DDW23: Isola Presents Nothing Happens If Nothing Happens (Design Milk)

The former Schellens Fabriek in Eindhoven became Something.bigger for Dutch Design Week 2023 – a creative hub for designers, artists, and makers as residents and host to Nothing Happens If Nothing Happens by the digital and physical design platform Isola. The exhibition showcased innovative biomaterials, circular products, and collectible design pieces.

The German designer behind the limewood and bouclette Big Marshmallow (Ottoman)Paul Ketz, claims that it suits any environment “from throne room to lounge area” and that the segmented shapes are like “a fountain of youth that seems to float gently around.” We’re not quite sure about any of that, but it does look super comfy and it certainly makes a statement!

In case you didn’t spot the visual reference or the clue in the name, Paperclip by Esmee Gruson was in fact inspired by the ubiquitous paperclip, “enlarged and deformed into a new absurd reality,” with the intention of questioning comfort, functionality, and the boxes into which we place things.

Deze Beams (“these beams”) originated from a collaboration between Plastiek Breda and Soeps Creative Collective. At their simplest, they are sustainably manufactured, recycled plastic beams with holes in them – together they can be used as a modular system to make almost anything, from seating to sleeping pods. “Together we build a creative ecosystem without limits to sustainable thinking and action,” says the team. “These are easy to use, encourage reuse, and therefore reduce the purchase of new materials and/or products.”

MESA is a side table handmade from 100% natural and biodegradable eucalyptus bark by the Portuguese multi-disciplinary design practice DUBLO Studio. Eucalyptus bark falls naturally from the tree and can be collected from the ground and, at the end of its life, the stool can be returned to the earth as compost. “This conceptual work is intended to show a field of application for plant materials in less complex products,” says the studio. “Properties of the material are lightness and stability and a long lifecycle, as it is reusable.”

As unlikely as it might sound, Groove by Rotterdam-based Cousins Design unites image making, improvisational music making, and ceramic production. “Using music I have composed and recorded, or images I have created (chiefly, analog photographs), I sought a way to express these as topographical ‘landscapes,’” says designer Wilem Cousins. “Using digital fabrication techniques, particularly 3D modeling and computer numerical control (‘CNC’) milling, I create plaster molds derived from these landscapes allowing me to transfer these detailed textures into the clay body.”

Paris-based designer Raphaël Pontais’ favorite material is metal – not the most comfortable choice for a chair, so he has paired brushed stainless steel with fabric and foam to create the Rooly pouf. The duality of materials and snug fit of the two pieces results in an oddly satisfying form.

Senimo is a carpenter and a designer who creates limited editions of collectible furniture, inspired by curved forms and using recycled materials. The Sharpei Stool is handmade in a small series from reclaimed or reused wood, wooden fibers bound with resin into medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and lacquer for the orange glossy finish.

X4 by Rotterdam-based Studio Verbaan is part of an ongoing series formed with a 3D-printed foundation that is then veneered by hand. “Attention is given to every detail, texture, and contour, imparting a unique and artistic character,” say co-founders Solange Frankort and Jordi Verbaan. “This artisanal process infuses a human touch into the technology, making the sculpture a masterpiece that reflects both advanced technology and human craftsmanship.”

RE-Puzzle is a space-saving furniture concept by Ukranian designer Solmazprimavera crafted from recycled materials. The modular system is made entirely from post-consumer materials like plastics, metals, fabrics, and OSB (oriented strand board) and is fully customizable to fit any space.

Dutch Circular Design describes itself as “a young Dutch design brand with a mission” and that mission is to raise awareness of the value of reusing materials. WasteCraft is part of their effort to do exactly that through such pieces as side tables in which the waste they are made from (in this case, bottle tops) is left deliberately visible in the end product. “Because this is the only way people can see, and therefore believe, that the circular economy is already happening,” they explain. “For us, this is more than just a style, it is a deeply felt mission to create a better world together.”

Weld Stool Recycled is a collaboration between Studio Joris de Groot and Gogo Plastics, demonstrating their research into applications for the latter’s recycled panels, and specifically, whether the panels would be both strong enough and flexible enough to be used for Studio Joris de Groot’s Weld Stool – the answer, after much testing and experimentation – is yes!

Photography by Katie Treggiden.

How dare we look to young people for hope? (STIR World)

The last time I visited Dutch Design Week was in 2015. I remember the Design Academy Eindhoven show in particular: it fizzed with possibility. “The problems of the world are so deep, so profound, that thinking of solutions will not help us,” said Thomas Widdershoven, the creative director at the time, in his welcome address. “If you narrow down a problem to solve it, then you have a narrow mind, and it will not be profound enough to come up with real alternatives. What I see my students do is sometimes clumsy, sometimes funny, sometimes nonsense, and sometimes spot on, but they address social issues.”

