to unpack that emotional response.So if you unpack that emotional response and you can help people understand that you, this beautiful five, this beautiful hat, this beautiful  shawl you have, is a result of my relationships with these fiber producers who are working so hard to create this fiber and doing all these amazing side things like regenerative, So if you unpack that emotional response and you can help people understand that this beautiful five is beautiful hats to be able to show all you have is a result of my relationships with these fiber producers who are working so hard to create this fiber and doing all these amazing side things like regenerative, agriculture, et cetera, and also help them understand you’re never going to get the same thing twice because this fleece only exists this year. These plants are only in the soil this year. And to understand this, the transients, the seasonality is very important. And then this last, the research and the research and handwork part is this. I have hand skills and I need to be in service of something outside the studio. And this is how I feel. I kind of can be the go-between to translate the raw materials into this object, which then can possibly have this transformative experience for people ideally. But then the one part that the collective experience part I thought for so long was just my experience with collections and working with people.

 

And it’s just been in the last 18 months. And I’m really lucky. This is where the third sibling comes in. My brother, Derek is a professor of Asian-American studies in history at Cornell and with everything that’s gone on in the last 18 months, we’ve had these families zooms, which has been a really nice side thing of the horribleness of COVID he’s helped me really understand and unpack like my collective experience, like with my family, with being the children of immigrants, of growing up without a community, a real Asian community with not really being, you know, one too much of one thing or too little of another he’s also helped us, me understand what is systemic racism. There’s so many words out there. And I honestly needed to understand the history, to understand the framework, to sit in the discomfort of, but from not knowing from like what you say with, with the many techniques to know the forward and the backward and the sides of a topic. And so that part is actually for the first time this year, I’m feeling like I’m in the middle of it, of this kind of design process where I feel like perhaps the next step that comes out, I hope with the harvest moon festival, which would coincide with what would have been my grandmother’s birthday, that the designs will, the designs will actually fill in that last part of a collective experience it’s way more personal. So Yes, that sounds incredible. I look forward to saying that. So how do you feel that opinions towards men mending and repairing are changing?

 

I think with conversations like you’re leading and people are having, I think there’s that sitting in the comfort that we’ve been talking about. I think that sometimes we’re at that point where you have a little bit of information and there’s a point in conservation where you learn everything, right? You learn your different techniques and everything, but you realize that no action is neutral, right? So you do one thing and that causes up these other problems. You do another thing, it causes another problem. But you still have to move ahead. And I think that mending and repair is in, can be in the deeper conversations in that moment of, I want to do this because of this reason, maybe it’s to be thrifty or to be the speckle of the environment. But I’m learning that my actions have all these different repercussions, but it doesn’t mean we just stop. And so I think that’s how I think that’s where the con conversation is. I feel like that’s where the conversation is going. And I think it’s really important because if you sit in the complexity is the discomfort. I think you understand the frameworks that lead us to this point. I’m with all the talk about dismantling frameworks, it’s important to understand how they’re made to dismantle them. But I think it’s even more important to understand how they were created. So you can create frameworks that might, might attempt to do a better job. Yeah. So I, and I think that mending has started a lot of those conversations. What do you think the future holds? Are you hopeful?

 

Fermenting? I hope it stays beyond the fat and fashion of what it is now. Yeah. Yeah. I think I just hope it stays beyond the bad in fashion that it is now and people continue to do. And I, I hope that, you know, there is that concern like it’s really, I’m mending a pair of socks from some socks for a friend.

 

And it was really hard for me to do that. I was in that paralysis moment because I couldn’t do a perfect invisible repair conservator talking. And then I was like, wait, I don’t have to do this. I can do visible mending. And I was like, no, I can’t do visible mending, this is really hard. And so I, I hope that it becomes that the conversations around the mending and the waiting through the murkiness and being comfortable in discomfort and knowing the complexities is the important part and how you mend is not necessarily.

 

Yes. Yes. I think that’s so important. Brilliant. What a note to end on, thank you so much, Laura. And that’s been absolutely brilliant. Amazing. If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest. I don’t really understand how the algorithm works, but I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast.

 

So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram @katietreggiden.1. You can subscribe to my email newsletter via a link in the show notes. And if you’re a designer-maker, you should really join my free Facebook group, making design circular. See you there. This episode was produced by Sasha Hough. So thank you to Sasha, to October communications, for marketing and moral support to Sue Grid for their sponsorship and to you for joining me, you’ve been listening to Circular with Katie Treggiden.

Form Us With Love and Baux Turn Textile Offcuts Into Acoustic Panels (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

Stockholm-based Form Us With Love is an unusual design studio in that it is also an incubator of sorts, with team members free to explore and establish ventures that sit within and without its perimeters. The original co-founders of Form Us With Love – Jonas Pettersson, John Löfgren and Petrus Palmér – teamed up with entrepreneurs Johan Ronnestam and Fredrik Franzon to take conventional architectural products and make them more visually appealing, co-founding BAUX (Palmér has since moved on from FUWL to run Hem but remains involved with BAUX). In doing so, they took the exceptional thermal and acoustic insulation properties of a Swedish-made building material called Träulit, first invented in the 1940s, and completely reinventing its aesthetics. More recently, they have given production offcuts a second life as a commercial acoustic solution, BAUX Acoustic Flexfelt System, that is fully compostable at the end of its life. But this is far from FUWL’s only experience of working with waste – the design studio has created furniture for IKEA from recycled PET plastic and is currently exploring possibilities for previously unrecyclable glass. We spoke to Jonas Pettersson to find out more.

Tell me a little bit about your education and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design and sustainability.

We [Jonas Pettersson, John Löfgren and Petrus Palmér ] met at industrial design school in Sweden and during the last year, we discussed the potential of starting our own studio. The idea was to create our dream work environment rather than trying to figure out a good business idea. The discussion took shape and the same day as graduation, we ran to the bank and set up Form Us With Love.

How would you describe your product?

At FUWL we have co-founded the sustainable acoustic brand BAUX and since the launch, we have continued to grow its range. First out was Wood Wool, an established building material that we turned into a global interior solution loved by Stella McCartney, Google, United Nation, and many more. Second, we launched a unique paper pulp solution, made from 100% natural ingredients, that meets the needs of workspaces but is also compostable at its end of life. What we’ve been working on next is taking post-production textiles offcuts and giving them a second life as a commercial acoustic solution. It’s a 100% traceable source, which often is the challenge when it comes to waste. The new product will not only introduce a new sustainable material, but also move BAUX into new product categories to support the challenges of tomorrow’s architecture.

What inspired this product?

The inspiration is rational. We, together with BAUX, are on a constant quest to meet the future expectations of architecture when it comes to both acoustics and sustainability. In close dialogue with the textile industry in Sweden, we figured out how to implement offcuts into a second life product. It’s important to understand a material’s properties and then use it to its full potential. In this case, we have made the offcuts visible to avoid adding additional material as well as communicating its story to its users.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?

We are in constant dialogue with industry partners – be they material scientists, experts, recyclers, producers, etc. From our experience, it’s crucial to see design as a collaborative process, listen to different insights and perspectives to bring forward real change. Upcycling these offcuts was a direct result of our approach to collaboration. Designers can bring both a critical and curious perspective to a problem.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

When we were in school fifteen years ago, the industry was not too interested in the topic of “what to do with waste.” The world has changed, and even since a few years back, our approach and know-how is more relevant than ever. The first time we worked with waste on an industrial scale was with IKEA, where we explored several potential waste streams that turned out to be the material solutions for the wood PP Odger chair and the recycled PET Kungsbacka kitchen system. Our motivation is to change the perspectives, from waste to value.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?

It’s hard to give one clear answer, as it depends on how the material will be used and at what scale. Our job as designers is to figure out solutions that work both for culture and industry, in other words, to identify the both use and its supply.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

Yes – it’s a circular solution. The product is made from a mono-material blend and can be taken back and reproduced. Thinking about end-of-life is important, but also how a product’s lifespan can be prolonged from both quality and aesthetic values.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

There is always quite some excitement for the project team to see how design prototyping leads to new solutions from the waste. For a few years, we have a joint venture looking into waste from the glass industry. The glass has been dumped in the ground for decades and this particular glass contains toxic heavy metals that affect the groundwater. The project team consists of recyclers, designers, scientists, and engineers. Just a few months ago we managed to separate the heavy metals from the glass. Now we’re leading a design exploration to find applications for refined glass.

How have people reacted to this project?

One of the first projects we did from waste on an industrial scale was with IKEA and the Odger chair. It was a challenging project and during the process, it was a lively debate around how the global consumers would buy into the products when seeing a new material in that context. The timing was just right – people were ready to re-think what beauty is, from perfection to imperfection. That was rewarding for all people involved fighting for change.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

There has been a dramatic change, at least what we see, both from global brands we work with, and from its consumers. It’s a hard topic, so we believe it’s our job to be informed, and bring forward solutions that are best suitable to improve life for people, business, and the planet.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

The future will be more informed and more sustainable but, at the same time, people will continue to value convenience. We believe designers with a critical approach can play an important role to find solutions that work for people, the economy, and the planet. The lack of resources and increasing price of materials will speed up this change. It’s going to move from nice-to-have to a must-have, simply because resources will not be enough to meet the world’s growing population.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Form Us With Love here.

Circular Podcast with Ekta Kaul

Can mending and repair be used as self care? How can the traditions we’ve studied impact our current actions towards sustainability? Are we too disconnected from our past? What drives the culture of mending?

On today’s episode, I’m talking to Ekta Kaul, an award-winning London based artist. Her artistic practice is focused on creating narrative maps that explore places, history and belonging through stitch. A pared back aesthetic coupled with a considered use of graphic marks and lines form the core elements of her work. These are underpinned by a thoughtful approach to making with meaning, a deep interest in heritage and a firm commitment to sustainability.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular. A podcast exploring the intersections of craft design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers, and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take, make-waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better in this series. We’re talking about repair. And I think repair and mending is a part of us that needs healing.

 

I think it’s, it invites us into this whole conversation of what can I do to make a difference, even if it is a very, very small and what can I do to make a connection to the wisdom of the past that I think we have lost a little bit, especially here in the west and to creativity. You know, I feel just that the fact that you’ve added something of your own to a preexisting straight off the shelf thing is already giving us creative agency in making a difference.

 

So I think for all of these reasons, things are shifting and things are changing and it makes me optimistic. Ekta is an award-winning London based artist. Her practice is focused on creating narrative maps that explore places, history, and belonging through stitching a pad back aesthetic, coupled with a considered use of graphic marks and lines for the core elements of her work.

These are underpinned by a thoughtful approach to making with meaning a deep interest in heritage and a firm commitment to sustainability. She has appeared on BBC radio fours, front row one, the cockpit arts textile prize, and has work in the collections of the crafts council, Liberty, London, the gunner spring museum, and private collectors. Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me.

 

I’m so excited to talk to you about all things, mending and repair and specifically cancer, which I know you’re an expert in, but we will come on to that. I would like to start by asking you the question. I usually start these interviews with, which is how mending and repair show up in your childhood and early life. Hi, Katie, it’s just lovely to be here and to be talking about repair and mending with you and Kantha and all things textiles. I’m really, really excited. And what a great question to begin with going back to the roots. Hey, so I grew up in India and my childhood was steeped in academia, both my parents’ entomologists. Hang on, what’s an entomologist? So, They are scientists that study insects.

 

Oh, wow. I didn’t know. So between going to manta and slab, which I remember distinctly was lined with, you know, specimens draws upon draws of insect specimens and things get in the whiles of alcohol and my mother’s microscope and visits to the library. So it was very much sort of entrenched in that and, you know, research papers being published,

but rebound mending was still very much a way of life. You know, it was quite ingrained. I think for me, very much into the DNA of the Indian way of life, which meant that, you know, there is a huge amount of respect for materials or resources being frugal is part of it. But also there’s something more to it, you know? So my mother inculcated this deep respect for food, for clothing, for resources in, in us, my brother and I, we were not allowed to just Chuck anything away and not only that, but I saw it all around me. You know, the default is to mend and it’s to repair rather than throw away. So for instance, you know, like your bike broke, for example, so you can go down to the neighbourhood cobbler and get it fixed. Or if your heel came off, you could do that. And like the life of a sari, for instance, it would start from being worn multiple times. And then, you know, if it, then it became too fragile.

 

So clothes would be made out of it. And when the clothes kind of fell apart, then strips of fabrics that could be salvaged were gathered and turned into quilts. And when the quills fell apart, then they become dishes, cloths and dusters. Then one day, you know, it’s just fibers left and then is kind off, is allowed to return to the, so,

You know, that way of life was very much all I saw. And it was only when I came to the UK, when, you know, I heard things like slow cooking or seasonal eating, I discovered, and I have often felt and reflected that there seems to be a disconnect that, you know, these, these sorts of wisdoms this way of life was everywhere.

 

We were all living this way of life till something happened. My understanding is that the industrial revolution happened and then suddenly there was a big disconnect between traditional wisdom that was handed down generations and then something that was taught to you as being the new and the cool. And therefore we had to adopt that. If you don’t ask if you don’t mind me asking this actor and tell me if you do, but if your parents were both academics, it doesn’t sound like you were a poor family. It sounds like you had resources. So this culture of mending wasn’t coming from a lack of alternatives, you know, your parents could have chosen to, to buy new things. So what was driving that, that culture of mending in that case? I think it was, it was very much a connection to land. It was very much a connection to the resources. So for instance, you know, the foods that we ate and my parents always kind of emphasize the fact how it came from the land and my ancestors were farmers. So, you know, my, my dad would always say, somebody has worked really hard for this.

 

And there was this notion of respecting the food and respecting the land and somebody is labeled that has gone into rather than, you know, kind of tossing it in the bin, the leftovers, for instance. So my mom would, you know, the, the next day invent something and I often think, could it be like, you know, this idea of the circularity of life and rebirth, which is so familiar and entrenched in India, so could it be that it’s manifesting into this culture of recycling as well? So you’re almost creating new avatars of the same thing, but the expression is different. And also recycling is incentivized, hugely incentivized in India. So for example, there’s, like a whole economy that exists around the idea of recycling.

 

So you’re all newspapers and magazines. Somebody like the newspaper collector would come and buy them from you. So when I came here in the west, it’s like, I have to pay money to my council, take that off my hands. So those, those old newspapers that were bought off from you in India are then converted into newspaper bags or, you know,

like in small grocery shops, when you, when you go, so you, you would be given all your goods into a small bag that has been made using all newspapers. So there’s that economy that exists already, or, and you don’t every winter, for example, you, you wouldn’t go and buy new quilts. You would just send them to your local quilt maker who would take out all the,

the warding and give them a good beating. So the air kind of was introduced into it, and then they would come back looking pristine. They would re-stitch them back also. So at the start of winter, you would see these beautiful quilts laid out on the, on the side of the street, just drying and like soaking in the sun and getting ready for people to use them for the next season.

I know the idea of kind of soaking in all the sun from the summer and then using them to keep you warm in the winter. Yeah. Yeah. And also, you know, like this whole idea of undoing and redoing. So all the stitches were taken apart. And often, I mean, when I would see these artisans just working, they would save those lengths of threads and retract back into the middle and use the same things.

 

So you’re not like using a whole new set of tracks. You’re not. So that was really, really cool. And my mother, apart from being a brilliant scientist, was also, you know, a prolific Needlewoman. She was, she would knit and she would, she would sew and she would embroider. And unlike you said, you know, they could have easily afforded a new set of jumpers every winter, but they didn’t choose to do that. I don’t remember. My mother would actually, you know when we outgrew jumpers as they became the smallest for us, she would unravel them and steam that it began nice and stuffy and almost new again. And then she would read them and, you know, she was, I think that God is all recycled. Yeah. So all of this learning was happening when I was growing up. And, you know, you don’t even question it, you think this is a way of life, but having left that context and here to the UK, you know, you start valuing that and reflecting that in new ways and the things that actually, you know, mending, as we know it today has to be an old pervasive.

 

It can’t be just mending. Our lovely expensive jumper has to be something more than that. Yeah. We need to, we need a sort of cultural shift, don’t we? on the west back towards the idea that repair is just the obvious thing to do for something that’s broken. So tell me about this tacit learning that you mentioned. What, what did you sort of learn from your,

your mother and your grandmother and how did that learning take place when it comes to sort of mending and repair? So, as I mentioned, you know, my, my mother would constantly be knitting something or embroidering something. And at the time I used to ask questions like, how are you finding time to do this? But now looking back, I think that was her way of accessing another part of her brain, you know, tactility and comfort and creativity, and kind of from the rigors of academia. So you took time off and then used stitching as a way of expressing her own creativity and making something for her family members for her loved ones. My grandmother who lived with us until she passed away was also one of my early influences. And she had this huge bag.

 

I still remember it was, it was blue and she had embroidered some flowers on it. And that was her salvage bike. So whenever there were scraps of fabric or things that, as I said, you know, they were being recycled or parts of salaries that she wanted to save. She would always keep adding them into that bag. And then when it filled up, when it was like, nice and round the straps, she would then start making clothes. And in the north, in Delaware, I grew up there, but it’s a similar tradition that exists in many, many states in India. They’re called by different names. And Kantha has also a similar one where you’re kind of using the standard fabric and layering them up without awarding between the layers and stitching the layers as a quilt.

So she used to make those and, and I was often a helper, so I would help her lay the pieces down. And then she would stitch these multiple pieces and kind of like a patchwork quilt that I think was the early introduction. And at the time, you know, when your mom is doing it and you think it’s so uncool. It’s like, oh, but eventually, when I began my studies at NID, the national Institute of design and I took off apparel and textile design, it sort of came full circle for me. And then my mother would often, you know, say that this was something that you didn’t really look at you now. It was, you know, those kantha textiles that I saw, my mother’s Kantha studies and many others that she collected from my Gran Granny’s quilts. It was sort of an early window into what textiles could be. And it was once I went to design school, it was like a whole world of textiles. And suddenly I learned about textile traditions from India, but also from other cultures, you know, like borrow and Japanese textiles.

 

And I was completely seduced by the Japanese. And this is such a wonderful overlap between them. I feel. So you studied at the National Institute of Design in India, and then what’s in fashion for a number of years. What happened then? Well, I, I think the way that I had understood clothing or appreciated clothing, a richness of story emotion in it,

and the longevity in it, for instance, you know, my grandmother’s diaries were passed onto my mother, which were handed down to me. I mean, that sort of longevity that is built into textiles was somehow lacking in this idea of fashion. So when I started working in the industry, I realized that actually there are a number of collections to be produced every so often.

You know, like it was crazy amounts of just churning out new revenue or revenue or clothes. And somehow I felt there was such a disconnect between how I had grown up understanding clothes to how I was being asked to function within, within the fashion industry. And although working in India, there was this wonderful thing of, you know, being able to work with artisans and craft clusters and, and kind of carrying forward these wonderful traditions that have existed for thousands of years yet, I felt that it wasn’t my calling and I, I was drawn more to textiles and was drawn more to the idea of storytelling and how I could really make that my, my central focus rather than producing ever more silhouettes and ever more clothes. So I, I sort of took a step away from that.

 

And I think that was the best decision I ever made. And so I came to the UK to do a master’s in textiles, and it was really here that I, I kind of, was able to explore all the ideas that I had been thinking about. In fact, in my Emmy, I explored the beauty of damage and DK in textiles.

So I did like lots of rust dying and deconstructing textiles and putting them back together again. And at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing was repair in a sense, but, you know, upon reflection, you feel that, oh, I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what I was after, but I think that was a very important idea that I was pursuing at the time.

 

So, yeah, That is interesting. How many of the people I have interviewed about repair are actually fascinated by damage and it reminds me, it reminds me of something that Renee Brown says, and, you know, I’m a big fan of Renee Browns When she asks people about love. They tell her about heartbreak when she asks people about connection, they tell her about loneliness and it’s just occurring to me now that I’m asking all these people about repair and we keep ending up talking about that much, which in some ways it’s really obvious in other ways, I think is kind of, you sort of imagined that repairs to fix the damage. Whereas actually, I guess in some ways it’s in dialogue with the damage and that’s a slightly different thing. Yeah. I agree with you. And it’s also acknowledging what has broken down or what is disappearing. And,

and then trying to, you know, also this, this idea of beauty that happens when metal gains a certain patina, I’m fascinated with that. And my last dynamics in Miami was just all that. Yeah. I agree with you certainly in dialogue rather than this idea of fixing. Yeah. That’s really interesting. So you mentioned cancer very briefly and excitingly, you have a book about Kantha coming out in spring-summer 2023.

 

So we’ve got a little while to wait, we’ve got a little while to wait for that one first, maybe just explain a little bit more about what comfort is for anybody. Who’s not familiar with that time. You’ve touched on it a little bit, but just to make sure everybody’s clear and then tell us about the book and tell us about why can’t there be something that you’re so drawn to.

 

Okay. So lots of questions in there. So let’s unpack that. Let’s unpack that slowly. What is, it’s a quilted textile that is made using discarded layers of fabric, which comes from the Bengal region in the continent. What that is, is a westbound Goa in India and Bangladesh, which is kind of present-day Bangladesh. That used to be a part of India before partition.

So that is the region where this particular technique was practiced and still is, and there are references. It kind of goes back hundreds and hundreds, hundreds of years, what gets me excited about content is a few different elements. So the first one is that these textiles are sustained. I mean, it is this idea of taking, you know, fabrics that are not in a stage to be worn or used, but making something new from them, upcycling them as we today call it. But, you know, green design, which I think, you know, only now is becoming part of the mainstream conversation. But what I get so excited about is that women in rural Bengal have been practicing this for hundreds of years.

 

And that is so cool. The second aspect is that this is one of the very few embroidery techniques that was done entirely by women. So being, I feel that, you know, this is something that we have done and we had this language we have created, and it’s a very feminine gait, you know, you’re looking at the world and you’re telling stories about the world,

and you’re talking very much about the things that you care about. So there are two kinds of Kanthas. One is the sort of pictorial narrative ones, which are called nakshi Kanthas, that’s a fact. I suppose, more familiar with, you know, there are those human figures and floral motifs and scenes from daily lives or folktales or religious mythology. All of this is kind of put and embroidered onto the textile, but there’s another one which is more graphic, which is geometric. A lot of people, perhaps, don’t associate with Carta. And that’s the one I have really, really drawn to. So yeah, for me, there are all of these elements. And then the fact that it, it’s a very simple running stitch, which is a primary stitch that is used in Kantha textile and allows the simplicity of it.

I love the fact that with one stitch you can have these multiple variations and then it all in the end comes down to a stitch that can be aligned. I mean, if you just did a single line, or if you did multiple of them, you could have a texture, you could have a pattern. And then with the same stage, you could actually stitch three or four or five layers of textiles. And then it starts to become a quilt and it starts to become a sculpture. Almost the stitches give it that sort of three-dimensionality don’t they? So they’re often pulled a little bit tight. Yeah. So you get these sorts of bubbles, that trap air and not bubbles is the wrong word,

bumps that sort of trap air. Ridges! That’s the word, Very, very characteristic of context as to have those lovely textured ridges through it. And normally we understand embroidery as something often embellishment. So it’s something that you added on to a preexisting fabric cloth, but I get really excited with Kanthas that, you know, this is one of the few stitches that can actually, it’s changing the structure of the, you know, making it more sculptural. It’s more making it more tactile, almost, you know. You look at it and you almost feel drawn into I’m making it warmer, right. Because it’s catching air and the, In the, in the layers. Yes. So Kanthas were traditionally made as gifts of love. And they’ve passed on as you kind of markers of rites of passage.

 

So, a new baby born in the house or a daughter being married off would be given, but also as, as a way of, you know, almost telling your story. So women chose to embroider wishes or blessings in those Kanthas and they were meant to be functional objects. So, you know, something like wrapping for say, religious books, or for keeping your jewellery or they were seat covers or rather they were placed on the floor for honoured guests, but even as decoration. So, you know, I feel that it spans the entire gamut of what a text I could be when a baby is wrapped in it. And I also love the idea that, you know, it’s in a sense if it’s your connection to two different generations.

 

So, you know, if a grandmother’s sari is being used to make a Kantha for the grandchild, has the embolic, is that, you know, so the baby is wrapped, is literally being wrapped in the grannies lap. So I love the emotional aspects of the textile. Yeah, that’s really, and I, I think that’s,

I think repairing something is an act of love, isn’t it? And that’s something that’s come up quite a lot with the people I’ve interviewed across the podcast . It’s an act of care for that object, of course, but it’s often an act of love for the person that object belongs to. And I think that’s so really beautiful, a beautiful part of repair.

 

I agree, but also I feel that it is also an act of emotional repair. I think, you know, sewing is so much related to Catholicism and this idea of emotional repair. And for me, particularly within my own practice, this is something that I have come to realize. And I, I’m kind of reflecting more and more on this that when I am working with stitch, I’m instantly connected to my mother and I’m instantly connected to my grandmother. And although they are not here in this world, it just feels that I’m sort of honouring that presence, what they handed down to me. And I think because Craft is hand knowledge, isn’t it? You can’t, I mean, you, of course, you can learn it from a book or from, you know, watching YouTube videos or whatever. There’s something about the sorts of passing of skill from one set of hands to another that as you say, because you know, you’ve watched your grandmother’s hands work, you’ve watched her mother’s hands work. They’ve no doubts, sort of corrected you and touched your hands in the passing on of those skills. Best skills are in your hands.

Aren’t they, which is a really lovely way to think about it. I’m trying to see different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break and thank you so much to everybody. They do help to make this season happen. And this series of the podcast I’m experimenting with, you might have noticed that some of the episodes carry paid-for ads on some I’ve donated to charity.

 

And this one I’m asking you to buy me a coffee, not literally, I’ve signed up to something called KOFI a model that allows listeners to thank podcasters by buying them a virtual coffee and the best bit, instead of me ending up overly caffeinated, all your donations, get reinvested into making more great content like this, more podcast episodes, the links in the show notes,

or you can find me @ko.fi.com/katietreggiden. Mine’s a decaf cappuccino. Thank you. Now you mentioned how women who would have done Kantha over the years would have sort of embroidered their stories and their wishes into those pieces. And that’s something you do in your work in a slightly different way. So maps show up a lot, particularly in your artwork. And I love you to talk to us a little bit more about why maps are such an interesting device. And perhaps particularly you could tell us about your portraits of places, projects. Yeah. I’d love to, well, maps are such fascinating objects, you know, not simply because of what they look like. I mean, they’re beautiful in their own right, but also so beautiful because of the stories they can tell. And I was drawn to them to map-making for these two reasons because it’s sort of allowed me to tell stories of place, of belonging, of history, of identities so easily, and in such a lovely way, sort of became portals to different places, not just physical locations, but also almost lives, you know, stories of lights. So I began making maps in 2010, I think it was. And it grew from a very classic place for me. My mom at the time was quite ill. So I was kind of flying between London and Delhi and really questioning my home. What is home to me? And how do I define the I, this idea of, and somewhere in, in that year, I, I started making these maps, one of London and one Delhi, which is where my parents were living at the time and, and making that it was so easy, right. I had these multiple memories that I could access easily. And even when I was drawing the maps and then embroidering the Delhi map, it was like, oh, I was sort of reliving all of those and which was beautiful. So when it came to doing the map of London I initially thought, well, there’s not a lot there. I haven’t lived a significant part of my life in the city. And it’s only sort of recently that I had started my life. Maybe it had been like a couple of years since moving or not even that, but I found that through this idea, through this act of making and drawing, I could claim the city as my own. You know, I actually discovered that I had, you know, the places that very much where my, like the, for example, my studio or where I was teaching or where my friends lived or where I lived.

