Sep 28, 2010

Love, Freedom, Flow: New Caribbean Design


P    Patty Johnson is a Canadian designer who is interested in the interchange between research and design, and, commerce and culture. She operates worldwide with partners, enterprises, manufacturers, communities, governments, and designers creating new kinds of design programs and product collections. Her mobile studio network looks to combine the strengths of complimentary groups to build new linkages, new cultures and new ideas. Patty Johnson tells Trends for a Handmade World about Love, Freedom, Flow: New Caribbean Design.

W   What is New Caribbean Design?

Love, Freedom, Flow: New Caribbean Design represents an unprecedented collaboration, weaving together elements of craft production, community development and modern design.  A focus on producing unique regional hybrids that combine craft tradition and contemporary design process is the aim of New Caribbean Design. Through the push and pull of cross-cultural collaboration the group has balanced traditional cultural practice in the Caribbean and forward-looking design solutions; developing new methods and new vernacular that respects and elevates local traditions. In contrast with the familiar presentations of Caribbean culture – souvenirs and resort experience – this collection presents something much more dynamic: a living breathing culture with a critical role in the global design marketplace.

What countries participate in this initiative? 

This new project by Patty Johnson was produced in collaboration with six designers from the Caribbean region – Hansie Duvivier (Haiti), Stella Hackett (Barbados), Andy Manley (Dominica), Philip Marshall (Barbados), Cassandre Mehu (Haiti), and Lesley-Ann Noel (Trinidad and Tobago). Working closely with artisan producers, communities and craft production factories the group created twenty new furniture, textile, home accessory and lighting products that are debuting at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair 2010 in New York City. This product collection represents the work of twenty-one companies from eight Caribbean nations including Haiti, Barbados, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and others. The project is supported by the Caribbean Export Development Agency, the Barbados Investment Development Corporation, the Interamerican Development Bank, and, the Trade Facilitation Office of Canada. 

How did you manage to bring such diversity within a cohesive brand? 

Collaboratively. Over a two-year period I worked with a regional design team and over 20 producers to develop the brand and the products.

Caribbean culture is a confluence of African, European and Amerindian heritage and cultural retention and fusion has produced a unique hybrid. These complex and mixed cultural histories have tremendous value. Material culture is central to the Caribbean region with a long tradition of the use of indigenous materials, and, the production of art and craft is tied to the politics of oppression and resilience.  By keeping these values central to the process we were able to create a cohesive brand. 

How do you tell the stories of the different islands? 

Current design approaches and systems are, to a very great extent, dissociated or disengaged from the needs of ‘people-on-the-ground’ and from the capacities of local production processes and this is as true in the Caribbean as in other parts of the world. 
Contemporary product aesthetics that fail to capture consumers’ attention are a result and reflection of this sense of detachment and ill advised development, In order to create products that are at once sustainable, locally meaningful and globally marketable, it is imperative to begin developing, or perhaps retrieving, these integral connections. Design innovation applied in informed practiced and with a "bottom up" or collaborative methodology can be a perennial asset to artisan communities. Working with artisan communities in such collaborative projects emerges as an opportunity that can be equally beneficial for both designer and artisan to share creativity about the production of integral goods. 
This was our central premise in developing the narratives of New Caribbean Design in addition to telling the story of the region rather than indentifying different islands.   

Please describe one or more iconic products that represent the concept 
I like to think that all the products are iconic but if pressed there are a few that really represent the hybrid and collaborative concepts. All the ceramic work produced in Barbados from indigenous red clay are good example of how traditional work can find new vitality in contemporary markets. The Liana Chair from Liana Cane - all renewable vine from the rain forest and using bright, phosphorescent colors. And then finally, the indigenous work which never ceases to amaze me - the Wai Wai in Guyana, the Kalinago in Dominica and Nanny of the Maroons Traditional Baskets from Jamaica

How did you go from souvenir and resort to high design? 

By focusing on contemporary design inputs and ideas in combination with indigenous materials and techniques. 

What is the future for New Caribbean Design? 

New Caribbean Design is a registered not for profit association that is driven by its directors, member companies and design team and is partnered throughout the region by national agencies as well as Caribbean Export. Product development is a collaborative activity with clearly defined strategic goals and vision. NCD is already working on an expanded product collection with plans to debut at ICFF 2011 and possibly at 100% Design in London 2011. In partnership with Tom Dixon in London NCD will be launching a selection of the collection at his new studio complex during London Design Week this year.