Eight years on, I can’t remember what the pressing issues of the day were, but I do remember graduate projects that included a light-hearted reflection on the social media-driven popularity of the monstera plant (by Daniela Treija and Sara Sturges), a Willy-Wonka-inspired reinvention of the popcorn maker (by Jolene Carlier), and Simone Post’s multi-layered, multi-coloured glass pendant lamps inspired by the drawings of a seven-year-old boy. Of course, there were also more serious projects addressing topics such as migration, unemployment and premature birth, but the tone—as Widdershoven indicated—was light. The projects did address the issues of the day, but they did so with a sense of optimism.

Why Don’t You Throw it Away by Blanche Vivet /// Image: Courtesy of Nicole Marnati
Our Beloved and Sacred Sun by Adam Bialek /// Image: Courtesy of Carlfried Verwaayen
Look Up With Me by Linting Min /// Image: Courtesy of Nicole Marnati
Feeling Flemish, Felting Flemish by Nell Maher /// Image: Courtesy of Femke Reijerman

The majority of this year’s BA graduates started at DAE in the autumn of 2019. COVID reached the Netherlands on February 27, 2020, when the country’s first case was confirmed in Tilburg. To date, almost seven million people have died worldwide. In May of the same year, 44-year-old white police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black American man, in Minneapolis, prompting a global reckoning with historical racism and police brutality. Within a year, 229 more Black people had been killed by the police in America.

In 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and irreversible ways and within a year, the oceans and 28 countries had all experienced their warmest year on record. Russia launched a military invasion of Ukraine in a steep escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, and there are currently major armed conflicts in seven separate parts of the world, including in Gaza where the death toll has already eclipsed that of Ukraine.

Machine by Myrna De Bruijn /// Image: Courtesy of Carlfried Verwaayen
Ensnared Identity by Yawen Cong /// Image: Courtesy of Femke Reijerman
Unearthed by Szymon Klejborowski /// Image: Courtesy of Nicole Marnati

In 2022, ‘Roe vs Wade,’ the 1973 landmark case after which abortion was made legal across the US, was overturned, and more than 60 countries have criminalised consensual same-sex activity. Still, more have laws and policies that threaten the very existence of members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Widdershoven described the world problems of 2015 as “so deep, so profound.” I am not sure what he would have to say about the issues this year’s DAE graduates have been grappling with, but their show felt anything but clumsy, funny or nonsense. Instead, there was a real sense of heaviness that feels hard to shake off even as I write this two weeks later.

After the Pyrocene by Nico Neves /// Image: Courtesy of Femke Reijerman
The Big Pile of Cardboard Boxes by Gabriel Richard /// Image: Courtesy of Ronals Smits

Nico Neves’ work, After the Pyrocene, was an imagined landscape of burnt trees—a ‘scorched forest made of digital textures’ to highlight the impact of digital technologies on our relationship with the natural world. The project draws on his own experience of having to watch his grandmother’s village in Portugal burn via his mobile phone and news footage. It aims to evoke ‘solastalgia’—the emotional distress caused by environmental change—in those who engage with it.

The Columns of Cardboard Boxes by Gabriel eszo Richard were totem-like piles of discarded cardboard boxes he had collected on the streets on Eindhoven and covered in black illustrations to depict ‘how much is experienced in daily life.’ With images that include grotesque faces piled on top of one another, trees grouped into dark forests and a person lying in bed, underlined eyes fully open, next to an alarm that has stopped ringing, the experience of walking among them was overwhelming to say the least.

Sonic Footprints by Louis Möckel /// Image: Courtesy of Nicole Marnati
The Intangible Performance by Marie King /// Image: Courtesy of Pierre Castignola

Audio projects such as Louis Möckel’s Sonic Footprints added to the feeling of claustrophobia and rising panic. He investigated the environmental impact of industrial sound emissions, treating them as ecological footprints. A mass-produced PVC toy dolphin affixed to a vinyl record playing recordings of all the sounds that had been generated during its manufacture and transportation demonstrated their disruption to ecological systems.

There were of course more optimistic projects and some brilliant ideas offering real alternatives, but many projects felt like an expression of very personal pain—a cry for help rather than an optimistic vision of the future.

With the rise of youth activism, and figures such as Greta Thunberg, Mikaela Loach and Clover Hogan gaining prominence, it can be tempting to think the next generation has taken on the challenge of resolving the problems we face, but as Thunberg said to world leaders at a UN Youth Summit in New York in 2019, “You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” I couldn’t help but hear her words echo around my mind as I walked around this show—a 44-year-old adult looking to the next generation for inspiration; for hope.

Staring at Empty Spaces by Lea Wurthmann /// Image: Courtesy of Ronald Smits
Crafts of Resistance by Daniela Tokashiki Kunigami /// Image: Courtesy of Pierre Castignola
The Prescription: A Consolation for Melancholic Souls by Alissa Guillouet /// Image: Courtesy of Carlfried Verwaayen
he Popping Sound of Bubble Wrap by Ilaria Cavaglia /// Image: Courtesy of Carlfried Verwaayen

Perhaps it’s about time we, as leaders in business, in government, in our own damn lives, started to take genuine action. Maybe it’s time the grown-ups offered some real alternatives and provide these young people with some hope rather than looking to them to fix the messes we have made.