 

And this, this city where I thought was, you know, kind of a recent acquaintance became very much where I felt at home. So that was the starting of the journey with mark. And it has been denuded for the last decade, more than a decade now. So much so that, you know, slowly, all the other elements have settled out and it’s kind of just become the main focus.

And so the second part of your question was a portrait of a place, which is a fabulous, fabulous commission from a local museum in west London called Dennis Redpath museum. And the condition was to celebrate the local community and the local area that the museum serves and really make a piece to commemorate that. So the obvious response to me was to create a map,

but we worked with, it was a public participatory project and we worked with two different community groups, one in Ealing, and one in Hounslow. And these fantastic groups of women, one group was women who were deaf and hard to hear. So how to hear it. And the other group was an intergenerational group where, you know, people who were school-going kids do those who had retired.

 

There was this wonderful confluence of community members and hands that came together to make this peace. And I asked people to choose locations that they thought were important and represented this area. And each of those was embroidered by a community member and myself and the Mac now hangs in the permanent collection of the museum. And I also embroidered everybody’s names, whoever took part, even if they came for a day or they came for the entirety of the project so that everyone can draw a sense of ownership from it. Like, you know, that, that’s their hands and their work has been celebrated. And it’s now part of a museum collection. So that gave me so much joy. And every year I make it a point to work on community-led projects, because I, I really believe that art should not be elitist. It should be for everyone, you know, as much for the next person as somebody who’s a regular gallery visitor and a collector of art. So yeah, I try to balance it with my conditions for collectors, with community-led projects. And I think that brings me a lot of joy to be able to do that.

 

And there’s something you’ve just made me think of. I think the first time we met was when you invited me to, I can’t remember the details, but I remember sitting with a group of women and we were all embroidering onto the same piece of fabric. And it was just such a wonderful experience to feel part of this collective creation. Remind me the details of that,

of that event, because that was wonderful. Oh, well done for remembering that, because that was a few years ago. It was at Made London, which is a contemporary craft fair in London. And I was really playing with this idea of how we can, you know, almost create events or rather gatherings of people where we all come together and make something together.

Even if it is just adding a few stitches, it doesn’t matter, but there’s this, it’s just holding space for those conversations that happen sitting next to someone you’ve never met. And this idea of imbuing our energies, our love of making into a single piece. And I like you, I invited several others and it was so lucky. It has been such a fulfilling part of, you know, projects that I have done. I love this act of collecting the collective making, which I think was very much part of cultures across the world. That connection is broken that I think we need to bring it by. So whether it is, you know, doing more of such events or doing collective community arts projects, somehow we have to reignite that.

 

Yeah, absolutely. And I can remember I’d been herring around London. I live in Caldwell. So I would have been trying to cram a month’s worth of meetings into two days. No doubt. And I can just remember arriving, being so stressed. My pulse was racing, you know, I was kind of hyper and an hour later, I felt as calm as I’d felt in months, it was transformative. And actually, I have been, I haven’t stopped sewing since, so thank you for that. But you’ve been running what you call soothing stitch workshops during lockdown, a couple of which I’ve been lucky enough to, to take part. In what role do you think that mending and repair can play in sort of looking after our mental health and sort of engaging in self-care? Firstly, thanks so much for that feedback that was lovely to hear, you know, how you were stressed out and then you felt really calm and meditative. That is lovely. That is exactly what I would have, would have hoped for what happened. And over the years, multiple people have come back to me, remembering events, such as that, where they felt this amazing connection with material and themselves and with their own sort of flow state.

 

So soothing stitch, we started on a whim during lockdown last year, back in March when we all went into lockdown and it suddenly seemed like all connections were broken, right. I wasn’t able to go to the studio. I wasn’t able to make the work that I would’ve wanted to make because all my suppliers were closed. My, I remember that point within one week of the lockdown being declared my inbox was just filled with cancellations and it was like the entire year’s worth of whatever I had committed to whether they were exhibitions or teaching commitments or workshops or speaking invitations, everything was cancelled. So just as a response to that, you know, I said, well, I’m an artist. I still have my hands. I still have my laptop. What can I do with this? And really, it just sprang from that place that I needed to be doing something for the community, for, you know, a desire to do some good, rather than being kind of defeated by the circumstances. So I just put out a note on Instagram asking people to come and join me on a zoom gathering. And it really took off from there. You know, it sort of exploded really. It became a fixture for Friday evening. And to me it was an absolute delight to be able to sort of,

you know, facilitate that and invite people who have never held a needle. And it wasn’t just the men. They were men also who joined and not just from the UK, but from all over the world. So I’ve continued doing them. They came to an end when the lockdown opened and then we started them again in January into another lockdown.

 

So it felt really empowering to be able to do that. And I think it also created a space where people felt welcomed and they connected with other humans, which they may not have been speaking to in real life. We were all kind of locked up in our homes. So for me, that idea was also powerful. I ended up, I think that we welcomed over a thousand people or I know it’s just,

oh, I draw so much joy. And from all over, all over the place. Yeah. From Europe, from North America, from Australia, from India, from Japan. And I felt that you know, these threads that have connected us in, in, in such a beautiful way, I ended up speaking on BBC four, I was invited to do, I was like, you never know where things lead you. Right. And recently, since starting these sessions again in the new year, I asked, I thought, you know, if we can create some tangible good other than, you know, all of us gathering. So I, I, together with all the participants did a fundraising campaign for the crafts council let’s, let’s play campaign.

So basically what that does is buys craft packs, which children in need in England. So I thought what could be more beautiful than being able to help children be creative, especially in this time. And I was amazed, I was bowled over by the generosity of people. And only last week I had an update from the cross council and we’ve managed to buy 54 tax.

So I thought that it’s 50, 50, whose life we’ve made a small difference in. I’m sort of passing those skills on to the next generation as well, which is really lovely. I know. And I’ve had such an amazing response from people and having finished the current sort of iteration of them that I had like a flood of private messages and emails saying what’s happening to the community.

 

So, we have to find a way of bringing everybody back together. So I have recently launched a membership, a way of, you know, bringing everyone back together and, and holding a space for people to be creative and convivial. So there is, there is definitely a celebration of connection and community and creativity going on. That’s wonderful. How can people find out more about the membership?

 

They can go on my website and look under membership and find out Perfect. We’ll make sure that we put the URL in the show notes. So people can find that you mentioned that some of the people who’ve joined these workshops have never picked up a needle before. And I know from experience that you have a lovely, gentle, nonjudgmental approach to teaching, which I was very grateful for because I don’t think I’d picked up a needle since school.

 

Lots of advice. Would you give it to someone who’s listening at home and perhaps thinking about picking up a needle and thread and doing some mending, but lacks confidence in their creative skills. The first thing I’d like to say to everyone, whether they have picked up a needle or ever, or they haven’t, you know, it’s not about perfection and this is the idea that we sort of somehow have.

 

It’s the received wisdom, right? That if your stitches need to be perfect and your handwriting needs to be a certain way, but, but I feel that for me, and this is what I like to teach my students as well. That stitching is about self-expression, you know, it is about finding joy and creativity. It is about finding that space, a meditative space where all your worries begin to melt away. And you’re just focused on the journey that your needle is taking on the clock. And really, I feel the stitching makes meditation so accessible. You know, this, this idea that sitting down for 20 minutes and listening to an app or focusing on our breathing, I know I do it. And I find it so hard as do many people, but I feel that, you know, the, the, the class, the intimacy of it, like there’s something about that. And, and this, this act of holding a needle and making a very simple line can help us access that state so very easily. And also, I mean, it has a tremendous impact on our sense of wellbeing. This stage of having done something that our hands with, you know, we do less and less of other than typing. You know, it’s not the best thing for wellbeing anyway. So I think that creative confidence is something that we just have to kind of disregard that idea of perfection. Actually, that’s so boring. And then raise the idea that it’s like a voice it’s like nobody else’s and the way usage versus the way I stitch has to be different.

And I think it goes back to perhaps, you know, the 18 years or so that they were trying to standardize things that this thing was inculcated that, you know, one worker left and the next one joined, you should not be able to tell the difference, but we are not doing that anymore. We really want to celebrate different voices, the diversity of voices and all sorts of different market-making.

 

So I think to anyone who’s never picked up the needle before to do it today, it’s a companionship, it’s a friendship that you, you will begin and you know, it just more and more and more you do it. Yeah, absolutely. I love that. You’ve described yourself as having a creative voice, which is rooted in the non-binary. I would love you to unpack that a little bit for us.

Okay. I think it really stems from the idea of being comfortable with multiplicity and drawing up in India. This very idea was all-pervasive. It was, you know, multiple languages. There are 27 official languages that are spoken in India, and that’s just the official ones. Then their dialects and regional languages. So then there are clothing, different styles of clothing. There are gods, I mean, in Hindu is of itself there are like more than so I grew up feeling very comfortable with the idea of there being multiple influences and there being multiple voices and going to design school, which was rooted in Bauhaus principles and, you know, very much about learning by doing, and the sorts of tutors that were invited to teach were international.

 

So right from somebody, a traditional artisan who was practicing the trade for generations and working in a very small village in Gujarat to, you know, professors that were teaching at the Royal College of Art or Rhode Island School of design for all over the world. So there was this amazing confluence of different influences that went into the making of what my creative voice is today and then coming and living in the UK.

 

So I studied in Scotland and then I started my practice in India and I’ve lived in, in the Scottish borders and Edinburgh and now London. So I feel that I am a product of all of these places, you know, so if there was a portrait of me, all of these places would need to be mentioned and celebrated. So therefore I feel that, you know, I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of a person being this or that, you know, Eastern or Western or black or white, or I just find those stereotypes. Like they box people in unnecessarily. And at any given time we are multiple identities, right? I am an artist, I’m a mother, I am a, I’m a daughter, I’m a friend and you and I are having this conversation. So I feel that we have to honour that and not really define ourselves in these prescribed boxes.

Circular Podcast with Tom of Holland

Is there a trade-off between affordability and disposability? Can we go back to a mindset of mending and repair, without pricing ourselves out? How do we overcome the objections of time, money and skillset to get more people involved in this movement?

On today’s episode, I’m talking to Tom van Deijnen – a self-taught textiles practitioner, founder of The Visible Mending Programme, and a volunteer at the Brighton Repair Café. He says that he likes ‘doing things that take forever’ because that slow pace gives him a deeper understanding of material qualities and traditional techniques.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular a podcast exploring the intersections of craft design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers, and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging, the linear take, make, waste model of production and consumption and walking towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair. You know, you might spend a lot of money on designer clothes. Does it mean that they have been produced more ethically than a t-shirt from H and M or next, you know, they, they can be made even in the same factory, they will just be given higher quality materials. So with, and, you know, they’re allowed to spend more time or putting it together or use different techniques that are a bit more expensive to use. 

 

But I guess on the flip side of that, If something is costing three pounds, it’s probably not been made ethically, Correct. At least I believe so. Tom Van Deijnen is a self-taught textiles practitioner, founder of the visible mending program and a volunteer at the Brighton repair cafe. He says that he likes doing things that take forever because that slow pace gives him a deeper understanding of material qualities and traditional techniques.

He’s interested in both sustainability and the rich textile history of the United Kingdom and favors the old and imperfect over the new and perfect working to highlight the relationship between the item and its user in his mending interventions. He says the act of creating and mending are in constant conversation with one another Tom lives and works in Brighton. Tom, thank you so much, Too much for joining me on the podcast.

 

I’d like to start at the beginning and ask you a little bit about your childhood and how mending and repair showed up in your early life, if indeed, they did. Well, I think mending perhaps not that much from, like in my family, but definitely, textiles were a bit of a thing. My mum used to do a lot of knitting and also sewing.

 

Some of my aunts were very creative as well in that, in the textile department, so to speak. So, yeah, I’ve always been surrounded by textily things and I’ve tried all sorts of different things as a young, as a young boy, sorry, I just really enjoyed the creative side of things. So, you know, I did little embroidery kits for my mom to hang on a wall and I made crocheted doilies for my grantees that they could use, you know, they were only small, not much bigger than a fun egg cup, but, you know, Yeah. So, yeah, I’ve always been very creative and as I got a bit older, I started to repair my clothes a little bit often in a creative way or adding a little flourish. And particularly when I started buying my own clothes as a teenager with my hard earned pocket money.

 

Yeah. I would repair things and I would, I would buy clothes as a way of, I would never buy things for just one season. I would always think about, you know, buy something that I would like to wear for a longer period of time. And, you know, it doesn’t matter where I bought it from, even if it was a very cheap t-shirt or top or whatever, I would try to wear it for as long as I can. Yeah. So I guess growing up, seeing people, making clothes kind of gave you that appreciation of what had gone into those objects and therefore the fact that they shouldn’t be sort of disposable in the way they’re sometimes seen as now. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. You know, it’s not like I only wore handmade clothes, you know, it’s mostly shop-bought things, but my mum did make me some stuff and she was really good because she would ask for my input. So it’s not like, oh, here’s a jumper knitted for you. You better like it, you know, where she would get some pattern books and we would go through them together and I would choose the style and she would take me to the wool shop to pick the colours.

 

So it was a very collaborative effort and that made me really appreciate them because they would be things I actually wanted. Yeah. I love that. And that, and that sense of, of the kind of personal agency that you’d contributed, even if you hadn’t made them yourself, you’d contributed some of the design decisions. Yeah. That’s really interesting. So how, and when did your career as a designer-maker and repairer start? How did you make that leap from sort of watching your mum and your aunties doing this sort of stuff to realizing there might be a path for you in this discipline? It’s grown fairly organically. I’ve never really set out to create a business out of this and still, now I don’t see myself as a business person.

 

So I also have a different office job, which I enjoy too. And that brings me a steady income. So for me, I, I enjoy what I do, but I, I’m not trying to make money out of it as in, you know, I don’t want it to be my main way of earning income because it’s very volatile and it’s difficult to make a name for yourself and work on things that you enjoy doing.

 

You know, I, in the luxurious position that I can say no to projects if I don’t find them interesting, because I’m not worried about having to pay the bill because that’s already covered by my other job. So yeah, so it’s grown very organically. I’ve never really, you know, because I don’t treat it as a business. I’ve never really done a lot of market research or anything like that.

You know, I’ve just been doing the things that I enjoy and I like sharing my knowledge and sharing my skills. So that’s how I ended up doing workshops, et cetera, and just lucky to meet people along the way that have been very encouraging to me and helped me think through and what I do my creative side and also how I could maybe challenge myself and do things differently.

No, I think it’s phenomenal. So you do your day job four days a week and then focus on Tom of Holland one day a week. And I mean, you talk about making a name for yourself. You’re one of the biggest names in this space and you achieve that one day a week. I think, you know, as someone who works seven or eight days a week, I find that really impressive, but I think it’s also really important for people to know that, you know, this doesn’t necessarily have to be an all or nothing kind of setup. It is possible to pursue a passion and sort of things that fit around your value system. Part-time whilst as you say, doing something that you also enjoy that pays the bills.

 

I think that’s really important for people to know. Cause I think so much of the sort of online business world is to quit your day job, go all in, you know, whereas actually there’s space for, for balance and nuance. In some of these conversations, you talk about the act of creating and mending being in constant conversation with each other,

which I love. So talk to me a little bit about that and what that means. Have a conversation about it. Yeah. So for me, I think it’s something like that, we just kind of hint to that. If you make your own clothes, you are really involved in the process and making all the decisions. It starts from what materials I want to buy or use, you know, if you have a big stash of fabric or yarn, then you know, you might choose to use that. You decide what pattern you want to use. If you know what techniques you’re going to use, you might just say, well, this time I just follow the pattern blindly. And other times you might say, right, I’m going to change this,that, and the other, if it’s knitting, for instance, it’s easily taken with you when you travel to commute. So, you know, when you knit, you can think later when you look back, oh yeah, remember knitting this one, when I was on a holiday. Or, oh, if that was such a boring commute for a while because it’s very dreary, but look, I have this amazing jumper. So it kind of creates a bond, I guess, with that item that you’ve made. And for me, it was already clear. Then that means I want to look after it because if I’ve spent so much thought and effort and making something, then you know, if this little hole appears or button pings off, I don’t want to stop wearing it because I spent so much time making it. So I think that bond that you create naturally kind of gets lost, perhaps if you buy clothes from the high street, but at the same time, there are always favourite pieces. You know, you might have your favourites Sunday jumper for lounging around when you were a little bit hungover.

 

Or, you know, if you, I don’t know, also have different ways of things that make you enjoy whatever you’re wearing for the purpose, I guess. So, you know, people often think about, oh yeah, I only, it needs to be a special garment before I want to decide to repair it. But I think you should repair all clothes that you enjoy wearing, trying to keep them going for longer.

So if you then start repairing and you do it in a visible way, I like mending. Then again, you can start creating something more personal and you can obviously, you know, shop-bought clothes. There’ll be thousands, if not tens of thousands made of them, depending on where you’re getting them from. So they’re all the same.

So it’s nice that you suddenly turn into something unique to yourself, but also by spending time with your garment and thinking, oh yeah, this stain that I’m covering up now that that happened because I had a really lovely dinner with friends and I accidentally knocked over my wine glass or something like that. I think it’s really nice and neat. Start to see the history of the garment and celebrating that you want to keep wearing it and it’s worthy of repair.

And then, you know, your repair, you’ve done, becomes a sort of badge of honour. And for me, I enjoy learning different textile techniques. And for me, the techniques I use for mandating and making that kind of crossover between the two disciplines if you can call them that. So certain techniques that you might traditionally use for sewing will be employed when I’m repairing and the other way around.

 

So that’s kind of the conversation, our guests that I’m having with myself and I’m making or mending, I guess there’s always little things that, that crossover that, you know, traditionally, perhaps you would put in one in one box and another box, and I have one big box with all sorts of things. I noticed that, and I love the idea of kind of borrowing techniques from each and the fact that we can sort of build a relationship with our clothes by mending them,

almost, almost imbuing them with the value a hand peace might have. So, are menders always makers and our makers always menders, or is there an overlap, but some people perhaps only fit into one or the other? How do those, how would those two skill sets and mindsets differ, I suppose? Yeah, I think maybe it’s like a Venn diagram Diagram,

Overlapping circles and maybe three or four other ones floating in the periphery. So I think some people are more interested in making things, so they might not necessarily care that much about repairing and other people feel like, oh, I have no clue after sewing a shirt, but you know, if I need to fix it, then I’m happy to give it a go.

 

And other people, you know, will do either. And it’s difficult, you know, I don’t think there’s a black and white scenario and it really depends on, on your own abilities and your own understanding of what you can or cannot do. And, you know, I’m always willing to give things a go and see what happens and some other people might feel a bit afraid to venture out.

Yeah. And I think it’s really interesting that that sense of, I mean, I have very few skills in this area, but I’ve started mending clothes and also started looking at, I had a trench coat, which was ruined. It was kind of filthy and I couldn’t get it clean, but the inside was still beautiful. The fabric was really lovely.

 

So I ended up cutting it up so I could kind of save the buttons and the attachments and the bits of fabric that were still lovely. And it’s the first time I’ve ever cut up a piece of clothing. So for a start, I kind of felt really naughty, even though it was going to go into the bin otherwise. And secondly, I started to be able to see the pattern that it had been made from.

 

And I wonder if there’s a sense that mending might be a way into making. Cause I think I never would. I would voice that I was someone who could never make clothes, but now I’ve started mending them, and started understanding how they’re made a little bit more. It reminds me a bit of Amy Twigger Holroyd’s work in a research that she’s done.

 

She’s written a, she, she’s done a PhD and then subsequently probably says a book called folk fashion. And she talks about a closed item on an open item. And it’s exactly what you just described. Many people see a garment as a closed item as in, you can’t think of how it is, but if you allow yourself to change the mindset and think, oh, actually, yeah, I am going to cut up that coat and see what the pattern pieces look like. Or if you’re a bit more adventurous with say knitting, you feel confident in just taking things apart or lengthening or inserting, you know, additional ripping or what have you really, I think it’s a concept. I can’t quite remember where the concept came from.

 

I remember something vaguely about architecture or somebody who’s written a lot about architecture, but anyway, I really liked that concept about seeing things as open structures and open systems where you can go in and play around and, and change them. Yes, I love that idea! Some people find that really scary. I’m gonna look that up and include that in the show notes. So if people want to dig into that in a bit more detail,

They can do it. Yeah. And I think that’s really important. I think there is something about mending that opens systems and structures and items. So yeah. Thanks for that. That’s sort of a reference point. I think that’s really valuable. So we’ve talked a little bit about sort of the difference between handmade clothes and perhaps cheaper high street stores. And you’ve talked in the past about going back to an older mindset, why clothes were expensive and we looked after them and repaired them until they were threadbare anecdotally. And I can’t find the reference for this, but anecdotally I have heard that before the industrial revolution, a man’s shirt cost a month’s wages, which is, you know, seems crazy now, doesn’t it? And obviously, there is, it’s important that everybody can afford clothes, right? So how do we balance this idea of affordability and democracy, but value and respect for the people who’ve made those clothes? How do we, how do we kind of keep those two things in check? So I think it’s important to realize when I say we should go back to an older mindset. I’m not saying we necessarily need to raise prices.

 

It’s more about the way that people would treat these items that I think we should go back to. And the other thing that people often confuse is price versus ethical production. You know, you might spend a lot of money on designer clothes. Does it mean that they have been produced more ethically than a t-shirt from H and M or next, you know, they, they can be made even in the same factory, they will just be given higher quality materials. So with, and you know, that they’re allowed to spend more time on putting it together or use different techniques that are a bit more expensive to use. But, I guess on the flip side of that, if something is costing three pounds, it’s probably not been made ethically.

 

Correct. Yeah. At least I believe so. But so when I say, you know, go back to an old mindset when clothes used to be more expensive. I think for me that means even if you did only spend five pounds on a t-shirt because that’s what you can afford. Try to look at it as if you have spent,

you know, two weeks’ worth of wages or a month of wages on it. So you’d look after it. And I think it is really difficult for people to understand that clothes are still all, all clothes are made by hand. There are people are things that seem to think there’s like a robot who can shoot them out. Yeah. Well, even I just said the difference between handmade clothes and mass-produced clothes, didn’t I, but you’re right. Even mass-produced clothes are made with people’s hands, right? Yeah. They use the sewing machine like you can use, well it’s, of course, it’s an industrial-strength, high powered sewing machine. But the principle of how it works is exactly the same as your little hobby, a sewing machine that you put on your, on your kitchen table where you want to make something.

 

And, you know, the difference is just knowing that the different techniques. So, you know, and they often specialize in a particular part. So maybe some is really good at attaching collars and somebody else is good at setting in sleeves or, you know, so it is very productized and streamlined. One of the ways it can be cheaper and of course is made in countries where the hourly wage is lower or laws around working conditions are not as strict as here.

Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s really interesting. So, because of what I was going to ask you is if there isn’t that cost difference, where do we get that motivation from? But actually, just that simple understanding that every piece of clothing we own has been made by somebody’s hands almost gives you immediately that respect to say, well, in that case, I will mend it rather than throwing it away, doesn’t it? Yeah. And I think one of the ways to make people understand what would be if you were, you know, if you were to try and make a piece of clothing, particularly for people who aren’t necessarily creative, you know, in that way, see if they, you know, try and make a t-shirt or a shirt and see how you get on. And you know, if you’re a bit, if you know, if it’s not your skill, then you might get very frustrated after two hours and your sewing machine has seized up 10 times and you might start to think, oh yeah, well, Hmm. I wonder how that works in the factory. You know, if this were to happen or, you know, how come that my t-shirt is only five pounds, whereas I’ve already spent three hours trying to cut it out without everything going wonky. Yes. I think that’s really good advice on it. It’s slightly unrelated, but I recently did a course with a company called We are Stardust run by Agnes Becker and parts of it. We had to try and make a bird’s nest.

 

Oh my God, it’s difficult. And I’ve got opposable thumbs, I’ve got a whole new level of respect. But, but, and so I think that’s really true. I think just trying to make something yourself immediately demonstrates the skill involved. Even as you say, when something has been made at a very low cost, I’m trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around.

So we’ll be back after a short break and thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this Season happen. If you’ve never heard of sugru.com and you’re in for a treat, it’s the online repair shop for people looking to fix everything from clothes and homewares to kitchen appliances and charging cables and pick up some sugary multiple glue along with other innovative products. Fixing is good.

 

It’s good for us and good for the planet. Obviously, this podcast is sort of about the circular economy and encouraging people to become more sustainable. Why is this mindset shift important within that context as we try to move towards a circular economy? So I think that’s a quite a lot of research now showing that using existing garments, you know, things you already have for your wardrobe for longer has a real impact on the empty of the environment and all,

all sorts of other things around fast fashion. So by keeping your existing clothes in use for longer in active use, does make a real impact on say the CO2 emissions that a t-shirt represents or, you know, or the water that’s used. A lot of people say that, sorry, this is a bit of a sidetrack, but there’s another thing that I always feel is missing from these conversations about cheap clothes and fast fashion people always talk about when the fabric arrives in the factory to get it cut up and to be made into clothes.

 

But they often forget to think about the whole trajectory of making the fabric. So if you have a five pound t-shirt, that five pounds doesn’t just represent the mock-up and then cutting out of the fabric and rushing it through. So there’s also been a whole trajectory beforehand of Autogrow new cotton or all the, you know, the man made fibers made in a factory and needs to be spun up, but needs to be woven, dyed, and finished. And that is also all factored in that five pounds And in the environmental impact of that. Right. Exactly. Yeah. So, I often feel that’s missing from these conversations. People kind of seem to think that it starts when the bolt fabric arrives in the sewing factory. Yeah. But it doesn’t, that starts much earlier.

So yeah. Yeah. When we were, when we were talking about sort of respect from the people who’ve made that garment, it’s also about the people who’ve grown and harvested the cotton or flax or whatever it is, and the people who’ve woven that fabric or, you know, half of that fabric has been made knitter or whatever. So yeah, there’s a, there’s a huge amount of people to sort of take into account there isn’t there. And then as you say, the longer we use those garments, the more we’re reducing the environmental impact. So I think there’s a stat, which is something like if you extend the lifespan of a garment by nine months, you reduce its environmental impact by 30%, I think as the RAP reports, That’s the one. So yeah, I guess mending is one of the ways that we can extend the lifespan of garments and also just sort of looking after them and sort of, you know, folding them up nicely and, you know, washing them carefully and not too often. No ironing. And Sorry. Ooh, why no ironing? I am talking about Ironing, whereas down the fabric.

 

Aha. I did not know that With the heat. Amazing. Does that mean I’ve officially got an excuse? Not to do any ironing anymore. So people often cite lack of time, lack of money or lack of skill as reasons they can’t meant. How would you, I was going to say, how would you overcome those objections? But I know that you’re not someone who is sort of mend,mend, mend. Everybody must mend. But if somebody wanted men, but sort of had those objections, how would you sort of reassure them or, or help to encourage them to get involved? It’s a difficult question to answer. I think I’m lucky to say I, I, I’m not somebody who shouts everybody must man than, you know, you’re being a bad person for not mending your shirts because I find that very counter-intuitive and it’s not very productive and it just puts people off.

But I think if you are interested, then just give it a go. You know, I like, like I share all my repairs with the visible mending hashtag and I’ll know lots and lots of other people do that now, too. So it’s very easy on social media now to find inspiration or tutorials. So I think some people might say, oh, I don’t have the time or no scale kind of means I’m just not sure where to start. And yeah, I think if you find it important enough, you can find time for it. But you know, that’s my personal opinion. I’m not sure everybody would agree with that, but I mean, especially if we’re not ironing anymore, right. We can spend a guy ironing.