What were some of the challenges and good surprises? 

The challenge was working with a collaborative methodology and the surprise was the great result of working with a collaborative methodology!

Is the collection sustainable? How so? 

Designing all products and packaging with consideration for their environmental impact is a central strategy for New Caribbean Design not only in terms of current marketability but also for longetivity of product reach. An emphasis on product durability, innovation, and quality to build effective production reinforces the long-term sustainability of the products.  Incorporating environmentally sustainable materials, features, and manufacturing processes into new product and packaging designs is essential for capacity building. The objective is to develop programs that focus on sustainable design as an international and local process that can contribute to southern livelihoods in the contemporary global context, and, to expand insights adding to longitudinal knowledge of sustainability and ecology in regional manufacturing communities.

The product development focus of New Caribbean Design has included sustainable and ecological criterion such as the use of local materials and renewable inputs, lightweight manufacturing and reducing material inputs, the development of environmentally sensitive packaging from local sources and waste material, and, the building of awareness of progressive business strategies that give preference to the creation of high end sustainable products over cost reduction measures.  

Were you surprised by any of the materials and techniques found? 

Well, I'm always amazed I have to say. The dedication of practioners, the techniques especially of indigenous groups and the beauty of handwork is inspirational. 

How has the market responded? 

Very well.  We have had good success in a very short period of time and have developed linkages with high-end retailers in the UK and Europe. Directly, this means sales and orders as well as representation in the US. It is this momentum that NCD will build on over the next three to five years.

You believe in elevating tradition and targeting the high-end market. Why?  Can you please elaborate on your reasons for choosing this approach?

In part, my intention is to act as advocate for the creative communities that I am engaged with and to ensure that the nature of product development is a sustainable process that can extend beyond the length of the project timescale. At core, my projects suggest that designers look beyond the individualism of Western consumer philosophies that currently drive design practice to include investigations of craft production and indigenous artifact in developing countries and to be explicit about those partners and makers. 

The cultural position of craft and design remains an intense and contradictory matter but one that is successfully played out through a very wide variety of methodologies. There are many positions for design in contemporary culture. Quality and innovation have a whole bundle of sources: designers need to be alert and knowledgeable, and there has to be an awareness of design and making as a positive engine for change in the larger context of contemporary social concerns.

 My approach allows Southern producers and communities to translate designs with their own unique skills and regional materials into new products. Certainly it takes the empowerment of producer communities as a given. The work is grounded in the physical world, as contrasted with the technological world, and is tied to a place and its manufacturing traditions making it more specifically representative of the people who make it. 

If the artisan furniture and craft products of the developing world are to be valued properly and create sustainable livelihoods in those places, their design must realistically reflect and communicate the labor and skills of the producers who make them. The aim is to avoid the branch plant mentality of multinationals that plagues Southeast Asia, and other places where craft skills have been degraded, and offer instead high end design products that are suited to the skills, technologies and histories of these places 

What is the North-South project? 

North South Project: A new model of design and craft collaborations in the developing world took place over a two year period in Guyana, South America and Botswana, Africa and was launched at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in May 2006. The project was awarded an Editors' Award for Craftsmanship and was included in Newsweek's Design Dozen 2006.

The tenets and principles were the same: a collaborative effort involving small scale craft factories and indigenous producers in the creation and branding of new design products that used regional vocabularies in unexpected ways to reach high end markets.

The project aspires to create a human centered and partnership based model of design collaboration that produces sophisticated hybrid products that are launched in high-end markets. Implicit in this investigation is the idea that design practitioners must expand their focus to include strategic development and through this begin to redefine the designer’s role in a contemporary context. The research and the implementation specific to the product lines and market launch of this project show that a new model of viable design and craft collaborations in the developing world is possible and that these findings can have a broader relevance for sustainable design practice.

Can you please write one word next to the following words?

*Design Collaborative

*Development Bottom Up

*Global Local 

*Local Global 

*Recession Opportunity 

*Identity Hybrid    

*Mass production Old School 

*Limited New School 

Aug 17, 2010

Nature's Collection by Clara Saldarriaga

@Humberto Quevedo


Clara Saldarriaga (CS): My work talks about Colombia, the country where I was born and where I live and work.   My artisitc work is a response to a beautiful scenario where the sun shines all year round,  and the shades of green and flowers are infinite.
Each piece I make pays homage to Colombia’s biodiversity through very old ancestral techniques that involve metalwork, lost wax and other alchemical processes.  Nature enjoys a second life through the contact of natural elements with copper, gold and silver.  Each piece tells  stories about nature and becomes part of the history of the person wearing the jewelry.


