In Material Matters, host Grant Gibson talks to a designer, maker, artist, architect, engineer, or scientist about a material or technique with which they’re intrinsically linked and discovers how it changed their lives and careers.Follow us on Instagram @materialmatters.design and our website www.materialmatters.designThe Material Matters fair will run from 18-21 September 2024 at Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, as part of the London Design Festival.Material Matters is produced and published by Delizia Media Ltd.
Fairphone's Bas van Abel on repair, longevity, and conflict minerals.
Bas van Abel founded Fairphone in 2013. The company attempts to transform the way our smartphones are manufactured, by reducing e-waste, sourcing conflict-free minerals, and improving working conditions in its supply chain. It creates a product consumers are encouraged to keep longer and which, importantly, they can also repair themselves.
Fairphone was an immediate hit, attracting 25,000 orders when it launched its first smartphone via a crowd-funding campaign. It has now sold over half a million phones and employs 150 staff.
In 2018, Bas stepped back as CEO of the company – although he remains a non-executive board member – and, subsequently, co-founded De Clique, a circular start up that looks at ways of dealing with food waste. He is also author of Open Design Now.
In this episode we talk about: not owning a mobile before he founded Fairphone; how smartphones are made and the global supply chain they require; issues around mining minerals; the importance of repair and longevity; why recycling is 'stupid'; wanting to create a ‘values based’ economic system; how his son’s broken Nintendo DS played a role in starting the company; his initial doubts; the immense stress starting the brand put him under; the company’s ‘shitty’ first phone; and trying to change the system from within.
If you’re interested in purchasing a Fairphone please use this link:
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John Tuomey on his childhood and becoming an architect.
There have been over 100 episodes of Material Matters but, for listeners who might be new to all this, the idea is that I speak to a designer, maker, artist, or architect about a material or technique with which they’re intrinsically linked and discover how it changed their lives and careers.
However, once in a while I break my own self-imposed format and interview someone I’ve always wanted to meet. This is one of those episodes.
Architect John Tuomey is the co-founder of multi-award winning practice O’Donnell + Tuomey, with his wife Sheila O’Donnell. The firm has designed the Glucksman Gallery Cork, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and the upcoming V&A East Museum, while in 2015, John and Sheila were awarded the prestigious RIBA Royal Gold Medal.
Towards the end of 2023, he published First Quarter, a gorgeous, lyrical memoir that tells the story of his formative years – from childhood in rural Ireland through to becoming a fully-fledged architect in London and Dublin.
In this episode we talk about: writing First Quarter during lockdown; how an email from his sister started the process; his peripatetic childhood; growing up in rural Ireland; the storytelling aspect of architecture; the brutality of his school years; the pivotal relationship with his father; the up-ending of Ireland’s clergy; being an extrovert introvert; moving to Dublin and London; meeting Sheila at university; working for James Stirling; and the possibilities of a derelict site…
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Sara Grady and Alice Robinson on British Pasture Leather.
Sara Grady and Alice Robinson co-founded British Pasture Leather in 2020. The duo aim in their own words ‘to link leather with exemplary farming and, in doing so, to redefine leather as an agricultural product’. All of which means creating a new network of systems within the industry. Essentially, the pair are attempting to make the material we buy traceable in the same way food is.
In 2022, they created an exhibition, entitled Leather from British Pastures, during the London Design Festival, which included collaborations with the likes of Mulberry and New Balance, as well as Material Matters favourites, Bill Amberg and Simon Hasan.
More recently, Alice has written a new book, Field Fork Fashion, which charts a bullock’s journey from a field to a series of finished products and dishes – creating her own supply chain in the process.
In this episode we talk about: how most leather is made; issues around the chrome tanning process; how British Pasture Leather is trying to make a difference; increased meat consumption across the globe and why it changes the value of a hide; building a new supply chain; the state of the British tanning industry; producing their material entirely in the UK; redefining quality and embracing imperfection; how leather brought them together; buying a bullock and writing a book.