 

It’s something that, as I said, I’ve taken up relatively recently and found it. I mean, I did a master’s a couple of years ago and wrote my dissertation on mending. And so I, whenever I’m learning about something academically or theoretically, I always try to learn the hand skills as well. Cause I think there’s two different types of knowledge that are really important.

So that’s really why I took it out was to sort of understand it from a sort of tactile haptic level as well as just academically. But I was surprised by how enjoyable I found it and how it’s almost meditative. And I often mend my sister’s clothes more than anybody else’s, you know, more than my own even. And I find it to be a really well of sort of moving experience.

It’s a real act of care. I think mending something for Someone else. I find that when I run workshops and I notice from other people who run these kinds of workshops as well, once people are shown what to do and they start to get it, the whole room will go quiet for five or 10 minutes. And everybody’s just really concentrating on, on the fixing and,

you know, just enjoying the process and you know, after a while somebody pops up and they go like, oh, that’s really meditative, or I’m really enjoying this, you know, so nice to concentrate on this for a little while. So I think maybe that’s one thing, if you can, you’re not sure about whether you want to, or if you you, you’re feeling a bit hesitant about mending. Just, just try it out on something simple, something that you are not too worried about. If it does go wrong. That’s not a thing that I often think for myself. Okay. So I’m not wearing this item anymore because this that is wrong with it now. So why would I hesitate to try and fix it because I’m not wearing it already.

 

So if the repair goes wrong, there’s no additional damage done. So to speak because then I’ll just continue not wearing it. Yes, you have nothing to lose. I have nothing to lose. On the other hand, I might actually come up with something I really like, and I’ll start wearing it again. I love that. Yeah. It just takes something that you’re not precious about and just gives it a go.

I, or if I want to try a new technique, I might just get some scrap fabric out and just try it out on that. You know, don’t feel you always have to dive straight onto the item you want to fix, you know, start with some scrap material or yeah. Something that’s not so precious. Yeah. I love that.

 

I think that’s really important. And I think there’s something you touched on, which is a big part of my belief system around sustainability, which is that I think if we’re full of kind of, oh, I should really mend this and you know, the sense of heavy-duty about sustainability. It’s not very motivating. Whereas if we can get excited about the creative possibilities and the fact we enjoy doing it, then I think that’s where a kind of real change is going to happen. And people are far more likely to get involved with mending, as you say, because it’s meditative or because it’s exciting or because it’s creative or because someone like you or me will whack the finger and say you must mend because it’s just not very motivating as it. Yeah. I think people sometimes think if they can’t do everything, then they’re so demotivated that they’re not going to do anything. So if you just do a little bit, even if it’s not, you know, oh, oh, well, I really loved the way that  Tom of Holland guy, you know, mending whatever. Or maybe you’re not ready to, to reach my, you know, my way of working because I’ve spent lots of years perfecting my techniques and practicing loads.

 

So, you know, don’t beat yourself up. If your first attempts don’t look like mine or somebody else you really admire because we’ve all been on a journey. You know, we all started out somewhere and, you know, just try it out and it might not work for you the first time and don’t feel bad if you don’t want to try for a few months.

 

And, you know, in the meantime, donate something to charity and settle, whatever you, I don’t know, you know, we can’t always be on with these things. So yeah, I think that’s really important. And that idea of just kind of doing what you can when you can, because I think so often we get so overwhelmed by the enormity of these problems that we get paralyzed into inaction.

Yeah. Now you mentioned that you, your particular style involves a visible mending. Why is it, why is that important to you? Why is it kind of creatively interesting or, you know, from a value perspective, interesting to bend in a visible way? So again, this is something that’s grown very organically and I think is actually a good example of, you know, just need to try things out because originally I was of the very traditional mindset of, oh, if I repair something, it needs to be invisible. Nobody should be allowed to see it turns out that as a really, really difficult to repair, something invisible, you know, it’s just very, very difficult to do that. So I was thinking,

well, if you can kind of see it anyway, then that’s turned into a feature and you know, let’s not try and hide the fact that man mended. So, yeah. So I kind of started changing my mind a bit about that. And then I started to enjoy adding, you know, something visible and highlighting the fact that my items have been worn.

 

You know, I love the patina of views. Anyway, Shoes to me are not beautiful. Like I’ll buy shoes that I really like, but I only find a really beautiful once I’ve worn them in and you get all the nice creases in the leather. That’s when our fight, my shoes most beautiful or backs or what have you. So I enjoy seeing the patina of use, you know, lots of people, for instance, with denim, they want to see that used, look, in fact, you can buy jeans, pre-distressed. You know, obviously, there’s a big interest in that, but I, you know, I like that seeing that I’ve repaired it and the, and for me, it’s also a way of showing that I care about this item, highlighting the history of it. It’s sometimes a conversation starter. So I, I’m not going to shout you must mend. But if somebody asked me, oh, I see you’ve got this patch on there. What’s that all about? Then I’ll explain, oh, you know, I like to look after my clothes and make them last for longer.

And this is why I do it. And look, we’ve had a conversation about it now, maybe, you know, if you fancy it, give it a go yourself. Yeah. And you and I have talked about the idea of sort of the plainness of an object could be something you mend, so that it might be that, you know,

you’ve got a particular denim top sort of, it’s like a t-shirt, but it’s made of denim and it is just a bit plain. And when I’m brave enough, I am going to embellish it and in some way, and I love that that’s where you start to get this real overlap between mentoring and making isn’t it, that it sort of starts as a men’s and then you’re sort of moving into embellishments and those sort of creative conversations that are happening.

 

Yeah. I think that’s more of looking at the function of that object rather than the material materiality of the object. So if, if you think of feeling that the function of a garment is, is to wear it, to wear it and you know, out a profile warmth, or, you know, not being nude or looking nice for a party or whatever you want to wear this item. If there is a reason why you stopped wearing it, you might say it’s broken. Even if materially there’s nothing wrong with it, if you’re just bought with it because it was so plain or it doesn’t, you know, whatever then, or it doesn’t fit anymore, something like that, you can alter it or you can add, add something to it’s a bit of embroidery or so on some funny patches, I don’t know, you know, there’s also different things, isn’t it? Yeah. I love that different definitions of broken. It’s not necessarily materially broken. It might be emotionally broken or functionally broken or yeah. If your relationship with it has broken down and you’re not wearing it anymore. I love that. So you mentioned the hashtag visible mending earlier, and we have reason to believe that you started this hashtag visible bending.

It now has more than 116,000 posts on Instagram. I checked this morning. How does that make you feel that this thing you started as a way to share what you were doing has kind of gone global on a big scale? My work is done. I love that kind of feels like it’s sometimes. Yeah, it’s really, yeah. It’s great to see.

 

I really like seeing other people’s repairs and I really liked the social aspects of, you know, social media and the internet. That has really allowed people to come together from all over the world. And that’s something that I really enjoy, you know, I’ve, I’ve met quite a few people through, through dots, which are people I would never have met otherwise.

And yeah. So you start sharing ideas and hear about how people in their own country or their own family, you know, look at these things and what they might do and not do, or how they view repairs and things like that. So yeah, I find it really interesting and I, yeah, it’s very nice to see that so many people have embraced it.

 

It’s fantastic. I love, I sort of mentioned this hashtag and how many posts it’s got every so often in various bits of writing. I mentioned it in the book and talked to you and it’s every time I go and check it, it’s shot up again. It’s quite fascinating. I was sort of saying all those, the a hundred thousand, I think last time you mentioned Dahlia that can be or amend the visible mend can be a badge of honor.

 

And I certainly know through my research in, for my dissertation, that it can also be a sign of poverty and a sort of sign of shame. I interviewed somebody who had been alive during the second world war, make the amends campaign. And she said to me that she would only ever wear dark clothing for gardening or housework. She’d never wear them out of the house.

And if she saw someone else with dark clothing, she’d feel sorry for them. Cause she would assume they couldn’t afford new things. And so I find that that kind of contrast quite interesting, this idea of a badge of honour or a marker of sorts of something to be ashamed of and obviously if mending is going to become part of the circular economy and something that we,

you know, forms a part of this move towards a more sustainable living. We need that as many people as possible to get involved. So how do we kind of balance those two things and turn something that historically has been seen as something to hide. And as you say, traditionally, European dining was invisible. Wasn’t it? And sort of flip it so that more people can see it as a badge of honour.

 

I really don’t know. Love an honest answer. Being really honest there, I, without rubbing people the wrong way, I feel at the moment, it’s a bit of a middle-class pursuit to look off the clothes and repairing them and trying to look at the authenticity of things and, you know, and I, I certainly feel I’m part of it in that way. You know, I really, I find it interesting to understand the authenticity of things and, you know, I like things to be unique and all that kind of stuff. And I’m really, I’m so immersed in this world of visible mending. I’m not really sure if I can now look outside it and look into it, so to speak.

 

I mean, are there situations where you wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing something that had been visibly mended? Yeah. So for instance, in the office, I probably wouldn’t wear mended clothes much, although even there I have one mended clothes, so, but maybe not quite so out there as the ones that are aware, you know, when I’m not in the office, You know,

My company is quite a traditional company that way. I guess it’s not that I have to wear a suit, but you know, there are certain expectations, unspoken expectations of how you should wear what things you should wear in the office. Yeah. And I guess, but people have to wear uniforms to work that again, it probably wouldn’t be appropriate with it to wear something visibly,

I would say so. Yeah. So yeah. So there are still situations where I feel, yeah, no, I wouldn’t wear something men that’s, But I think, you know, things like the hashtag are increasing the accessibility of this visible mending, I suppose, aren’t they there’s, as you say, there’s more and more people all over the world getting on board and I guess the more you find other people doing it too, it sort of emboldens you, doesn’t it? Yeah, certainly. You know, I think it’s something completely different, but if you look at tattoos or piercings, they are much more acceptable nowadays than they would have been even 15 or 20 years ago. Yes. And actually I think the same generational thing is true. Say my, I mean, my grandparents were in the forces, so they had lots of tattoos, but wouldn’t have seen it as appropriate for me to get a tattoo as a woman. I don’t think so. Yeah. That’s interesting, I’ll have to look into that more in terms of the kind of societal acceptance of men and women having tattoos and the class and professional implications of them and how that’s changed over time.

 

I wonder if there’s something that you could track between the two. Ooh! PhD subjects. So you also volunteer for a bright and repair cafe. Tell us a little bit about the repair cafe movements and its values and purposes, and then sort of why it’s important to you to get involved. So to brought to repair cafe is a lucky chapter, if you like, of the repair cafe foundation, which started originally Amsterdam, and it was started by a woman, her name escapes me right now, who, you know, she had some white goods, something that she wants to, that got broke, like a kettle, you know, something simple or that. And she remembered from when she was young, there used to be all these little repair shops and every high street where you could take your broken toaster or other small electrical appliances to get them repaired and they have kind of disappeared. And, you know, she then started chatting to people who do have repair skills, perhaps with somebody who retired, used to run a shop like that. I don’t know. And so she started setting up these little, this little group where she gathered some people with the knowledge to repair stuff,

and then you could bring your items that needed repairing. And what’s important to the repair cafes is that you, where appropriate you, the person who brings the thing that’s broken, we’ll fix it as well. So it’s about sharing the skills. It’s not just about offering a free repair. It’s really about sharing the skills to empower more people. So that’s really important.

I think as part of this, of course it depends if, if they’re soldering and, or, or, you know, potentially dangerous things. And of course maybe it depends on that person’s skill level, whether you’d let them do it or if we do it for them. But yeah. So it’s about sharing repair scales and why I really enjoy doing it.

 

And why it’s important to me is I offer commissions and workshops where you pay money for the services. So if you can’t afford that, I still want to be able to share some of my skills and knowledge in that way, because you know, it’s accessible to anyone. All you have to do is turn up. So, Yeah. Fantastic. So tell us a bit about the workshops that you run.

So I’ve actually taken a little break from running workshops, but before COVID, I ran workshops quite frequently in either yarn shops, you know, knitting shops or as part of an exhibition or other things. And I would show people how to repair clothes and we, yeah, we would repair things together. So it’s, it’s always, I’m quite a technically minded person,

so it’s quite technique heavy. So it’s often, I, I would show people a scrap of fabric and give them scraps of fabric to practice on, but I would also ask people to bring their own clothes so we could talk through what’s broken. And why would you fix it? Or how would you approach the repair and then yeah, just try it out then and share my knowledge and talk about things I’ve learned along the way.

 

Talk about the books that I’ve learned from and really enjoy learning from old books. Yeah. So there’s all sorts of things like that, where it’s just knowledge sharing and having a good time. And as I hinted at, before the meditative flow that often occurs, which is really nice. Yeah. Yeah. And there’s something nice about doing that in a community as well as a group of people.

So are you still taking commissions or if you take, Tell us how people can get in touch, if they’ve got a thing they’d like you to mend. So easiest is either through Instagram, you can send me a direct message, or you can email me at tomofholland@gmail.com. Cool. I’m really asking because I have a pair of slippers.

 

I would really like you to mend, but we’ll get back to that. So how do you think that opinions towards mending and repair are changing? You’ve been doing less for a while now, how have you seen sort of perceptions shift over that time? Well, I think that visible mending has a stack that speaks volumes in itself. I think more and more people are starting to understand that we can’t just keep replacing things that we should try and make them last for longer.

And, you know, to the GOP 26 thing that’s happening in November and the report that was brought out by the IPCC, Which is Really scary At the time of recording that report today. So I will, I will pop a link to that in the show notes as well. So yeah, that’s coming out ahead of cop 26, which is November, I think isn’t it. Yeah, yeah, Yeah. I think more and more people are getting interested in that side of, you know, the world at large. Yeah. So what do you think the future holds for mending and repair and are you hopeful? Yes, I am hopeful. I, I think people are getting more and more interested in repairing and I would love to see,

to become part of the vernacular around items, whether that’s clothes or anything else. There’s so many different things that you can repair, you know, that there’s more and more interest in promoting repairability, you know, in Sweden, you can already, there’s a new law around that. And the UK does have the right to repair their interest in that topic. And that’s also part of the repair cafe foundation.

 

They’re really promoting repairability and contacting big manufacturers to say, well, you know, you’re, you’re so sorry I can’t repair it because you’ve glued it together instead of screwed it together, you know, can we go back to using screws because often things could be fixed if you can get into them. So again, that concept of open and closed, And it’s so important that designer makers think about that stuff at the beginning of the process,

so that when they’re sort of bringing objects into being, they’re already thinking about how they might break them, how they can be fixed. But yeah, it does come back to that open and closed. I’m going to dig out that article and pop the link in the show notes. That’s a really useful framework, I think. Brilliant. Thank you so much, Tom. I really appreciate your time and really looking forward to this one going live so that everybody can tune in. Thank you, Katie, for having me. It was a really enjoyable chat. Thank you so much. If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest. I don’t really understand how the algorithm works, but I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast. So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram @katietreggiden1. You can subscribe to my email newsletter via a link in the show notes. And if you’re a designer maker, you should really join my free Facebook group. Making design circular, see you that this episode was produced by Sasha Huff.

 

So thank you to Sasha, to October communications for marketing and moral support to Sugru for that sponsorship and to you for joining me, you’ve been listening to secular with Katie Treggiden.

Circular Podcast with Caitlin DeSilvey

Do we only repair the things that we cherish? Is there a place for visible mending in our built environment as well as our clothes? Can a repair add value to the object that is mended? And do we always need to intervene with repair – or is ‘curated decay’ sometimes a better option?

On today’s episode, I’m talking to Caitlin DeSilvey, a geographer whose research explores the cultural significance of material change and transformation, with a particular focus on heritage contexts. She has worked with artists, archaeologists, environmental scientists and heritage practitioners on a range of interdisciplinary projects, and is one of the most inspiring academics I have ever come across. She has worked with artists, archaeologists, environmental scientists and heritage practitioners on a range of interdisciplinary projects, supported by funding from UK research councils, the Royal Geographical Society, the Norwegian Research Council and the European Social Fund.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.


I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular. A podcast exploring the intersections of craft design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers, and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging, the linear take, make, waste model of production and consumption and walking towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

 

We also became quite interested in how value is created by repair. So by attending to something and extending care, then we actually produce value. So it’s not just about a thing that we value and therefore we get it repaired. This is actually this much more dynamic relationship with the things we repair Katelyn, the syllabi as a geographer, whose research explores the cultural significance of material change and transformation with a particular focus on heritage contexts.

 

She has worked with artists, archeologists, environmental scientists, and heritage practitioners on a range of interdisciplinary projects, supported by funding from UK research councils, the Royal geographical society, the Norwegian research council and the European social fund, a recent monograph curated decay heritage beyond saving received the 2018 historic preservation book prize. She is a professor of cultural geography at the University of Exeter where she is associate director for transdisciplinary research at the environment and sustainability Institute.

 

Her current research projects include a collaboration with the Copenhagen medical museum and the landscape futures and the challenge of change projects with the national trust and historic England. Thank you so much for joining me, Caitlin. I’m really looking forward to talking to you about mending and repair. I’d love to start right at the beginning and ask you about how sort of mending, repair, decay, damage, all those sorts of things showed up in your childhood and early life. Hi Katie, thanks for having me and inviting me into this conversation. And thanks for that question. It’s kind of a big question for me because I do think about this a lot where my interest in these topics came from, and I guess there’s sort of, there’s some family stories.

So I grew up from when I was about three and a half on a farm in Vermont and my dad was a doctor, but it was one of these early seventies back to the land experiments from my parents. And so I spent a lot of my early childhood following my dad around while he fixed things on the farm. And so I was the kid who was interested in that, or at least that’s how the story went. And so really as a little kid, like five, you know, I would, you know, go out with him and help him turn the old tool shed into, turned it into a little cabin at one point, but we were always fixing things. There were tools around, you know, I was, I was fascinated and I would do my own little carpentry projects. And then his dad was actually a travelling repairman who would fix turret leads. So they’re these massive machines that they use in night manufacturing. And the story about the turret lead, I think that I will always remember is it’s the only machine that can make all of its own parts.

 

So, he was grandpa John was a, he was a pianist, you know, sort of, he would play a milton piano in some roadhouses around Western New York and Ohio where he worked and he travelled around in a camper and he didn’t have a fixed abode. So he would come and see us and take us out. I think I was always aware of his actual hands, honestly, like he had these really big hands and we just felt very effective in the world. That was what I remember about my grandfather. He died when I was about 10. So there was always this sort of background sense of the value of being able to do things, fix things, make things. And my really abiding memory of my dad giving me a toolbox for my 12th birthday, which I still have. And I still have the hammer that was in that toolbox. And so I think that that started early, but then the counter story, which is also relevant, was that I was, you know, growing up in rural Vermont, where there was a lot of grown over sort of second or third growth forest and a lot of farms abandoned up in the Hills.

And so it was really relatively common to come across. They’re like structures, old stone walls, their sense of a place where people had been, where they had moved on and, and the way that those places were being overgrown and overtaken by nature. And I was also fascinated by that as a kid. So, yeah. So there was sort of these, both of these things were percolating. Yeah. There’s something I remember about us, the house we lived in. When I was very little, there were some tumbled down pick sets at the bottom of the garden that had overgrown. And my sister and I were fascinated by them. It was just kind of the kind of history. So you went from rural Vermont to an undergraduate degree in religious studies and environmental studies. So first I’m interested to know what, if anything, the relationship between those two subjects. And then secondly, how you went from religious studies and environmental studies to a master’s and PhD in cultural geography. Ah, yes. Okay. Missing chapters. Yeah. So, yeah, so I started out as an undergraduate at Yale, not having a clue what I wanted to study. I think I actually declared English as my, as my proposed major. And then I proceeded to take all these courses in introductory biology and comparative religion and atmosphere and oceans or humans, there was one module called that and I was also taking classes in sculpture. And so I had this whole, I had an incredibly eclectic and bewilderingly, wonderful undergraduate career.

 

And the kind that you can’t really do in the UK, but it was true. It was liberal arts in its truest sense. It sounds amazing. And so I had a bit of a meltdown. I mean, I can, I see this to my students sometimes where they don’t have as much choice here, but there’s still often a moment where they’re like, what am I doing here? You know? And so at about midway through my second year, I ended up having a bit of a wobble because I was taking so many different things and loving them all, but not really seeing the connections. And so I ended up taking a term off and spending some time at home teaching cross country skiing, and then going out to Puget sound and working on a schooner where we were bringing school kids onto this beautiful boat and teaching them about environmental ed and the ecology of Puget sound in the west,

Northwest Pacific Northwest. And so I had a, I think at that moment, I got really interested in, some of the native American stories about that area and the way they connected to the ecology of that place, because we would tell the stories on the boat. And I think that seeded something in me that I needed to look for, the joins between all of these things that I was interested in.

And I came back and started my third year and realized that I could do an environmental studies degree, but also bring in some of my interest and help people make sense of the world sort of, and storytelling and thinking about science in a true storytelling. I know that sounds a bit mad, but I got really interested in how language influences how we think about the world.

And so in the end, the religious studies came in because I extended my interest in sort of native American cosmology and, and storytelling, but also meaning-making to a project on a proposal to drill for oil and gas in a sacred landscape, just south of a glacier national park in Montana. So the Blackfeet Nation had a reservation adjacent to this area, and they also had an interest in these mountains where they declared them and they believed them to be sacred.

And the forest service was managing this landscape, and really struggled to get their head around what that meant. And so I wrote an undergraduate dissertation on different meanings of sacred land and the different ways in which those meanings influence decision-making around this beautiful place. That’s a very long answer. But I think that the key thing was that it was somehow I was muddling my way through to what I would later realize was cultural geography,

which is where I’ve ended up. And these questions about how people make sense of places, how the past of those places informs their present and their future, how people ascribe value to particular places. And at that very moment in the early nineties, cultural geography was emerging as a thing in the UK, but it didn’t really exist where I was. And there wasn’t even a geography department at Yale. So in an odd way, I was sort of already being a cultural geographer as an undergraduate, even though my degree doesn’t have anything to do with geography. So that was how that puzzle unfolded. Yeah. I think some of those links are really interesting. I was reading a book called The gift by Lewis Height, and he was talking about indigenous populations.

 

And I can’t remember where, who, when they took salmon out of a river, they would eat the flesh. And then they would put the bones back into the river as part of, you know, sorts of religious rituals that they were sort of in some ways sort of appeasing with salmon gods or whatever it was by putting these bones back.

 

And it was, you know, based on myth and with the various sorts of Western scientific heads, you’d look at it and say, well, what a load of nonsense, but it strikes me that no one is ever going to troll that, that river, you know, they’re never going to overfish that river. And so I think a lot of these sorts of myths and stories that have grown up through different religions are actually the precursor to a circular economy and sustainable ways of living.

 

It’s just that they’ve been, they’ve been couched in, in stories that enable that behavior to be passed down through generations. And then so often we look at it with Western modern secular eyes and think, well, what a load of nonsense, but actually the behaviors that are encoded into those stories are exactly the sort of things we need to be doing. So I think that when I saw a sort of religious studies and environmental studies, my kind of English, Chris, I’m not Christian now, but I was brought up. Christian went, well, what the hell is Christianity got to do with environmental studies? 

But of course religion is a much wider subject than that. So that’s where, yeah, No, I mean, I think it’s interesting because I’ve, since I did that work as an undergraduate, I haven’t gone back to that kind of studying of an indigenous worldviews. And, and, and obviously now it’s coming back in and a really interesting way around the whole debate around decolonization and decolonizing homologies and, and thinking about different ways of knowing the world and really questioning some of the foundational principles of Western science and, you know, and, and so I think it’s really fascinating how there is, as you say, encoded in some of those perspectives, things we really need, need to know now, and that we need to carry with us. And I think the challenge is doing that in a way that is respectful of the texture and the complexity and the place-based knowledge that is there, not just kind of creating a caricature of that. I think it’s, it is. It’s an interesting moment for that. Yeah. It’s a way of kind of learning from that without sort of stepping into cultural appropriation there’s no, which is, which is the danger. So you, you, you’re now professor of cultural geography at the university is backstage, which is the context in which I met you when I was studying the history of design.

And I’d never heard of cultural geography until I met you. And it struck me how much overlap there was between cultural geography and history of design and the way that you and I were studying those two things at that time. So could you unpack for us a little bit more kind of what cultural geography is? Because I think a lot of people listening won’t have heard of that term either.

 

Yeah. I mean, for me, it’s just an incredibly accommodating home academically. And so I think I can describe it from the inside, or I could describe it from the outside. And I think it’s probably not worth going back into the sort of history of the discipline and how it appeared. But I think for me, I think I already indicated it’s a discipline or subdiscipline that allows for engagement in questioning and co questioning with a lot of other disciplines. It’s really poorest as a discipline.

And I think that the baseline is cultural geographers are interested in people in places and meaning and meaning making. And, but they do that in a number of different ways. And often the people who I end up having the most interesting conversations with right now are artists and architects who are interested in the kind of ideas that I’m working with. And I suppose what’s a little bit unique about cultural geography is it doesn’t really do much sort of boundary maintenance and it explicitly encourages that kind of collaborative thinking.

And so it exists in a really robust way here in the UK. But one of the reasons why I’ve ended up here is because while it exists in the U S obviously where I began my academic career and where I’m from, it doesn’t have that critical mass. And so I think you would need to, I would need to explain myself a lot more there than I do here.

 

And so it sits within human geography, but I think one of the things that I love about it and, and the way that I teach as well is that because I’m in this broader discipline of geography, where I have environmental scientists and biologists and know, and people who do quite, you know, straight natural science studies, I have access to them as well, and we can teach together and we can explore across, you know, within the discipline, we explore vast territories. And that feels incredibly unique to me actually, as an academic to have within your department, people who are coming from such different perspectives. And so I’m on one, on one end of the spectrum where my sort of happy place is more in the arts and humanities, but I work with people who are working on all kinds of different topics. And very often we actually find shared interests. Yeah, no, I think it’s fantastic. And certainly, the way I was studying the history of design and the way I was taught the history of design was about this idea that we were asked to select a single object or place or space for each essay.

And then you could almost see the whole world in that object, you know, and it was very much about seeing the meaning and seeing the people who’d interacted with it. And so there was some lovely overlap when, when you and I were talking about my dissertation, so I am holding in my hands and I don’t know why I’m holding this up to the screen because we have a audio audience I’m holding a book called visible mending everyday repairs in the Southwest,

which has got a map of the Southwest in white on a, on a blue background. And it’s a really, really beautiful book. This is a book you co-wrote with Stephen Bond and James Ryan in 2003. And it came out of a project that started three years earlier called smallest. Beautiful question, mark. I said, there’s a question mark. On the end of the title.

 

I would love you to tell us a little bit about that project and then the book that it evolved into, Right? Yeah. I would be happy to. I’ve just realized that there’s a missing chunk of life, which probably will help explain how I ended up doing that project. So I’m going to go ahead and give you that. So when I graduated from university, I went, I went west and I lived in Montana where I had done that undergraduate project. So for most of my twenties, I was living out there and I was doing everything that wasn’t academic. So I was working on organic farms and I was helping set up community gardens. And I was working on this crazy little urban experimental site called the Missoula urban demonstration project, where we showed people how to compost worms and how to fix bicycles and how to build things. And so that was my hands-on period in my twenties. And then I got the sort of hankering after going back into academia in the late nineties. And about the same time, I happened across this amazing place, which was this derelict home set up in the Hills, north of Missoula, Montana, where I was living and, and this place kind of captured me and didn’t let me go. And so there was a long backstory on that, which I don’t have time to tell, but the gist of it is it was a place that had been assembled by makers and menders extraordinarily. And so I ended up getting involved in trying to keep that place from being burned down as a trial site for the Missoula fire department,

which was a training site, sorry. Right. And then went off to do a masters in Edinburgh and where I became a proper cultural geographer, but meanwhile kept that place in my head. And then I, when I had an opportunity to pitch a PhD project at the open university, I pitched that I would go back to this homestead and I would do a material culture study of the things that were in this well that were in these old buildings.

