As sustainability continues to be a global hot topic, Africa’s entrepreneurship endeavors in the fields of design and retail caught international eyes.
This year, Swedish furniture retailer IKEA will be home to an African-themed assortment of handmade products that focus on sustainability and upcycling. One of Egypt’s very own startups is part of the story: Reform Studio.
Since being founding in 2013, Reform Studio has been converting easy-to-throw-away food packaging material into handmade products, such as bags, shoes and furniture, led by its cofounders Mariam Hazem and Hend Riad.
The road to IKEA
IKEA selected the Egyptian cofounders – among eight other designers – for a joint project curated by design and creative hub Design Indaba to create IKEA’s first-ever African-designed collection named “Överallt,” which means “everywhere” in Swedish.
Two years ago, and as part of the collaboration with IKEA, Reform Studio produced a refined version of the multinational’s popular “Frakta” shopping bags using upcycled filament. “These bags were displayed during an IKEA-sponsored event in Sweden and were favorably received by the attendees,” Riad tells Business Forward.
Over the span of two years, the 10 African candidates have been joining forces with IKEA’s in-house designers on the all-African collection, which is slated to be available in May 2019 in all franchises over a specific period of time.
Last February, the designers’ end products were on display during Design Indaba Festival 2019, which took place in South Africa. Reform Studio also featured an assortment of bags, rugs and cushions. For the startup itself, these products are the embodiment of its concept work.
“Working with IKEA is akin to reaching out to every home. We’ve got a message to amplify, which is to raise awareness about the concept of upcycling and the importance of sustainable practices in the design industry,” Riad says. She adds that the collection launch highlights the effective role of Africa in bringing about environmentally aware actions.
Turning non-recyclable food wrappers into a fashion statement
Reducing plastic pollution lies at the core of Reform Studio’s vision. “Promoting the concept of sustainable luxury sums up our mantra,” she explains.
The cofounders were initially inspired by the shine and sheen of food wrappers, such as chips bags and candy wrappers. They realized that the manufacturing process of these materials results in tons of waste – with “shiny material” that could be woven into versatile products.
Speaking of the detrimental effects of the food packaging material on the environment, Riad says that these products are not recyclable per se; however, they are made out of recyclable material.
“They are multi-layered – it is the product of a hybrid of environmentally unfriendly materials, such as aluminum and plastic among others.”
In terms of the production process, Hazem and Riad have their own workshop, where they make their own fabrics. “We collect huge piles of plastic from heavy industrial waste, seperate them into usable plastic aliquots and turn them into threads that are later tied down to the wrap-rollers,” Riad elaborates.
What comes next?
Besides Egypt, Reform Studio’s products are retailed in the United States (US), Saudi Arabia and Japan, as of date. In the coming period, the startup is looking to scale up exports, according to Riad, as it is rolling out its upcoming line of products, slated for the summer.
Additionally, the duo is looking forward to partaking in Wanted Design Exhibition, which is going to take place in New York in May 2019.
“What we are focusing on now is to increase global footprint,” Riad concludes.