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Material matters

Pale material experiments laid out
Pale material experiments laid out
Acoustic Pulp Panels, Baux
Written by
Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date
04 October 2019

What does a sustainable material revolution look like? Billie Coxhead, Co-ordinator of the Materials and Products Collection, talks through some recent acquisitions ranging from algae blooms and bacteria to abattoir waste.

Knowledge of materials – how they are made, who made them and what they consist of – is essential for a sustainable future. If we are on what Franklin Till refers to as “the brink of a materials revolution” then materials libraries and collections are at the forefront. Our Materials and Products Collection comprises materials, products and resources to give students immediate access to both information and inspiration. Material choices are so crucial for designing a more sustainable future, especially in turbulent ecological times.

Many of the materials represent sustainable design and manufacturing. To be considered sustainable they must be either biodegradable, recyclable or recycled, certified, compostable or made from renewable sources. Our CSM LVMH Director of Sustainable Innovation Carole Collet collaborated with us to establish the criteria. Students and staff can use the Collection to research sustainable material and manufacturing alternatives and sustainable design initiatives like Circular Design as well as certifications such as the Global Recycling Standard or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).

The Materials and Products Collection is currently showcasing a pop-up sustainable materials library open to the public as part of Designing in Turbulent Times exhibition at the Lethaby Gallery.


Here are six new acquisitions from designers and companies working towards a more sustainable future:


Bacteria pigment

This material exploits light interacting with nanostructures similar to the way in which light interacts with peacock feathers. Hoekmine BV are a biotechnology company located within the iLab, Hogeschool in the Netherlands. For this structural colour project they collaborated with the Vignolini Group in the Chemistry Dept at Cambridge. Making colour this way is not only incredibly beautiful but highly sustainable compared to synthetic dyes and pigments.



The construction industry is a significant contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions and energy use. Baux is just one example of innovation in construction materials. Baux’s wood wool acoustic panels are made from wood wool (yes, that’s a thing), cement and water. Its acoustic pulp panels are made out of sustainably harvested fir and pine trees, wheat bran, potato starch, plant wax and fruit peels. Both materials can be formed in various ways and can be coloured.


Bloom algae foam

As a result of higher global temperatures there has been an uncontrollable rise in algae growth which harms plant, animal, and human life. This company harvest algae from waterways at risk of harmful algae blooms. They then transform the algae into a foam ingredient and ship this to partner factories to be made into products like footwear, backpacks and yoga mats.

The Collection also acquires more provocative student projects (from within and beyond Central Saint Martins) with a focus on sustainability of materials and supply chains:

Kelp Weave, Michael Anderson (University of Dundee BA Product Design).

This project was inspired by a desire to explore sustainable and ethical materials that can be used in everyday products and have the potential to reduce our dependence on materials that are damaging to ocean ecosystems. The kelp is gathered by hand along the coast near Anstruther. It has been treated and hand-woven before being dried and pressed in custom-built wooden presses over several days. By removing the requirement for recycling, Anderson hopes to inspire a conversation around the importance of nature within design and the meaning of the word ‘sustainable’.


Hidden Beauty, Clemence Grouin-Rigaux, MA Material Futures, Central Saint Martins

Each year more than 60 billion animals are slaughtered globally. Therefore, animal remains are a constant and significant waste stream. This project transforms slaughter waste through the crafting of everyday objects and new materials, it aims to not only practically reduce the mountain of waste we generate every day but also help to change our perception of it, both as a valuable commodity but also culturally as something that doesn’t need to be discarded.

Herbal Medicine Textile, Xitong Zhou, MA Textile Design, Chelsea College of Art

The project explores traditional herbal medicine practices and materials that offer healthcare benefits when in contact with the skin. For example, these shoes are made from astragalus root fibres which help with fatigue and reflexology. This resulting material is natural, compostable and circular.

More Information:

Hand holding material samples
Material Library (photo: Alys Tomlinson)