And try to tell a story about the history of that place through those objects. And so that took a good chunk of my life. I got my PhD working on that project, going back and forth from the US to the UK. And then I decided I went back for a couple of years when I finished my PhD to become the caretaker at the homestead and came back to the UK to start my job at Cornwall in 2008.

And I gave a presentation very early on at an event out in west Penn west that was attended by a number of people who then I stayed in contact with. And out of that event where I presented photographs of this homestead site and my sifting through these objects and making sense of them and telling stories about them out of that, I got an email a few months later saying I saw your presentation about your Montana homestead.

And I have a place that I want to tell you about, which is an abandoned cobbler shop in Carhartt. And I thought, oh, where’s that? Because I’d only been in Cornwall for about six months at that point. And so, found it on the map and then got in touch with the people who were involved in the fate of this little building. And it was a backyard workshop that had been in operation by,

for decades. The same family had been tending it. And then the person who ended up carrying the business into the 21st century had died. And so I got invited to go out and check it out, but I brought along Steve bond. Who’s a photographer who was recommended to me as an interesting person to bring along to a place like that by a friend.

And so Steve and I walked into this little place and we both felt this spark about this place, cause it was a fascinating little site, but we also had a spark about working together and thought there’s the seed of something really interesting here. And so we came up with the idea for the smallest beautiful project and the theme of repair in that project,

from that initial visit to that little cobbler shop in Carhartt. And so what we ended up doing was getting funding from the arts and humanities research council to work together with James Ryan, a colleague of mine, to go out and scout the Southwest for places where people were still repairing ordinary things. And it was very much a focus on everyday things that we handle in our everyday lives, not the, I think the most sort of specialist repair that we went to was probably the rare book restorer in Wellington, but there was, you know, everything from the little electrical repair shop tucked into a garage in Penzance, you know, to the amazing blacksmiths in Sherburne. And it was just, there was a sense in the project that we were seeking both places,

but also people who, when we walked into their shops and told them what we were doing, acted as if they’d been waiting for us to come all along. It was this really interesting dynamic where yeah, it was just, it was just this funny, it was there was a chemistry about it. And so some people, we would pitch the project and they would just, you know, be too busy can’t you can’t be involved, but then other people, it was like an instant connection. Like, oh, you want to hear about what I do here? Oh, yes, of course. And so for those people, we then built relationships with them. So we’re about 20 different shops across the whole of the Southwest. And so we,

started working with them. I was interviewing them. Steve was taking photographs, often we were doing this at the same time and we assembled this amazing archive of text and images about these places and about the labour and the love that was going into repair in these places, but also about how most of them didn’t actually think about themselves as repairs, because they thought of themselves as creators or inventors, you know, or as social workers, there was a whole range of things that they thought they were. That was also in addition to being repairers. So we gathered all that together on a website. And then we put the book together with Colin Sackett at uniform books. And it was, it was an incredibly special project because it had something about it.

 

That was just, it was like a little hum or a glow that you don’t get often in a research project. And we ended that project with a, by gathering together the repairers, and then also people, because in that moment in 2012, there was this, it was the beginning of the sort of trendy mending thing, right. It was just starting to happen.

 

I think the very first repair cafes were probably kicking off. There was some stuff going on in London, but it was really early days. And so we invited people who we sensed being part of that movement to meet the repairs. And we had a big event on the campus, the university campus in Exeter. So the book is an, is it an index to some of that work,

but certainly not all of it. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Cause I think some of those sort of high street repairs I’ve sort of grown up with and taken for granted and you sort of don’t notice that they’ve started to disappear. And I think it’s so wonderful to have sort of had the opportunity to capture so much of that often quite ordinary mundane sorts of repair work.

But as you say, there’s a, there’s a magic in it and there’s a sense of creation or, you know, sort of the conversations that happen over those repairs or, or whatever it is. There’s a lot more going on besides just, just the mends you quote Elizabeth Spelman on the inside jacket cover. And the quote that you’ve used is that we do not repair everything we value.

We would not repair things unless they were in some sense valuable to us and how they matter to us shows up in the form of the repair. We undertake. I’d love you to unpack that quote a little bit and explain why that was sort of the opening quote for the book. Yeah. I mean, her book is, do you know, you must know her book.

It’s a lovely book. I’m not going, I don’t have the full title with me actually, but she’s a philosopher. So it’s a sort of philosophical treatment of repair and why we repair. And I think one of the things that we became really interested in in the project was how the objects that people were bringing to be repaired and the stories that they, that the repairers told us about these objects, was as much about people’s identities as it was about the objects themselves. And so there were stories about, you know, the woman who would bring her old blown out slippers that she got it as, you know, and say, oh, I need you to put the new soles on these. And there was this phrase that the repairs would use, you know, they would say, it’s not economic, you know, and their response would be no, no, but you really need to do this because, you know, they’re the only slippers that are comfortable or you need to fix my porridge pot because I’ve been making porridge in it for the last 50 years. You know, there was this, there’s always a little bit of a narrative attached to it and that sense of value and what we value and, and that being often uncoupled from economic valuation, you know, that sort of what became really central to the project. But I think the other thing about that quote, when you read it back to me, is that I think we also became quite interested in how value is created by repair. So by attending to something and extending care, then we actually produce value.

So it’s not just about a thing that we value and therefore we get it repaired. This is actually this much more dynamic relationship with the things we repair. Yeah. It almost becomes more valuable because you’ve gone to the time and effort to Yes. And that comes into a lot of the other work I do on much bigger things like building some heritage objects,

but get onto that later, we Will. I’m trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break. And thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen if you used to feel proud and excited about being a designer-maker about making with your hands, but have started to feel a creeping sense of guilt about putting yet more stuff out into the world.

 

You might want to check out my new masterclass. If the idea of sustainability has started to feel heavy and full of duty, and you wish you could engage with it in a way that feels more light, playful, and creative, you might want to check out my new masterclass. If you’ve ever wondered about the potential of waste as a raw material, you definitely want to check out my new master class, find out more @katietreggiden.com/masterclass. And if the spelling of my surname has already got your head in a spin, don’t worry. There’s a link in the show notes, Extreme weather, rising seas species extinction. Our blue planet is on fire this year as a host of 26. We are calling on the governments of the UK to recognize the importance of a thriving ocean as a solution to the climate crisis, go to sas.org.uk/ocean and climate petition and sign the petition today, help put this fire out. So I know you very much as someone who specializes in repair, you know, I, I was writing my dissertation about repair and then came to you to ask for your advice, but your primary interest is actually in the damage and how things in places fall apart.

 

So what is it about damage and decay that captures your imagination so much? I think at the core, they might be the same questions. You know, it’s about how we relate to the matter around us, you know, and how we make meaning and anchor our identities in objects or in the case of heritage preservation, conservation in buildings and structures. And we value those because they help us tell stories about ourselves or about our societies that then anchor identity.

And so it’s not that the slippers aren’t that different from the ruined Abbey, you know, it’s just that just sort of playing out on a different scale. I love Abby, because, you know, so there’s this sense of that meaning-making is central. And so for me, I think what’s fascinating is an admin. This also comes into the repair thinking, is that the relationship that we have to build structures, our historic environment really comes into focus when they start to fall apart. You know, we don’t pay that much attention to them or we don’t puzzle over them when they’re intact. We just sort of say, oh yeah, lovely. No, that’s part of the past. I appreciate that. It’s there.

 

You know, you know, you might attach a narrative to it, but, but, as with the sort of breakdown thinking philosophies, you know, when something like that starts to fall apart, that’s when we have to then renegotiate our relationship to it and try to understand what the value both in repair. But for me, I’ve been really interested in the value and actually not repairing.

So what happens when we have a structure that is probably already on that path? So the, so something that is falling apart is ruining, you know, however we want to describe that process. And instead of pulling it back from the brink and making it intact again, we just let that process play out. And the stories that become available when you allow that to happen, I think are interesting and worth telling. But it’s an approach that only applies to specific contexts. And that whole, that way of thinking around that you can find heritage value in something that’s falling apart, as well as something that’s held together. It really came out of that work at the homestead because that place, for me, it was the decay and the dereliction and this interplay, the way in which animals had occupied the buildings and the way in which there was this real blurriness around nature and culture, that actually was so rich about that site. But to be honest, my interest in damage and breakdown and decay is partly the moments when we can allow that to play out and learn from it. But also partly about the moments when we just can’t resist intervening and, and why when those moments come. So it’s not, it’s not necessarily about always stepping back.

It’s also about trying to understand our impulse as human beings to fix things. Yeah. I’m kind of what drives which decision we make. Yeah. In 2017 you published a book called curated decay heritage beyond saving. So is that what that book was about this idea that sometimes we just have to step back and let that decay continue? Yeah. So that had come out.

I mean, the original, the seed of the idea had come out of the work I’d done at the homestead when I would find these things, these artifacts like the one that, that still sticks with me was a box full of books that probably been sitting in this little milk shed where they used to put the milk after they milk, the cows. So it’d been sitting in this milk shed for 50 years more, and it was full of books from the late 19th century, sort of old encyclopedias and things like that. But clearly no one had opened this box until I came along for many, many, many, many years. And, but the mice had been in there and they had been making themselves a really lovely nest. And so they’d been shredding all of these old encyclopedias and things and, and making their own little mouse poems. And, you know, and, and, and I found this and I looked at this box and I was like, whoa, what is this? And, and then I realized what I was looking at. And I, and I had this moment where I was like, hang on a minute. My choices are pretty limited here.

 

Like, you know, if I’m being a good curator, I go in and I pull the books all out and I dust them off and I bring them down and I get them conserved properly and they’re saved. And that’s a good thing. Or alternatively, I could just decide that they’re too far gone and just burn the whole thing, you know, and just be done with it.

But there didn’t seem to be an option available to me, which was, wow, this is fascinating as it is. So let’s just sit here and look at this and think about this for a while. And while there’s a precedent for that kind of mixed, messy thinking, certainly an art practice. And in other places, there wasn’t really conservation practice, that’s a bit unusual. And so the whole of the, an element of my thesis worked on that idea. But then I decided when I came to Cornwall to scale it up and start looking at bigger things where you might allow that kind of meaning to emerge from working with process and change rather than working with sort of permanence and fixing things or stabilizing them in some way.

And so I started to think with places like Mullion Harbor, which is very near where I live and also places for other fields. So there’s some really interesting industrial heritage sites in the river valley and in Germany. So I went there, I roamed around mostly, it was places in the UK, but in each of those places, I would go. And sometimes they were explicitly managing that those processes would change in ruination.

And sometimes it was just a potential, but they were all places where there was, there was something interesting going on. And so I would park to the people who were managing those places and ask them what they were doing and try to make sense of that. And so the book is really just a way of making visible this alternate path for heritage practice,

which is partly about places that are beyond saving, but also about a paradigm, which is beyond the impulse to save. So saying let’s do something else. Sometimes in some places let’s just do something else happens. I love, this is what I love so much about your work. Caitlin is where anyone else would have seen a box of ruined books. You saw a mouse poems.

That’s just, I think the way you think fascinates me. So you’ve written a chapter for everyday, everyday stories, resources, and maintenance in architecture. And this is a book that came out of the 2019 international architecture, Ben Ali and south Paolo that hasn’t been published yet, but you’ve given me a sneak preview, which I read only this morning. And I love the way you,

you tell us so much in that chapter about, or through the medium of a simple story about a porch and your chapter opens, this happened, read the brief email message from my husband. Can you pick up the story from there and tell us a little bit about that chapter and kind of how that fits into your work? Sure. Yeah. So this was one of those spontaneous opportunities to recycle a,

an ordinary everyday event into a book chapter. But so this happened message came from my husband with an image attached of the front porch on the house that I’m sitting in at the moment, a little granite terrorist cottage, and Constantine Cornwall, the front ports, having just fallen off one day while I was up in Exeter at a meeting. And it was really,

It was quite abrupt. One moment, it was on the, on the side of the building, the next, it was just belly up on the, on the path in front. And so, you know, in the moment it was just panic, our porch was gone. And then, and then there was this sort of everybody who owns a house,

you know, experience this, I now know, you know, who can we get to fix it? You know, what do we need to do? Why did it happen? You know, and the sort of drawn-out process of trying to put this thing back together again, and right around when it happened, I got the invitation to contribute to this book,

which was lovely. And I hadn’t been involved in the event in Sao Paulo, but they had used curated decay to think within that event. So they invited me to contribute something to the book. And so I thought, well, what can I do? And I then, you know, recycled the moment and thought, well, I’ll just write about what’s happening with the porch.

And so I followed the story of the porch in the chapter and would add to it as I went along. And then eventually it tied into a story about this writing studio space that I work at in Helston. And it had a diversion into the histories of slate in Cornwall, and then the slate that went on the little porch, which initially was from Brazil, but then was replaced by salvaged Cornish slate from a little place out on the lizard. And I think you probably, I can’t tell the story and, you know, I think the point is it was, it was just a little seed of a moment and everyday moment, which I then was able to weave into other stories, other places, other moments,

quite opportunistically, frankly, you know, I just thought, you know, I will harvest a story out of this because this is life happening to me and I have to make sense of it. And, and I do, I love doing that. I mean, sometimes it doesn’t work, but mostly it does. Yes, No, I think it’s the best kind of writing because, you know, it ended up being this global story of, you know, tiles that come from Brazil and Cornwell and there was Portugal as well. Yeah. There was some Spanish slate and You know, this kind of global story of slate through the medium of this very abrupt collapsing port, and you use a lot of visual imagery and storytelling in your work and kind of participatory activities.

 

And, you know, I think a lot of people tend to think of academia as this very dry, linear written space, whereas actually the way you do it, it’s kind of full of stories and images and activities. Why do you think that is so important? You know, you talk about engaging people in imagining changing environments and places. Why does this sort of very visual narrative-driven approach work?

Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean, I always, almost always, I suppose that chapter might be an exception, but I do that in collaboration with other people as well. So we, I, you know, the stories aren’t sort of born in my head alone, they emerge out of conversations and collaborations with artists or photographers. And that just feels like an incredibly natural way of working to me.

So it’s certainly, it’s not something I sort of sought to create. It was just how things happened. And I find it, I think as a result, my work is probably, well, it is quite accessible. I think people have lots of ways into it. And I get lovely emails from people who are not academics, you know, sort of thanking me, which I always find really special actually, because it’s not obvious that it would matter, but, but something, I think something about it does connect with people. And when you offer them different ways in the story, the image, you know, the anecdote, you know, from the academic angle, I do sometimes get people telling me it’s too journalistic.

You know, what is it, what is what’s going on here? I mean, that sort of has stopped now, to be honest. But when I was an earlier career academic, I had to slightly defend my space. But, but another reason about the stories I do, I have a book I’m holding. Richard Powers is an overstory and I just, He has that book.

 

So he’s got this one, this one little phrase in it. And it’s funny, I read the book and then this little phrase was in my head. And then I had to really search to find it. Cause I couldn’t remember where it was, but he’s writing towards the end. He writes the best arguments in the world. Wouldn’t change a person’s mind.

The only thing that can do that is a good story. I think I have that underlined with the page turned down in my copy. Yeah. And it’s, you know, it’s simple, simple little thought, but I think we need to, you know, I actually noticed that you had something in one of the bits of information you sent me before this,

about how we need better stories and we do, we just need better stories and we need, I mean, we haven’t touched on big stuff like climate change, but I think this is one of the things I’m preoccupied now with is we need really need better stories to move us into this future that we’re facing. And, and we need ways of knowing the world and watching it change that are not all about loss and despair, you know, where there’s some hope, which can be difficult at times. But yeah. So for me, I think just trying what works. Yeah, yeah, no, it’s, it’s a very liberating approach. I think for me, you know, as someone who had to quit an academic education, but yearns to be more creative, I think it’s, it, it, and it feels right, as you say, I think storytelling is such a powerful way of capturing people’s hearts and minds. So we’ve sort of started to come on to, you know, some of the big questions about climate change and the future. How do you think opinions towards mending and repair are changing within that context?

 

Yeah. I mean, I think it is interesting watching the popular interest in repair. That’s popping up at least here in the UK with, and I have to admit I’ve not, I don’t really watch much TV, so I haven’t watched repair shop and I haven’t heard the dare to repair episodes that are coming out on radio four eminently, I think, or maybe they’ve already started.

 

I think they started yesterday yet as, as, as off recording by the time this goes out, I think they will have all led. So. Okay. Yeah. So, I mean, there’s obviously a lot of interest right now, and it’s interesting because I find myself sort of watching that and thinking about what we were doing 10 years ago now and wondering what difference it would’ve made, if that was happening then, you know, like whether you might’ve convinced a few young people to actually take on some of these shops that were, you know, that were actually fading out because they just didn’t have succession plans. And I think about half of it, I might be exaggerating a little bit, but I think about half the repair shops that we worked with at the, you know, in 2010 and 11 are no longer there. So it does feel a little bit like this sort of Eljaiek like, you know, that that resource was there, you know, and it’s very difficult to reinvent it and this sort of repair as a hobby. I think it feels a little bit like it’s come too little too late, but on the other hand, you also have the, you know, the right to repair acts and this real, you know, the holding corporations to account and that’s happening. So I think it does, it is looking better for, for the, for this sort of repair ethic. But I think these broader questions about, you know, living in a broken world with a broken climate are really, really fundamental and much more difficult to grapple with then can I get my toaster repaired? Honestly? I mean, it’s just, it feels Like the warm glow around the, the new popular interest in repair. I feel faintly suspicious, although I’m not very good at articulating why? No, I think there is a, I think there’s a sense, well certainly I have the sense that there’s this big emphasis on what we as consumers and I’m doing air quotes can do. Whereas I think actually to really move the needle and solve these big problems, we need governments and big businesses to be making big shifts. And I worry slightly that this emphasis on dawning our own jumpers or using reusable coffee cups is a bit of a distraction technique to sort of keep us all occupied.

 

That we’re all doing our bit and it’s all going to be fine. Whereas actually what you know, to really make significant change. There’s a to go back to the previous series of the podcast and waste, there’s a stock. They came across when I was researching the book that for every sack of waste you or I generate and put out on the curb to be collected 70 sacks seven zero sacks of rubbish is generated in the making of those items that have ended up in our bins, which just makes you think, well, if my impact, you know, just to use that as an analogy, as one 70th of the impact of a sort of big producer or big business, that’s really where the focus needs to be. So I think I share your sense of suspicion, but I also think kind of personal agency and personal responsibility is really important and it helps to kind of engage us with those topics and then ask questions of those big businesses and governments and there’s that as well.

 

So I think lots of my listeners will be familiar with visible mending and the, in the sense of textiles and sort of Dawn worn as a badge of honor. And perhaps even in the sense of ceramics and kintsugi, and those things are sort of very trendy at the moment, but you’re looking at visible amending sort of, even within a context of, of stonemason around heritage sites.

 

Tell us a little bit about how that translates to that scale and why that’s of interest. Yeah. I think one of the things that I try to do in the work that I do with heritage sites and practitioners is to try and talk to them about the decisions that they make about repair and how they make those decisions and what the expectations are. And when you’re repairing a listed structure in the UK,

you usually you’re expected to do a like for like repair. So what you, the repair will blend in with the original and at some of the places that I’ve been working with and people that I’ve been talking to, we’ve been talking about the value of actually not necessarily doing like for like actually making visible the change. And so doing things like using a different colour grout in a stone repair, for example, so that you can see where the repair happened. And so that you can tell the story of that repair so that it doesn’t just present itself as this structure, which has always been, as it appears now, you know, and this sort of no time so that you give time back to that place by showing a history of repair. And I think that in itself, it can sometimes be a little bit challenging, but, but it opens up opportunities for people to ask questions as well. And there is a bit of a tradition in, in conservation work of making sure that your repair is visible to the expert eyes so that you could replay, you could go back and redo it if you had new technologies or techniques that allowed you to do a better job, but there’s less of a tradition of making that kind of repair visible in a more outward way to people who visit these places. And when you say a different colour grower, are we talking like a different shade of gray, or are we talking hot pink, Hot, pink has not happened yet? What do you think? What do you think the future holds then for,

for mending and repair? You know, do you think this is a trend that is going to peak and disappear again? Or do you think we’re generally genuinely moving towards a more repair centric culture? Yeah. Well, I think tying into the visible mending comment, I think, I mean, we have to be focused on repair at this moment because it’s so obvious that things are a bit broken.

And I think we just lived through another very, very dry spring. And one of the things that I’ve been thinking about recently is sort of ecological repair as well as material repair. And so this week I ordered a tree to put in my backyard and thought about what kind of tree needed to be there because I’d taken out one, which frankly, I just didn’t like. And I ended up deciding to put a whole Moke Quercus Ilex in that spot, in the corner of my garden. And that was partly because, so quick as Alex, it’s like, it’s an Oak, but sometimes called a Holly Oak and it’s an evergreen and it’s native to the Mediterranean. There’s quite a lot of them in Spain and Portugal. And I’m interested in this particular tree because I think it’s a tree of our future climate in a sense.

 

So it’s a tree that’s much more accustomed to the kind of dry weather that we’ve been having and this sort of period of drought and more extreme weather. And it feels to me like planting that tree in a way is a visible mending of the future planet, right? So it’s like, okay, I am not going to put a native Oak there because that native Oak is no longer fit for purpose.

We’ve actually broken this thing. And we now need to put things in those  places that will allow us to keep working on the planet and the climate, you know, that that will actually function. And it’s more important that we put in things that will function and that are honest, you know, that an honest repair of the planet is not going to involve it, looking like it has looked for most of our lifetimes. And that will be incredibly hard to do, but I was just, I was just trying to think it through in relation to this one little tree, which is only about three feet tall. Yeah. So I think those are the questions, you know, that we have to be asking ourselves and it will mean letting go of a lot of things like, you know, our fondness for certain kinds of landscapes and, and the, you know, insistence on native versus native species over invasive ones, you know, redefining what that might mean. Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s really interesting. Cause I think so much of the conversation in this space is about going back to pre-industrial times, you know, and going back to how things used to be done.

 

Whereas actually looking at this as more of a visible men’s than an invisible mend and saying, what’s going to help us out in the future and what’s going to help us to thrive, you know, on, on a change to planet. Ultimately, thank you so much, Caitlin. That was a fascinating conversation. I knew it would be all Good If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest. I don’t really understand how the algorithm works, but I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast. So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram @katietreggiden.1. You can subscribe to my email newsletter via a link in the show notes.

 

And if you’re a designer-maker, you should really join my free Facebook group, making design circular, see you there. Part of my commitment to 1% for the planet, I’ve donated the ad spot in this episode to surface against sewage, an organization I’m really proud to support. The episode was produced by Sasha Huff. So thank you to Sasha and to October Communications for marketing and moral support. And to you for joining me, you’ve been listening to circular with Katie Treggiden.

Circular Podcast with Justin South

Is repair and restoration limited to the things we own? Can it be applied to other facets of our life? How is repair correlated to poverty, and can that change for the betterment of our planet? How is community related to all of this?

On today’s episode, I’m talking to Justin South, a 32-year-old bisexual fashion student. Four years ago, Justin went into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction and has been in recovery ever since. During that time, he has worked with several charities that support recovering addicts and discovered the power of repair – as both a literal skill and a helpful metaphor.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is Circular, a podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the Thinkers, Doers and Makers of the Circular Economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take, make, waste, model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

Justin South 

I think that mending and repair is primarily important for people who experience different marginalisations and different intersections of marginalisations. So particularly people in poverty, people who are black, people of colour, people who are trans, people are immigrants. It’s those people who get excluded from capitalism, who get excluded from spending huge amounts of money on rent, on housing, on food, and who have to work huge numbers of hours just to get by. And so when you’re struggling just to feed yourself, you have to be able to fix your things.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Justin South is a 32 year old bisexual fashion student. Four years ago, Justin went into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction, and he’s been in recovery ever since. During that time, he’s worked with several charities that help recovering addicts. He’s learned beekeeping with Kairos Community Trust, woodworking and carpentry with Restoration Station, who are part of Spitalfields Crypt Trust and sewing along with psychology skills at Foundation for Change. Having discovered a passion for sewing, Justin is now a first year fashion pattern cutting student at London College of Fashion. He’s also a drag queen by the name of Vaneer and has performed all over London, where his work explores themes of queer identity and mental health issues. In recovery Justin found he wants to offer help to other queer people and so he volunteers with Book 28, a queer library housed within one of Britain’s only LGBTQ plus homeless shelters, and he’s recently become the LGBTQ plus students officer for the University of Arts London.

 

Katie Treggiden 

I would like to start right at the beginning and ask you a little bit about your childhood and how mending and repair showed up in your early life.

 

Justin South 

In my early life, I think that mending and repair probably didn’t play a huge role. I grew up quite middle class, my parents worked full time so we were able to afford reasonably nice stuff. And so I didn’t have a whole massive need to learn how to repair things. I was in the cubs so I’m pretty sure I had a sewing badge during that, but I don’t particularly remember it. I always thought of myself as being a bit more academic, rather than into practical things, which is something that ended up completely changing as I got older.

 

Katie Treggiden 

It’s interesting isn’t it I think we have these things and I think certainly I went to a grammar school, so it was very much you know, you are in the academic box and there was this sense that more creative, more hands on subjects were somehow for less intelligent people, which is just nonsense. You know, having also found myself in this industry, but I think there’s a real hierarchy sometimes between the different things we enjoy or the different things we like to do and I think it’s interesting that you mentioned that you’re from quite a middle class background and therefore mending and repair didn’t necessarily come up and I think it’s another thing that is interestingly, often associated with poverty. You know, we mend something because we can’t afford to buy a new one, rather than because we love that thing or we just want to keep it in our lives, you know, so I think there’s some interesting stuff that I plan to dig into throughout this, this podcast. But you really became involved in repair and restoration specifically at your time at Restoration Station, which was where we first met. Could you tell me a little bit about firstly, what Restoration Station is, what they do and how you came to be involved with them?

 

Justin South 

Yeah, absolutely. So Restoration Station is a part of Spitalfields Cripps Trust, which is a charity that helps recovering addicts and people experiencing homelessness, get housing, recover, stay recovered. They’re really, really great charity and in Shoreditch they have a have a residential rehab and below the rehab is a shop area and an area where they run classes.  And there’s also restoration station, which is part of part of the charity, but also its own independent thing. And restoration station is a wood work and carpentry, furniture repair shop. So people bring in things that they want repaired that they want fixed. And people who are in recovery and people who are living in the rehab, above the shop, people like me.  So I wasn’t living in the rehab, but I came there as a recovering addict. Get taught the skills of how to repair things, even just how to interact with customers, that was a big part of it to me. So Restoration Station is a social enterprise and it relies completely on donations, even on things that we would find in the streets, that we would drag in, fix up and then sell on and all the profits will go back into the charity.

 

Katie Treggiden 

It’s amazing how much furniture is just dumped on the streets of London, isn’t it?

 

Justin South 

Yes absolutely. Particularly, in East London, you wander around and there’s always like, you know, a sofa hanging about or a table or desk, chest of drawers. And if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work in carrying things back, you can absolutely get a treasure trove of items.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And what were some of your favourite things to restore? Can you think of some particular pieces or some particular types of furniture that you particularly enjoyed working on?

