FOOD: Bigger than the Plate - Circular Design at the V&A Museum

Olivia Gecseg Monday, 17 June 2019

"FOOD: Bigger than the Plate" opened at the V&A Museum this month, highlighting a timely debate: as a society, how are we tackling the vastly unsustainable methods of farming and eating that have been escalating over the past century?

The first 200 visitors received edible tickets - which speaks volumes for the message the exhibition's curators are aiming to convey. Waste - and how we tackle it - is at the forefront of the show and the contemporary design projects showcased serve to join some of the dots between two of the planet's most wasteful industries: food and fashion. According to reports, in the UK alone, 18 million tons of food ends up in landfill while 1.7 million tons of textiles follow it. Our wasteful culture needs addressing, but from which direction? Are consumers to bear the blame for the human instinct to acquire more stuff, or is it manufacturers and designers who need to improve their output?

The exhibition’s main driver is its emphasis on community and collective action (something we discuss in great detail this month in the Masterclass, "Building Communities with Ethical Events"), allowing it to tackle the "Who is responsible?" question from several angles. Spotlighted in the exhibition are over 20 exciting contemporary designers, working principally within the concepts of a circular economy. Experimenting with biomaterials and food waste, their pioneering products reassess how we design, make and consume.

This thought-provoking exhibition runs until October, and we highly recommend checking it out if you have a chance. If you can't make it to London or are just in need of some material inspiration, here are a few highlights of the intriguing design innovations on show. We’ve been lucky enough to interview some of these designers for The Sustainable Fashion Collective already, and you can find the links to those videos below (available to Professional Members only).


FOOD: Bigger than the Plate, V&A Museum. Photo credit: Evening Standard

Crafting Plastics

Founded by Vlasta Kubusova and Miroslav Kral, the Slovakian-based design manufacturers aim to “bring bioplastics into our day-to-day-life” - with no cheating! Their plastics are made from 100% renewable sources which eventually biodegrade into compost and which they've applied to a covetable collection of biobased eyewear with recyclable lenses, "cp! Eyewear".

Alice Potts

Accessories and fashion designer, Alice Potts, turned heads with her graduate collection of garments adorned with crystals grown from human sweat, experimental materials that question our body’s relationship with clothing. On display at the V&A, are Alice’s bioplastic samples, for which she documents the making process on her website. She asks questions, like “Do you need to change the qualities of the material in order for them to work with the body?” and even, “Could it improve the function of the body?”

Chip[s] Board

Seeking an alternative to MDF, the team behind Chip[s] Board worked with waste from the potato industry, to produce a bio-plastic material that can be applied to a whole range of products. They have developed revolutionary technologies that tackle the short lifecycles inherent in traditional manufacturing, meanwhile making use of the waste of one of Britain’s most popular foods: chips!

Watch our interview with Rob Nicoll, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Chip[s] Board (Professional Members only). 

Image credit: Chip[s] Board

Tessa Silva

A true testament of material innovation is when you struggle to guess the origins of the finished product. Tessa Silva’s beautiful Protein Bowls are created from the casein in surplus cow’s milk generated from organic farms in England, but look like they were crafted from expensive granite. Her process also serves to highlight the issue of "dairy dumping" within the dairy farming community, where large quantities of milk often have to be cast away during periods of over-production because chilled storage is unsustainable. Pre-industrial plastics in the early 1900s also used milk proteins - today the process has the potential to be manufactured at much larger scales. 

Made from Malai

An environmentally-friendly and ethical leather alternative, Malai is made from bacterial cellulose harvested from coconut water. Zuzanna Gombusova and Susmith C Suseelan realised the exciting new material together, combining their respective experience working with bacterial cellulose/paper-making and coconuts. Malai sandals and purse go on display in the V&A, showcasing the practical applications of this compostable, circular material.

Watch our interview with Zuzana Gombusova, co-founder of Malai (Professional Members only).

Image credit: Made from Malai

Silvio Tinello

Uruguayans drinks over 9kg of Yerba Mate tea a year, generating a whole lot of waste for designer Silvio Tinello to work with in his biofabrications collection. In order to cultivate discarded Yerba Mate sticks into a workable material, Tinello agglutinates it (clumps it together) with mycelium (from the root stem of mushrooms) and a cultivated bacterial cellulose. The result: a leathery cellulose that can be used for soft fashion garments and hard household objects alike.