Natural Material Studio is dedicated to transforming the principles of circularity in the environment
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Leather-like material from discarded Danish Christmas trees – news in the realm of textiles

More awareness needs to be spread regarding what it means to buy something which has biodegradability properties. In conversation with Bonnie Hvillum, founder of Natural Material Studio 

Natural Material Studio – the aim

Based in Denmark, Natural Material Studio is dedicated to transforming the principles of circularity in the environment. They do this by turning waste into value: reusing, recycling, renewing and rethinking what we would consider to be worthless into a material. Bonnie Hvillum, founder and CEO of Natural Material Studio, explains that it’s a way for her to act upon climate change with the available resources around her: «In Denmark, a lot of people have climate anxiety. It’s a feeling of not knowing what to do to make a difference».

What it means to work with waste

The concept revolves around seeking materials which have no real use in the real world, something discarded from our everyday lives. «All these resources out there not being used create opportunities», Hvillum illustrates. Before founding the studio, Hvillum had another company which specialized in systemic consulting on a social level. It focused on educating different companies on how to use up all their resources to the maximum, creating more efficiency and a better working environment. «Everything I develop is based around biodegradability or compostable within a compostable system», explains Hvillum. All of the materials she produces can degrade in a normal compost and can decompose in around three months depending on the environment. Hvillum points out that this is something which people need to get educated on. More awareness needs to be spread regarding what it means to buy something which has biodegradability properties. She admits that there is this misconception in which people are adamant that this means the object can only last for a few months. «The process doesn’t start until you actually expose it to that environment», she explains. «People need to be more informed about what it means or else they’ll just keep dismissing it»

Pinel – a leather-like material made from pine needles 

All the materials present at the studio are under different stages of development. «Not all of them are meant to be used at a commercial level», Hvillum says. Some are prototypes, some revolve around the research and development of material innovation whilst others are commissioned by a specific company. One material which is currently being developed to reach commercial use is based on pine needles. Known as Pinel, the studio is collaborating with a technical institute to try and «understand the fibers of the needles and how we can put the material together so that they can survive commercial production and also live up to the standards that are present». It is a natural based leather-like material made from discarded Danish Christmas trees. The final material can be treated like leather as well as wood, introducing a new category which extends from textiles to upholstery. It is produced through a self-designed process which includes refining, soaking and refining once more. «At the moment we are understanding how to open up the fibers which is similar to a soaking process», explains Hvillum. 

A charcoal collection which filters air

Regarding the realm of textiles, Natural Material Studio worked with Moskal Studio, a Canadian contemporary womenswear brand. Their aim was to develop an eco textile for the label’s upcoming collection whose theme was mining. «Initially, we just started using charcoal as a pigment to make a black material. Then we started looking into it more and understanding it on a technical level». Active charcoal is used to filter the air, something which can easily be done by placing a layer of it in air vents. «We liked the idea of creating a material that could potentially filter air whilst being worn. To wear a jacket which can filter the air whilst you’re walking», Hvillum describes. Upon research, she realized that it could also be used as a natural fertilizer for the soil as it biodegrades and would therefore not only be compostable and sustainable, but regenerative as well. The charcoal composite is still going through developments to improve it regarding its textile properties. 

How human perception limits our enthusiasm to try new things

Even with all the awareness going around regarding sustainability and production processes which are more environmentally-friendly, the materials used may have negative connotations. Explaining to someone that an object is made from waste may not seem appealing to them and they may turn away. «It’s about the perception that people have on the materials. What’s the background of the material? We have this negative framing around waste, so it quickly dictates how people are going to interact with it», admits Hvillum. For her, the choice in materials goes beyond perception. They decide what they can be turned into and for what purpose. «I’ve always been driven by how we interact with materials. What do you do when you hold a type of material in your hand? Do you feel it? Does it have a sound?», she explains. «All these aesthetic qualities have been key for me in my development of these materials». For the people on the outside looking in, the analysis of the material is much more superficial. Everyday materials are easy to understand but «when we start working with these new materials, we don’t really have a language for them. It’s a challenge to explain what they are to make people feel comfortable. If you look at wood, you know what it is even if you don’t know the type of wood you’re looking at», Hvillum describes. «When you’re looking at a new material, you don’t really have any understanding of what it can and cannot do. It’s a completely new type of relationship to build. It’s a slow journey. It’s taking a long time but it’s slowly getting to a stage where people are taking more risks and are more daring to look into the future in that sense». 

Natural Material Studio seeks materials which have no real use in the real world and transforms them
Natural Material Studio seeks materials which have no real use in the real world and transforms them

Seashells turned into clay for ceramic collection 

Natural Material Studio also works through commissions with individual companies who are seeking to become more efficient in their resource usages. This allows Hvillum to research and develop more innovative materials. On one occasion, she collaborated with Noma, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Copenhagen. They looked into using leftover seashells rather than continuously discarding them. After one year of research into the composition of seashells, Hvillum managed to create a new type of clay for a ceramic collection. «The research we did for it was intensive. It was difficult», she admits. «Nobody had any understanding of what I was doing and no one could help me because it had never been done before»

Beyond the realm of textiles

Above textile development, Natural Material Studio researches more in materials which can be used for furniture as well. In an exhibition entitled FOAME, Hvillum created a biodegradable foam-composite of charcoal. She worked on the installation with the same philosophy that surrounded how humans interact with materials and their perceptions around the form of an object. «During the big Foame installation, some of the materials went wrong but you could just recast them. When we were done with project, we didn’t have much leftover. Even the offcuts had been recasted». In another project, the studio collaborated with a furniture store, Frama, in which they developed a natural seaweed textile to showcase. «They are simple vests», she explains. «You can throw it in the water and it will biodegrade in around one week». 

Does it cost?

When it comes to costs, waste has no real value to it, relative to other resources which are usually sought out to make materials from. The real cost lies within the research that goes into it. Hvillum explains that this cost «creates new value flows for companies», which takes into consideration the longterm costs rather than just short term. The studio continuously looks for new commissioned work to help companies look into their waste streams, as previously done with Noma. Hvillum wants to encourage a new way in which we look at and use materials for both companies and individuals: «It’s to facilitate new reflections and give them new experiences. To start a new language around materials». She is currently looking into car companies and possible ways she could work with the many parts which aren’t currently being used for anything.  

Natural Material Studio 

Founded by Bonnie Hvillum in Denmark with the aim to look at materials through a circular system. She has developed new materials as well as worked with companies to help them look into their waste streams. She is dedicated to turning waste into value. 

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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Hemp / made in Italy
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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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