At the beginning of 2017, IDEO launched a website meant to serve as a guide and resource for designers hoping to support the "circular economy", or, the idea that designers and industries should imbue in their design consciousness the need to create products that may continually be used and recycled. Examples that IDEO use as ideal system models are the recent material trend of creating products using mycelium and Patagonia's "repair and refurbish" services, which allow customers to essentially own a piece of clothing as long as they'd like. Although it's a concept that been around for decades (refer also to Cradle to Cradle), it's certainly gaining relevance as designers, brands and manufacturers increasingly realize the importance of their direct involvement in the sustainability movement if change is to happen.
In accord with this growing sustainability design initiative, Danish materials company Really announced in March that textiles giant Kvadrat had acquired 52% stake of their operation. A sustainable materials company founded by Wickie Meier Engström, Klaus Samsøe and Ole Smedegaard in 2013, Really is a company that recycles wool and cotton from the fashion and textile industries to create entirely new materials. Their debut collection of solid boards created from these textiles, which will debut in Milan, will be presented in pretty impeccable fashion thanks for Kvadrat's commission for Max Lamb and Christien Meindertsma to interpret the material for the occasion.
Although the details pre-reveal are blurry, Meindertsma's book project for the brand seems to break down the composite material being debuted at Salone. Known for her academic dives into the origins of materials, particularly her book that details how pigs parts are utilized in a vast number of consumer products, Meindertsma's Really book aims to highlight the textiles that come together to a make a single sample of the sustainable material. According to Really's press release, the process of creating the boards involves milling each textile into minuscule fibers and mixing them with a special binder that "does not involve the use of dyes, water or toxic chemicals and generates only recyclable waste." They also claim that this material can be used as a structural substitute for woods and composites in both furniture and architecture.
To show what the material was capable of, Really and Kvadrat recruited designer and material enthusiast Max Lamb to create several benches using their new material. Prior to building, Lamb produced a number of compelling material experiments with a CNC to see how the textile board pieces could connect, bend, flex, and form in order to create a piece of furniture. The pieces are, unsurprisingly, thoughtfully designed, creating a look that suggests an airiness akin to foam core while allegedly being quite structurally sound.
Lamb proves to be a wise choice for the debut of this progressive new material, as he's a designer who not only embraces new materials but also makes best of their sometimes raw nature—for example, the closeup of the lattice bench reveals several un-sanded edges. This detail hints to me that the material might be one that requires a delicate handle during build, perhaps something best suited for CNC milling. That said, the material in final form does reflect a beautiful matte tone that I could easily see being used time and time again in high-end furniture—though the question remains how durable the material will be over time.
Questions aside, Kvadrat and Really's contribution to the circular economy, creating objects that derive from previously consumed products, is a step in the right direction as it speaks to a pressing issue in the conscious design community—how do we make best of waste and refurbish it to create something lasting that people will hope to hold onto for years to come?
The launch of Really's debut collection of Solid Textile Board takes place Tuesday, April 4th and will run til the 9th at Project B on Via P. Maroncelli 7 in Milan.
On Wednesday, April 5, designers Max Lamb and Christien Meindertsma will take part in a panel discussion surrounding the topic of circular economy.
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