Challenging the habits of a throwaway society, a new generation of designers are using discarded materials to create objects and design pieces that are functional and beautiful. Interior designer Sonia Attard and designer Lisa Vincitorio turn car tyres into beautiful homewares, fashion designer Ellie Mücke transforms discarded clothes into stylish garments and Jacqui Porter gives pre-loved furniture a new life. We chat with this clutch of lateral thinkers about their ethos, work and creative vision.
Sonia Attard, Ruba Design – Interior Design
Recycled car tyres may be an unlikely source material for stylish objects for the home, but interior designer Sonia Attard and designer Lisa Vincitorio aren’t your average designers. It took the collision of these two creative minds to come up with an idea that blended their love of beautiful things and concern for the environment.
When Attard’s previous employer was moving offices, she went into their library of sample materials and collected the unwanted pieces of recycled tyre matting. “I took them home and used them as coasters,” says Attard. “When Lisa dropped by for coffee, she remarked, ‘What a great idea! We should do something with that’.”
Ruba Design took off when they discovered that recycled tyre matting, commonly used in flooring and children’s playgrounds, could be made into placemats, coasters and desk sets.
“Many products are designed to be throwaway, but these are designed for longevity,” says Attard. They are warm to touch, waterproof, heat resistant, dishwasher-safe and non-slip.
Early on, the pair made a decision to keep the products in black. “We originally looked at dying the material different colours, but discovered that only black was compatible with using recycled content.”
They source the tyres from a Sydney supplier, who imports from Germany. “We did look into getting them from Queensland, but found that the tyre material wasn’t consistently of high enough quality,” says Attard. “It ripped too easily.”
If only the recycled rubber could tell its own story. It is from cars, trucks and aeroplanes in Germany and Europe, and leftover shoe soles from Spain. There is estimated to be over one billion tyres in landfill on the planet.
Jacqui Porter, Reissued – Furniture Design
There’s a graffiti wall in the back lane behind Jacqui Porter’s Brunswick studio where an unknown scribe has scrawled the word ‘Respect’. Porter, a former social worker, adopted the image as the signature for her restyling furniture business.
“I love sanding furniture back, finding something underneath, something beautiful that’s been covered up,” she says.
Looking for the beauty in things was a habit Porter formed while working with families in conflict for over two decades. She bought masses of flowers on the way home from work and haunted galleries and junk shops on weekends. “I found myself often looking for beauty to counteract the grimness of my work,” she reflects.
At Reissued, Porter works with vintage, pre-loved or discarded furniture, sourcing her own pieces or being approached by clients with furniture of their own. “I love original furniture if it’s in good shape. I try to give things a new edge,” she says.
Many of her pieces are one-offs. “It’s hard to find two old chairs exactly the same,” she says. That said, she did unearth two 1950s French boudoir chairs in lovely condition – one covered in loud red, the other in a subdued blue – and speaks about them like long lost friends. “They were snapped up in a weekend,” she sighs. “I’ve never been able to find another pair like them.”
Porter uses sustainable materials and raids upholstery bins for fabrics of yesteryear to create furniture that is strikingly original, despite its vintage.
She outsources the upholstery to artisans from a 55-year-old company. “You can really see the difference in a piece that’s been upholstered by someone highly skilled, against one that has not,” she says.
Ellie Mücke, MüCKE – Fashion Design
Ellie Mücke is a young Melbourne designer keen to find ways to produce clothing with minimal impact on the environment. Her ideas challenge the very way in which fashion is designed – and how people clothe themselves. Her ever-practical approach – to remake new fashion from the old – is simple, elegant and just a little bit radical.
“I jump straight into the recycling clothing market and reuse something that would be otherwise discarded,” she says. “(I) extend its lifetime by turning it into a high fashion product.”
The result is an eclectic wardrobe of highly unusual pieces that are stylish, inventive and versatile. Think men’s silk shirts transformed into a dress, a cardigan made from reclaimed jumpers and jewellery from t-shirt scraps.
The results are colourful and unique. “I try to make it interesting but wearable,” she says. “Why can’t we have three armholes on a garment and wear it in three different ways?”
Mücke developed an interest in sustainable fashion a decade ago, well ahead of the current zeitgeist. “It was the year 2000, but fashion hadn’t yet cottoned on to the issue of sustainability,” she says. “I was struggling to find a role model or mentor. When I first told people I was a sustainable fashion designer, no one knew what I was talking about.”
Making a Juliet costume for her high school production was her earliest fashion experience. She couldn’t find the expensive fabric on her wish list, and instead used a beautiful old brocade, which she cut from an old garment.
MüCKE’s latest collection features at a pop-up store in Brunswick East with Wendy Voon and Phong Chi Lai.