Despair is not the soil in which creativity thrives. If we really want the help—and respect—of this emerging generation of designers, we need to take the pressure off a little, give them back the freedom to explore, to respond to the reality we have built for them in clumsy, funny, nonsense or serious ways. Perhaps some of them will show us the path to addressing social and environmental issues, but they should be free to do so without bearing the weight of the assumption that these are their problems to fix, when, if we are really honest with ourselves, we know they are ours.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of STIR or its Editors.)

Lucy Ralph Uses Visible Repairs to Promote the Longevity of Clothing (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

Repair specialist Lucy Ralph describes herself as “a future-focused designer who loves to experiment and play.” A recent graduate, she studied surface pattern and textiles at Swansea College of Art, and is now continuing her practice within fashion, exploring concepts of visible repair and reworking garments.

Tell me about your childhood, education, background, and how you first became interested in repair.

I think my mum should get the credit – she is a farmer, so is out working in all weathers and regularly catching her clothes on fences and things – she is quite a frugal lady, so will just patch them back up using scrap materials – either from other damaged clothing, or our old school t-shirts and pillow cases. So seeing that as I grew up forged my attitudes – I really never viewed anything as waste, always finding a second life for things, and instead of buying new, making things out of what I already had. This translated into my interest in fashion, and I began upcycling and reworking my existing clothing, which developed into my creative practice today as I learned about the impact the fashion industry has on the environment, driven by the quick turnaround of clothing, and how much is just sitting in landfill having barely been worn. Repair became my specific focus when I discovered the concept of visible repair, following an internship with Hiut Denim in West Wales, where I experimented with Sashiko embroidery. Even the phrase “visible repair” I find really lovely – I love that when you wear a visible repair, you’re not only extending the life of the garment, but you are promoting an alternative fashion future. It becomes a conversation-starter that can influence and inspire others.

What appeals to you about repairing existing objects versus creating something new?

You are putting your imprint on the item and, with clothing especially, there is a big disconnect emotionally as we no longer see the value in it and how it’s made, so we heartlessly dispose of it or lose interest in it so quickly. When you repair clothing to add to its story, and it becomes a richer item you are more emotionally connected to.

There are many words for repair with slight nuances in their meaning – mending, fixing, hacking, restoring, repurposing… which do you prefer in relation to your work and why?

I say “repurposing” because nowadays many people dispose of their clothing before it’s even worn enough to become damaged so, through repurposing the item, you are (hopefully) repairing the relationship between the clothing and the wearer. I think it also depends on who your audience is, because there are some items of clothing that are really loved for how they first existed, so an invisible “fix” would be required, likewise with workwear..

How would you describe this project or body of work?

Playful, experimental, and hopeful.

What is the inspiration behind it – where did the idea come from?

It came from me recognizing my responsibility as a designer to, not only lower the impact of the pieces I was creating, but to also educate and facilitate change through connecting with consumers, so they are able to lower the impact, with the idea of visible repair being a conversation starter, as well as something to be taught in workshops. At the Green Grads hub in Heals during the London Design Festival recently, I collaborated with fellow Green Grad Lucianne Canavan, to host a repair and patchwork workshop, with an outcome of “The Green Jean” which was a second-hand pair of jeans adorned in patches made from scrap materials, by participants in the workshop.

Which repair techniques are you using and why? 

Sashiko, because it’s simple but beautiful, and also because the history behind it connected to the ideas of visible repair, and seeing the value in our clothing. And patchwork because it is a good way of highlighting that even the smallest of scrap fabrics can be utilized, and not thrown away. I also love to create collages, so I view patchwork as a sort of textile collage, and therefore a way to put art on your clothing – or make the clothing into art.

How did you learn the techniques you use in your work?

Practice and experimentation, but also from books, online, and in workshops – Restoration London do some great ones.

How do your repairs change the function or story of the object?

You can transform your clothing however you like with repairs, you can make it more jazzy, or keep it smart. One of my lecturers informed me of the word “palimpsest” – something that has been reused or altered but still bears visible traces of its earlier form – when repaired clothing becomes a palimpsest, it adds layers of richness and value and it becomes a conversation-starter.

How visible or invisible is the repair and why is that important?

I like to work with visible repairs, mainly because I recognize that people lose interest in their clothing before it has even become damaged, and are always seeking newness – through visible repairs, you can create novelty, and communicate the idea that clothing is non-disposable, and we should be utilizing what we’ve already got.

How have people reacted to this project or body of work? 

Really positively! I’ve been told by a few people that it’s good to see a more contemporary “designed” approach to repair and patchwork and that it’s not just tartan squares, opening people’s eyes to what it is and can be.

