It's easy to make a good-looking tech accessory. But creating something that has the looks, a semi-secret—yet intuitive—functionality, turns waste scraps into something beautifully functional and whose name is inspired by the ever-motivational Buckminster Fuller? Not so simple. "Call me trimtab" is the famous Fuller line that got grad students Mansi Gupta and Cassandra Michel talking. The word in question, which became the duo's product name, refers to a tiny surface on the end of a ship's rudder that manages the direction of the ship. The tiniest of pressures can send it sailing a different direction. The term also can describe an individual whose small changes lead to a big impact, which is spot-on for Gupta and Michel. The two students, less than a month out from graduating SVA's Products of Design program, met in a Business Structures class where they took on a sustainable design project that was to become TRMTAB.
It's the perfect moniker for two reasons: 1.) The entire design is based around a tab that pulls your tech up and out of its holder with a simple yank; and 2.) The materials that make up the accessories are all waste products from Gupta's family factory—decades-old Prachi Leathers.
Growing up seeing Prachi at work, Gupta's intention was always to make something from the scraps the factory produced—which is the reason she found herself in the Products of Design program. "Mansi came to design school to find ways of creating social impact projects that stem from Prachi," Michel says. "The upcycling initiative is her first attempt. But now that the upcycling process has been iterated on, she's even excited to take TRMTAB to help neighboring factories with their waste and offcuts."
Each run at Prachi Leathers turns over 4,000 pounds of scraps. Instead of thinking in terms of product quantity, Gupta and Michel are looking at creating their project on the scale of one run's waste at a time, starting with some good old crowdfunding. Check out their video for more information on how they're turning all of that excess leather into TRMTABs:
Tech accessories weren't their go-to idea when it came to utilizing the leather scraps. "We looked at a range of products, because Prachi Leathers has been making leather goods for years," the team says. "We prototyped some bracelets, and even thought of making Huaraches (a product we might come back to!), but we landed on tech accessories because it was the first time the factory was working with the offcuts. The offcuts are in different shapes and sizes, so to secure a successful upcycling process, we decided to make simple products first."
Despite the simplicity promised with a basic iPhone or laptop case, it took nine iterations to nail the tab design and function. "Because we were working with different device sizes, each case required different specs to make sure the tab was functional," they say. "The expertise of the craftspeople in the factory was extremely helpful here."
Buy into TRMTAB and you'll have a one-of-a-kind product with a story. But it's more than just a tale of sustainable production—it's an ode to the things that can be accomplished while still attending school, if you use your time (and classes) to their full potential. Students, take note: "There were so many moments in this process where we were challenged and not sure if we were making the right decisions," the duo says. "But, we realized that we had to trust our intuition and keep moving forward. School is a great place to explore dream projects that could turn into reality, and we're so glad that we used the opportunity see if TRMTAB could be real."
If this sounds like your kind of project, visit the team on Kickstarter.
Erika is the editorial assistant at Core77. When she isn't covering design, you can find her writing about music, food, and healthy living habits. But mostly music. She also has a strong affinity for hedgehogs, bowling, and bands with goofy names.