 

Justin South 

So the manager of Restoration Station guy named Bernard, he was particularly fond of G plan furniture. So stuff that was, you know, very classic, but very solidly made, but not too intricate, not too worked on, stuff that could take a bit of hammering and a bit of screwing. And so we would often have really beautiful tables, and also really beautiful kind of side tables. So things like ironically, things like drink cabinets were quite popular and these really beautiful items that often because they’ve been built so well in the first place, didn’t actually need that much work. And it was often quite surprising to see that people wouldn’t want them anymore or thought that they were broken beyond repair. And really, they just needed a little bit of sanding, maybe a little bit of glueing in the corners, but others were perfectly fine.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And how did people, because sometimes you were donated furniture, and then you would restore it and sell it, but sometimes people brought in their own furniture to be restored. And how did people react when they saw this sort of lost and broken item restored to its former glory?

 

Justin South 

I think people were really, really surprised, and almost in a in a way that was unbelievable that they couldn’t even envisage this piece coming back to life and you get so used to when something is broken to it being always that way. And for them to see it go from simply being broken to being fixed without any of the inbetween process. I think people got a real kind of shock and surprise and enjoyment out of how different their piece of furniture or whatever it is they brought in looks.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And I think it’s quite a rare and special thing now isn’t it? Often once something’s broken, it just gets thrown away and that’s the end of its life. So to see it sort of heading that way but then being pulled back and becoming something that’s valuable again, I guess must have been quite magical for those people because their object obviously meant something to them, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone to the effort of bringing it into you.

 

Justin South 

And I think there was also you know a bit of a metaphor for the people who came and volunteered and learn things in Restoration Station from going from a life on drugs and alcohol, often people were street homeless, thinking that, you know that they were broken or that there was something inside them that was fundamentally broken. And it just took a little bit of gentle work, a little bit of kindness for people to realise that they weren’t and they could be okay. And then it was really nice seeing that parallel between between items of furniture and also people coming back to life.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that’s a really beautiful metaphor, actually, that Restoration Station is not only arming you with the skills to sort of go out into the world and rebuild your life, but also this every day, all day, every day, this beautiful metaphor about how something broken can be valuable again.  You’ve also talked to me before about kind of learning that it was okay to make mistakes in that kind of restoration process. Could you talk a little bit about the role that that played in your recovery as well?

 

Justin South 

Yeah, absolutely. So when I was simply a volunteer at Restoration Station, as with everyone who worked, there was a volunteer. And so there was not quite so much this expectation of such a high standard of work. Had we all been professional carpenters and masters of wood work, then a: the people who came to get their furniture fixed would have paid that premium for the experience and the work that’d gone in. But b: that wood would have been this expectation that everything should be perfect and it was learning that it’s okay to mess things up. And it’s not the end of the world. And in recovery that’s a really important lesson to learn that you will have missteps and you will have mistakes, and  things will go wrong. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world, you don’t have to go back to the life that you were leading, you don’t have to go back to drink amd drugs. You can repair, or you can patch it up or sometimes you just, you know, you learn to live with with something that went wrong. And that can be a really difficult lesson to learn. In the same way that occasionally I can remember messing things up in the shop. I remember once, spending ages, sanding down this huge, beautiful table. And then when it came to putting the legs back on the underneath, screwed right through the top of the table and put a screw right through this enormous dining table. I felt awful about it, remember turning to the boss and saying I’m so sorry, I’ve messed this up, have drilled right through it. And he said, Oh, well, never mind, it’s part of the history of the piece now. And it was such a relief to be told that it’s fine.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And I love that idea that just becomes part of that objects story. And I think that’s another lovely metaphor, isn’t it, that we’ve all made mistakes in our lives and, and they just become part of our stories, and we move on and, and learn from them, hopefully and carry on. So yeah, that’s another really powerful metaphor.  Then you’ve got involved with Foundation for Change, tell me a little bit about them, because I’m not familiar with them at all,

 

Justin South 

Foundation for Change are a charity that helps recovering addicts to gain psychology skills that will help them to help themselves. They established with the idea that giving people a basic understanding of psychology of what might be happening in their lives and teaching them would mean that they could then apply these things to themselves rather than just spending six months in therapy, looking at your problems. If you learn some of the some of the background theories and the ideas behind why you might do these things, why you might have turned out the way you have. It can help you to to improve yourself and help you to understand yourself better. And Foundation Changes office is right next to Restoration Station, which is how I first got involved with them. And I took one of their psychology for change courses, which lasted about four months, I believe, and certificate at the end saying I’d completed this course and then later on one of the people have worked Foundation for Change, a woman named Becs started to run a Sewing for Change course. She used to be a seamtress, which was teaching a small group of people. There was only three of us when I took part in it, learning how to sew, learning how to make things, learning how to repair things as well. And I realised that I absolutely loved it. Really, I really enjoyed it. It was just such a really positive space.

 

Katie Treggiden 

I am trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break. And thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen. If you used to feel proud and excited about being a designer maker, about making with your hands, but have started to feel a creeping sense of guilt about putting yet more stuff out into the world. You might want to check out my new masterclass. If the idea of sustainability has started to feel heavy and full of duty, and you wish you could engage with it in a way that feels more light, playful and creative. You might want to check out my new masterclass. If you’ve ever wondered about the potential of waste as a raw material, you definitely want to check out my new master class. Find out more at Katietreggiden.com/masterclass. And if the spelling of my surname has already got your head in a spin, don’t worry, there’s a link in the show notes.

 

sugru 

If you’ve never heard of sugru.com, then you’re in for a treat. It’s the online repair shop for people looking to fix everything from clothes and home wares to kitchen appliances and charging cables. Pickups and Sugru moldable glue along with other innovative products. Fixing is good. It’s good for us and good for the planet.

 

Katie Treggiden 

It’s funny, isn’t it, how sometimes, you know, there’s just luck that we we happen across this thing that defines our life, because you’re now studying fashion pattern cutting at London College of Fashion. So tell me how you went from this tiny little sewing group to a degree?

 

Justin South 

Yeah, when I had finished doing sewing course, I really loved it. And me and the other people on the course have stayed in touch and we have regular chats. And we have little what we call stitch and bitch sessions, which has become much more about the bitch than the stitch!

 

Katie Treggiden 

They always do.

 

Justin South 

And it was quite last minute that I realised that I wanted something more structured in my life. I’d been working in Restoration Station, I’d had this sewing class that had been a few days a week. And when that course finished, I realised I needed. I don’t know, I wanted something more long term, I wanted to have something to look forward to and work out for a long time and decided to apply for a fashion degree. And so I applied to a few different universities across London spent some frantic time trying to put together a portfolio, which included a huge amount of work that I’d done at Restoration Station, actually, to kind of demonstrate that I knew how to plan ideas and put things together. And one of the places that I got accepeted to was the London College of fashion, which is where I’m now studying.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Fantastic. Congratulations. And you’re in your first year is that right? Yes. What role does mending and repair play, if any, in the curriculum so far?

 

Justin South 

So for me in my first year, we’ve learned a lot of the basics of pattern cutting, and it’s been extremely fast paced, which I’ve really enjoyed. Actually, it’s been very much all hands on deck. And I’d say that the role of repairing comes in to having to learn the basics of of how something works. So we’ve been learning how to put together a bodice or skirts for a dress and how to start with the original bodice piece which would be for a certain size and how you can slowly add fabric or take away fabric to shape it as you want. And so from coming from that understanding of the basics, as well, we can then move on to creating our own ideas. And I think,as the course progresses, as I go into my second and third year, I think that repairing and recycling is going to play a huge part in my course.  When I was applying, there was a huge emphasis on how the future of fashion is going to have to change because it creates a huge amount of waste. It creates a huge amount of human rights issues around the world. And it’s something that in its current form is just not sustainable.

 

Katie Treggiden 

That’s really good to hear one of the people I interviewed for my most recent book Wasted, started a fashion degree, probably 5 or 10 years ago now and started raising issues of sustainability and was told that fashion is inherently unsustainable, so you needn’t bother. So I’m glad to hear things are changing. And I’m interested iin the stuff you’re doing outside of sort of extracurricular activities as well. So you’re the part time LGBTQ students officer for the University of the Arts, London, and you also volunteer for Book 28, which is a library specialising in queer literature housed in the outside project. How does all of this knit together? How does some of the lessons you learn about repair at Restoration Station, your time with the Foundation for Change? How have all of these things led you to this work sort of being an advocate for the LGBTQ community? l,

 

Justin South 

During my time at Restoration Station, I went from being the very shy newcomer who didn’t really know much about wood work and everything I approached, I waited for my boss to come along and say, yeah, that’s, that’s the right way to do it, and check with everything. And as time went on, and as worked several years, I felt myself kind of grow in confidence and become the person who would say to other people working there, yep, you can do like this. Yep, that’s fine, you know what you’re doing. And it was really nice to, to progress to kind of be the person who other people were wanting me to be the kind of person who helped other people, and to be the kind of person that I wish, and I was fortunate enough to meet. And it was, during my time that I learned about the outside projects, which is one of the only LGBT plus homeless shelters in the entire country. And it was so nice to hear about a place where LGBT plus people could go and feel safe. And so I wanted to get involved in helping some of the people who lived there, who found themselves having to live there. I did some fundraising for them, I did a bungee jump and raised £500 for them, just amazing fun. And, and I later learned that there was a, an organisation called Book 28, who were setting up a queer library inside outside project. And I was at school during Section 28, when it was illegal to talk about homosexuality and it took me a long time to realise the effects that had on me and still has on me. And so I was very keen to get involved and try you know, create something that I wish had existed when I was growing up, there was no, there was no access to queer literature when I was at school. There was no one to talk to about it. A person behind Book 28, his name is Isa door is doing a Master’s in library studies. And so part of his Master’s is setting up this library. And we recently opened up for donations to kind of improve the space and get all the books we need. And our hope is to one day create a lending service where we can just send out books to people around the country and also do consultancy work for people and saying, you know, this is the kind of thing that you could do to make your space more inclusive,

 

Justin South 

I think that’s really important and I think it’s really interesting to hear. Obviously, this is a podcast primarily about sustainability and the circular economy, but I think it’s really interesting to hear the many, many ways in which society needs mending, you know, and needs repairing and the lessons that we can take from mending a piece of furniture and apply them to mending, you know, accessibility, to books and education and all of those sorts of things. So that’s a really powerful perspective. Thank you. Why do you think mending and repair is so important from a sustainability perspective, though?

 

Justin South 

I think that mending repair is primarily important for people who experience different marginalisation and different intersections of marginalisation. So particularly people in poverty, people who are black people of colour, people who are trans,  people are immigrants. It’s those people who get excluded from capitalism, who get excluded from spending huge amounts of money on rent, on, on housing, on food, and who have to work huge numbers of hours just to get by. And so when you’re struggling, just to feed yourself, you have to be able to fix your things. You know, if your shoes break, if your cupboard breaks, you can’t afford to get something new. And so being able to repair something yourself, not only gives your  things longevity, it helps helps you to afford the things that you really need. And I also think it can bring a huge sense of satisfaction.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. And I think there’s a sense of personal agency isn’t there, when you can fix something for yourself, rather than having to ask for help or, you know, go somewhere else, if you’ve got the skills just to mend that thing and get on with your day and as you say, spend the money you would have had to spend replacing it on more important things, whatever it is you need. And I think it’s really useful that you brought up all those intersections, because I think environmentalism is absolutely intersectional with racism and sexism, and transphobia, and homophobia, and all of those things, you know, there are so many sections of society that are being marginalised, you know, excluded from capitalism, but also excluded from the environmental debate. And so I think it’s really important that when we’re looking at solutions, they need to be solutions that work for everybody. Right? You know, I think so much of environmentalism is sort of only really works if you’re middle class and that’s never going to be the solution . There’s a wonderful quote in a book called All We Can Save, which is an anthology of women writers about the environment. And it says, “to change everything we need everybody”. It’s such a simple way of saying there’s no point just a tiny segment of society working on this, you know, it’s going to be applicable to everybody so thank you for bringing that up.

 

Justin South 

Yeah, I’d say that. fixing things yourself does bring a huge amount of personal satisfaction, but it can also bring a huge amount of community. So in my role as LGBTQ students officer at the University of London, at the moment it’s LGBT plus History Month. And so I’ve been helping to organise a few different workshops for LGBT plus students at the University I have one that’s coming up this week with Foundation for Change, as it happens, it’s going to be talking about queer identity and healing and I have another that’s a makeup social and like a poetry and performance workshop. And so these ideas of of repair and restoration is not just limited to the things that you own. It can be also yourself and having an LGBT plus community. It creates this space where you can be accepted and you can enter your brokenness, as it were, and find within that community a way to heal.

 

Katie Treggiden 

I think that’s really important. Do you think attitudes are changing towards mending and repair? You know, we talked to the beginning about how it was perhaps something that was associated with poverty. You know, it’s almost becoming trendy. Is that helpful? Do you think or do you think that’s perhaps a little bit dangerous?

 

Justin South 

I think that it is helpful, ultimately, that more and more people are getting into restoration or getting into repairing, but I think it will go through a phase of being co adopted by people who do want to make money rather than people who do it from necessity, there will be an element of fashion, as it were, that comes with having things that look broken or look, you know, even the the trend of kind of ripped jeans, it becomes a fashion statement, rather than simply, you cannot afford to buy a new pair of jeans. And it can lend an air of accessibility to these areas to particularly where it creates demand for people who want to know how to do this. For example, we often would have people come into Restoration Station asking if we if we ran classes for people who wanted to learn how to restore things. So I think, yeah, I ultimately think it will be a good thing.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And what do you think the future holds for mending and repair?

 

Justin South 

I think for the future of mending or repair, there’s been a lot of movement around the rights of repair, particularly when it comes to electronic goods. In the EU in America, there have been some recent news stories about people who want the right to repair their electronic equipment. There’s one big, big company that is particularly guilty of making it’s things obsolete after a few years, when in reality, they could be fixed quite easily.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Well, and often you render the warranty invalid by attempting to repair these things, don’t you? So it’s not only that we’re not encouraged to repair them, but we’re actually prevented from repairing them.

 

Justin South 

Yeah, absolutely. And so I think as technology progresses, and becomes more and more accessible, it’s going to become easier for the everyday person who doesn’t have access to huge fancy equipment to repair things quite easily. The rise of things like 3d printing, where it’s now possible that people can buy their own 3d printers, and have them at home, you can quite easily make the item that you need. And as that technology progresses, and it becomes cheaper and more accessible, I think that it’s going to become more prevalent for people to keep things and just keep fixing them and adding bits and customising them to how they want them very specifically to work.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Let’s hope so. Yes, I really hope it goes that way. I think it certainly needs to from a sustainability point of view. So thank you so much for speaking to me, Justin. It’s been a it’s been a true privilege and an honour to get such a, I think just a meaningful perspective on some of this stuff that goes beyond the sort of the functional repairs. So I’m very grateful to you. Thank you.

 

Justin South 

Thank you very much. It’s lovely to speak to you.

 

Do Good and Do Well – A Circular Approach

Sarah Fox’s podcast Do Good and Do Well: How to Be a Changemaker Without Losing Yourself is for people who want to create a positive impact in the world. Sarah Fox shares insights and stories from social and creative entrepreneurs and leaders to help you to feel inspired and reflect on what ‘doing good AND doing well’ means for you as a changemaker. Whether that’s impact, recognition, financial independence, or wellbeing, we cover many topics.

Katie Treggiden featured as a guest in episode 025 of the podcast. Katie explains the circular economy, what Do Good and Do Well means for her, and how money is an important factor in doing well and continuing to do good, and we discuss if craft can save the world. Katie also talks about her new mastermind programme for designer-makers – Waste: A Masterclass.

To listen to the episode on Spotify click here.

Circular Podcast with Janet Gunter

Do we really have the right to repair the things we own? How can broken items be given new value? Is repair only to be used when an object is spoiled or broken? Can repair be aspirational, playful and creative? 

On today’s episode, I’m talking to Janet Gunter, the co-founder and outreach lead at The Restart Project and a leading Right to Repair campaigner. The Restart Project is a social enterprise that aims to fix our broken relationship with electronics.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular, a podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the Thinkers, Doers and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take make waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

Janet Gunter 

I think we need to find this, like the hook with people, you know, provide encouraging spaces, encouraging practices, show those things, share them make things easier for people, but not expect that everyone is going to repair all the things tomorrow and you know, completely revolutionise the way they exist. And I think the other important message that we always tell people is that the barriers to repair are often systemic. So it’s not on you to figure out you know, how to change a battery in a mobile that just was designed not for that to happen, you know, how are you going to change the battery in your air pods when Apple itself cannot change the battery.

Katie Treggiden 

Janet Gunter is the co founder and outreach lead at the Restart Project and a leading right to repair campaign. A British American activist and anthropologist she has lived and worked in Brazil, East Timor, Portugal and Mozambique. And she’s now based between South London and Nottingham in the UK. The Restart Project is a social enterprise that aims to fix our broken relationship with electronics. Janet and her colleagues facilitate people teaching each other how to repair their devices, from tablets to toasters, they work with schools and organisations to help them value and use that electronics for longer. And they use the stories they collect to help demand better, more sustainable electronics for all. You can tune into the Restart Projects, podcast, Restart radio, wherever you find your podcasts. Janet, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s a real honour to have you on the podcast. I’m excited to talk to you. I would love to start right at the beginning and understand the role that repair and mending played in your early life and your childhood as you were growing up.

Janet Gunter 

I mean, that’s, that’s interesting. I mean, I don’t have like, you know, super memories of mending, I have more memories of making and being outdoors and camping. I would say, it’s funny because I actually had this one really funny moment where I realised that my dad wasn’t so into DIY as I thought he was. So I was like, wait a minute, you didn’t put that drywall in somebody else did. And then I was like, wait a minute, what was the book about household DIY, the one where I thought you tiled the bathroom was like, No, none of that. But my next door neighbour’s father had a woodshop. And you know, as problematic as it might be, I was kind of treated as one of the boys, it was the 80s you know, it was my kind of way into making so we definitely made a lot and mostly with wood. But it was that creative time wasn’t it, where, where materials were things to be used in like any which way. My brother and I used to make toys as well. But it’s funny, you know, there’s a time I think it’s probably around maybe age 10 or 12 when schooling just seems to kind of overwhelm or destroy all of that. And so after about that time, I don’t remember being so hands on. Really? Yeah, with with materials and things.

Katie Treggiden 

I think that’s really interesting and I think my my poor stepfather was a father and stepfather to five girls. And I can remember building a wall with him, yeah, probably about eight or nine and decided I wanted to be a builder when I grew up. And you know, that thing of being sort of one of the boys I think it’s really interesting when it comes to kind of DIY and I’m really interested in the gender implications of the word repair versus mending.  I think when you say repair or fixing or hacking, you tend to think of sheds and men and wood snd when you talk about mending, you tend to think of textiles, and women and I just, I think that’s fascinating, because essentially, those two words should be interchangeable.

Janet Gunter 

That’s true. And you know, my mom, she, my mom’s English, she grew up making her own clothes, you know, in the 60s in England. And she, you know, she really very much knew her way around the sewing machine and she probably was doing quite a lot of mending and repairs at home that I almost didn’t even you know, yeah, I didn’t consider that as I don’t know as like a kind of the same thing, as one in the same thing. And I I mean, I wasn’t as interested if I’m honest, you know, I remember having, you know, just I was, I guess what they called in the 80s a tomboy, so I just remember, you know, being put in a dress and being like, this is so horrible. And the dress was like handmade right? So yeah isn’t crazy how gendered things were. But then I come back to this, it seems that things are even more gendered now, in some ways, and if you go into a toy store, or you look at careers and how things are presented to young people, I think, in a way, I think it’s worse than the 80s.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes, I suppose at least I was the same as you grew up in the 80s, very much, a Tomboy. And we were kind of allowed to be Tomboys. Right. That was a thing that was okay. Yeah, so I guess although it’s weird that I had to be called tomboy, at least that was accessible to us

Janet Gunter 

just didn’t feel so you know, a trip to the toy store didn’t feel so, I mean, I was obviously in the boys aisles or whatever. But I don’t think they were labelled that I was just in the, you know, He-man aisle or the, you know, the Lego aisle. But now, I think they actually almost they have their gender with colour and with like, even they name them like boys and girls. And I just have a bit horrified by all that.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes it’s frightening. And I think you’re right when it comes to educational choices as well and career choices  for young people. I’m also interested to know about the different attitudes to mending.  You are British American so I’d love to understand kind of the difference between the Brits and the Americans. And also you’ve lived and worked in Brazil, East Timor, Portugal, Mozambique, London, and Nottingham, so I would love to understand kind of any insight you’ve got into how attitudes to repair differ in all of those different cultures and geographies?

Janet Gunter 

Well, I’m still learning about, I guess, British repair culture and mending culture. I mean, obviously there’s the kind of iconic world war two kind of propaganda and messaging around, repair and thrift. I think that’s like a big part of the British heritage and I definitely got that from my mom, even growing up in the States. In the States, there’s much more of a kind of libertarian kind of, like, you know, I own it, I can repair it, I’m gonna, you know, I live on the frontier kind of thing, you know, and there’s almost there is sort of a, like a borderline like colonial machismo kind of attached to repair in the US. And we even see that in the right to repair campaigning, which I’m sure will come back to, but in the other countries that I’ve lived in, you know, the repair cultures are very much shaped by kind of certain limitations to access to materials, access to spare parts, access to new products and the places I’ve lived, that are, you know, kind of further, you know, much more removed from global global markets, whether that’s because there’s like, you know, major taxation on imports, which is the case in Brazil for a long time, or whether that’s just you were, you know, you’re in provincial Mozambique, and you just can’t get the things you need. The ingenuity and the culture of repair and hacking and fixing pretty much arises from that need. So, yeah, I’ve seen I worked with most ingenious and fun people in northern Mozambique, farmers who just not only repaired things, but also were curious about making things so you know, making irrigation systems generating energy, like, you know, kind of figuring out the nuts and bolts and putting stuff together making things and that was really inspiring. And then I worked with some homeless squatter movement in Brazil, where a lot of people made money from waste picking. And threre you know, they were just, they were fishing really valuable and amazing products out of the garbage of rich people, and refurbishing bringing them back to life or reselling them. Yeah, and then I guess in Mountain Timor, I saw a lot of the same ingenuity that I saw in rural Mozambique and really repair culture does really, it does change depending on you know, what materials you have access to what things your culture really, values more than anything. But a lot of these places, you know, people don’t value technology, for its own sake, they really more value technology for what it’s immediately going to bring into their lives. And I think that’s a crucial difference as well. And then in Brazil, particularly, there has arisen this really playful culture of hacking and it’s called Gambiah. And Gambia has like, it’s kind of tongue in cheek. It’s like, you know, take some stuff thats not necessarily working and repurpose it or remix it and it can be, really it can be kind of like the slacker repair, or it can be something  really playful and silly and giving a new life to something that otherwise would have just been considered garbage. And it has to do with this kind of elders this whole Brazilian culture and heritage of kind of layering of like mixing, mixing different things, different cultures. So that’s pretty cool. I definitely recommend to read, there’s a friend of ours called Felipe Fonseca, Brazilian scholar, and he’s written some really great stuff about Brazilian repair culture. So go out and read that.

Katie Treggiden 

Cool, I will pop that into the show notes so people can check that out. Thank you. Yeah, I think it’s really interesting, isn’t it because people tend to think of repair, or certainly in British culture, as I think firstly, due to the make do and mend movement that you mentioned, during the Second World War as something that we do when we have to, you know, that something arises out of scarcity or lack. And certainly, I did a Master’s a couple of years ago and wrote my dissertation on repair and mending and looked at the make do and mend movement. And I was lucky enough to interview a couple of older people who can remember that time. And one older lady I spoke to said, “Og God I’d never darn anything now. Well, I perhaps would, but I’d only wear it in the garden or the house, I’d never wear it out, the shame of it”. And I think there’s this real kind of, you know, this idea that as soon as the war was over, people wanted to move on and put that behind them. And so I think it’s interesting, I guess the other thing I think about repairs is there was very much the sense of putting it back to how it was, and it was never going to be quite as good, but it might be enough so that you can manage. And so I think it’s really interesting you mention this Brazilian idea of the playfulness and the hacking and turning things into something else, you know, so it’s not necessarily giving it back its old functionality, but perhaps giving it a new functionality. And I think that’s a really exciting territory for mending and repair.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think, but I think that’s changing here, too. I mean, so, you know, you look at the visible mending movement and you know, I mostly look at it on Instagram. And you see, a lot of the big proponents of physical, visible mending are British, and some of the innovators and people that are doing really beautiful men’s and so and obviously, they’re inspired by you know, Japanese mending culture and loads of other things. But it does seem like it’s arising here in the UK as well. And if you think about also that, what’s happened in since, okay, so this assistance, my mom was making mod, you know, dresses in the 60s, then you have punk culture. And you know, punk culture was so transformative, like globally, but it you know, it has largely had its origins, here and in fashion, but in a kind of mutant fashion. And so I think we can’t discount that, like that all of those things that have come since. And also, one thing that arises from our community here in Britain is definitely a sense of unfairness and inequality, like a real sense of frustration and anger about that. And a lot of people that come and help repair it, our community repair events, do so because they feel that the economy we have is unfair, that there’s like a  even a poverty premium. If you have to buy, you know, a really cheap thing and it keeps breaking. You know, a lot of people are motivated by that to not just the kind of thrift or not just the environmental motivations, but actually, that’s kind of fundamental unfairness of our current consumer economy.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s a really interesting point, actually. So why don’t you tell us about the Restart Project. This is something you co founded with Ugo Vallauri, tell us about that initiative and what motivated you to set it up?

Janet Gunter 

Okay, well, we started running community repair events that we call restart parties, about eight years ago, and we focus on electronics and electrical, so more or less anything with a battery or a plug. But we obviously have some limitations on, you know, high powered appliances and microwaves and things. So when you come to restart party, you get greeted by kind of a front of house or person who will register and try and figure out what’s gone wrong with your device and then we’ll pair you with a volunteer who has skills to sit down with you, and try and figure out what’s gone wrong, and go through a fix and it’s a learning experience. It’s not just like a free repair shop. And these events, you know, they kind of snowballed. We started them in our own neighbourhoods in North and South London, about eight years ago. And we expected of course, there would be a mountain of stuff and it just endless demand for repairs. But what we did not anticipate was so many people really wanted to share their skills. And that was what was so beautiful is that these people I was just mentioning who are motivated by you know, different motivations, but they come out of the woodwork and there are people  who really want to share their fixing skills, you know, in every neighbourhood in every place across the country, and you know in these kinds of repairs, electricals and electronics, they’re often kind of a very solitary activity in some way. And so bringing everybody together, it almost immediately created this kind of community of repairers and people sharing skills and, you know, enjoying going to the pub together. So that was the real revelation for us was like, wow, you know, this is powerful. And these events are happening all across the UK and really all across the world now, many inspired by the Repair Cafe in Holland. Everywhere, it takes on its own kind of local dimensions and its own local flavour. So I couldn’t say that our activities in London have scaled, you know, and we’ve been able to create a network in London, that’s really great. And, you know, it’s very cohesive,  but outside of London looks different. So in every place, you’ll find a different group of people with a different kind of maybe slightly different ethos or different identity. But, we’re all united by this, this idea that we kind of need to regain our repair and mending muscle, and that we should do it together.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, you talk about it as a people powered social enterprise.  Why is the People Powered bit it’s so important.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, it is important. I mean, when we started we had nothing. And so we definitely were scrappy, we were just doing these community events. And we thought, Okay, well, there’s clearly something here and our volunteers pushed us also to not just to do these events, and kind of deal with the downstream wreckage of this economy, but they said, We need to fix this system, that the products that we’re seeing are not meant to be repaired, this is, you know, supremely frustrating, also repairing low quality stuff. So they pushed us from the very beginning to kind of become more of like a campaign and advocacy group and that’s, that’s kind of why we say where people powered because not just in terms of the activities that we do, but the actual kind of reason for being in our strategy is very much is driven by the people who, you know, have been involved in contributing their skills.