How do you feel opinions towards mending and repair are changing?

I start thinking that they are really changing in a positive direction, but then I realize that I’m mainly surrounded by people with similar mindsets to my own, and outside of my bubble it is business as usual. I think it is going to take a lot more noise, but also for bigger businesses and designers to start exploring concepts of repair and repurposing, and collaborating with consumers to facilitate it.

What do you think the future holds for repair?

I think we will get there eventually – sustainability is already the buzzword of the moment, with circularity starting to gain traction as well, but it’s going to require big businesses to really adapt and make honest changes. As people begin to explore circularity more, it is really going to breed innovation and great design, which is really exciting – starting to see “haute repair” on the runway would be sick!

You can find out more about Lucy Ralph and her work here

The design industry needs to let go of its obsession with the new (Deezen)

“What’s new?” is often the first question a journalist asks of a design brand when stepping onto their stand at a trade show or beginning an interview.

Annual stylistic tweaks have driven unnecessary upgrades to cars since the concept was introduced by General Motors in 1923. The emergence of pre-packaged food and disposable drinks bottles in the mid-20th century enabled people to buy instead of make, replace instead of repair, and reclassify objects and materials as waste, rather than holding on to them as resources. This made ordinary people feel rich, fuelling an insatiable desire for the new.

There has already been a real shift towards designers using waste or “second-life” materials

In her 1999 book Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, Susan Strasser coined the term “the veneration of newness”. It is a phenomenon that emerged in 1950s America, ushering in the throwaway culture that came to define the second half of the 20th century and continues today with fast fashion, fast furniture and even fast tech.

It’s time for change. The design industry needs to let go of its obsession with the new and instead start venerating the patina of age, and lead the transition to a circular economy.

The second tenet of the circular economy, as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is to “keep materials and objects in use”. There has already been a real shift towards designers using waste or “second-life” materials and talk of “design for disassembly”. We’ve started to get our heads around the idea of keeping materials in use, but what about the objects themselves?

Fashion might have led the design industry towards “fast furniture”, but it’s also leading the way back towards repair. British brand Toast now employs as many repair specialists as it does designers, and not only offers clothes-swapping events and repair services, but also Toast Renewed – a collection of repaired clothes and home accessories.

The pieces cost more than their original RRP, adding value to stock that would have once been destined for outlet stores and demonstrating a business model for repair. “As a matter of integrity, brands have a responsibility to incorporate repair, rental or resale into their business models,” said Toast’s Madeleine Michell. “These steps come with challenges, but they are essential for a transition towards a more circular system.”

We need to start questioning whether new products and furniture are always the answer

Raeburn is another fashion brand built on circular principles. It was launched in 2009 with a collection of eight garments made from a single pilot’s parachute and has continued the themes of reuse and repair to this day. “It’s apparent that repair and mending is becoming part of the mainstream again,” founder Christopher Raeburn told me. “I’d like to think that the future will see repair celebrated as it used to be, but it’s also important that this comes in tandem with better product design.”

A handful of product and furniture brands are starting to take note. TAKT launched Spoke (pictured), a sofa that is designed for repair, during Copenhagen’s 3 Days of Design in June. “The change we need is to design products that have exposed, visible fixings that can be operated with simple, accessible tools – if tools are required at all,” said its designer Tørbjorn Anderssen. “We need to ensure that recyclable mono-materials are used wherever possible and we need to provide customers with spare parts that extend the life of products.”

If design is about solving problems, perhaps we need to start questioning whether new products and furniture are always the answer. “We don’t make lights, we find them” is the strapline of Skinflint – a certified B Corp that has saved more than 50,000 vintage lights from landfill.

The brand salvages lamps from the 1920s to the 1970s, restores them to modern safety standards and then offers a lifetime guarantee, repair service and buy-back scheme. “We’ve demonstrated that a fully circular approach to lighting is absolutely possible,” said founder Chris Miller. “And we hope that other leaders in the industry will follow suit, bringing change to the sector as a whole.”

If we can stop asking “what’s new?” and instead celebrate what isn’t, perhaps we can let go of a 20th-century model that is no longer serving us, and lead the way in the transition to a circular economy.

Katie Treggiden is the founder and director of Making Design Circular, a membership community and online-learning platform for sustainable designers and makers, and the author of Broken: Mending and Repair in a Throwaway World (Ludion, 2023).

The photography is by Claudia Vega.

If you care, then repair – Design Anthology UK, Issue 15

There are a few moments in history to where you can trace the explosion of our single-use society. A New York industry event in 1950, when American clothing retailer B. Earl Puckett announced that “utility cannot be the foundation of a prosperous apparel industry. We must accelerate obsolescence.” Five years later, the cover of Life magazine depicted a family throwing plastic into the air with glee, under the headline “Throwaway Living”. And a comment that was made in 1956 that plastic’s future was “in the garbage can” (requoted in the 1997 book American Plastic: A Cultural History) – referring to the fact its profit lay not in the durability for which it was engineered, but in its disposability.

