As a student at Central Saint Martins in London, Sophie Rowley began experimenting with common everyday materials to create the illusion of natural forms. She combined compressed newspaper and resin to mimic silverwood, melted and sanded blue modeling foam to look like coral, and fused reclaimed glass pieces in a kiln to create a new material reminiscent of the texture of glaciers.
Years later, in 2016, she quit her job sourcing textiles for Faye Toogood's fashion line to work at Godrej & Boyce, the innovation center of one of India's largest manufacturing firms. Here she was tasked with cataloging all the waste created by the company and recruiting local craftspeople to experiment with and transform the discarded materials. This experience buoyed her own experimentation and after moving to Berlin in 2017, she went back to her student project and began building an archive of her earlier work, a kind of sample palette of man-made materials simulating natural forms.
Rowley's ultimate goal is to "out-design waste," she explains. "The decline of nature's raw resources increasingly forces us to work with non-virgin materials as opposed to extracting even more of our planets finite goods." For Rowley, the true value of materials comes from the processes we use to work with and transform them.
Her most successful experiment to date has been with discarded denim, which she collects from the fashion industry and individual households. The result is something she calls Bahia Denim—named after a Brazilian blue marble. Inspired by sedimentary rocks, she creates a sturdy textile from individually layered pieces of denim, molded over a form and bonded with bioresin. These slabs are then cut into various shapes and used to form a range of lightweight yet durable products: stools, tables, and other small furnishings. Given the nature of the process, each piece comes out unique, with varying colors and textures.
The innovative material caught the eye of Nissan, who commissioned her to create a dashboard using this process in 2017. The result was exhibited in Tokyo, but so far no plans to develop the product further have been made.
Now, Rowley is focused on simplifying the time-consuming process and looking into alternatives for the resin binder. She continues to consult with various companies and brands to help them find solutions for their waste products and is going back to her surreal material library to develop more of the samples she made years ago into viable products.