CS:In 1989, after years of exploring life size formats, I became interested in smaller formats that could interact in an intimate way with the users, becoming par tof their lives and acting as totems and amulets.  At that time I had a lot of questions about life, time, permanence and impermanence.  The research that led to the “Nature’s Collection”, started from a process of deep questioning, inquiry and soul searching reflection.


CS: My spiritual search led me to find the appropriate metals to achive the pieces that would highlight nature with its beauty along with its imperfections. I was interested in the secrets that are not easily perceived by the eye, the essence that is felt at a different level. Years of research led me to the pieces that are part of “ Nature’s Collection”.


CS: From life, from my questions, from my everyday life with its simplicity and complexity. Its sweet and sour.




CS: My work is innovative because it does what we all dream of doing many times which is freezing time and moments, escaping the passing of time, the ephimeral.

CS: Any change to the ecosystem affects my work.  I borrow from nature in a process which leaves traces of  a moment in time, a certain natural expresion, a gesture.


CS: Each piece is handmade, one by one, following nature’s rhythms.


CARRERA 3 N. 11-55 AP. 103
CEL. 310 426 06 15

Jul 4, 2010

An Interview with Ann McCreath from KikoRomeo

KikoRomeo peace patches with jewelry by Le Collane di Betta

KikoRomeo mens by Joseph Hunwick

*Can you tell us a little about your work , the idea and the philosophy behind it.

I came to Kenya for 3 months out from the fashion scene in Barcelona. I found I liked it & so stayed 3 years as head of Mission for MSF. At the end of that time I was frustrated by emergency aid and thought I could use my fashion skills to do trade instead of aid . I aimed to produce through community groups in rural Kenya, generating employment. The concept for a contemporary African clothing brand came from the lack of availability of Kenyan ready-made designer products and the lack of pride I saw in the local culture and anything African. So KikoRomeo, meaning Adam's Apple in swahili, was born to fill these gaps.

Kooroo cloak from recycled silk sari, photo by Joseph Hunwick for FAFA

Outfit by Kofi Ansah in traditional handwoven Kente cloth from Ghana, photo Joseph Hunwick
KikoRomeo Peace Patch dress
KikoRomeo Peace patch dress, photo by Joseph Hunwick for FAFA, jewelry Le Collane di Betta

*Why is there such a need for the fashion industry to think sustainably?

Fashion has an impact on the environment, in our case through the cotton industry which uses a lot of pesticides, and damaging fabric dyeing & treatments. Kenya is badly affected by climate change and so protection of our environment is key. As regards short term fashion trends, people wear & throw within no time, meaning a huge wastage of material & energy inputs. Such consumer habits can also adversely affect communities and businesses, which gear up to meet a demand, only to be dumped the next season. This means they can't plan long term, and are at the mercy of trends in the developed markets.

Outfit by Kofi Ansah - embroidered PVC and mudcloth, photo Joseph Hunwick for FAFA

*What is "now" in terms of materials, colors, techniques?

In East Africa, "now" usually means many different things, as people are not used to following a few trends, have few magazines to persuade them to buy a specific trend, and often go for individual looks. The only recent clear trend has been a big interest in the traditional "khanga" or "lesso". These are cotton fabrics which are printed in with a rectangular framed border, usually with big bright patterns in contrasting colours & with a slogan or proverb in Swahili. They are sold in pairs & traditionally were bought and kept by women to sell when they needed money. Colours are very diverse, but definitely a big interest currently in golden yellow, turquoise, shocking pink and orange.

Jewelry and dress by Patricia Mbela, photo Joseph Hunwick

*Why do you think there such revival for everything ethical now?

I have been working in "ethical" for a long time, because I find humanitarian principles very important, and I hated big fashion's disregard for them. Having said that, I think the global economic crisis has made people re think how things are made, where they come from, and has led to an appreciation of small-scale, handcrafted, tangible, home-made etc.. The human stories behind the products are interesting, the big manufacturing model had become boring, impersonal & mechanical.

