My background is product and industrial design with an interest in social innovation, so when I started working at TED on the Trash2Cash project last November, I wanted to explore how my world fits into Textile Design and the interests of TED researchers.
What I discovered were the many overlaps in methods and models between the two disciplines, but also the spaces in between. In terms of making and materials there is still a difference in materials understanding; product design students are taught hard materials, fashion and textiles students are taught soft materials. This is starting to change, for example in the ‘stitch’ option on the BA Textile Design course at Chelsea, students are putting all sorts of hard and soft materials together, and the MA Material Futures course at CSM continues to push at those traditional boundaries.
This intersection between hard and soft materials (and disciplines) appeared to me to be a bridge I could cross from my existing knowledge into the new (to me) world of Textiles. At the same time, I was exploring experimental research methods that could be useful in TEDs current and future work.
Enter Vicky Cable, a forward-thinking upholsterer and an extraordinary person (more on that later!) who wanted to explore more sustainable methods in her work. The ‘collaborative chairs’ idea was first suggested by Becky Earley whilst exploring ideas for the Circular Transitions conference exhibition, the seed was sewn, and so the ‘making…together’ project began.
The act of re-upholstery is in itself a good solution to the aging of a piece of furniture, repairing and updating the aesthetic. Yet, as Vicky and I explored in our first meeting, it also exposes many unsustainable and worrying trends in the furniture industry, such as speed, cost and the use of inappropriate materials – all of which are currently being explored by TED researchers in relation to Textiles. In furniture, the contrast between the speeds of the materials is heightened, because hard materials are more durable and soft materials (padding as well as the fabric) degrade and wear relatively quickly. The process of re-upholstery exposes this tension brilliantly and therefore offers a unique opportunity to understand not only how the materials used in re-upholstery could be reconsidered but also how the design and manufacture of upholstered furniture could be improved at the outset.
For me, sustainability is never just about materials, but also about people, so this project will also consider that angle, in terms of the designer’s activism and approach and the accessibility of more sustainable products and solutions.