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Circular by design by Really

Really’s second exhibition at Milan’s Salone del Mobile comprises a series of interior and furniture commissions using Really’s first two products, Solid Textile Board and Acoustic Textile Felt.

The seven designers, from Europe, the United States and Japan, all take very different approaches to working with materials that are made by upcycling discarded textiles and also to engaging with the Really narrative – the story of a material made from the transformation of waste and designed for a circular economy.

The participating designers and studios are Benjamin Hubert | LAYER, Christien Meindertsma, Claesson Koivisto Rune, Front, Jo Nagasaka, Jonathan Olivares, Raw-Edges Design Studio

Curators are Jane Withers and Njusja de Gier

If one of humankind’s desires has been to put its stamp on the world, waste is the most compelling and universal way it has accomplished its mission. From Waste, by Brian Thill

Curator's introduction At once ubiquitous and overlooked, waste is a growing problem, and a defining characteristic of the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch marked by the climatic, biological and geochemical signatures of human activity in Earth’s sediments and ice cores. Applying design thinking to this charged issue helps bring it out of the shadows, raising awareness of the pressing need to find new uses for our old stuff as the planet creaks under the weight of our rubbish. The designers here seek a balance between the real and the intangible, producing compelling designs for manufacture that demonstrate the characteristics and possibilities of this new material for furniture and interiors, while also awakening us to waste’s value as a resource and suggesting its future possibilities.

Part of the resonance of waste lies in its intimate relation to the viewer. There’s a vestigial familiarity from its previous incarnations and our curiosity about the texture and afterlife of old stuff. Design studio Raw-Edges’ rich surface exploration, etching away the outer blue denim layer to expose the white laundry core, is like an archaeological dig that reveals its story through the material strata and sets us musing on its past lives.

Really’s transformative story is also foregrounded in Front’s design for Textile Cupboard; the cabinet’s wavy sculptural form plays on the material’s origins, the shift from flowing textile to Solid Textile Board, a hard material that also retains the warmth of fabric. Their aim, the designers say, is to show that Solid Textile Board has ‘all the inviting and charming aspects of fabric, just in a different state.’

The character and texture of the original textiles is also central to Jo Nagasaka’s investigation into the different personalities of Solid Textile Boards made from wool or cotton. Nagasaka observes that the studio was concerned at first because recycled material doesn’t generally have much character. Working with the material, they understood how its textile origins are expressed in the boards. The aim became ‘to show the difference between the four materials through the texture created by the material itself’. Through bleaching, brushing, sanding and applying colour, Nagasaka draws out the different characters of the cotton and wool boards.

With his design for Shift, Benjamin Hubert also plays on the idea of transformation. In its closed state, Shift is a flat acoustic wall panel. Using an elegantly minimal mechanism, panels unfurl like fabric to create an active shelving and storage unit.

Claesson Koivisto Rune also address a contemporary storage typology – shelving as space divider – and use the aesthetic properties of the textile material to create a crisp architectural grid that also has a material softness.
Given their textile origins, acoustic properties are a significant feature of both new materials.

Christien Meindertsma’s Acoustic Fur wall hanging was informed by material tests examining what makes Really’s natural wool Acoustic Textile Felt different from a classic wool felt. These revealed comparative lightness and slight stiffness while retaining flexibility (arising from the mix of binder with the natural wool granulate and its ‘air-laid’ composition). Inspired by the cycle of shearing and regrowth of a fleece, strings of Acoustic Textile Felt of varying lengths can be freely stuck to magnetic wallpaper allowing the user to create their own ‘wild sheep fleece’. Acoustic properties increase with the density of the material which, at the end of the day, can be shredded back into Really granulate and reimagined as new products.

The idea behind Jonathan Olivares’ Solid Textile Screen emerged from experiments in bending the flat sheet material. Solid Textile Screen is made from curved sections of Solid Textile Board joined with zipped textile hinges that allow it to be extended and shifted into different positions. The curve was achieved using a CNC program to generate instructions for milling channels into sheets of Solid Textile Board so that when the sheets are pressed together the channels interlock like the teeth in a zipper, pushing the flat panels into the desired curvature.

As well as providing elegant and engaging furnishing solutions, these pieces also quietly resonate as emblems of the complexity of our times and changing understandings of waste and environmental impact. In the 21st century we can no longer afford to consider products in isolation, but we struggle to take a more conscious 360-degree view. A desk or a coffee cup may be an elegant object or a useful tool, but it is also a manifestation of an invisible network of supply chains that give objects their real value. As Christien Meindertsma says, ‘My mission is to make something beautiful. Something is beautiful when it is transparent, and it is a good product when it is produced in a sound way.’

The intention behind these Really projects is to show how beautiful things can be made out of the massive global problem of textile waste, and also to foreground the shift in perception, processes and logistics needed as we grapple with the issues of waste and begin the transition from a linear to a circular economy.

Jane Withers and Njusja de Gier

Inspiration. Challenging designers and architects to rethink their use of resources, Really starts a dialogue about the shift in perception, process and logistics needed as we grapple with upcycling waste.