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Florian Gadsby on clay and becoming a potter.
Florian Gadsby is a bit of a phenomenon. The ceramicist currently has a new show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and has also published a memoir, By My Hands, that charts his formative years with clay, including apprenticeships in the UK and, most intriguingly, Japan.
Essentially, it unpicks his route to becoming a fully, fledged professional potter, while at the same time, providing tips about his thinking and process.
Since he started on Instagram a decade ago, Florian has built up a social media following that can only be described as formidable. He’s part of a generation that has changed the way pots, in particular, but craft, in general, can be communicated, using Instagram and YouTube as educational tools but also as a hugely effective channels for selling work.
In this episode we talk about: what his studio says about him; his YSP show; selling ‘merch’; being young to publish a memoir; comparing writing to pottery; his fascination with the colour green; going to a Steiner school; deciding against university; his love of mugs and the joy of repetition; his apprenticeship in Japan; resisting the tag of the ‘Instagram potter’; the pressure of social media; and wanting his own apprentice (eventually).
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Christien Meindertsma on wool (and linoleum).
Christien Meindertsma is a Dutch designer who has a fascination with materials. She currently has an installation at the V&A, entitled Re-forming Waste, which shows new work based around her interest in linoleum, as well as technological advances with the material she has described as her first love, wool.
Christien came to wider attention initially when she graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2003, with a book that catalogued a week’s worth of objects confiscated at security checkpoints in Schipol Airport.
She followed that up a few years later, with PIG 05049, an extraordinary tome which looked at all the products made using a single pig.
Her work is the collections of MoMA, the V&A, and the Vitra Design Museum. Over the years, she has won numerous Dutch Design Awards, as well as creating the award for the prestigious Earthshot Prize.
In this episode we talk about: working alone; experimenting with linoleum; her family’s history with wool; the importance of provenance; defining failure and success; not being interested in selling things or mass production; working with the city of Rotterdam to find ways to deal with its wool; collaborating with a ‘wobot’; designing like a journalist, the energy of Design Academy Eindhoven; and the unexpected uses of a pig…
We are delighted this episode has been sponsored by the Surface Design Show. The event of choice for architects and designers, it runs from 6-8 February at London’s Business Design Centre and you can register for free at surfacedesignshow.com. We hope to see you there.
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Simone Brewster on 2023, her breakthrough year.
This special festive episode is slightly different because, as we come to the end of 2023, we thought it would be interesting to talk to someone who has had a breakthrough year.
And we couldn’t think of anyone that description fits better than UK-based designer, Simone Brewster. In June, Simone held her first solo exhibition at the NOW Gallery on London’s Greenwich Peninsular, entitled The Shape of Things. While, in September, her installation Spirit of Place with cork company, Amorim, opened on the Strand in the centre of the capital.
These came with what amounts to a blizzard of publicity, including a profile in the New York Times. In short, she has been hard to avoid.
In this episode Simone and Grant talk about: her brilliant year; how The Shape of Things informed her practice; creating ‘intimate architecture’ with furniture and jewellery; her (occasionally extraordinary) use of colour; the importance of taking herself seriously; the thinking behind her best-known pieces, The Negress and The Mammy; painting during the pandemic; why people didn’t know what to do with her work; working with cork; her issues with studying architecture; making as salvation; not fitting in… until now; and her plans for 2024.
We’re delighted that this episode has been sponsored by the American Hardwood Export Council Europe. You can find its excellent podcast Words on Wood here:
It’s well worth checking out.
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Great inspiring interviews with such passionate creative people
Pure inspiration for creative types
You can’t go past a single episode without feeling a moment of pure inspiration or clarity in your understanding of what it is to be a maker or designer or just someone who appreciates the aspiration of visionary crafts folk
Articulate and thoughtful conversations covering a far reaching variety of topics. Listening to this podcast should be on the curriculum for Art & Design students as a way to showcase the importance of their field of study in a wider real world context. You’re a legend Grant - keep going :)