Sustainable Materials Talk Series: “Radical Matter - Materials for sustainable future” with Julian Ellerby

Sustainable Materials Talk Series: “Radical Matter - Materials for sustainable future” with Julian Ellerby

Posted 17 February 2020 by Katie Kubrak

As part of our ‘Material Monday’ articles, we have been featuring the highlights from a night of talks on the topic of “Sustainable Materials” we curated for the “Sustainable Stories” exhibition launched London Design Festival 2019. This week we present the last talk corresponding to the aforementioned theme – “Radical Matter – Materials for a sustainable future” by Julian Ellerby, a Strategy Director at FranklinTill.

FranklinTill is a futures research consultancy working with brands to deliver intelligence and strategies for design, material and colour innovation with positive social and environmental impact. They are also custodians to Viewpoint and Viewpoint Colour magazines as well as the book titled “Radical Matter” that focuses on rethinking materials for the sustainable future. The book comprehensively outlines eight big Ideas that will shape and inform the choices of materials, design methods and manufacturing processes made by designers in the years ahead. 

On the night Julian briefed the audience on two out of eight big ideas presented in the “Radical Matter”. These include: (1) Today’s waste, Tomorrow’s raw material and (2) Natural assets.

(1) Today’s waste, Tomorrow’s raw material

In the first proposition, Julian states that we need to reclaim overconsumed resources. To do this, we need to understand waste streams, find a new function for them, identify relevant processes to recycle them and most importantly change our relationship with waste. To achieve this, we need a new approach, new vocabulary, a new aesthetic that portrays waste source as something desirable. To support this position, he exemplifies with the case studies that include:

  • James Shaw, who had developed a collection of three ‘making guns’; each an innovative tool for the execution of radical production methods. The most vicious looking of the three is the ‘plastic extruding gun’. It turns the extrusion of polymers–usually a huge and cumbersome task carried out in distant factories–into a handheld process. Shaw uses this device to form recycled HDPE into exciting and extravagant shapes that celebrates the creation of organic forms that embraces the natural characteristics of the medium.
  • SilicaStone, a material created from recycled waste glass and ceramics, that was conceived to feel like stone. Thanks to not being bonded by resin, it is UV stable and will not fade or change colour over time. It is also heat and fire resistant. As a result of the aforementioned patented technology, the supplier can create a range of surfaces that offer new and exciting design possibilities for both interior and exterior projects, while redefining attitudes to and aesthetics of waste. In order to create sustainable material streams the supplier is also partnering for waste retrieval with giants like Nandos.
  • Bethany Williams, alumni of Central Saint Martins, who pushes for unusual waste sources of materials while pushing for the community-first fashion

(2) Natural assets

Natural assets look at flora and fauna, harvesting it and the most unexpected ways of processing it for novel product propositions as demonstrated through the work of

  • ‘Forest wool’ project by Tamara Orjola in which she researched the potential use of the billions of needles that go unused and found them to be a great alternative for all kinds of fibres. With standard manufacturing techniques – crushing, soaking, steaming, carding, binding and pressing – they can be transformed into textiles, composites and paper, extracting essential oil and dye in the process.
  • Pinatex, a vegan leather alternative made from cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves, PLA, and petroleum-based resin.
  • Freitag, recognized for making unique bags and accessories are made from used truck tarp, created a ‘F-abric’, textile locally made in Europe and made out of hemp and build with longevity in mind, designed to last and
  • Margent Farm that grows organic, sustainable and environmentally friendly hemp crops for both the circular economy and lifestyle including fibres strong as steel for architectural industry
  • Mycoworks that explores how to grow mycelium into new geometries, so it’s functionality can be expanded

Julian’s talk can be best concluded by following excerpt from his speech “We became blind to the value of the materials. We need to see their potential and look at waste as a resource and as opportunity.” This take>make>discard model that left our rivers, oceans, soils and forests in a questionable state, a state that cannot continue. Needed change will only happen if we redefine our relationship with waste.

To find out more about materials for sustainable future, please feel free to comment here or email us at Also, stay tuned as next week we’ll be bringing you some interesting points from “Sustainable Production” talk series with appearances from Nick Gumery (LUSH), Carl Pratt (FuturePlanet) and Richard Kirkman (Veolia UK & Ireland).