Interview with designer Reform Studio (RS), regarding views on design, and for the award-winning design Plastex Eco-Friendly Material.

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Interview with Reform Studio at Sunday 16th of February 2014: DI: What is the main principle, idea and inspiration behind your design?
RS : At the same time as we were coming up with the concept, Egypt was going through major revolutionary changes. We were very inspired by these changes, we never felt this way before, and we wanted to be part of it. We wanted to change Egypt to the better, and so we started with one of the biggest problem in Egypt, trash.

DI: What has been your main focus in designing this work? Especially what did you want to achieve?
RS : The main focus of the concept stems from a problem solving approach. We wanted to solve the devastating problems of trash in Egypt. We looked into how people in Egypt viewed trash and how they dealt with it and we wanted to change that. We wanted to show people that trash could be more than discarded items, that trash was useful, that there was no ‘away’. There are so many health and environmental implications that arise from improperly discarding plastic bags. We wanted to design responsible products that were environment friendly, products that delivered an important message.

DI: What are your future plans for this award winning design?
RS : We plan to research more uses and applications for the material ‘plastex’, to expand and start more production workshops to produce the material and offer work opportunities to craftsmen and revive the craft industry. We plan to enter the local and international market with our product and deliver our message to the public through our designs, change how people view trash and make them see that an opportunity is present in every problem

DI: How long did it take you to design this particular concept?
RS : This was one of our semester projects, so the design process lasted 3-4 months.

DI: Why did you design this particular concept? Was this design commissioned or did you decide to pursuit an inspiration?
RS : This design started out as a semester project when we were studying product design in the German university in Cairo. We wanted to solve a major problem in Egypt, trash. And after researching about the process of trash gathering and the recycling system used in Egypt, we came to a conclusion that plastic bags were the most used plastic item that consumes a lot of energy resources in its making, but is hugely discarded and not heavily recycled in Egypt.

DI: What made you design this particular type of work?
RS : The feeling of responsibility towards our environment, country and generations to come.

DI: Where there any other designs and/or designers that helped the influence the design of your work?
RS : Our respectful mentor and supervisor on our project, Sven Anwar. And Hadwa Shrief, one of the design students who worked with us on the same design project.

DI: What sets this design apart from other similar or resembling concepts?
RS : Recycling plastic bags consumes a lot of energy, and it’s always better to reuse any resource before recycling it. There are few methods of reusing plastic bags that we’ve found during our research, other knotting and knitting methods consume a huge amount of time and uses more plastic material to produce the ‘textile’, weaving on the other hand is faster and uses less material to create the same size and characteristics of the material, it actually produces a sturdier material and the cotton threads makes it more durable.

DI: What is the most unique aspect of your design?
RS : The feasibility of the concept; how it’s an innovative new material that can be easily produced in a developing country like Egypt and at the same time solve a major problem like trash, and help in sustaining our environment.

DI: Who did you collaborate with for this design? Did you work with people with technical / specialized skills?
RS : Design and crafts each compliment each other, we have to find a way to juxtapose these two together and collaborate with craftsmen to empower both the design and crafts industries. We design our own furniture pieces, but we heavily work with craftsmen from the weaving industry, working on a traditional handloom used in Egypt to weave the plastic bags and produce the ‘plastex’ material.

DI: What is the role of technology in this particular design?
RS : The design uses what was once a technology breakthrough, weaving on a handloom, and the concept of using a traditional handloom to weave an unfamiliar material like plastic bags is what makes the idea powerful, nothing is easy, but we are not introducing a high tech manufacturing method that would be very hard to implement in Egypt

DI: Is your design influenced by data or analytical research in any way? What kind of research did you conduct for making this design?
RS : Before arriving to this design solution, we researched about the process of trash gathering in Egypt and the recycling process that is usually carried out by various organizations.

DI: What are some of the challenges you faced during the design/realization of your concept?
RS : One of our goals was very challenging, whilst aiming to revive the weaving industry in Egypt, we never imagined that the craft has reached such a bad stage; finding workshops that are still loyal to this craft was an obstacle. The automation of the weaving industry affected handmade crafts to an extent that craftsmen would not be able to make a living from it. So we thought of juxtaposing an old technique with a new concept through design to create new products with higher values.

DI: What did you learn or how did you improve yourself during the designing of this work?
RS : To be flexible with the idea of going back to the drawing table and redesigning and revisiting your concept over and over again. We were very insisted on using the material in a certain way without taking and try to work out a solution to achieve our design objective, without looking to the limitations as new opportunities and possibilities to test before illuminating these concepts. For example, we were so determined to make the material all from plastic bags, without including the threads from the weaving loom, but it made the material weak, once we realized that we have to work with the properties and limitations of the material and not against it, we came up with the idea of weaving the actual plastic bag threads in the handloom itself.