We have had the utmost pleasure of catching up with the founders of MaterialDriven, Purva Chawla and Adele Orcajada and discussing about the impact and importance of materials in the design world today. From discussing their favourite success stories to some of the biggest challenges in bringing to the world a one of a kind service, the co-founders take us through it all.
Q1. Tell us about MaterialDriven and the influence it has on the interior design industry.
MaterialDriven functions as a design consultancy and materials library. One of the roles we play is of ‘a materials matchmaker’, pairing the producers of innovative materials–both large scale manufacturers and individual makers–with strategic projects.
To our clients, we deliver knowledge, designed products, installations, exhibitions and experiences that are in keeping with current consumer and environmental trends. Healthy, Guilt-free, Closed-Loop, Natural and Future Proof design features strongly in our work.
Crucial to our work is building a relationship with material-makers of all scales, and understanding their products or prototypes. This allows us to bring new, more unique, and increasingly more sustainable materials to our clients in architecture, interior design, hospitality, fashion and education.
Above all, to clients in the design industry, we bring an in-depth and up to date knowledge of innovative materials, their specific properties, impact and potential.
Q2. What is the vision behind MaterialDriven? How did the idea come about?
When MaterialDriven launched, in 2016, it was a digital platform only–a space to broadcast new materials and products in an open-source format and to share the work of innovative young designers. Purva ran MaterialDriven from the United States at this time, building our audience and strong virtual presence.
On moving to the UK, she met with Adele–whose background in materials libraries (working with the SCIN gallery) had armed her with a vast, and tactile knowledge of materials and their manufacturers.
The two decided to partner up, and take their shared passion for materials forward, in growing MaterialDriven. MaterialDriven’s projects and reach have grown immensely since then, and in October last year, the team grew with the addition of Utami Giles.
One of the key values that unite the team is an interest in benefiting the ‘material-maker’ and bringing innovative concepts and materials to scale, and into an application.
As a team, MD’s backgrounds are diverse and complementary–Purva comes from a background in architecture, Adele from fashion and product development, and Utami from sustainable fashion and business development. Together, we are able to respond to the needs of multiple industries, and types of consumers.
Q3. Can you throw some light on the current material trends?
There a few trends, in architecture and interiors, that have featured constantly in our work this past year. Biomaterials–materials that are natural, grown, bio-fabricated even, or biophillic in nature–are becoming more and more valuable, especially when it comes to the consumer need for biodegradability at the end of a product’s life.
Healthy materials–materials that are free from toxins, that purify the air, or soothe the senses, while causing no damage to the environment during their manufacture or lifetime–these are highly sought after. These can range from graphene-based paints to wall coverings made with leaves, seeds and bio-binders, to seaweed-based fabrics that have a benefiting impact as garments and upholstery.
Waste-based materials continue to be a strong trend, with waste from multiple sources (the more challenging the better) being transformed into new surface materials, sculptural objects and lighting. Sensory materials are being sought for interior design, clothing and accessories, packaging and more. These are materials that invite touch, allure with scent, and can even be edible!
Finally, Disposable materials that can serve temporary needs–such as exhibitions and trade shows– or be useful for fast changing displays–such as in retail, storefronts, and pop-ups– are catching on. These materials must have shorter life cycles, be easy to dismantle and dispose of either recycle or biodegrade–all while being robust and aesthetically pleasing.
Q4. We see the industry moving towards sustainable design. How is MaterialDriven playing a role in this?
While sustainable design can mean a number of things today, for us it is about enabling a design that responds, in a relevant way, to some or all of these themes:
Waste-based: Materials that source from a waste stream, and prevents creating further waste.
Bio-based: Natural or bio-fabricated materials that mimic the behaviour of nature.
Healthy: Materials that promote both human and environmental health.
Long or short-lasting: Materials that encourage preserving them for years, or easily degrade in weeks, depending on the need of the product and consumer.
Sustainable manufacturing: Often none of the above criteria is relevant, but how the material is being made is ethical, efficient and sustainable.
We are able to link clients with such materials and their makers and promote their use. Our role allows for these products to be applied, and for their reach and impact to expand greatly. We are responsible for providing inspiration, education, and enabling the specification of more sustainable materials.
Q5. What is the one trend from 2018, you wish would never come back?
Trends in the materials world are not as fast-moving as fashion or products, and it is truly hard for us to pick a type of material that we don’t like. We might say, however, that there has been an excessive number of Terrazzo-like products in the past year or so. From prints to superficial terrazzo-like finishes, perhaps this trend has been saturated.
Q6. How do you support emerging materials evolve from prototype to product? How do you pick the ones you want to work with?
We meet the material-makers we work within a number of ways, often we are approached for guidance or to showcase work in our library, and at other times we approach designers whose work we appreciate, especially if we are about to curate an exhibition to a specific theme, or are consulting with a client who has specific needs.
Irrespective of the route, we are determined to learn more about the material and its maker: its concept, narrative, provenance and ingredients, potential to scale up, potential for use, aesthetic and tactile appeal, and its end of life. If there are qualities amongst these that are promising, we invest time in helping the material be seen at exhibitions, or by architects and designers who will use it, or by brands who may invest in them. Even when there is no direct ‘sale’ for the material-maker in such a scenario, they benefit greatly from the opportunities presented to them. We work closely with each maker, understanding their work and needs, and bring them in contact with academic mentorship, testing, collaborations and more.
Q7. What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of any entrepreneurial journey–your brain never stops ticking, and you are always at work 🙂
The most challenging part of our work is witnessing the time it takes for an innovative material to advance from a concept to a scalable product ready for the market, and the limitations that exist in resources. Sadly, many wonderful materials or ideas will fall behind or not be invested in past a point.
Q8. Tell us about a unique prototype to product story.
A unique material whose journey from prototype to product we have witnessed, and been a part of to an extent, is Chip [s] Board–a potato-waste based sustainable substitute for MDF. Since its inception, we have had the pleasure of including the material in our exhibitions, spreading the word about it in articles for key magazines, introduce them to collaborators and advisors, and recently partnering with the founders to create a custom-made trophy of their material for our client–The Woolmark Company, for their recently held Woolmark Performance Challenge. It’s been great to see and provide feedback on the evolution of the material–from early prototypes, to new colourways and larger slabs, and to new product types and custom-forms.
Q9. Do you think the act of choosing materials is undervalued in the industry? Why?
While traditionally material selection was not at the forefront, we don’t think this is the case anymore. There has been a massive change in the mindset of both designers and consumers. Issues such as waste management, resource scarcity, health and wellbeing, preferences such as veganism, and even climate change are driving a massive awareness of material choices and the impact they can have.
Q10. What’s the next big thing in the MaterialDriven calendar?
Spring is a busy and good time for us. We are curating ‘Future Proof’–The materials section of the well-known trade show Architect@Work, in London this month.
Next, we are headed to Madrid Design Week in February, where we are facilitating a talk and materials display. In March we are excited to be leading a session on material innovation at Future Build 2019, in London.
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