Katie Treggiden 

And it’s interesting, because I was going to ask you, why you think mending and repair fell out of favour, because I’ve always had this sort of timeline in my mind that sees this big peak during the Second World War, and then a drop off, and then a return relatively recently, but you just mentioned the punk movement, which I had never thought of as mending or hacking, or, and of course, it was. So what do you think the timeline has been in terms of the popularity

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, it’s really interesting, I just saw this big YouTuber video about planned obsolescence. And, you know, he was really brilliant when he kind of observed the cycles in product design that you see these days, right? That kind of, especially in relation to these mobiles. And he was saying, you know, for a couple of years, it’s a square bezel, and then it becomes a round bezel, and then it becomes a square bezel again. And I wonder whether, you know, the similar kind of thing happens with repair with mending and you know, that you have these kind of boom bust cycles of interest. And, ultimately, they probably come back to a kind of a mainstream versus a counterculture, this kind of like ying and yang in a way because because I grew up, well, I really grew up, grew up, in the 90s. Like, I was a kid in the 80s, but for me, grunge was massive. And grunge was again, it was like, maybe, 15 years later, after punk it was, we’re raiding our dad’s closets again, you know?  That was massive for me. And I think that I’ve seen that I’ve seen that happen. And maybe I don’t know, has anyone mapped this, but maybe these cycles also follow some kind of boom bust with the economy or there’s a lag.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, it’s really interesting, when I was researching my dissertation in 2008, somebody, an academic whose name escapes me right now, said that darning had died out. And yet I did a word search on the guardian for where the word darning appeared, and in 2008, was exactly where it picked up again, which of course, coincides with the financial crisis. So I think she was probably absolutely right, you know, the period of her research, and she sort of made that statement right at the end of that, and then we had the financial crisis, and it picked back up again,

Janet Gunter 

Sounds like a great dissertation topic.

Katie Treggiden 

I know I’m sitting here thinking, gosh, I could completely rewrite my dissertation.

Janet Gunter 

I was also thinking, maybe in terms of like, you know, study of pop culture like unrelated themes. Have you have you ever heard there’s like a correlation between interest and zombie films, and also the economy, so the boom bust of the economy as well. I wonder if you could even correlate, you know, kind of interest in certain kinds of horror zombie and repair culture?

Katie Treggiden 

Oh, yes, yes, that’s definitely a PhD in that I think isn’t there! I guess my interest comes from a sustainability point of view. And I guess one of the concerns that I have is that sometimes certainly the visible mending movement, as one example can be seen as something that’s quite middle class, and quite niche. You know, not everybody can go to work wearing visibly darned clothes. Some of us are very lucky that we can. And why one of the things I was looking into in my dissertation was is this visible mending movement, something but can go mainstream, because to quote, Ayanna, Elizabeth Johnson, in a book called All We Can Save, which I adore, “to change everything we need everyone” and so I’m really interested in how we make this stuff more accessible. What do you think, are some of the barriers to mending and repair and how can we overcome those to get more people involved?

Janet Gunter 

So I guess, you know, the challenge we have, like, if we’re talking about like our survival on planet Earth, the challenge we’re facing is huge. It’s so big, that it’s really, it’s difficult to make the argument, someone that they have to change all the things, all the things, all the things at once, right. And so I don’t think for example, I’m wearing a jumper that actually needs the visible mend, but I’ve been too lazy to do it, or I’ve just been too concerned with all the other things that I’ve been working on. And I think we need to find is like the hook with people, you know, provide encouraging spaces, encouraging practices, show those things, share them, make things easier for people, but not expect that everyone is going to repair all the things tomorrow and you know, completely revolutionise the way they exist. And I think the other important message that we always tell people is that the barriers to repair are often systemic. So it’s not on you to figure out, you know, how to change a battery in a mobile that just was designed not for that to happen, you know, how are you going to change the battery in your air pods when Apple itself cannot change the battery? So I think we need to also when, you know, encouraging people to make a change themselves, we need to also always reinforce that it’s not only on you, it’s not only on you, and if it makes more sense for you to campaign to change the system, instead of you know, darning a sock, then please go ahead and do that.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, absolutely. So talk to us about the right to repair movement, I felt like this is the perfect. Now, not everybody will understand what that phrase means. So could you start by just explaining what the right to repair is?

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, because a lot of people say, Oh, well, who stops me from picking up a screwdriver or trying, having a go? Well, I guess the point of the right to repair movement is that you can pick up that screwdriver in many cases, but the system is rigged against you, you will not achieve that repair and there’s a number of reasons why. So, you know, increasingly things are being as I mentioned, with the air pods, and other things are being designed not to be repaired. And that’s just an actual choice that manufacturers are making. And know they can say that, oh, that it’s consumer preference and its price and it’s this, and it’s that, but ultimately, they’re making a choice, they’re putting out products that cannot easily be repaired. Also, there are two other practices that are making repair much more difficult. So back when I was growing up, you know, in the the 80s, you’d buy a hi fi equipment, and it would probably even come with a schematic with the actual, you know, you could see how the things made and often times, it would come with some kind of repair manual or something. Basically companies have used copyright and intellectual property to cut off all access to those increasingly, and you can come across them on the dark web, but should we have to be on the dark web. And then there’s the issue of spare parts who hasn’t been in this situation where, you know, you pretty much know what’s wrong with a thing, but you cannot find reliable quality spare parts, and you’re on eBay or something trying to find you know, I mean, that’s not for everyone and so spare parts should be, quality, spare parts should be basically made available for everyone, for everything. And that’s less of a problem with with white goods at the moment than it is for electronics for the most part. But the right to repair describes basically a host of kind of policy measures which we can take to make sure that we take away all these barriers that things are designed to be repaired, that we can access spare parts and that we can get good information about how to repair them.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I mean, there’s also the thing that often you invalidate the warranty right by taking the back off

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, so in the US, in fact, this is quite interesting. So the battle for rights repair has mostly, you know, it mostly came up in the US first And, you know, I think there’s a whole history of all of that, but in this moment in time, it’s interesting, because obviously the Biden administration has taken over the Federal Trade Commission. And finally, all of the evidence that we have that shows that manufacturers are telling people, they’re voiding warranties, and they’re doing it illegally in the US, because it’s not allowed, is going to be resubmitted to a much more friendly Federal Trade Commission. And we hope that they’ll take action because that’s, that’s illegal in the US they’ve made it clear that repairs, don’t void warranties, like repairs on other pieces of an item don’t void the whole warranty. In the EU and in the UK, it’s much more of a grey area and we need  much better guidance on that. There’s so many issues to deal with it’s incredible.

Katie Treggiden 

But there has from what I understand it been a recent win in the UK has agreed to go along with EU legislation. That means as of this summer, manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts. And the implication of that is they’re hoping the lifespan of products will be extended by up to 10 years reducing waste and carbon emissions. I mean, is that the win it’s being made out to be?

Janet Gunter 

Yes, so here’s the problem with the way that the government’s spin on all of this, and, and I’m gonna say even the EU slightly responsible for making it sound like it’s finished, it’s solved, you know.  The EU, those they’re called eco design measures and  because you probably have a geeky audience, I will go into a little bit more detail. So eco design gave birth to those, you know, those labels that we have on white goods, the rainbow label the kind of A to whatever F. And those were to rate the the Eco efficiency of an appliance during the use phase. Well, Europe finally realised that actually, there’s embodied energy in all the things we use. So all the energy that went into the manufacturer should be taken into consideration when we’re thinking the whole lifecycle. So what they decided then is, especially for certain products, we need to be looking at that energy in manufacturer, and the implication is that for many products, more energy goes into their manufacturer than is ever used during their whole use phase. And the implication of that is that we need to use things for longer. So they decided to broaden the remit of eco design, not just to look at the use phase and the energy efficiency when you plug it in, but actually, to force manufacturers to make things that will last for longer and repair is the way in. Now they’ve only done this for a couple of products. So the way it was reported widely was that we have this for everything., but in fact, we only have it for fridges, dishwashers, washing machines, and TVs.  Those are the products so all the other products, all the other things in your house, we still have to fight for. We need to continue to push for that. And we don’t really have I mean, from this government, this is the government that just recently, you know, completely scandalously destroyed the green homes grant for you know eco efficiency in our houses. So we’re not going to trust them. We want to see this, you know, we want to see eco design we want to see right to repair for laptops, mobiles, all the other products and Europe is pushing forward. So we don’t know, really what the plan is here, they’re still consulting, I’m using air quotes consulting. So yeah, it’s not nearly over.

Katie Treggiden 

So what does what what are we calling on the UK government to do here? Is it a question of following what the EU are doing? Do they need to be doing more than that? what’s the what’s the ask from thee repair maintenance?

Janet Gunter 

They always say they want to do better, right? So we’ll say, Okay, great. You can do better than Europe, because actually, Europe only offered up the right to spare parts and repair documentation to professionals. They’ve only offered those to professionals. They haven’t offered those two DIYers and people. So if we want to do better, easy, we offer right to repair to everyone, including the person who wants to do the repair on their own machine at home.  Yes, we stay, you know, aligned with Europe as they expand these measures to other devices, but we offer it to everybody. And that’s a pretty straightforward message ,but we’re going to get a lot of pushback. Yeah, well, one the one thing we really do agree with industry on though is industry wants the UK to stay aligned with Europe on this because it’s a nightmare for them as well. And you know, Europe has the it has the resources, it has the ability to actually regulate on this to create a whole other parallel process is disastrous, and also for us as civil society because we really struggle to keep up with what’s happening in Brussels on these regulations. And to kind of create, two parallel processes and to ask us to be able to keep up with industry and all the lobbyists and all the processes, it’s really going to be difficult

Katie Treggiden 

Yes it’s a lot.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break. And thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen. If you used to feel proud and excited about being a designer maker, about making with your hands, but I’ve started to feel a creeping sense of guilt about putting yet more stuff out into the world. You might want to check out my new Masterclass. If the idea of sustainability has started to feel heavy and full of duty, and you wish you could engage with it in a way that feels more light, playful and creative. You might want to check out my new Master class. If you’ve ever wondered about the potential of waste as a raw material, you definitely want to check out my new Masterclass. Find out more at Katietreggiden.com/masterclass. And if the spelling of my surname has already got your head in a spin, don’t worry, there’s a link in the show notes. This series of the podcast I’m experimenting, you might have noticed that some of the episodes carry paid for ads, and some I’ve donated to charity. In this one, I’m asking you to buy me a coffee. Not literally, I’ve signed up to something called ko-fi a model that allows listeners to thank podcasters by buying them a virtual coffee. And the best bit instead of me ending up overly caffeinated all your donations get reinvested into making more great content like this, more podcast episodes, the links in the show notes or you can find me at ko.fi.com/Katietreggiden, mine’s a decaf Oak cappuccino, thank you.

Katie Treggiden 

Are there manufacturers who are sort of leading the way and doing more than the law currently requires them to?

Janet Gunter 

There are, so here’s the issue for the most part manufacturers and you may have had this experience, you know, in your professional life, as well as that, you know, you’ll often get a, you know, a very enlightened kind of flagship product, a really amazing product that, you know, a team has worked on, and they’ve been given a special licence to make this amazing thing. And then you have a whole back catalogue of rather scandalous other products. And so for us, it’s hard to say that one manufacturer is doing a great job. There are examples, that’s proved to us that they can do it, you know, so for example, Samsung says, you know, oh, consumers want really skinny mobiles and if we, you know, if we make them repairable, then we undo the waterproofing, and we undermine the durability, but actually, that’s a lie, because in their own catalogue, they have devices that satisfy all of those requirements that are durable, that are repairable,  you know that consumers do like.

Katie Treggiden 

Dualit are always given us the example.

Janet Gunter 

They are, however, the toasters that are made in the UK and the high end toasters are brilliant. But look at some of the rest of the products they make. And I mean, I, you know, I don’t I can’t say, but I can see that they’re not made to the same standards, right? And I believe that they don’t supply spare parts for some of those other products in their catalogue.

Katie Treggiden 

Okay. So they’re kind of proven that it can be done, but not necessarily doing it right across the catalogue.

Janet Gunter 

Precisely and I guess, and, you know, they would probably come back and say, well, you know, consumers, they want the cheaper thing. And what we say to that is, like, you know, look at the thriving secondhand market of Dualit toasters, actually, the high end ones, people actually do really want your high end one, and they don’t even care if they wouldn’t necessarily get it secondhand. So, look at a company like Patagonia with it’s one where, you know, this idea that you could, you can reinforce your brand and actually make and take advantage of the fact that people want your product secondhand, like, use that to your advantage instead of producing. I mean, Patagonia, as far as I know, it doesn’t have a cheap crap line for people that don’t want to pay. Instead, what they’ve done is they’ve made it easier to get their products secondhand.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah and Christopher Raeburn’s done something similar int hat he’s launched a whole range of clothes, which they haven’t actually made at all, they’ve just found them. And most of them are kind of Army surplus wear, they have never been worn. They were just sort of over produced, and they’ve sort of curated a collection and put the Raeburn badge on them. And I think that’s really interesting. And there are people sort of going well, couldn’t I just get those from an army surplus store andChristopher Raeburn said, Yeah, go for it, you know, that’s the point.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, but that’s a good, that’s a good example. I’m a trade shopper like I love going to trade the shops because, you know, back in the day I was at the, you know, mega warehouse kind of like, you know, I was going through every last piece of clothing, but in this stage of my life, I  want the selected version, I don’t have time. So I think we really need to reimagine our consumer economy. And I do think we need to keep in the regulations, we do need to keep thinking about this kind of poverty premium issue. And we need to make sure that manufacturers are not allowed to overcharge for spare parts, or ridiculously inflate the cost of products, just saying, Oh, well, the regulations made us you know, put up the price, I think we do need to be sensitive to this issue of fairness and access.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. And I think, you know, not everybody can afford a Dualit toaster, right? So I think we know, we have to have products that are available at lower price points. But as you say, there shouldn’t be a sort of knock on effect that then needs replacing every six months

Janet Gunter 

No and ultimately, it’s all about creating the demand for those products and working with manufacturers, you know, in negotiating with these manufacturers, and ultimately, the companies that are making things in China, and if we come with enough demand for better products, we’re gonna have a much stronger, you know, negotiating position to kind of like, and we’re going to come up, we’re going to get better products for cheaper. In fact, we’ve had interest from organisations that work on quality and standards in China, you know, they want to understand what what these new regulations mean for them and, and how demand will be shifting. So it’s exciting time, but this shift, this change that we need it feels so urgent, and a lot of times the policy changes feel so incremental.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, a little tokenistic sometimes. We’ve talked a little bit about our quality, and theres one project that you’ve been involved in, which really caught my eye, which is the laptop donation project that you undertook during the pandemic, and that was about making sure that kids had access to the kit they needed for home schooling. Which, yeah, tell us a little bit about that.

Janet Gunter 

Well, so for us, you know, we focus on repair. But we’ve always been friends with organisations that reuse that take something and give it a second life. And we’ve always had people coming to our events, even, who’ve gotten things off of like free cycle, or they’ve gotten things free, and they want to fix them to give them on to someone else. And so when the pandemic happened, we started listing initiatives that were collecting laptops, because we knew that people wanted to give them away, and we knew that there was demand. And in this last lockdown that happened in the beginning of this year, at 2021, there was a huge groundswell partly driven by BBC for donating laptops and finally looking at this issue of digital access. And it did, it created a just an absolute massive tidal wave of donations to all the groups on our list. And we started working with some of them in London, to repair the kind of ones that they could, you know, the ones that on their factory line of wiping, preparing for reuse, they just couldn’t do themselves. But the amazing thing is, and I really think this is like a shift to transformation for people is that I think the average person at home who’s watching those BBC appeals was like, Oh, you know, that five year old laptop that maybe I had some boot problem or some frustration with that I just put in the closet, in the cupboard, it I can have a second life. You know, it’s a valuable machine. And I think that’s massive, because we’ve been saying for years, this you know, if you put a solid state drive in an old machine, you an old laptop, you breathe new life, it’s a new machine, we’ve been saying it, but I think the message is finally reached people that that a laptop isn’t obsolete after five years, it can have a second life. I mean, that’s absolutely brilliant. And people are connecting the kind of the waste environment climate agenda with the, you know, fairness and any quality issues. And that is absolutely brilliant.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think it’s really interesting you know, the second tenet of the circular economy is to keep materials and objects in use, and we tend to think about repair, but actually, part of you know, I’ve got a laptop sitting in that bookshelf behind me, I mean, it’s about 15/20 years old so it might be beyond all sort of repair, but I think, you know, this idea that all of a sudden, families had to have a device for every person in the household, you know, and even some of my friends who are, you know, very comfortably off. The kids would play on their laptops, they wouldn’t each, you know, I have a friend who’s got she’s married, she’s got three children, they don’t have five laptops in that house. But when they’re all working from home and all homeschooling all of a sudden that’s what was required. You know, and they are pretty comfortable and yet you know, most people have probably got an old laptop tucked away in a bookshelf somewhere. And so I think it’s really interesting, as you say, how we can start to connect the sustainability, environmental waste piece with the kind of equality fairness piece. And I think that’s a really interesting connection that that project was just a beautiful illustration of.

Janet Gunter 

Well we were hoping, and also, you know, in relation to food and nutrition and kids access to food, I mean, this campaign, you know, for meals, and for access to healthy food for kids in the UK has been really big. And it’s been kind of sustained. And I think that we need something similar in relation to laptops, this problem is not going to go away, because everyone is back at school. You know, it’s a really limiting factor for a lot of young people that they don’t have a familiarity with computing and you know, it’s true that mobile is a computer, but it’s not the experience of computing that you would have in a workplace, or in higher education or wherever you may end up and so I think people need that. And it’s a disadvantage, so a lot of people still have in this country. And I hope that we can sustain the interest in it.

Katie Treggiden 

It just makes me think I can remember a friend of mine who’s a teacher complaining that her kids were spelling the word great gr, and the number 8. And I just, it’s just occurred to me that perhaps that’s because they’re spending all their time on phones, text messaging, rather than on a laptop typing things out longhand that I’ve never made that connection before.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, no touch typing. I mean, when we did it, we did a summer school for asylum seeking youth. And we, you know, they got to kind of basically upgrade and rebuild a computer and take it home. And we asked them, you know, why do you want the computer and many people were like, touch typing, we need to know how to touch type, you know, we’re 16/17 years old, and we don’t know how to touch type. And you know, that really, we take it for granted, we really do.

Katie Treggiden 

I touch type with five fingers. I think I just missed that moment because of the age I am. Right, how do you feel that opinions towards mending and repair are changing?

Janet Gunter 

It does feel really good. I mean, you know, we’ve been at this for, I guess, eight years. And I think at the beginning, we thought, oh, like we’re just before our time, we’re just a couple of years too soon, can we survive until the point when, you know, this will come? And we did we survived and now it feels a bit like you know, we’ve left orbit, we’ve made it all the way to the other planet, and we’re just about to enter the orbit of the other planet, but we haven’t, we’re not anywhere close to the, you know, the lander going down. Like there’s still a lot more in this kind of, well, this or moonshot, let’s say, there’s a lot more that has to be done. And if I think about it, you know, in my lifetime, I’d really like to look back together with everyone else and think, Wow, like what a just incredibly wasteful time we lived in like, you look back and just think, how is it possible that we did this with electronics? And you know, that maybe in my lifetime, we will even have kind of heirloom computers? And whatever devices they will be, they might not be mobiles or computers, but maybe that could be something that we have within within our lifetimes?

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. I wrote a book called Wasted when Trash becomes Treasure and interviewed my dad about his childhood, and my dad’s older, so he was born during the Second World War. And it was really interesting, but talking about his childhood, there was almost no waste. Everything was used or repurposed. I wonder if by the time I’m his age, I could look back and we’ve got back to that state, that would be a really pleasing ark to sort of get back there. Are you? Are you hopeful about the future? Do you think we will, we’ll get to that point where we can look back and say, Yes, we did.

Janet Gunter 

It really depends on the day, honestly. It’s hard, you know, looking at and also, you know, not just, we can’t just focus on the environmental crisis. Yeah, there are so many people ground down by this kind of, form of capitalism that we live under. And by the, you know, just the sheer global demand for natural resources and land. And, you know, I’ve worked on land rights in the past. And, you know, sometimes it does feel really hard to see how this is all really going to play out for you so that everyone can live on the planet. And I’m not even just saying, you know, I’m not just saying biodiversity is obviously important to me. But I’m saying live on the planet, like, you know, how humanity like what is our future? And, I mean, I think what I like to focus on  is what’s happening that’s good and kind of reinforcing that and nurturing that, and but you know, globalisation is so strange, you know, you see, in parallel, you see amazing movements of people helping each other, transforming their lives making things better a micro scale, but then also linking together. And then you see this, you know, when you look at the big picture, I mean, what you see, in terms of just our sheer consumption and destructive appetites globally, sometimes you can’t allow yourself to even look at that, because it’s overwhelming. I mean, do you remember the Ever Given when it was blocking the Suez Canal a couple weeks back? I mean, the sheer size of that ship? We don’t we don’t have the ability to comprehend how big that is. And in the UK, we create seven Ever Givens of electronic waste a year, a year! And like, so you know, sometimes I like to just kind of maybe slightly refocus on on smaller initiatives, but linking the smaller initiatives and linking this kind of alternative movements, and less on the big picture, because sometimes it just feels too much.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I was listening to another podcast, recently called How to Save a Planet. And they were, they were saying, there’s no silver bullet solution to this, you know, this is a phenomenally complicated problem. But it will be solved by 1000s of us trying and failing and trying again. And I just thought, actually, I think that’s kind of what you’ve got to do. You’ve just got to work out which little bit you can make a difference to and just keep your head down and keep making a difference and that’s all we can do.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, I think it’s super important that we in rich countries, and we privileged people in these rich countries, because not everybody’s rich and rich countries. Is that we have we adopt a kind of environmental justice perspective and that we understand that we really, truly look at  how the way we live has impacted certain populations, and you know,  we owe a debt to the world. It’s really massive. And, you know, I think until we understand that, even in our own back garden, so you know, looking at incineration, looking at air pollution in cities, looking at who is actually already paying the price in our own back garden for our lifestyles, and understanding that and making amends for that, then I think, you know, we run the risk of just, I don’t know, doing clicktivism or sharing stuff on Instagram, but not really fully coming to grips with our kind of place.

Katie Treggiden 

There was some interesting research that came out of Norway recently that said that if the whole world adopted a circular economy, the economy would improve, there would be more jobs, there would particularly be more jobs for women and people of colour, you know, that would just be a wonderful outcome. However, if only Norway, and by that I think we can assume only developed nations adopted a circular economy, that would be great for developed nations, however, it would be disastrous for developing nations and women and people of colour would suffer the most. And those are also the people who are most impacted by climate change. So I think we have to in the complexity of this problem, we have to understand the intersectionality of it. And I think climate justice is a really important term because it’s about, you know, doing exactly what you guys are doing, which is saying there’s an inequality problem here and there’s a sustainability problem here and we can do this thing that addresses both of them. And I think those are the problems that we need to work to solve. I don’t think we can solve the climate crisis in a vacuum.  I think it’s so connected with, as you say, the way that we’ve been living on the planet and treating it as something that we can just pull resources out of other people’s countries.

Janet Gunter 

I know, and it’s like and then we’re going to kick away the ladder, you know, so we’re going to  get all those things. We’re going to   have all of our great holidays and do all the things and then be like, Oh, sorry, we did but you can’t do that. This is massive, and it’s something we need to think about. And at if COP26 actually happens this year, you know, we’re not the only one saying this. We need to address consumption emissions.  In a way, the negotiations are laughable that they don’t address consumption emissions, because we have these headlines like the UK has reduced its CO2 emissions by half or whatever. Well, actually, a lot of that was just exported to other countries, which are always blamed in our tabloids for being you know.

Katie Treggiden 

So just explain what consumption emissions are for people not familiar with that term.

Janet Gunter 

So basically, we used to make a lot of things here in the UK and we would have we would have emitted the carbon here in the UK so you would buy a washing machine from the UK or a car from the UK. We would count those emissions as ours now successive governments have basically wrecked industry and we now import most manufactured goods. Inside of those goods come embodied emissions, come emissions that were made somewhere else and for the most part, they were made in Asia and for the large part, China, and you know, those are counted on on the books as Chinese emissions.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that’s really important, isn’t it? Because we can sort of sit here feeling smug and blame those countries by producing all the carbon, but it’s our demand that’s creating that carbon? Okay, I feel we could talk for hours, but I’m conscious of everybody’s time. So perhaps you could just give us a sort of a final thoughts to wrap up  a note of hope that we can all keep our eyes on amongst the you know, being conscious of the realities.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, well, I think  like I was saying about, with the laptops and people connecting the dots between inequalities, and consumption. And, you know,  the way our consumer economy works, I think things are changing. I mean, we’ve seen big YouTubers come out in favour of repair and reuse. And, you know, basically saying that, shredding something, recycling it as the absolute last resort. And these are youtubers with millions and millions of followers. So, it’s really brilliant to see that we are moving past recycling and that people are, you know, there’s a real sense of like change and critique in relation to our stuff and the way that we’re buying stuff. I mean, a good example was Sonos gate. I don’t know if everyone remembers this last year, but Sonos basically discontinued support for some of its speakers, and you know, they encourage people to recycle them, but most people were scandalised by the idea that they should just go and recycle something like why couldn’t it be reused by someone else, for example? And so that caused a huge groundswell that we weren’t expecting. So we think that, you know, the attitudes are really changing. The question is whether policymakers are going to  keep up with, you know, the public’s outrage and interest, but I guess that’s our challenge.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. Well, thank you so much Janet it that’s been absolutely fascinating loads of loads of food for thought there that I think people will be really interested in. So thanks so much for your time. If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review, and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand how the algorithm works, but I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast. So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram at @KatieTreggiden.1 one, you can subscribe to my email newsletter via a link in the show notes. And if you’re a designer maker, you should really join my free Facebook group Making Design Circular. See you that this episode was produced by Sasha Huff so thank you to Sasha to October Communications for marketing and moral support and to you for joining me, you’ve been listening to Circular with Katie Treggiden

Circular Podcast with R for Repair

How can broken items be given new value? Is repair only to be used when an object is spoiled or broken? Can repair be aspirational? On today’s episode, I’m talking to Hans Tan, Tiffany Loy and Hunn Wai from the R for Repair exhibition, which ran from 13 January until 6 February 2021 at the National Design Centre, Singapore. The exhibition, curated by Tan, shone a timely spotlight on global waste by showing how broken or discarded items can be given new value.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular, a podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the Thinkers, Doers and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take make waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

Hans Tan 

While planning for this exhibition, I think one thing that I reflected on was the fact that in most Asian cultures, mending is seen as something you do only when you can’t afford to replace something that is broken or torn. And, you know, so that’s why buying something new in a festive occasion, like Chinese New Year or something important, and a symbol and a sign of prosperity. So in Asian context, I think mending is also not a profession, that anyone who aspire to be, you know, to do as a professional. And so I think for me, it was really important to reposition, repair, and to perhaps, you know, reposition repair as an explorational activity that you could generate also inspiration or outcome

 

Katie Treggiden 

R is for Repair run from the 13th of January until the 6th of February 2021 at the National Design Centre in Singapore. The exhibition curated by Hans Tan shone a timely spotlight on global waste by showing how broken or discarded items can be given new value. Tan is an educator, designer and curator based in Singapore. Working from the perspective that design helps us not only to do, but also to understand, he explores the boundaries between art, craft and design. He’s an associate professor at the division of Industrial Design National University of Singapore, and a multi award winning designer with work in the permanent collections of museums in Singapore, Hong Kong, New York and the Netherlands. I also spoke to two of  the designers whose work formed part of the eHxhibition, Tiffany Loy and Hunn Wai, one half of Lanzavecchia and Wai . Tiffany Loy is a Singaporean artist trained in industrial design and textile weaving. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in London with an MA in textiles, specialising in woven textiles, and was a recipient of the Design Singapore Scholarship. Lanzavecchia and Wai is an award winning Industrial Design Studio based between Italy and Singapore, founded by Francesca Lanzavecchia and Hunn Wai. Wai from Singapore and was educated as an industrial designer at the National University before meeting Lanzavecchia at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands while studying for a Master’s in Design.

