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The Sustainable Truth from Design Industry Insiders

2nd Mar 2021

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As the world strives to become more sustainable, the perception for what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘beautiful design is changing. These terms no longer just encompass aesthetics or quality, but as consumer knowledge grows, increasingly include a design’s ethical and ecological provenance. This shift towards conscious design is undeniable and has been particularly championed by the rise of artisanal brands. However, sustainable design is still not widespread on a commercial level. As a mass consumption-led sector, the interiors industry is still heavily associated with waste, pollution, and resource depletion.

How a product is manufactured, who made it and where that product ends up once discarded are key questions that every consumer should be asking prior to purchase; but even for the more discerning consumers, information on an item’s provenance are not readily available without a deeper investigation into the individual brand. Many place the responsibility on designers to lead the way, placing sustainability at the heart of all of their work and educating their clients on sustainable methods and environmentally-friendly materials. We sat down with industry insiders all working towards a sustainable approach to design and asked them ‘is the design world doing enough for sustainability?’.

Jeremy Grove, Co-Founder & Managing Director of Sibley Grove

After a decade of working for London’s leading design practices, Jeremy became uncomfortable with the increasingly throwaway nature of the interiors industry, its impact on the environment and its reliance on exploited labour markets. Sibley Grove was set up in 2010 to respond to a growing need for change, and to re-think how we approach design. The practice wants to reshape the world of interior design to one that values the environmental and social impact as much as quality, cost and aesthetics. Over the last ten years, the studio has been working and collaborating with suppliers, manufacturers, think tanks and forward-thinking clients to establish a strategy for meeting the design challenges of the future.

‘Although rapid progress has happened in the last ten years, by and large, the design industry continues to have a negative environmental impact. The main reason is that design has become intrinsically linked to mass consumption, which leads to the exploitation of resources and the creation of vast amounts of waste. When we talk about sustainability, we always refer to limiting our impact, but designers need to embrace the challenges of the future and instigate systemic change in the industry. Designers need to understand the entire life cycle of their creations and know where materials come from and where they end up after use. As designers, we are duty-bound to create product and spaces that are appropriate for the future, rather than reinventing the past. This means designs that look great, are good quality and priced competitively, but crucially they must leave a positive environmental and social footprint.’

Pavel Klimczak & Alessandro Monaco, Founders of Monologue London

Founded in 2014 by interior designer Pavel Klimczak and art director Alessandro Monaco, Monologue London offers beautifully crafted, high-quality products from established and emerging brands. With a focus on independent designers, interiors and homeware, Monologue has grown to embody an eclectic approach with exclusive collaborations, one-off pieces and consultancy. Both Pavel and Alessandro have been strong advocates for sustainability, including participating in a talk and exhibition for the Make Plastic Guiltless Project over London Design Festival.

‘We definitely think the conversation around sustainability, specifically in the design world, is getting more and more concrete as big brands are finally exploring tangible solutions through their products. This allows designers to experiment with new sustainable materials on a larger scale. It’s still the beginning and the industry will certainly have to do more but, overall, we see a genuine commitment. Designers like Giorgio Bonauguro, who designed a collection of tables using marble off-cuts, are great examples of a design mindset that is focused on sustainable pieces without compromising on aesthetic nor functionality.

'A major point of conversation is packaging for design goods. It's still difficult to find and embrace truly eco-friendly solutions that simultaneously avoids waste and ensures the safety for design pieces. At Monologue we do our best at recycling and reusing as much as possible when it comes to packaging. The challenge is, of course, to keep on doing better.’

Miranda Vedral, Founder of Ilala

Ilala is a boutique artisanal interior brand that specialises in natural homeware. When starting Ilala, Miranda’s aim was to bring the raw rustic beauty and unexpected energy of handmade, natural pieces to interior spaces and environments. Celebrating simplicity and natural imperfections, all of their products are made from indigenous organic grasses, cane, river reeds and ilala palm that remain unbleached in their collections. Alongside her team, Miranda hand sources everything and all of the materials used are harvested and woven by the rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. In supporting handmade craftmanship, Ilala help these communities to maintain their ancient weaving tradition, which is a great source of pride, and provide the women with financial independence.

‘Over the past two years I have noticed a heightened awareness about sustainability in design, from fashion to interiors. There will probably never be enough, but at least it’s a start. During Focus September 2019 it was the hot topic in all the talks that I attended which can only be a good thing. The more we talk about sustainability and what that means to all of us the better. Awareness will grow from these conversations and that will then hopefully develop into action plans. In all sectors, we have to start to make a collected effort not to demand and expect things at the click of a mouse. It’s very hard to do, especially when we are all so used to it and it is really convenient, but this hampers sustainability.’

Marta Parypa, UK Managing Director C&C Milano

Luxury textile brand, C&C Milano
has always championed natural fabrics and neutral tones that have a minimal environmental impact. Following a sustainable path for many years, the Italian brand has been a leader in the industry by quickly adapting and responding to the issues of climate change and zero waste. Known in the industry as the linen specialists, they launched their New Life Cashmere earlier this year, which uses cashmere waste from the fashion industry to create innovative and eco-friendly insulation for bed linen.

‘As a company C&C Milano has always championed sustainability and conscious consumption as core values of the brand. Our New Life Cashmere is an innovative example of how we can create beautiful and luxurious products from upcycled material, considering zero waste options and contributing to the training of future artisans. With no compromise on quality, C&C Milano has always been a pioneer within both the Italian and global textile industry, supporting luxury eco-friendly production.’

Hana Clode, Interiors Marketing Consultant

Hana is a textile designer turned digital marketing consultant who collaborates with premium home and design brands including Louisa Penn, Huntsmore, Holland Street Kitchens, Lindi Reynolds and SVM Interiors. Sustainability plays a big role for most of Hana’s clients, using ethically and ecologically sourcing materials in their designs. Hana works closely with these clients to champion sustainable initiatives through marketing and brand awareness.

'It is no longer enough to just make ‘beautiful’ things. Designers are innovators by nature, so questioning the status quo and finding new ways to have a better impact on the world is in their DNA. For some of my interior design clients, sustainability and design come hand-in-hand. However, the public have only just started warming up to the idea of sustainability and acknowledging that the current way of production and consumption cannot be maintained indefinitely. There are some great incentives, but it still feels like we are only learning how to walk, and are still far away from being able to run. I am looking forward to the future when we close the production loop and start perceiving materials as a valuable resource rather than a waste.’