In the shift from “recycled” to “upcycled”, something struck the design community and it decided to take the shabby out of recycled. While upcycling gives a new function to an old product (one that is way cooler than the original), it goes beyond creating a wallet from an old Tetra Pak.
We identified a few designers who are giving junk a makeover—tastefully and ingeniously.
Luxury in the leftovers
When design students Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta met in Milan, Italy, they agreed they wanted to find a way to bring crafts into mainstream, contemporary design. When they set up Sahil & Sarthak Design Co. in New Delhi in 2009 they added sustainability to their mix of local and global.
Bagga believes that the niche luxury customer is looking for something different. “People are not only looking at exterior quality or the design of furniture, they are looking for something beyond—the inner wellness, the human story that gives a certain exclusivity to the final product,” he says.
Bagga and Sengupta’s signature product, The Katran Chair, is made from waste pieces of cloth from mills in Rajasthan. These are made into ropes and then woven together by craftspeople who make khatias (traditional rope beds). The Katran Chair has done its round of European design circuits. It was exhibited at the Salone Del Mobile, Milan, 2010, it won the Elle Décor International Design Awards 2011 and is headed to La Triennale, the design museum in Milan, in December.
“We realized there were so many materials and traditional skills that are innately ecological. It’s not something forced, it’s their nature. While our aim is to work with ‘sustainable’, it is not at the cost of not being beautiful,” says Bagga.
Old moulds, new life
A rake becomes a wall-mounted stand for keys and tools, a bike seat turns into a bar stool, a tempo piston becomes a bookend. Delhi-based designer Karan Bakshi started dabbling in such repurposed design six months ago when he set up Artfeat Designs. It may seem like it’s about putting completely unrelated things together but there is a certain Edward de Bono-style lateral thinking to it. His first product was a set of 100 diaries made from floppy disks and vinyl records, all sold out.
“My products entertain people, their reactions are usually that of amusement,” notes Bakshi. “But for me, every good design should have a function. A ‘decoration piece’ is a thing of the past.” That’s probably the common thread in all of Bakshi’s designs—he re-contextualizes them and gives them a certain humour.
Bagga and Sengupta go through the same drill when working with new ideas. They take it a notch higher and see how they can reinvent the skills of a craftsman. “While we were in Jodhpur, we came across a drum maker and got him to make the Cage Light with his beaten-turned-riveted metal technique,” recalls Sengupta. The final product, a large floor lamp, has a brilliant play of shadow and light. They took the traditional Longi (black) pottery of Manipur and wondered how many of us would use a kettle as a kettle? “But we didn’t want to give the potters some abstract form that they go crazy achieving. It has to be a bottom-up process. We needed to understand their mould and figure out how we re-contextualize it into a modern product.”
When Manipur’s black pottery becomes a wall tile, it brings in a completely different demography—the younger homemaker who is looking for something fun and functional.
An online store tapping into the fun-and-functional phenomenon is HomeHero.in. Wolf Zech and Jennifer Duthie did the rounds of furniture markets like Kirti Nagar and Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road after Zech moved to Delhi from Germany. They realized there was room for some “edgy, fun and affordable” furniture.
Launched in July, HomeHero sources wood from demolished houses—old windows, door frames—and broken-down ships. “We love imperfections of reclaimed wood like cracks, scratches, nail holes and chipped patina,” says Zech, whose latest design offering is a coffee table made with old, industrial pallets.
A past revisited
Noida-based designer Arun Verma is in the business of preserving history. His underground studio is dotted with Transformers-like robotic sculptures or “scraptures” made with old auto parts. “I love working with metal because it has a beautiful solidity,” he says. Verma’s passion for such assemblage metal art lies in nostalgia. “I believe that an old clutch plate or old gear have a certain history; the miles they’ve done, the families they’ve been with, the roads they’ve travelled. I like to retain that history.”
Mumbai-based designer Arjun Rathi works on the same principle. Rathi decided to pay tribute to India’s quintessential car and that’s how the Ambassador Lamp was created. “For me the car personifies a level of class, an authority and industrial simplicity. Sometimes upcycling evokes an emotional response,” he says.
Then there is the purely eco-conscious, fair trade, socially sustainable angle to it. Vimlendu Jha of Swechha, a New Delhi-based NGO that works with social and environmental issues, started Green the Gap over two years ago as his design retail. An iPad case made with tyre tube and cloth-and-leather handbags in striking, bold prints, Green the Gap upcycles junk into new products.
“The New Age child is so compulsive about chucking things in the dustbin without optimum utilization. That, of course, is consumption, but the solution has to be in our lifestyle as well,” says Jha. Green the Gap is backed by a workshop of 12-15 workers who give form to Jha’s designs, with some serious attention to standard and quality. “When you look at NGO-ish products, quality is always compromised. But for me it’s not okay if the stitching is coming off. That way you end up selling the cause more than the product,” says Jha.
Where all the loose ends tie up is that recycled products make a social statement. Yet those who look for inspiration in the junkyard unanimously agree that at the end of the day, good design counts, whether the raw materials are picked up at a landfill or off the shelf.
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Remains of the day
Doodlage is high street fashion with a conscience.
Fashion brand Doodlage raises the bar significantly when it comes to recycling in fashion.
Founders Kriti Tula, Divisha Kashyap, Vaibhav Kapoor and Paras Arora got together in April and decided to do something edgy with all those clothes we buy and discard, as well as leftovers from the garments industry.
A panelled jacket made out of the remains of a blazer and the hem of a skirt; a structured jacket made with cut pieces that are completely shredded down and given a thick texture; shirt dresses made out of vintage floral patterns—Doodlage weaves sustainability into high street fashion.
With no two garments being identical, Doodlage gives a new meaning to exclusivity.