Photography by Barry Rosenthal

Photography by Barry Rosenthal


Agenda #3: Materials Matter

Words by Seetal Solanki

Whether it’s the textural grain of the desk you’re working on, the garments that protect your body from the elements or the sturdy nature of the bricks that house you—you are never without materials. They have the ability to take care of us and, if used properly, have the potential to take care of our planet’s current and future health.

We are now so numerous, so powerful, so all-pervasive, the mechanisms that we have for
destruction are so wholesale and so frightening, that we can actually exterminate whole eco-systems without even noticing it.
— David Attenborough, Davos 2019 Conference

We simply cannot carry on at the current rate of consumption. According to the United Nations we only have 11.5 years to save the planet. Materials are one of the most essential elements that can remedy this, as they can be redesigned, reformed and reused giving them an entirely new purpose. The infinite potential that materials possess offers the opportunity to help the planet recover from its alarming current state.

The bronze age, iron age, stone age and ice age all demonstrated that the earth has gone through a variety of material ages which have reshaped the planet and the species that reside within it. In response to our current environmental crisis, many designers, artists, scientists, researchers and architects are practising a material-first approach to their creative outputs. They are informing and exercising new sustainable methods that are positively impacting industries and societies from the handcrafted to the mass market. Could we be on the brink of a new material age?

As a child I was brought up on the philosophy of karma, the concept that caring for one another can invoke the same type of energy coming back to the one that caused it. This simple guiding principle of cause and effect clearly acknowledges that every action has a reaction; whether good or bad. Materials are very much in line with these principles whatever is conceptualised, designed, made and manufactured can have a lasting impact whether good or bad. According to an article by Alison Kemper and Roger Martin in The Guardian, “Understanding cause and effect are vital to progress on sustainability.” The article goes onto say that there are both short-term and long-term effects on sustainability. This is not something that can be achieved or dealt with single-handedly—the act of collaboration and reciprocity is the way in which we can achieve a healthier planet and ultimately materials are a huge part of this change.

Design is nothing but a humble understanding of materials, a natural instinct of solutions and respect for nature.
— B.V. Doshi

My practice, Ma-tt-er, designs, advises, communicates and educates what materials can be and where they come from in order to implement a more responsible future. For this online AGENDA section Ma-tt-er has curated a collection of articles, interviews  and features  that  will  look  at  how materials are shaping a sustainable present and future. Throughout the online issue there will be tips on ways to reduce daily uses of single-use plastic, information on how sustainable materials are impacting the fashion industry, how the art of preservation can help extend the life of our things and we will champion the brands that are working towards having a positive impact.

Explore AGENDA: Materials Matter and discover how materials are developing new narratives, new behaviours  and systems that are positively impacting our society, environment, and economy and how you can be part of it.


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Interview with Celine Semaan

Redefining sustainable materials in fashion and the art of staying optimistic.