Coat by John Kaveke, Jewelry Kazuri Beads, Photo Joseph Hunwick

Imane Ayissi design, photo Joseph Hunwick

*Can you visualize 2010 in a color palette? a texture? a word or several

My year is always about colour - lots of it, in strong, bright contrasts. Having a diverse clientele with different skin colours, I think it's important to offer a wide choice.
My 2010 is a mix of new fabrics with recycled scraps & 2nd hand clothing. Stripes, bold East African prints, mixed with lacy knits crochet and beaded & hand embroidered applique patches. Layers, drapes and textures. Colours are orange, yellow, white, blues with beige & black and many more as the year unfolds. Coconut buttons. Inspired by the Swahili culture of the East African coast & particularly the island of Lamu.

*How has your work impacted the communities you work with?

We create supplementary income for many communities - particularly beaded leather from Namayiana Womens Group (100 Maasai women near Ngong), "Peace Patches" from Kibera A & B ( association of 20 young women living in Kibera slum), decorative metal tubes & buttons from KWOSH (association of women, youth and orphans in Kisumu), coconut buttons from Murage (community business in Mombasa) etc... We also connect them to other networks & businesses. We help them develop new designs, which in turn enables them to better interpret designs of other companies.

*How is your work sustainable?

We work with locally available materials & craft skills. We use our off cuts to make or decorate other products, so nothing gets wasted. We train staff both in house and in groups to make our designs.

Apr 2, 2010

Darcy Miro on the Power of Collaboration, Happy Accidents and Nature

Q:Please describe your experience collaborating with artisans, what were some of the challenges, the unexpected learning experiences

A:In my experience, collaborating with anyone has its challenges and its revelations.  I prefer to collaborate with people who bring an obsessive skill to the table that is different than mine.  I spend all day every day involved in my life's work, whether it's the physical or mental side of my process.  I always set out to create things people haven't seen before. Some artisans work with certain materials by choice and some were born into it.  Either way one has to take it all to heart or else any collaboration will be just mediocre.  I think the biggest challenge in collaborating is the combining of voices to create one cohesive whole-- this too is also the best revelation in a great collaboration--the combination of two voices that create something really special.

Q:What is "now" in terms of materials, colors, techniques?
A:I think dark more ambiguous materials are very “now”. Patterns with negative and positive space, techniques that have the possibilities of happy accidents, anything inspired by nature is always "now" to me.

Q:Why do you think there such a jewelry revival now?
A:I did not realize there was a jewelry revival--as far as I can tell there has always been a love of jewelry.  I think it is the one heirloom people can physically bond with. The same exact piece of jewelry can be sentimental to more than one person.  I have always found jewelry to carry energy and power. People are addicted to jewelry, always have been, always will be.

Q:Can you visualize 2010 in a color palette? a texture? a word or several?
A:In regards to the 2010 color palette: Earth tones into charcoal grey-perhaps some shades of green in there--but I’d say that for 2009 and 2011"serene and calming."

Q:How is your work sustainable?
A:My work is sustainable because I use and re-use all of my materials.  I am constantly melting metal and collaging new works with old pieces.  I keep my process simple, rely on only one other person to assist me and I have a never-ending supply of ideas.  Each piece is an evolution of the last, not building toward any product, but more toward the experience and knowledge that I'll gather along the way.

Christina Nicholson, Director of Sustainability for William Sonoma Group talks about Wood

Q: Why do you think there such revival for everything ethical now?
A: I think people are looking for unique and authentic vs. mass produced and cheap.  People are seeking a deeper connection to the world and people around them.

Q: Can you visualize 2010 in a color palette? A texture?A word or several?
A: Without editing or thinking about it too much a warm color palette comes to mind – rich oranges and golden yellows.  Earthy textures like corn husks and pumpkin skins come to mind.  A campfire also comes to mind.  Words like warm, connected, bright, illuminating, and rich with love and friendship come to mind.

Q: Why has the sustainability conversation started with wood?
A: Forests and wood are very important natural resources for humans and non-humans.  Seeing what has been done to the rainforests to make way for plantations, grazing lands, and lumber is visually compelling and evokes an emotional response.  We know that deforestation also contributes to climate change – another motivating factor that elicits action.

Q: How can wood be sustainable?
A: Using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified wood and reclaimed wood are a big step in the right direction. 

Q: What should an artisan do to shift towards certified sustainable wood?
A: Anytime an artisan uses non-virgin wood for the products they make is a big step in the right direction. 

Wood products by Kirah Design: