Hearing lots about vegan design? Here, Chloe Bullock of Materialise Interiors, the UK’s first VeganDesign.org Certifed™ interior designer tells us all about this exciting and growing area.
So what is vegan design?
I think ‘vegan design’ is a bit of a heavy title. When I first took the course on it – it was entitled ‘Cruelty-Free design’ which I still think is confusing and a bit negative sounding. The word vegan is linked to a vegan diet and perhaps there is guilt associated with it. Lots of people ask me what it means – and I talk them through some of the areas and some of the myths – and then they get it. I’m basically an animal lover and an interior designer who has clocked up a few years of experience of using interior finishes.
Whether your perspective is the animals, people, the environment or health – there are multiple reasons for exploring alternatives that avoid the use of animals in interior specifications. I’m not an activist but I don’t see the need to use animals and their products in interiors – either for my clients or for my own home – and I’d really like my fellow designers to learn more about the industry like I did when I took the course to be VeganDesign.org Certifed™.
How did you get into this niche?
I’m really fortunate to have had a 10-year conscious design education from ethical retailer The Body Shop – which was at the beginning of my career nearly 25 years ago. Within the retail design team, we designed concepts which avoided animal products, animal-tested paint, we always used sustainable timber, we avoided PVC – and we upcycled, reused and recycled where possible.
As with the fashion industry, I feel that ‘conscious consumption‘ is the future for the use of the earth’s resources in our industry. Where’s is it from? What’s it’s environmental impact? Is it reusable or repairable? After use, can it be recycled? I feel it’s the duty of designers to have a good knowledge of what we are putting in our client’s homes and businesses and we need to guide our clients through the process.
Where do I start?
There are many ways animals are used in the interiors industry – in the production of leather – suede – skins – wool – silk – down – feathers – fur – paint – adhesives. Backed with facts from PETA investigations, the VeganDesign.org course highlighted animal welfare in the wool industry, the fact that leather is not the by-product (meat is). Chinese and Indian leather is not only bovine (basically any animal can be skinned), the horror of live-plucked down, the appalling conditions that leather tannery workers work in and the devastating effect of the chemicals on their health, and the conditions for communities in Bangladesh where tannery chemicals flow into the rivers where they wash and fish. Closer to home, some paints are unfortunately still tested on animals and we need to ask “is the end product or the ingredients used tested on animals?”
I don’t think these are concerns only for vegans – in the way people don’t want cruelty in their cosmetic, toiletry or cleaning product choices. Whether your perspective is the animals, people, the environment or health – there are multiple reasons for exploring alternatives that avoid the use of animals in interior specifications. More and more alternatives are becoming available.
Technology is moving at a rapid rate and dare I say it – ‘natural’ is not necessarily as natural as you might hope (most likely it is heavily chemical-laden) and ‘natural’ may be a myth and no longer be the right fabric or finish to use. Many ‘natural’ products harbour dust which is a problem for allergy sufferers.
There are so many exciting developments that are happening in the fashion industry that are beginning to overflow into the interiors and automotive industries such as lab-grown leather and leather derived from food waste (pineapple leaf fibre, mushrooms, apple fibres and coconuts). All of these innovations are helping to change our perception of design and encourage sustainable and conscious consumerism.
Top image credit: Jim Stephenson 2018