Katie Treggiden 

Thank you so much for joining me, firstly, I’d like to start at the beginning and ask each of you a little bit about your childhood and how mending and repair showed up in your early life, if indeed it did, Hans do you want to go first?

Hans Tan 

Sure. I mean, in my case, I don’t remember mending or repairing anything be it a piece of clothing, or a toy that I had when I  was young, so I think that part was never something that was part of my childhood. At the same time, I do remember clearly that when I was a child, right up to my early teens, the only time where I got to buy something new was when it was a good occasion, a festive occasion like in during Chinese New Year or Christmas,  it was the only time in a once a year where for example, I could get a new piece of clothing or a new toy. So so things were quite hard to come by new things. And I know certainly buying something new to replace something old is something that happens in a once or twice a year. So for me, I think that for me formed part of how I got to know the idea or in the preciousness of things that we own.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes, there was a sense that objects were to be cherished and looked after even if you don’t necessarily remember them being mended. That’s interesting. Tiffany, how about you? Do you remember mending or repair showing up at all in your childhood?

Tiffany Loy 

I must admit that like Hans, I didn’t really mend anything, but I must say that I really took really good care of my things. It’s just in my personality to do so. And I remember putting a blanket over all my stuffed toys in bed, just to prevent them from getting dusty. So it’s just I believe that if you take really good care for things, then you don’t have to ever repair them.

Katie Treggiden 

Do you remember your parents or your grandparents mending things?

Tiffany Loy 

Um, no what my grandma did some mending and embroidery. My parents didn’t they tend to just buy new things. I must admit, yeah, I think that’s just part of the lifestyle that we have here.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think it’s an interesting sort of generational shift that certainly my grandparents definitely mended, my mum did when I was very young, but as I got older, I think that dropped off a little bit. And certainly I didn’t mend during my sort of childhood, it’s only very recently as I’ve become more aware of the environment and sustainability and that sort of thing, but it’s become a big part of my life. Hunn, how about you? How did mending and repair or the care of objects show up in your early life or childhood?

Hunn Wai 

Yeah, I think I do share something with Tiffany, in the sense that I do take care of my things even up till now, but that kind of behaviour has kind of, you know, taken on a different meaning as you as you mature, and you understand, you know, you go to factories, and like, Oh, no, you know, that’s there is so much ridiculousness in the production of things, and the buying of things, and the transportation of things and retail of things. And, you know, it’s as crazy as what you’re exposed to when you’re being a professional designer. But back to being a kid, how do you say, yeah, I think with Hans as well you don’t get anything special until it’s a special occasion like you’ve done well, in school or it’s your birthday. But I do remember  in a way, play not too clunky, or what work like, reprogramming the way of play and also, so like, the Transformers universe always makes it a Legos universe and Legos universe always makes with cardboard boxes, you know. So I think that was kind of expanding the definition of the experience beyond just the individual toy universes, I really, really enjoy, and just not making as well, in my mind  when I was growing up, you know, so, like, cardboard boxes and building things and drawing, a lot of drawing actually, was always quite a big part of, of growing up. Yeah,

Katie Treggiden 

That’s interesting so the idea of kind of hacking toys in order to make them work for you and merging different universes. And I think part of mending is about this idea of sort of personal agency and taking control of our environment. So thanks for raising that, that’s an interesting point.  Hans you curated R is for Repair an exhibition that at the time of recording has just closed at the National Design Centre in Singapore. The exhibition questioned global waste by looking at how broken or discarded items can be given new value. Can you tell us a little bit about the exhibition overall, and then your approach to researching and curating it?

Hans Tan 

Yeah, for this exhibition, I think the main aim is really to question the role of repair, particularly in the contemporary design context. It’s interesting, just now, you know, you talked about what mending or repair was to us, when we were young. So while planning for this exhibition, I think one thing that I reflected on was, you know, the fact that in most Asian cultures, mending is seen as something you do only when you can’t afford to replace something that is broken or torn. And you know, buying something new in a festive occasion, like Chinese New Year or something important, and a symbol, you know, and a sign of prosperity. So in Asian context, I think, mending is also not a profession, that anyone who aspire to be, you know, to do as a professional. And so I think, for me, it was really important to reposition, repair, and to perhaps reposition, prepare as an aspirational activity that you could generate also inspiration of outcome, and what better way to do it than to work with designers in Singapore and of course, we have two very talented ones with of us today, as well.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that association between mending and repairing poverty is really important. You know, as the sustainability movement sort of says, Well, we’ve all got to start mending. It’s not appropriate for everybody. It’s not possible for everybody. It brings up a lot of difficult feelings. And so I think exhibitions like this that can help to reposition, mending are really important. You’ve said that sustainability can be “articulated and practised in an attractive, purposeful way”. Would you mind digging into that a little bit more for us?

Hans Tan 

Yes, certainly. So, I mean, commonly we perceive sustainable practices as something that you know, you need to inconvenience yourself with. You need to go beyond what you normally do to be able to know for example, mend en a piece of clothing or to sort out your rubbish. And it comes at a cost. And often is associated with sacrifice as well. . But for me, I mean, as designers we are we are we have a unique position in trying to reposition, in this case repair as something perhaps aspirational meaning you know that maybe the outcome is something really desirable that one would want then to participate in repairing it. Or, and really, the idea is that, you know, we could see repair as something that is not of inconvenience, but something that we will love to do.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, certainly, well, we’ll come on to the objects that Tiffany and Hunn created and they’re definitely aspirational, beautiful objects actually elevated the original object, I think. You paired 10 broken objects sent in by members of the public with 10 Singaporean designers, so how did you choose the objects? How did you choose the designers? And how did you how did you pair them up? How did you decide which designer got which object?

Hans Tan 

So this one question that I get really often when people talk about exhibition, you know, how do you kind of gel the objects and the designers together? So the thing is, for the objects, or it was an open call, so anyone in Singapore could send in a broken object, an object in disrepair. And, and we came up with a list of objects, or there was submitted from the public. And for us, the one thing that we also did was for each submission, where the participant had to submit a story behind object, so not just sending in images of the objects and showing us that, you know, is broken and, you know, mending is possible, but at the same time, they had to write a short paragraph of text about the product. So in this case, you know, we could also choose and select objects that can have a interesting story behind it. And almost all the objects that we selected had a very meaningful story behind the object itself, and why the owner kept it after so after so much time, in spite of it being faulty. And at the same time, the idea was really to match each of this object with with a designer. And for me, I think, being being quite familiar with the works of the 10 designers that I was invited for this exhibition, I think it’s about matching at one end, the skill sets of the designers, and in this case, we really wanted to have a diverse interpretation of all the different objects. So we invited designers from different domains. So we had our product designers, furniture designers, you know, fibre artists, like Tiffany, designers like Hunn Wai, who has worked with really big, luxury brands. Now, we also invited interaction designers,  and communication designers, and even a toy designer and advertising agency as well. So we wanted to really create a multifaceted, divergent way of looking at repair and everyone contributed their ideas based on their design ethos.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s really important, because I think sometimes you tend to think of mending as being sort of textiles based or kind of repair being around wood. And so I think bringing in this diverse collection of designers, and those objects, as you say, which have such stories, so let’s dig into the, to the story of one of those objects. Tiffany hands gave you a Calvin Klein tote bag, that Arnold Gove bought with his very first pay check. Once his pride and joy it had developed holes and been relegated to a grocery bag. Can you tell us a little bit about how you felt when you first received that object?

Tiffany Loy 

I was very, very extremely careful. Because I was handling someone else’s personal object. I see a bag as a personal thing, because it’s almost like a piece of clothing. And I’m quite possessive of my own belongings so I tend to assume that everyone is like this. So when we first had our telephone conversation, I was trying to assess how precious this thing is to him and how open he was to potential changes. And in the end, I decided that just to play safe, I will make only reversible changes so that if you really wanted to, he could reverse the repair, ironically, but at least he won’t be heartbroken and he won’t regret his decision of trusting this designer.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s quite interesting and I think that’s something that museums do in conservation now because obviously, types of repair change and evolve over time. So the idea that you could reverse the repair and update it with a with a more interesting or a more up to date one I should say. So you flicked the bag inside out and added a cord mesh which was both to strengthen it and also to form an external pocket. Can you talk to us little bit about how you came up with that solution, I think flipping the bag inside out is a stroke of genius.

Tiffany Loy 

Thank you. Well, I think flipping something inside out just to continue using it seems very much aligned to our north attitude. Like, you just want to keep using it until it’s not possible to use it anymore. So when I first received it, I had a good thorough look at the bag just to get to know it and to highlight all the areas that are fragile areas that I need to take care of. I did iron on some tape, just to patch up the hole just so it doesn’t get bigger, but then when I saw how well maintained the inside was, surprisingly, I decided that, you know, we should just show that instead. But then, of course, I couldn’t just end there, I think Hans might be disappointed if I just stopped there so because the inner lining was quite delicate. So I definitely had to add additional material. Again, I could have just stitched on a piece of fabric all over it, but I thought that might be a bit boring and I wanted to do something a bit more fancy and be a bit more indulgent. So I decided to make the cord mesh, which, incidentally, was quite suitable since he had been using it as a grocery bag. So I thought, okay, this was the most aesthetically and practically appropriate solution.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, really nice and it gives it a bit of extra functionality as well, doesn’t it? Because so you can tuck things just into that cord mesh. And how did Arnold feel about his bag when when he saw it? Was he pleased with what you’ve done?

Tiffany Loy 

He said he was. So I would like to believe that.I met both he and his wife at the exhibition and they were telling me that they were happy with the fact that there was increased capacity. And they do grocery shopping together so that means both of them will be using the bag, which I thought was really sweet because what was once a personal object is now a family object. And I hope they continue to use it like this. I don’t know how long they’ll continue to use it, but I think I might check in maybe a year from now just to see if they’re still using it.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, and I think that you know, the second tenet of the circular economy is keeping materials and objects in use and so I think that’s the most important thing, isn’t it? You’ve been able to extend its its useful life for them. What do you think we can learn from a sustainability point of view from the transformation of that bag?

Tiffany Loy 

Joy  really like the joy of transforming something.  I think it’s something that you cannot convince someone with words you kind of have to just let them try it themselves and be convinced, I guess. When you mend or repair an object, you are essentially personalising it and every iteration of mending makes the object more precious and more reflective of your own personality. So if you put a bit of pride into it, it becomes a lot more enjoyable.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s a lovely way to look at it, not that it’s a damaged object and the repair is evidence of the damage but actually that you cared about it enough to mend it, and therefore the repair makes it even more special. Brilliant. Thank you.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break and thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen.

Katie Treggiden 

If you used to feel proud and excited about being a designer maker, about making with your hands, but have started to feel a creeping sense of guilt, about putting yet more stuff out into the world you might want to check out my new masterclass. If the idea of sustainability has started to feel heavy and full of duty, and you wish you could engage with it in a way that feels more light, playful and creative. You might want to check out my new master class. If you’ve ever wondered about the potential of waste as a raw material. You definitely want to check out my new master class. Find out more at Katietreggiden.com/masterclass. And if the spelling of my surname has already got your head in a spin, don’t worry. There’s a link in the show notes.

Surfers Against Sewage 

Extreme weather, rising seas, species extinction. Our blue planet is on fire. This year as a host of COP26 we are calling on the governments of the UK to recognise the importance of a thriving ocean as a solution to the climate crisis. Go to sas.org.uk/oceanandclimatepetition and sign the petition today. Help put this fire out.

Katie Treggiden 

Hunn, Hans gave you and your creative partner a $15 watch which had originally been bought in Chinatown that Nicole had had since school. It had a broken strap and had been  replaced with a like for like replacement. So she already had a new watch, right? But this watch still held sentimental value for her despite the fact that it’s kind of this cheap mass produced object. What did you feel the first time you saw it? What was your initial reaction to this brief from Hans?

Hunn Wai 

I was glad that we got a watch, I was really happy to get a watch, because it’s really quite powerful object, you know, it’s got a lot of narratives, floating around an object and heirloom something that unwittingly becomes part of your identity over a period of time, you know, you interact with it almost every 30 seconds. And just by doing this, so there’s a lot of powerful narratives that our studio could play with, you know, and that was something that as a kind of a potential meter it scored quite high. The sentiment, there’s a sort of, obviously, it’s not just a watch, it’s a broken watch, and it came with a lot of sentimental value. And I think we’re both quite romantic designers,  in the sense that we seek to re-humanize situations through objects and new behaviours. So like, to receive something like this was quite an honour, actually, that she decided to put trust in us to not, you know, screw up a very important thing. And also that’s how we kind of build the criteria around our design was not to, you know, like, hey, let’s turn into dust and without, like, casting in acrylic, I think that is such a vulgar So we obviously didn’t go that route and like I said before, we felt really happy to receive a timekeeping, time instrument, you know, regardless, it was $15. And there is beauty and $15 objects that you use for 10 years, 15 years and I mean, they are well built and well engineered. So that’s why of course they are cheap so  yeah, we felt really optimistic when we first got it.

Katie Treggiden 

I think the the respect of that both of you have for what those objects meant to their owners is a really beautiful thing. And it’s a it’s a really lovely starting point, although one that comes with a great deal of responsibility. So you enclosed this mass produced timepiece in a bespoke walnut case with brass fixings, turning it into a clock. How did you come up with that idea and what does the contrast between those material values mean?

Hunn Wai 

So with the strap broken that effectively renders the watch non wearable. So then decided to kind of map out like, it is non wearable, then what is this new identity? And, obviously, we all have broken strapped watches around the house, right? And we leave it in the bathroom on the counter oh it’s a clock, right? So in a way it easily slips into this new identity with or without design intervention. So a clock it is right, but how do you formalise a clock? How do you formalise the idea? How do you communicate the respect for it, you know, so we were inspired by the vitrines of museums, you know, like like how, in a way the vitrines of museums should not interfere with the reading of the object you know, it should protect it obviously from fingers and atmosphereal  elements and so and so forth, you know, from degradation, right. So, how do we freeze that moment? And in what format? So that’s why we chose this normal cuboid shape right? And you know, this whole idea of  having phones in cases so now, of course, it should the thinking behind the solution should be a case for it, but what kind of case right so you will think about, like watch cases of your clock, you know, clock cases of  your own made of beautiful wood. Right? So how do we have this super normal thing and at the same time, it’s rather just a container for it but the same time it formalises its new identity. So, looking at super normal clocks in and looking at the ones from from Mooji, looking at the ones from you know, because I just understand  from the one by Dieter Rams from Brown, you know, they had this certain dimensions, a certain proportion. So, we were also quite sensitive to how big the circumference, I mean the face of the watch was and how that would kind of be in dialogue with the dimensions of the super cuboid.  Yeah, and the brass, brass fittings actually came as a way like, okay, we have a case, but how do we secure the front plate in a most non fussy way possible? So originally, I think that the first iteration was that things wouldn’t be seen. Right. And  we just found out that, hey, you know, like, if you’re going to use pins anyway, why not make them brass and why not show them as our markers for 369 and 12th right. So then again, so we try to extract as much value as possible from each component involved as well, you know, so that the brass core thing wouldn’t be hidden, but at least has one face exposed, and has this extra essential function?

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s fantastic. How did Nicole feel? Was she was she surprised with what you’ve done? What did you think when she got the piece back?

Hunn Wai 

Yeah,  she was very thankful about it, because, obviously, that the piece meant a lot to her. I mean, it came from her parents, you know, and it was a piece that there was a piece that kind of marked a period of teenage to young adulthood. So through that it could be renewed, you know, that  could be used for the future seasons of our life. And that, you know it’s not just in a drawer anymore, but rather, it’s been elevated to a place of pride  and the more you put it there, the more you will use it, and the more you use it, the more you talk about it, and it kind of becomes a beacon of what we’re doing right.

Katie Treggiden 

And what what do you think we can learn from that transformation from a sustainability point of view, and that idea of taking something broken and turning it into something that’s a source of pride again.

Hunn Wai 

I think it gives a lot of ownership and autonomy to the user.  So you’re not at the whims and wiles of, you know, whatever, insert in a blank you know, of planned obsolescence and things that, you know, it kind of gives you like, Oh, I didn’t know you could do it that way and then I’m not beholden to chucking it out and buying new. So I think that there’s quite a nice sense of renewed ownership and also confidence in your own abilities. You know, I think repairing also helps you to appreciate the amount of work and engineering and ingenuity that has gone into that object right? If you’ve never opened up your your iPhone, or if you never opened up your old iron that’s not functioning you never knew you could run the wires this way, or the PCB board is like such a beautiful object, that’s always inside this plastic casing. So I think what brings us sustainability, also I think, one part of the equation for sustainability is the appreciation of how things are put together and how things are made.  I think a huge part of why the world’s not sustainable is because we become so numb to these things, you know, we don’t appreciate it. If we don’t  appreciate them with this consumer image, I mean, this consumer image and the images, the bubble and Chocobo. And, you know, I go to $1 shop and satisfy my short term gratifications right? I’ll go to whichever e-comm website to satisfy your gratifications. So pat that link on the IG post, like by now and tomorrow receive so that I can repost it and show that now and it’s funny, it’s quite a method close to heart because I do feel it’s quite published in the way that we consume.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think one of the things I talked about is the shift from being a consumer to being a citizen. And I think both of the points you’ve made there play into that idea. Firstly, the idea that we have got power, you know, we’re not just beholden to these big companies that plan obsolescence or make things unrepairable. And secondly, the idea that we can make more conscious choices and have more respect for the making process. And I think mending and making sort of really closely related art and understanding and skill in one gives an insight into the other so brilliant, thank you. Hans, you set out to curate this exhibition without knowing what the final pieces would be, which strikes me as a bold move. How did you feel about the work, or firstly, how did you feel kind of going into that process with that sense of uncertainty? And then secondly, how did you feel about the work that came back particularly these two pieces?

Hans Tan 

Yeah, I mean, Katie, you’re perfectly right. I mean, going through this exhibition, putting it together. I think it was done in faith and was facing the designers and believing that they will make really interesting and good interpretations. So in fact, the brief was very, very straightforward to all the designers and the brief was the same, although the objects are different. And, in fact, the brief allowed them a full creative freedom to interpret the broken objects that they will paired with, but for me, the surprising thing was, each of them took great pains in incorporating that personal story from the owner, and weaving it into the repair and making intent and the transformation process for each of this objects that I was really, really surprised in at the end, almost every single designer did that. And I thought there was something very difficult to do. But at the same time, it was very rewarding. In all these stories coming together, it was almost as if the personal stories of each of the owners was being repaired to some extent, and coming together to form a very interesting narrative exhibition.

Katie Treggiden 

And I think one of the things that is so important in mending and repair is those personal stories, you know, you can either look at the idea that an object is perfect when it’s new, and then gradually degrades. And so we throw it away. Or you can imagine that an object is a blank canvas when we buy it. And it’s only we know when it gets bumps and scraped, that it starts collecting stories and that it grows in value. And I think this exhibition really kind of beautifully demonstrates that idea that these stories are kind of so important to the value of an older object. So yeah, I think that’s a really lovely point. How do you feel that opinions towards mending and repair are changing? You mentioned that in Asian culture, you know, this is often something that’s associated with poverty, and that one of the things you hope to do with this exhibition was change those perceptions, can you see that change starting to happen?

Hans Tan 

I mean, that precisely is the aim of the exhibition. And I think it’s very difficult to get people to repair things that are broken, I think it’s really more important to begin to change the mindset that people have with regards to things that are broken, and we’ve got to the notion of repair. And really to see, you know, brokenness is not end point in failure, where the product fails to perform, right, but to see, you know, brokenness as an opportunity for innovation, of doing something new. And I think the idea of hacking is really important here as well to know to take something existing, although it has broken down, and to be able to reconstitute it in a different way. And I think, you know, in the exhibition, I mean, Tiffany and Hunn, in this case, you know, they pains to restore the utility of the object. But I think, you know, there were also some other designers who chose not to restore the utility of the object, but to recast, you know, the original object in a, in a totally different light. And that is also another creative way of seeing repair, which is really important, you know, as a lens to see, you know, how we can see all things and broken things.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes, I think that idea that a repair is not necessarily putting something back as it was, but it might be reinventing it. And even these two projects that Tiffany and Hunn did,  do that, to a certain extent, don’t they, they sort of recast a watch as a clock or a sort of designer bag as a  more functional grocery bag. And I think that’s an interesting point. And, you know, one of the kind of criticisms of a lot of the work that’s happening in sustainability at the moment is when you recycle something, its value tends to go down slightly every time you recycle it. So all you’re doing is sort of delaying the inevitable destination in landfill. Whereas I think what these projects show is actually the value of an object can go up when it’s repaired, which is really important.

Hans Tan 

Exactly, yeah. Typically when you repair something, you assume that the repair will feel in comparison with the original state of the object. But in this project, we really wanted to position repair as activity where you know, the object that you repair becomes better off than what originally it was. And there can be different ways to define better off, it can be better off in terms of utility, it can be better off in terms of really looking at objects in a different light. And so I think, you know, it was really about having these types of different values being showcased in such an exhibition.

Katie Treggiden 

What do you think the future holds for mending and repair?

Hans Tan 

You know, as a designer, and I’m not sure if Hunn and Tiffany will agree with me. We often design new things. And, you know,  what’s the next new chair or the next new bag? What’s the next new coffee machine and for me, I think it’s so interesting for designers like myself to think about, you know, redesigning all things. And for the longest time design has been positioned to generate new things. But I think design can be also very well positioned to relook at old things as well, especially things that are, you know, maybe broken needs repair, or, you know, it’s not inVogue anymore. And, you know, we can really give a new light to these things that you know, are not, not necessary are not looked on as you know, something important anymore. And perhaps, in the future, you know, there can be a professional, a new profession where a designer solely focuses on, you know, repairing things, maybe a bespoke repair designer, like how cobblers used to repair shoes on the roadside, and maybe we can do in a totally different way and generate new businesses and new, repair models, business models, where we can see a sustainable option as a profession as well.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes absolutely and that’s a wonderfully optimistic note to end on. So thank you so much for your insights. It’s been really, really interesting talking to you. Thank you.

Katie Treggiden 

If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review, and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand how the algorithm works. But I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast. So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram at @katietreggiden.1, you can subscribe to my email newsletter via a link in the show notes. And if you’re a designer,  maker, you should really join my free Facebook group Making Design Circular. See you there.  Part of my commitment to 1% of the planet. I’ve donated the ad spot in this episode to Surfers Against Sewage an organisation I’m really proud to support.  The episode was produced by Sasha Huff so thank you to Sasha and to October Communications for marketing and moral support. And to you for joining me, you’ve been listening to circular with Katie Treggiden.

Circular Podcast with Bridget Harvey

What are the differences between repair, restoration and conservation? Is maintenance also repair? And how are these processes viewed along gender lines? On today’s episode, I’m talking to Bridget Harvey, an artist who uses making to ask critical questions, generate new understanding and add meaning through craft. Investigating processes and concepts through making: she asks what we make, how we make it, and why that matters.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is Circular, a podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the Thinkers, Doers and Makers of the Circular Economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear, take, make, waste, model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

Bridget Harvey 

I think as the conversation around the circular economy, and environmentalism and everything like that grows, people are understanding more and more and more that actually, you know, maybe stitching up a seam on your cardigan is not such a bad thing to have to do, you know, you don’t necessarily need to go and get a new one. What it doesn’t do is address the want for newness. I guess that’s maybe more about swapping or hires or that kind of loan economy that’s going on.

 

 

Katie Treggiden 

Bridget Harvey uses making to ask critical questions and generate new understanding, and add meaning through craftv. Investigating processes and concepts through making she asks what we make, how we make it, and why that matters. She works across disciplines using found objects and materials like fired ceramics, wood and textiles, and exploring ideas like pace, repetition and playfulness. Since 2013, she has focused specifically on repair as the Victoria and Albert Museums, artist in residence she examined the relationship of repair to conservation through artefacts, a publication and an exhibition in 2019. The same year she completed her practice based PhD Repair Making Craft Narratives Activism. Her work has been acquired and exhibited by the V&A, the Camberwell ILEA collection and the National Centre for Crafts and Design.

Katie Treggiden 

Bridget, thank you so much for joining me today, Bridget and I the first time we talked about repair, I think I arrived at the V&A at nine o’clock and didn’t leave until well past lunchtime. So we’re going to try and keep it a little bit more succinct than that today. I’d love to start right at the beginning and ask you about how mending and repair showed up in your childhood in your early life, if indeed they did.

Bridget Harvey 

Oh they absolutely did, although I didn’t really think about them as separate to anything. I was, I guess fortunate now I look back on it to grow up in a family who were very thrifty, and who really liked making things and doing DIY, and really were engaged in looking after their own things and their own properties and all of that kind of stuff. So actually, one of the earliest photos I have of myself is when I was about seven, and I’m up a ladder, re-puttying a window on the first floor of the house that we lived in. And yeah, it’s quite funny actually, there’s none of those romantic baby photos kicking around it’s all really pragmatic stuff like that. And so actually, my brother and I had fairly free rein access to tools to materials and things to tinker with. So you know, there was always bits of wood and things around that we could just use to make things with those. It was a box of bits, there was a drawer of glues and strings and scissors and knives and that kind of stuff. And we were generally encouraged to make and mend things and to learn how to care for things. And it’s partly because I spent a lot of time with my grandparents who were of that pre and post war generation who, I guess were maybe a bit more embedded or entrenched in that sort of idea of mending as a natural act rather than it being separate to their everyday lives.

Katie Treggiden 

So mendings  just a necessary!

Bridget Harvey 

Yes, you know, if I still like it, then you’ve got to fix it somehow. Right? And I like to have things my way as well. So I’m really up for kind of adapting or customising things whilst mending them or, or even if they’re not broken. So, yeah, it’s always been around.

Katie Treggiden 

I think that kind of idea of hacking and repair. Theres a lot of overlap, isn’t there and your work is really multi disciplinary. Most of the people I’m speaking to either work in textiles or they work in ceramics or they work in electronics. Why is it important for you to work across so many different material and how does repair show up differently in each medium that you work in?

Bridget Harvey 

I guess working multi-disciplinary really is quite natural for me because I like different things and I like to touch different things. So I like to interact with different things and I like to know how things work, what they’re made of.  So I’m constantly undoing things or taking things apart or looking inside things. So for me, it’s never felt comfortable to sit just with one material, because I’m always interested in actually the sort of processes more than the materials themselves, if you see what I mean. So in trying to understand repair extremely deeply, which is what I’ve been doing for the last eight years or so, it’s just been a natural path that I will be multi-disciplinary I was before, I still am. Because actually, it’s the process. So how does, if this breaks, how do I fix that, if that breaks, how do I fix it? And because breakage happens across different materials, across different objects, across different scales, times and in different ways, actually, I mean, breakage itself is really a scale. The idea for me of just being with one material just isn’t natural for me, I need to be in different things. And also, one of the things that I’ve found through my explorations is that you don’t necessarily mend an object with the material that is made with. So repair quite often by its very nature is in some way, multimedia, I guess. And so, you know,  that sort of mixing and melding just kind of happens along the way.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. You asked the question what we make, how we make it and why it matters, across your work? Now, obviously, that’s a vast question and I don’t expect to just summarise the answer to it in a a pithy podcast answer. But I guess I’m interested to understand how mending and repair allow you to get into making because the two things are different, but with a lot of overlap.