Today, fashion is fast, disposability is the norm and it is often easier to replace than repair. But we are starting to understand that this “take-make-waste” approach is not sustainable on a finite planet. We are running out of raw materials to take from the earth, generating too much carbon, making more and more stuff, and running out of space to safely dispose of our waste. We need to move towards a circular economy; one in which (as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation) we design out waste and pollution, keep materials and objects in use, and regenerate natural systems. It is just possible that we are witnessing the moments in history at which that is starting to happen.

Venice’s Architecture Biennale in May was criticised by Zaha Hadid Architects principal Patrik Schumacher for not showing enough architecture. He drew particular attention to the German Pavilion, which he described as full of “piles of construction material”. But
perhaps he missed the point. The event, curated by Lesley Lokko, was lauded by other visitors for being the first major design and architecture event to take on some of the world’s biggest problems. And the German Pavilion? A material bank for Venice repair projects to “keep materials and objects in use”.

It’s not only architects who are putting repair at the heart of their thinking. British lighting company Anglepoise now offers a lifetime guarantee on new lamps and a repair service for vintage models. “We have for many years been sold products that are designed to fail at some point, while also being sold the ridiculous notion that something is better replaced in its entirety than repaired,” says chairman Simon Terry. “The design industry is distracting itself by moving the conversation towards recyclable or recycled materials but, of course, that isn’t enough. It needs to broaden its scope and stop churning out new things for the sake of it.”

Danish furniture company Takt is doing just that. Its first sofa, Spoke – launched in June – is designed to be repaired at home. “I hope we are part of a repair movement,” says Takt’s founder and CEO Henrik Taudorf Lorensen. “Besides the environmental benefits of extending the lifespan of products, our customers have become emotionally attached to the furniture that they have repaired.”

When people repair their own objects, whether it’s a sofa, a lamp or the knee of a child’s trouser leg, they don’t only increase the functional and emotional durability of that object, they also reclaim their own power. They start to ask questions about a system that has such little respect for the finite materials we have taken out of the earth and the labour that has shaped them into the objects we use every day.

Lebanese-British artist Aya Haidar creates installations that highlight the hidden labour of care and repair. “The personal agency that comes with repair goes against consumerism and represents a challenge to a broken system,” she says. “If there’s going to be any sustainable long-term change, everyone needs to take into account this responsibility and negotiate a bit of personal agency for themselves.” Perhaps that’s why repair is really important. It represents not only one practical solution to the environmental crisis, but a shift in mindset, a growing desire to challenge the systems that make fashion fast, disposability the norm and a broken object easier to replace than repair. I really hope we will look back on moments like the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale as more than “piles of construction material” but as a physical marker of the moment when the circular economy really started to gather pace.

Image credit: Yeshen Venema Photography

This article was written for Design Anthology UK, Issue 15 published in September 2023.

We need a genuine restart that asks difficult questions about the role of Salone (Deezen)

Milan design week is an opportunity to showcase ingenious responses to climate change but the Salone del Mobile fair it relies on is still inherently unsustainable, writes Katie Treggiden.

Salone del Mobile is back in its usual April slot and Milan design week 2023 is being touted as a new beginning after the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Having consulted with 2,300 interviewees and working groups on the fair’s role post-covid, Salone is promising “a new trade-fair experience, an impactful cultural program, [and] an event that focuses on sustainability”.

Stands will be laid over the lower floor of the Rho Fiera Milano fairgrounds only, rather than on both as in previous years, and the lighting show Euroluce will get a new “ring-shaped” layout. There is an attempt to fold the cultural heart of Milan design week into the fair itself with exhibitions, talks, workshops and installations. And finally, there is a renewed commitment to sustainability.

The first two seem inward-looking at best, but after the pandemic all but shut down the industry, a fresh start with sustainability at its heart feels appropriate. That part of the promise comes in the form of a new Sustainability Policy and Green Guidelines, membership of the UN Global Compact, and pending ISO 20121 certification.

The Green Guidelines ask exhibitors to be “team players” in the fair’s attempts to become more eco-friendly, promoting circularity and reuse in installation, low-impact materials, safety and access for all, a traceable and responsible supply chain, and clear communication of their efforts. If there are any consequences to not being a “team player”, these are not specified.

The phrases “cutting down”,”prioritising” and “opting for” are repeated throughout the document, which rather loosely incentivises action with the notion that “sustainability represents a new opportunity for growth”.

But we know that reducing impact while pursuing growth is rarely an effective strategy in environmentalism. To really address climate change, we need a genuine moment of restart – one that asks difficult questions about the role of Salone instead of seeking ways to perpetuate business as usual. It is no longer enough to do less harm, we must actively find ways to regenerate natural systems and build a path towards global equity.

