Sometimes success comes knocking at a young person’s door, and they are so prepared that they already have their coat and shoes on. This is the story of how three dynamic Royal College of Art MA product design students had a bloody good idea for their degree show – and a few weeks after graduating were selling their first collection in Selfridges.
GoodWaste is a sustainable collective founded by Ambra Dentella, Ewan Alston and Rafael Muldal el Baz, who met on the RCA MA in Design Products. Their first collection of limited-edition homewares uses London scrap material (marble, Corian and steel) to sell in a London store, to be bought by Londoners. OK, not exclusively bought by Londoners, as the collection is also sold on selfridges.com, but you heard it here first, and you’ll need to be quick to snap up these one-off pieces.
The trio got together with the aim of exploring the opportunities for “super-local, super-circular manufacturing and distribution”, Alston, 27, says. They went scavenging in Park Royal in West London, the capital’s “biggest industrial site” where countless glass, plastic and metal items are manufactured along with stone and Corian kitchen worktops and marble fireplaces.
We started going to Park Royal with trolleys every week, carrying away as much as we could to take back to our studio at the RCAEwan Alston, GoodWaste
“We quickly realised that there was this incredible amount of waste leaving the area every week,” Alston remembers. “It was the offcuts that we were interested in. For our MA we proposed to collect waste from Park Royal to make furniture for all the new homes being built there. We started going with trolleys every week, carrying away as much as we could to take back to our studio at the RCA.”
Selfridges’ Bright New Things scheme, which champions upcoming sustainable designers and innovators, has, up until now, worked only with fashion. For AW19, the store also wanted to include homewares and beauty, and GoodWaste hit their radar.
In November 2018, Selfridges surveyed 1,100 of its customers and found that 72 per cent wanted more information on sustainability from brands, and 86 per cent thought it was important for retailers to show a genuine commitment to sustainability.
After the race to the bottom line post-crash, consumers are once again beginning to understand that living unsustainably is, well, unsustainable. But are they really ready to change their buying habits?
The accepted wisdom is that those with money can afford better choices. “There’s steel and Corian in the GoodWaste collection,” Alston says, “but we focussed on marble because it’s a material that is perceived to have a high value. It’s ‘waste’, but it can be presented as a luxury item.”
The limited-edition collection was handmade by the trio during “a lot of very late nights”after their degree show this July, including marble furniture (a bench, side table and shelving unit) and smaller objects that they could handmake in larger numbers – 36 marble and glass mirrors (£120) and 15 marble and Corian clocks (£220). Alston says that they also wanted to embrace the zero-waste ethic themselves, so when making the furniture, they used the scraps to make a terrazzo top for a side table (£750).
To go from a college studio to selling your brand in one of London’s most illustrious stores in a matter of weeks must have taken guts, hard work and nerves of steel.
“It’s been quite surreal,” Alston says. “But this was our chance to see how real customers might respond to products made from waste, as each one is inherently different from the next. You have to adapt the design slightly for every single piece, which is unusual in retail, and unusual for mass production.”
GoodWaste limited-edition furniture and homewares are in Selfridges, Oxford Street, and at selfridges.com