Bridget Harvey 

They are different, but when you look at traditional making practices, there was always an element of repair. I mean, I’m generalising very much here. But there was always an element of repair within that, you know, if you’re a Sadler, you also fix them as well as making them. If you are, I didn’t know, a jeweller, you fix jewellery, as much as making it and so on and so forth. And so traditionally, it’s always been there, right? So throughout my practice, I’m really interested in I guess, in some ways, there’s sort of human condition, the human psyche, you know, how we are in the world, and how we interact with our objects, why people have always made things, why things are so important to us, how they create part of our identity, whether we like it or not, whether we engage with consumerism in a in a neoliberal sense or not, you know, and so on, and so forth. And so, actually repair, whether it’s embraced or rejected or somewhere in between and whether that is within a making practice, or, you know, just in your daily life is actually a really interesting window into that, you know, if you’re very, very up for getting something mended, but you don’t want it to look like it’s mended, you know, that there is quite an interesting statement. And it’s something to, you know, unpick and that feeds back into our design and making processes straight off, because how do you facilitate that as a designer, as a maker. If, however, you’re really, really happy to, this is a bit of a daft example, but you’re really happy to get all your clothes completely shredded, and never ever mended, but you’re sort of struggling to get a job I don’t know as an example. And you know, those two, there’s a sort of social expectation there, that doesn’t necessarily marry up with your personal expectation of things. And that, again, gives us these really interesting inroads into how we think, how society thinks and how objects define us in one way or another. And so I guess, it’s sort of I guess, it’s like a backdoor into how we are in the world.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s really interesting. I sort of thought about the things we choose to mend versus the things we don’t choose to mend.  I guess also the way in which we choose to mend those things. Do we want them perfect, so no one even knew they were broken? We’re quite happy to tell a new story with those mends.

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah. and also are we in a position to be able to do that?  Can we have things that are visibly mended? Or is it actually important to how we act in the world that they are invisibly mended? Or, you know, again, somewhere in between that?

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah absolutely. And I think there’s there’s a certain amount of privilege that comes with being able to wear a darn as a badge of honour, which is a phrase that you see a lot  in the internet world and in Instagram. I’m using the words mending and repair fairly interchangeably, but I think they’re both actually strangely loaded words aren’t they?   I would love to dig into some of the material implications and some of the gender implications of those two words and any other you know, sort of synonyms you’d like to chuck in with you and just kind of understand a little bit why, what is so different about those two word that according to the dictionary mean, pretty much the same thing.

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah so this is where we lose ourselves, right because we’re both word fans. So for me, I tend to use the word repair because it means to sort of make something work as you need it to work. And that is quite important to me, because I don’t think it needs to go back to necessarily exactly how it was, which is the kind of formal definition of mending.

Katie Treggiden 

Right, so a word like restore might kind of come up.

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah, exactly and restore is quite a loaded word. I mean, once you start looking at restoration, as opposed to say, conservation, or preservation, you know, you start getting into all these areas, which are really, they’re very sort of lumped together. But actually, they’re very different. And it’s quite, the differences are quite important, once you start digging through them. In gender terms and again, this goes a little bit binary, but that’s maybe because the internet is a little bit binary with this. If you Google mending, you get textiles, and you get women and if you google repair, you get vehicles, maybe washing machines, and you get men. And that I think is inaccurately historic in that I don’t think it actually necessarily represents how things were done, but it does represent how, certainly the internet wants you to think things were done. So repair work was done by all people, on all things and you know, we know soldiers mended their clothes, we know men were heavily involved in textile mending, we also know that woman were working with materials other than textiles.

Katie Treggiden 

Interestingly though the little sewing kit they gave to soldiers when they went to war is called a housif, which is short for housewife.  So there’s all this, still this sense that even though they’re doing it, it’s still sort of women’s work in some way.

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah and not quite their job, it’s true. But is that then themselves know that’s the kind of construct in a way, isn’t it? That’s a sort of societal sort of be some some kind of expectation being pushed upon them. I’ve got, a side note, one of my most interesting objects is a piece of brass, which is to actually protect your clothing when you’re polishing your buttons, which is not quite mending, but maintenance, another very important word.

Katie Treggiden 

And there’s an awful lot of cleaning and maintenance that comes very close to men mending them.

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah, absolutely and that actually can sort of stave off repair in a lot of ways. And when we run repair workshops here, in Hackney, in East London, one thing that comes up quite a lot is toasters, because they break quite often. And something that quite often just needs doing to them is turning them upside down and banging them, which is quite a kind of rudimentary form of maintenance. And all the crumbs fall out, usually the big one that’s stopped it from you know, the button from going down, or whatever else comes out and, and then the toaster is much happier. And that kind of, you know, like cleaning your Hoover filter, or keeping the motor of your food processor clean, you know, like those kinds of things. Like it’s a very kind of rudimentary maintenance that actually stave off the need for, let’s call it real repair, and a little bit longer, just through those kind of acts. So there’s this really interesting sort of series of processes that are all heavily interconnected, and kind of mundane in a lot of ways. But actually kind of build up to create this kind of dynamic picture of how we interact with our things and what we need to do with them. And, you know, like, why do we update our phones, software, but we don’t necessarily wipe down our blender after we’ve made a smoothie. You know, it’s those kind of questions, which are quite interesting to me.

Katie Treggiden 

And where do we pan out? So if this kind of gender implication and material implication of mending versus repair is historic, what does it mean now? Does it does it make those words problematic? You mentioned you prefer the word repair for a definitional point of view, but you know, are those kind of material and gender implications of those two words problematic now?

Bridget Harvey 

I think they can be, but I also think there are definitely people who are working to break down those sort of genders. I mean, I guess maybe the gendered materials more necessarily than the words, but maybe that’s within quite a small bubble at the moment, but that will spread. And I think maybe if you look at something like denim, which you know, has a widely accepted you know people are happy with that rips in their jeans and so on and so forth as a kind of fashion statement and those kind of boundaries being broken down, I think they start to open up these conversations about mending and so on in a sort of more mainstream context. And then you do start to see  bigger brands taking that on. And so that kind of conversation is spreading out. And I think as the conversation around the circular economy, and environmentalism and everything like that grows, people are understanding more and more and more that actually, you know, maybe stitching up a seam on your cardigan is not such a bad thing to have to do, you know, you don’t necessarily need to go and get a new one. What it doesn’t do is address the want for newness. I guess that’s maybe more about swapping or hires or, you know, that kind of loan economy that’s going on.

Katie Treggiden 

I do think jeans are interesting, though, because I think jeans are the one item of clothing that people are loath to replace, because once you’ve had a pair of jeans and you’ve worn them in and you’ve got them comfy and you know, you know that they suit you and they fit you. I mean, I hate having to buy new jeans.  I think that they’re a really interesting, and it’s interesting to see brands now offering repairs for life on jeans and really starting to say that actually, you can have that lifelong relationship with this garment.

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah or that you can sell your jeans back to some companies, and they sell them on, don’t they? You know, so that kind of not quite a swap, but I guess financially incentivised.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, take back scheme.

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah, exactly which I think is quite good. But I mean, denim is a lovely, pure denim is a really lovely material that ages really well. And so that, you know, it has the, I guess, the ability to do that and that aged, softened, you know, denim is really nice. And you know, a lot of people really like it. So, but maybe it’s different to a raincoat or something like that, where you have a sort of layered material that age differently, wear differently, you know, so you might have those sort of cotton lined rubbers in it that doesn’t necessarily look more authentic, or whatever it is, in a way that denim does just maybe looks tatty, you know, those kinds of things so that there’s differences across materials, and textiles are easy examples to use because we’re all familiar with them. And there’s a variety of them that that we will have encountered with our lives. But, you know, then you have to, if you expand that conversation across toasters and plates, and bikes, you know, it gets more and more complicated as you kind of go out.

Katie Treggiden 

But it’s an interesting thing for designers to think about, isn’t it? Is it going to age and I think often the pinnacle of an object’s life is the moment it’s sold rather than, you know, 10/20 years down the line and I think that’s an interesting consideration.

Bridget Harvey 

So how will it age? And how do we, do we offer some kind of care for in the future. Now remember, back in 2015/early 2015, I co-curated an exhibition called the Department of Repair. And one thing we had in it was an image of a Lucy Rie bowl that had been broken and then Lucy Rie had super glued it back together and sent it back to the owner with a letter saying I superglued your bowl. And so it kind of made that bowl, like, extra Lucy Rie if you see what I mean. And so that was kind of really exciting and really, you know, but then if I didn’t know, conservator had glued it back together, or I’d glued it back together, but you know, it wouldn’t have had that same narrative and would it just have been a damaged Lucy Rie bowl or would you have had that sort of extra special veneer? And I think it’s part of that narrative that designers can have when they’re thinking forwards through their objects or makers can have a net income for is through their objects that actually, what kind of service can I add and how can I make that  service special, but also the object come back extra special to the owner?

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s lovely. So not only offering some sort of repair service, but actually some way of making that objects even more special once it’s once it’s been repaired.You mentioned Hackney Fixers which you’re the co-organiser of.  How does repair show up differently there, versus how it shows up in your artistic practice?

Bridget Harvey 

I guess it’s much more pragmatic in these workshops. So Hackney is a very diverse bearer? It’s culturally diverse, and it’s economically diverse. Hackney Fixers have been going for a long time and I must give credit to James who does most of the work for the organising. We do event. In a pre covid world, we did events in different venues across a borough, usually community centres or libraries, where you would show up with your broken objects either electrical objects or textile objects and ee would pair you up with a mentor with the right kind of expertise to try and mend your things. And we would get everything really from, I guess, like objects vital to people’s well being such as heaters, rice cookers, like electric bits from mobility vehicles, and things like that through to children’s toys, phones, you know, all sorts, you know, classic smashed phone screen, and so on and so forth. And I think the thing that I always found with that was that even if the object couldn’t be mended, people seem to feel at peace with it going into the electrical recycling, Hackney also has a very good recycling system, but they they have, so we have electrical recycling bins that you can put your objects into and they would feel much more at peace of putting the object in there, if they knew that we had tried to fix it and it couldn’t be fixed, rather than just, you know, well, maybe it’s still good, maybe it’s not. I think that’s one of the most kind of rewarding bits of it was almost that kind of closure, you know, like, great is mendef, that’s brilliant, or, okay, it really can’t be it’s completely blown.   And we would work with people over several sessions, you know, like, maybe you need to go and get this part and bring it next time and we’ll try that, you know, and often we were offering things that the companies who made those objects would not offer or would only offer it at a very exclusive price point. And so it meant, you know, you’re, you’re sharing skills, you’re also opening up that kind of conversation, like things can be mended, you’re un black boxing things in a lot of ways. But you’re also making a service available, or, you know, sensory service available to people who might not otherwise be able to afford it, because repair services are often expensive. So, yeah, it’s, I’ve been on leave, so I haven’t been involved in the online events and I should be involved in the ones coming up later on this year. And then hopefully, we’ll be able to go back to doing in person events as well. But James has also been running online consultation sessions and, and he says, there’s been a huge subscription for that. And so the interest is still there, and the community is still there, which is nice. And now we’re just waiting to be able to be in person again, really,

Katie Treggiden 

I’m trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break and thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen.

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Katie Treggiden 

And what do you think that sense of this make very different is that isn’t there then kind of handing something over, you know, to a phone repair shop or posting something back to the manufacturer and it comes back either repaired or replaced versus sitting down with someone who’s teaching you how to do it and kind of that skills exchange and that knowledge exchange? Why is it important to do it the way that you guys are doing it.

Bridget Harvey 

I think it’s important because it starts the conversation about why we don’t do that anymore. You know, it makes it very real and tangible. Actually, this is a skill that you could do. It also shows the complexity of a lot of objects, and actually how, you know, when we chuck something away, actually, there’s a lot of stuff inside it, particularly with electrical goods, you know, there’s a lot, and there’s a lot of people in that chain, you know, mining thing,s making things, designing, that object has a lot of reach beyond you buying it from that shop. And so I think it opens up a lot of things, but it also, there’s a sense of warmth, sharing kindness, hope in sitting down with people, you know, being welcomed into a space sitting down with someone who  actively wants to help you fix your thing, but also help you know how to fix your thing, or at least understand how it might be done. And that is maybe something that used to be more done, maybe in the home, maybe intergenerationally but now is often only kind of a paid for thing you know you may be paid to go to university or you pay to go on a short course or something like that. And, and so that sort of free, that emotionally free and financially free exchange of information and of care for one another and one another’s things is something that you don’t necessarily get that often and I think particularly for people who feel a bit waysided by a lot of society, those kind of things are really important. For me, I’m very aware of living in a position of relative privilege and I enjoy being able to give my time and my energy to sort of, I guess, spread some of the joy that I have for my life, within my life. think it’s a vital way of moving forwards. I mean, we share skills on the internet, right? We can go to YouTube and look at videos of people making things and doing things, but actually the ability to say, Oh, wait a minute, can you show me that again? Or what’s that?

Katie Treggiden 

Or actually this hasn’t worked what do I do with it? That’s the bit I struggle with. You know the person that the videos keep going and you’re like, that’s not what I did

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah, hold on a minute I spilt my glue.

Katie Treggiden 

There’s something interesting, isn’t there about in both of those situations, the person who needs the thing mending is kind of passive, their kind of either the passive recipient of a YouTube video or they’ve sent something off. Whereas I think the kind of Hackney Fixer space sounds like they’re taking a much more active role and that seems important to me particularly if we’re going to, you know, kind of encourage making and mending as part of a transition to a circular economy, having people, I guess there’s this idea that we were these kind of passive consumers who just buy things, you know, when you look at all the kind of government rhetoric around that sort of recovery after covid, it’s all about consumption, and you need to buy stuff. That’s your role, guys, just go and buy stuff and I sort of feel like we need to shift away from that towards more active engaged citizenship.

Bridget Harvey 

And you don’t necessarily need to be shouting on the street with a placard to be active. You can make these kind of small gestures, which actually collectively translate into a big statement. And and I think that I see, even if you can’t fix something in the sense of having tried to, it’s sort of, I guess, makes you feel less forced into buying something new, you know, you’re like, okay, it really can’t be fixed. Okay, I need to get a new one, rather than like, this just stopped working and, you know, I didn’t know how to get into it, or I don’t know,

Katie Treggiden 

I suppose in the process of it not being able to be fixed, you’ve perhaps learned something about which one you’ll buy next time?

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah, absolutely. And organisations like the Restart Project, and I Fix It. I mean, they have a particular focus on electronics, but they also, they offer critiques of new things as they come on to the market in terms of their repairability like this one, the battery is viewed into that one, you know, they encourage you to ignore that kind of voidish warranty void sticker, you know, and those sorts of things, which are designed to disempower you, designed to make you a consumer, rather than an owner, and, you know, push you into that kind of passive role. There’s a lot of discussion on the right to repair movement and that kind of idea around, I guess, it’s David Pi actually calls it optional durability, you know, so how you can decide how long your thing lasts, you know, I don’t want to change my phone every year, I’m quite happy to keep using my phone until it properly conks out. But part of that is that to have ongoing maintenance or care for those objects, and you know those kind of choices rather than being forced into someone else’s timeline, which you can almost guarantee it’s not for your good, not for community good not for planetary good, you know, it’s money up and choices out.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s a really interesting, it taps into something that Kate Fletcher talks about, which is the craft of use.  This idea that we’ve we’ve kind of focused all our efforts on what happens before somebody buys something, but actually, let’s look at you know, the, all the stuff that happens afterwards, and the ways in which that object changes and we can sort of put life into it and add stories to it. And it’s a fascinating area of study almost makes me wish I was doing a Master’s again, not quite. Talking of study, you were in the midst of a PhD when I met you and your also artist in residence at the V&A. And again, at risk of asking you to summarise many years work in a pithy answer. Tell us a little bit about the work that you were undertaking, sort of for your PhD and as the residency at the V&A?

Bridget Harvey 

Yeah, so my PhD now finished. Yeah, so that was about repair, repair making is what I called it. Repair making, craft narratives and activism. And I think we’ve already just spoken a bit about the activism element of it. The narratives bit is really about those sort of interactive stories we’ve spoken about this as well. You know, how we engage with our objects, what those objects mean to us, what we choose to repair, what we don’t choose to repair.  You know when the damage actually tells more important a story than the repair might, you know, restored object might. And I kind of came at all of that through this idea of repair being a credible craft practice, actually, and part of embedded in all craft practices, but in a funny kind of way, also an independent practice. And so I was exploring it, it was a practice based PhD. And so I was exploring it through, you know, learning, lots of different mending techniques, trying out lots of different materials, but also through hosting other people who would facilitate workshops around repair, through either giving talks and, and writing and curating and all of those sorts of things that kind of spread that discourse out. So my making practice was very much expanded beyond me sitting in my studio, fiddling away with things. And it was a really valuable piece of research, I think, for me personally, but also, everything that I’ve published from it I’ve published without a paywall, you know, so it’s out there for people to see. And I think that’s a research in this country often has a sort of financial banding to it in that you’re either being paid to do a piece of research, which is for a specific company, and therefore it kind of needs to be kept quiet, or it’s published, but it’s published in academic journals, which have got a high paywall or so and so forth. And I really wanted everything that I discovered to be out there Creative commons licence, you know, take it, build on it, make it bigger. And to me, that reflected the actual repair communities that I am a part of, and, you know, those kind of online communities, but also the in person communities, and it was really key for me too so if you fancy a 60,000 words, read it is on my website.

Katie Treggiden 

Amazing, I will put a link in the show notes for anybody looking can go and have a look.

Bridget Harvey 

But it also for me, it was an opportunity to really map a field that was expanding. So I started my PhD in 2013, but I actually started looking at repair as a craft the year before that. And I had this really kind of moment of sort of epiphany, where I suddenly realise that repair was this really key, but I was darning, a jumper and having conversations, and I just realised that it was this really key part of making, but it was actually really forgotten. And my work previous to that had been very much in a similar vein, like what are these undercurrent of making? What are these undercurrents of craft that we’re not really looking at, but they’re really important to it. And then I started to unpick it and see who else was doing what and I realised that there were all these little factions of people kind of starting to get interested in it. And this movement was brewing. And so for me, it was just this opportunity to kind of really look at that and kind of start putting those ideas together and putting some words to it and trying to I guess, say, Okay, so this guy is a leather worker in his studio, doing these things, what relationship does that have to that person who is campaigning and lobbying? And what are these kinds of areas of action that are going on? And there’s a lot and there’s more, and there’s more, and there’s more, and it’s still growing, and it’s still really exciting, which is an absolute joy, to be honest, because I didn’t want to get sick of it, and I’m not. And then for my V&A residency, so one of the things I couldn’t look out for my PhD just because the nature of having to focus was the relationship between repair and conservation. And so my residency at the V&A really allowed me nine luxurious months of diving deeply into that. And it was a really exciting time for me, because the V&A has got a huge Conservation Department, really masses of highly skilled, highly knowledgeable people behind the scenes caring for these objects. And, you know, as the museum, whether they call it the attic of the country or whatever, you know, they’ve got so many different objects, so many different materials, so many different techniques and so went in there. And there was just this huge amount of knowledge that I barely begun to scratch the surface of really, but it really showed me that I mean, they’re not the same, right repair and conservation are not the same. But there are a lot of ideas as a huge body of knowledge that out of the museum, repairers can learn from the sort of in the museum conservation fields. And it also gave me a real insight into that visible invisible dichotomy that is often presented in real time.

Katie Treggiden 

I remember you throwing me an amazing broken plate with staples across it.

Katie Treggiden 

Or if we’re, you know, equally at the other end of the spectrum, the people for whom a visible mend is not necessarily socially acceptable. You know having something between the two, I think, is really interesting. That’s something I’ve struggled with actually for a long time, so that that gives me some hope.  So talking of hope, final question what does the future holds for mending and repair and sustainability?

Bridget Harvey 

Yes so that, for example, that is a really interesting process that is used to fix ceramics. And they’re not staples in that kind of staple gun bang kind of way, they are two carefully drilled holes, and then as sort of tensioned piece of metal popped into place. But actually, for a long time, that was a conservation technique. If you had a broken ceramic, then it was kind of frowned upon, the staples were often removed by conservatives and plates, separate parts separated and put back together in different ways. And now, those staples if an object comes into the museum with staples in it, they’re sort of accepted as part of that objects narrative. And so they’re not removed, but they also don’t add new ones anymore. I mean, there are plenty of people working with staples as an aesthetic choice now and that’s really interesting. And there’s also in the Kingston Museum, there’s a really interesting jug, which is something like 287 pieces stapled, together, it’s beautiful. So, you know, that’s the kind of processional journey of sort of acceptable and done, unacceptable, taken away okay, actually part of that, like narrative of the piece. But there’s also, I mean, museums and conservatives are big into new technologies as well. So there’s lots of great say, digitally printed parts that have been used to restore objects within the collections. There’s you know 3D scanning going on, and those sorts of things. So there’s a real mixture of techniques, mixture of technologies that are embraced, and all in the name of caring for our objects. And, you know, so it’s still actually a huge area of fascination for me, I’m still doing a lot of research into that relationship. And I don’t think I’m going to run out of inspiration from you know, and so it was a really, yeah, it was a sort of very poetic nine months. The thing I was going to say, actually, that the visible and invisible element is they try not to hide conservation work, they try to make it subtle so it doesn’t disrupt your view of an object, but not to hide it. So it’s sort of, you know, the object is viewed as perfect with no life story as per sort of pure restoration, if you want, and, And that, to me was, again, very interesting with that visible, invisible, because actually, it starts to show you it as a scale rather than a split. And you start to think, okay, actually, I might not be able to mend this perfectly, but I don’t have to make it really in your face visible, you know, I can do it sort of subtly, or decoratively or, you know, with some other kind of like nuance compared to the original object and material. And that, I think, is a really interesting route to the accessibility of repair. For those of us who aren’t incredibly skilled makers who can do properly invisible repair work, or also if we’re working with objects that aren’t designed to be repaired.

Bridget Harvey 

Well I mean, obviously, in my blue sky, hope we all mend lots of things as much as we can and we only sort of only forced to get rid of them when they’re utterly broken, and then we can put them back into the circular economy of materials and processes. That’s my dream. In the kind of short term, I think we’re going to see a lot more discussion on the right to repair, it’s becoming more and more key. And it’s going to be interesting to see how the UK responds to EU legislations now that we are not part of the EU, you can see more and more repair movements springing up in different places, and using social media and so on to connect with each other, but also to connect with their kind of local communities. And I think you can start to see more designed in repairability and that’s really exciting to me, because it’s becoming a discussion within objects of a sort of standard price point rather than a very high end price point and that’s really important, I think, because most of us are, you know, on on a kind of IKEA budget, right? And so actually, that sort of high street conversation about repairability is really important because that’s how most of us shop and that is starting to come about and that’s really exciting to me. So I’m really like watching that develop. And then in my practice, you know, I’m still learning new techniques, I’m using new techniques and I’ve got exhibitions coming up, and so on and so forth. So that’s personally exciting.  And in my work as a tutor I’m just still nagging my students to design repairability into their things and to think about sustainability and their materials and so on and so forth and long may that continue.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you so much, Bridget, so many amazing insights in there it’s been an absolute joy.

Bridget Harvey 

Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a joy to talk to you, as always Katie.

Katie Treggiden 

If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review, and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand how the algorithm works, but I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast so that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram at @KatieTreggiden.1, you can subscribe to my email newsletter via a link in the show notes and if you’re a designer maker, you should really join my free Facebook group Making Design Circular. See you there. This episode was produced by Sasha Huff so thank you to Sasha and to October Communications for marketing and moral support,  to Camira for their sponsorship and to you for joining me. You’ve been listening to Circular with Katie Treggiden

Circular Podcast with Aya Haidar

I’m talking to Aya Haidar. As a self-described ‘mother, artist, and humanitarian,’ her creative practice focuses on found and recycled objects, through which she explores themes of loss, migration and memory. She has studied art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, The Slade School of Art – part of University College London – and School of the Art Institute of Chicago, before undertaking a Masters in Non-Governmental Organisations and Development at the London School of Economics and Politics Science. She has exhibited all over the world, with international solo and group shows in London, Berlin, Jeddah, Paris, Dubai and Turkey – as well as being involved in charity and social engagement projects.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is Circular, a podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to Thinkers, Doers and Makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take, make, waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

Aya Haidar 

I almost see my work as kind of layering on top of it. So I’m kind of layering on top a story on top of the material that already tells a story in itself. I did a whole series of embroideries onto shoes, old used shoes that called The Soleless Series, which were worn by refugees physically carry them across borders and across lands. And so these shoes are worn and torn and thrown at the end of the day, because they have no more use, and they literally cannot be used for that purpose anymore. And so on top of that, instead of throwing them away, I felt like there is another layer to that because these, you know, these are physically carried these people across these journeys. And for me to embroider the image of that journey, on top of it, I think reinforces the story really strongly. I think it adds it adds a layer to it,  itadds a layer to the context.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Aya Hadar was born in the United States of America into a Lebanese family and then lived in Saudi Arabia until she was six when she moved to London. She had a Muslim upbringing and a French education. She studied art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, the Slade School of Art which is part of University College London, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, before undertaking a Master’s in non governmental organisations and development at the London School of Economics. As a multimedia artist with a focus on found and recycled objects, she explores themes of loss, migration and memory. She’s exhibited all over the world with international solo and group shows in London, Berlin, Jeddah, Paris, Dubai and Turkey and she’s involved in charity and social engagement projects as well.

Katie Treggiden 

Thank you so much for joining me today. It’s so lovely to have the opportunity to talk to you about your work. I would love to start at the beginning and ask you a little bit about your childhood, and specifically about how mending and repair showed up in the early years of your life.

Aya Haidar 

I think what preceded all of that was pretty much I guess, my parents journey and what led to my childhood in a way because it informs so much of what happens later in a way. So my parents are Lebanese, they’re both Lebanese. And from 1975 to 1990, there was a civil war in Lebanon and that and in 1982, they left and they went to Jordan, they got married, and then they moved to Saudi Arabia, where they carried on living, I guess. My mother gave birth to me actually in the States, but very soon after, like a few months later, we moved back to Saudi Arabia. So I don’t have any memory of the States or anything like that. So for the first six years of my life, I lived in Saudi Arabia, and then my dad’s job relocated him to the UK, hence why we moved to the UK. We lived very close to where my grandmother lived, we lived down the road from her. And so my upbringing was very much between my mother and my grandmother. My father worked abroad a lot between Saudi Arabia and London, so obviously, you know, you know, they were happily married their whole lives, you know, up until my father passed away recently, but I want to say my formative years, my whole life was, was pretty much raised between my mother and my grandmother, by these two incredibly strong women. And that informs a lot of where I feel like my roots are in terms of not just mending, but craft, it’s so rooted in, well every single day after school, I would go to my grandmother’s house, and every weekend I would spend the whole weekend with her and I spent probably more time with her than I did my own parents but, and with her, I would just sit across the sitting room, across the you know, across the table from her while she knit and sewed and mended things. And she would just talk to me until and tell me stories and whether I was revising for homework or she was just telling me stories from her childhood and she was just the