This year’s edition of Salone del Mobile will draw 1,962 exhibitors from all over the world with countless product, furniture and stand components that cost a lot of carbon to move, let alone make. Typically, the fair attracts more than 370,000 specialist visitors from more than 188 countries, 5,000 journalists, and 27,500 members of the public. That’s a lot of air miles.

And yet, Milan design week is also the world’s largest showcase of the types of design innovation that the planet does need. At Salone Satellite last year, Disharee Mathur demonstrated her Passive Cooling Tiles, which are made from waste glass and sanitaryware and absorb ambient moisture to prevent buildings from overheating – a climate-positive solution to fight the effects of global warming.

At Milan flagship show Alcova, Estuary of Riptide and Reunion by Forêt Atelier revealed the hidden flora in the waters of the Oosterschelde in the Netherlands and explored their potential for capturing carbon, reducing the methane emissions from cattle, and providing biodiverse habitats.

And Studio Swine’s waste-free exhibition for the American Hardwood Export Council at the triennale showcased the potential for renewable hardwoods, called for balance in the way we use natural materials and underlined the need to “address the greatest social and economic issue of our time: climate change”.

My hopes this year for Milan design week are, as always, that what I see will fill me with optimism. New ideas from bright, young designers more concerned with solving the world’s problems than designing the next bestseller; material innovations that might finally free us from the linear take-make-waste model; and brands that are not just doing less harm but genuinely working for the benefit of people and planet.

Increasingly, however, my greatest fear is that none of what’s good about Milan can exist without the very problems it is trying to solve. The temples to consumerism filled with the same products in new colourways that consign their perfectly good predecessors to landfill, the hundreds of thousands of visitors flying in for just a few days, the rife capitalism that makes even the most culturally important events possible.

I’m only one of 5,000 journalists, but will what I see in Milan – and any good that I can do a result – really offset my own contribution to the carbon footprint of this whole endeavour? I don’t have an easy answer.

Milan design week is the biggest showcase of design in the world, and if it’s not exploring creative solutions to the world’s biggest problems, then I’m not sure what it is doing. But as trendy as it has become to tell anyone who will listen that you “don’t bother with the fair anymore”, Salone is the reason all of this is here.

We can’t walk around the city, gelato in hand, and pretend that almost 2,000 international brands haven’t shipped or air-freighted their wares into the Rho Fiera Milano fairgrounds. And we can’t pretend that isn’t what makes this entire endeavour possible. Salone is the sun around which the rest of Milan design week orbits. And without the sun, there is no life.

As with so much of the climate debate, there are no perfect solutions. No amount of “cutting down” or “opting for” is going to fix this. “Better than before” is still pretty bad.

But for all the hyperbole undoubtedly attached to this so-called “restart”, and despite sidestepping existential questions that might enable meaningful change, I am still daring to be hopeful about Salone. I don’t believe it has got the balance right yet, but at least it has its eyes on the scales.

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.

Milan design week 2023

Milan design week 2023 takes place from 17-23 April 2022. See our Milan design week 2023 guide on Dezeen Events Guide for information about the many other exhibitions, installations and talks taking place throughout the week.

Viewpoint Colour – The Healing Issue

Turbulent times continue to exact a heavy toll on both people and planet, as the world attempts to tackle the climate emergency, the ongoing collapse in biodiversity, social unrest and war, and economic crises. Faced with this unprecedented combination, how do we heal the Earth? The place to start is by healing ourselves and our communities.

‘Self-care’ is starting to gain traction as an act of resistance and collective kindness, informed by changing belief systems. People are looking for reassurance in something bigger than themselves, turning to ancestral practices, albeit often delivered digitally. This is leading to a deeper appreciation for the ways in which mind and body and the natural world are connected – and better conversations about all humans, not just the privileged few, being part of the natural world, rather than above or outside it. This reconnection to nature also challenges accepted norms within ecological thinking. Understanding our own biological cycles and nature’s rhythms is bringing about a shift from ‘sustainability’ to ‘regeneration’ and a desire for a ‘flourishing’ planet.  

Self-care is starting to gain traction as an act of resistance and collective kindness, informed by changing belief systems. People are seeking reassurance in concepts bigger than themselves, turning to ancestral practices and ancient wisdom. This is leading to a deeper appreciation of the ways in which mind and body and the natural world are connected – and better conversations about all humans, not just the privileged few, being part of the natural world, rather than above or outside it. We explore this further in our Industry Insight feature, which introduces pioneers who are starting to make mental wellness available to all.

This reconnection to nature also challenges accepted norms within ecological thinking. Understanding our own biological cycles
and nature’s rhythms is helping us understand that aiming at sustainability is no longer enough: we need to turn to practices that
enable regeneration and a planet that can flourish and re-grow.

In the Mind, Body, and Soul issue, we explore the roles of art, design, technology, and creativity in cultivating nurturing, regenerative,
and nourishing environments that heal souls, minds, bodies, communities – and, moving outwards from our innermost selves to our wider surroundings, ultimately heal the planet.

