„Designers make things. But don’t focus just on the object that comes in the box. Designers make jobs. We design cars and car factories make communities”.
The likelihood that professions such as salesman, taxi driver, watchmaker or lathe operator will disappear in the next decades is very high – it ranges from 84 to 99 percent. The list of professions with uncertain future, including those associated with furniture manufacturing, as well as those jobs considered to be safe (e.g.: psychologist, dentist, industrial designer), can be found in the report „The Future of Employment”. On the basis of data included in the report, editors of the Quartz.com website made an interactive chart that visualizes the upcoming shift.
Nothing and no one can stop the ongoing automation and robotization of many jobs, but parallel to this trend we will see more and more local and grassroots initiatives. Solidwool is one of the examples. This micro company was founded in Buckfastleigh – a small, ancient town, located on the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park in the United Kingdom. Once a thriving hub of the UK woollen industry, the town had grown quiet as manufacturing had left.
In another, North-West part of the UK, Herdwick sheep, the iconic and regarded as the most hardy British breed, roam high fells of the Lake District for most of the year, naturally hefting themselves to the land. This sense of place removes the need for walls high on the open fells with their instinct keeping them rooted to the place they have always lived.
Herdwick sheep’s wool is wiry, dark and hard. Once this wool was a major part of a shepherd’s income. Historically used in the UK carpet industry, demand had declined, and the wool is now considered almost worthless, a by-product of sheep farming. It is something special, but its perceived value has been lost – it is currently one of the lowest value wools in the UK. Now the wool from one sheep sells for around 40 pennies.
Justin and Hannah Floyd, the husband and wife from Buckfastleigh, experienced in product design and marketing, wanted to find for themselves new jobs. They thought that if they could find a new and modern way of working with wool, then perhaps they could bring some of wool industry back to their hometown and increase the value of wool. And, as well as creating jobs for themselves, maybe they could create some in their community. To do so, they decided to open their business.
They started to turn the way people have always worked with wool on its head. The result is Solidwool – a unique, composite material. Some could say it is like fibreglass, but with wool as the reinforcement instead of glass and bio-resins as the binder. When used in Solidwool, Herdwick wool is producing a dark grey composite with the lighter guard hairs standing out. The material can be used for making furniture.
Besides the wool, the origin of resin is also important. Traditionally, the resins used in composites manufacture are 100 percent petrochemical and have varying levels of toxicity. They have a large carbon footprint and emit potentially harmful toxins during use. The resins that are currently used in Solidwool can be classed as bio-resins – they have a roughly 30 percent bio-based renewable content. Sourced from waste streams of other industrial processes, such as wood pulp and biofuels production, the environmentally conscientious resin manufacturer claims a minimum 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during manufacture over traditional resins. These materials do not compete with food sources or displace food-based agriculture.
The goal is to one day produce a 100 percent natural composite material. Of course, there are 100 percent bio-resins available today, but in their current form they would not achieve a viable or quality product for Solidwool. Justin and Hannah believe that someday this will change.
I found Hembury chair and side table by Solidwool at Designersblock exhibition organized as the part of the Milan Design Week (14-19 April 2015). I met Justin Floyd, the co-founder of Solidwool at the venue of the show located at via Tortona. If you have any questions regarding Solidwool, please send him an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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