Soul

“I incorporate spiritual practices into my work-life, using a tarot deck to help decision-making, casting spells for success, and calling on deities to guide me,” says Annie Ridout, the author of upcoming book Raise your SQ.

She is not alone.

SQ refers to spiritual intelligence, and Ridout believes spirituality, magic, and what Generation Z refers to as “woo” are becoming more mainstream as we search for “more connection and magic in our lives.” Platforms such as New Mystic, popular with Gen Zers, combine magic with technology, bringing folklore, Indigenous knowledge, plant healing, and psychedelics together with non-human intelligence and artificial intelligence, curated by artists, and delivered digitally. Kate Northrup, the author of Do Less, advises
businesswomen to plan around menstrual cycles or moon phases – and millions check astrologer Chani Nicholas’s eponymous app daily.

Witchcraft or wiccecrœft once simply meant rituals of natural cure, herbal remedy, and spiritual wellbeing, usually performed by women. They clashed with Christian, patriarchal and capitalist belief systems, and were othered and subjugated, in a long
history traced by archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands in his book Cræft – An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts. Their resurgence can be seen as a feminist reclamation. “To be a witch is to embody defiance
and rebellion against the injustice that masculine systems have created,” Tina Gong, the developer behind tarot app Golden Thread, told Dazed Digital.

As the role of these “masculine systems” – and the resulting marginalisation of Indigenous knowledge – is recognised in the biodiversity crisis, Western environmentalists are looking towards older ways of connecting with nature.

“The word animism refers to something so commonplace … in Indigenous cultures, that most don’t even have a word for it,” says author and mystic Toko-pa Turner in her book Belonging. “It is the foundational belief that … all things are imbued with a soul.” And
it is harder to exploit something with a soul. Spiritual ecology is an emerging field that recognises this spiritual facet to conservation. Online communities such as the Spiritual Ecology Study Club offer teachings on the subject with the aim of “reuniting people, the living world and the sacred.

Mind 

Research has long shown that nature is good for our mental health, and new evidence suggests that the quality of our relationship to nature is important – “connectedness” is what we’re aiming for, according to a 2021 report by the UK Mental Health Foundation. “Setting aside one minute a day to pay attention to your breath and remember that we give plants carbon dioxide with each exhale and in return they give us oxygen helps us remember that we are children of Earth’s ecosystem,” says somatic coach Tamu Thomas

The Mental Health Foundation report also found that for women, people of colour, and those with disabilities, “nature spaces may feel inaccessible or less enjoyable because they are not safe.” Apps such as Spoke democratise access to mindfulness support, while The Breathing App and Open similarly offer meditation at the touch of a button – accessible technology, as well as nature, can help people find peace.

Others are turning to the judicious use of microdosing. While psilocybin remains illegal in many countries, various research papers have found it effective in reducing anxiety and depression – and improving mood and focus for some users. Those seeking to experiment are turning to psychoactives such as those offered by Gwella, which draws on mushroom-derived psychedelics, or PLANT, a dispensary whose name is an acronym for Peace, Love and Natural Things. And for 100% legal alternatives, there are digital offerings that promise similar effects; for example, The Dream Machine, by Collective Act, uses music and light to mimic hallucinogens – participants each “see” something different behind their own closed eyes.

Body 

Today’s self-care practices encompass natural ingredients once considered “alternative” and comprise a more holistic, ritualised experience for body and mind. Inspired by traditional Chinese medicine, Herbar has released a mushroom based face oil for “skinimalists”, and skincare and fragrance brand Haeckels packages seaweed to bathe with. Biomaterial specialist Rosie Broadhead’s undergarments promise the bioactive therapeutic effects of seaweed, as people pay more attention to what is absorbed into the biggest organ of their body – their skin. Our Wearable Wellbeing feature explores Broadhead’s work, alongside that of other innovators
delivering wellbeing benefits via the skin

The exclusion of historically marginalised groups extends to bodily healing too. Youth practitioner Ebinehita Iyere, the founder of Milk Honey Bees, a healing and empowerment space for Black girls, told Dazed Digital: “We have to hone in to inclusive wellness practices that celebrate us.” Such products include Liha Beauty’s Oju Omi Cleansing Mud and the brand’s Gold Shea Butter. Shea butter is called women’s gold in west Africa, co-founder Liha Okunniwa told Planet Woo, “because you can use it for absolutely everything and it’s helped so many women in cooperatives achieve financial independence.”  

Movement is also a key part of caring for our bodies; while sports provide physical fitness, practices such as contemporary dance therapy and yoga offer an emotional workout too, particularly when fully explored. Of the eight limbs of yoga, most white Westerners practice just a few – asana (the postures) and perhaps pranayama (breathing) and dhyana (meditation), unaware of its moral and spiritual dimensions, and there have been conversations around cultural appropriation of yoga. In our Industry Insight piece, we profile yoga teacher Nadia Gilani, who champions access to all.

Community 

Writer Alicia A. Wallace argues that we can’t fully meet the needs of our souls, minds, or bodies on our own, and that caring for one another creates a much-needed sense of belonging. “It reminds us that we weren’t meant to walk these paths alone, but to learn
from and care for one another as we find better ways to live together,” she writes on Healthline.com.

Coming together outdoors is one of the ways we can do just that. Wild Awake runs outdoor camps and experiences such as stargazing, seaweed foraging, and forest bathing, centred on care for the environment and each other. “Wild Awake is all about developing a deeper relationship with the Earth, because that not only motivates one to fight for it and to care for it, but it also gives one that sense of belonging, which is deeply and radically healing,” says Shasha Du, the San Francisco nonprofit’s co-founder and creative director.

Community cohesion doesn’t have to be that adventurous; it can be cultivated closer to home. In São Paulo, home gardeners created the Horta das Corujas (Garden of Owls) to democratise public spaces and overcome barriers to social integration. Derek Haynes from North Carolina, whose Instagram handle is The Chocolate Botanist, told the Guardian: “Black folks gardening is … a radical act. We are returning to a connection to the land that was snatched away from us by hatred and racism.” In many southern states of the United States, public access to unfenced land – and therefore foraging – has been illegal since the mid 19th century, when enslaved people were emancipated, so the rise of community gardens and foraging among their descendants is a form of activism.

Supporting young people is a key part of bringing communities together. Amsterdam-based Comfy Community describes itself a “nomadic community centre” that works with creative young adults to provide events, workshops, and “uplifting content”. Self-discovery coach Calypso Barnum-Bobb focuses on “helping people to discover and express their personal power so they can create lives filled with freedom, fulfilment and abundance.” DJ and broadcaster Vanessa Maria, as well as sharing her love for underground UK music, hosts a music and mental health related podcast and documentary series, Don’t Keep Hush, sparking discussion around music and mental health. 

Planet 

As humans and communities, if we understand that we must do more than simply survive, we need to thrive, then surely sustainability” is not enough for the planet either. Even initiatives such as Earth Overshoot Day – the date each year when humanity exhausts the resources that Earth can regenerate during a year – position the planet as a resource, rather than a living ecosystem that deserves to thrive. “Regeneration goes beyond sustainability and mitigating harm, to actively restoring and nurturing, creating conditions where ecosystems, economies, and people can flourish,” as the Regeneration Rising report by brand consultancy Wunderman Thompson points out. “Flourish” is the operative word. Speaking at the September 2022 Zero Waste Conference in Vancouver, Michael Pawlyn, expert in regenerative design and biomimicry, and co-author of a book by the same name, called for humans to “co-evolve with nature, while recognising our role in the partnership.”

How does that role look? Environmentalist Paul Hawken assessed a multitude of climate solutions as part of Project Drawdown and told National Geographic that regenerative agriculture practices are “by far the single greatest solution to the climate crisis.” In his book English Pastoral, farmer James Rebanks, who offers regenerative farming courses, says that what he calls “benign inefficiency or good stewardship” means that “farms can allow a great many wild things to live in and around them.” The Wildfarmed project in the UK and France works with farmers to help them embrace regenerative practices that improve wheat quality, soil quality, and ecosystems.

In the Brazilian Amazon region, the lab.sonora residency, mediated by curators, ecologists, and Indigenous leaders, offers an artistic immersion in communities and environmental reserves. Its parent organisation, Labverde, aims to foster new ways of existence and interaction with the environment, and new approaches to maintaining fragile ecosystems; lab.sonora focuses on building a new soundscape for the Amazon. And the Krater collective in Ljubljana, Slovenia, hosts a thriving and diverse community of eco-social practitioners – read more about Krater in this edition’s Talent profiles.

If young people – from farmers to designers – are leading the charge, what does this mean for bigger brands and businesses? Is it enough for them to sell the outcomes of regenerative practices, or does the capitalist model itself need a regenerative rethink?

Having founded 1% for the Planet – an initiative in which companies donate 1% of their turnover to environmental causes – founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, recently announced that (almost) 100% of his company’s shares will be invested in fighting the climate crisis – a move company chair Charles Conn called ‘the future of business.’ Publicly listed companies are legally obliged to serve shareholder’s ‘best interests’ – often interpreted as profit. B Corp is trying to change this. Certification requires creates a legal obligation for directors to consider the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, in their decisions – to consider people and planet alongside profit. And the Boardroom 2030 model calls for those stakeholders to be represented at the highest level, whether
they are young people, employees, representatives from marginalised groups, members of the local community or even advocates for the more-than-human world.

If we’re going to co-create a flourishing planet, we need business models that enable souls, minds, bodies and communities to thrive.

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.

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.’

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