Michael McManus and Matthew Grant are the founders of Dust London, a collaborative company challenging the perception of sustainable design. In changing the way materials are conventionally used, they create homeware from natural materials. Their growing collection inspired by origami forms, transforms tea waste into elegant objects using a unique process they have developed in their studio. dustlondon.co
How did you come up with the idea of using tea waste?
Our studio practice is driven by discovering new materials for making. We were looking for an organic material to use and after months of experimenting we tried tea waste. We found that adding tea to our binding material created a beautiful range of rich colours. Experimenting with tea waste as a material has enriched the colour palette of our designs. From the soft and subtle green hues of our Peppermint tea range to the rich warmth of the Rooibos selection, our products compliment a range of interiors.
Working with tea waste allows us to do two things; the first is to create a range of natural pigments and subtle textures in the homeware we create. The second is to raise awareness of the way materials are conventionally used and to challenge the perception of what sustainable design can be. A vase made from tea waste paves the way for those conversations happen.
What is the meaning behind Dust London - does it have any particular story?
We thought it was important to brand the collaboration. Our way of experimenting with the properties of a material are to break it down to discover the potential of it being reassembled in a more useful way. Naturally, that led to a lot of dust building up in the studio, which acted as a reminder of the discovery and learning process. As to ’London’, that was where we met and where we set up our first studio.
You have elaborated your own specific technique for the production. Is it a secret or can you share some basic aspects with our readers?
We separate out their tea waste into the different variations that we use. We collect the tea bags, thoroughly dry them out and blend them so that they are ready to mix with a non-toxic binder. After much experimentation, we settled on jesmonite as our binding material. A key process in the making to ensure the strength and surface finish of our pieces is balancing the radios of tea waste to the binding material. Once we have achieved the desired consistency, the material is ready to pour.
Furthermore, where does the tea waste come from and do you have a rough overview of how much tea you have “reused” so far?
We pick up the tea waste from offices and cafes local to our studio that are willing to set aside the waste for us collect. We know how many tea bags go into each of our products, so as an estimate, we have reused around 4000 tea bags since we started production at the beginning of this year.
Is it true that the color of your product comes from the type of tea you are using and in certain cases there is even a smell of the tea?
Yes, natural colouring from each variation of tea provides us with a range of organic colours. We also add a natural charcoal pigment to our black tea range to increase the contrast with the rest of our collection. A beeswax polish is also applied to the surface of the material to enhance the saturation of the objects. The tea can be smelt for a number of weeks after pouring but slowly dissipates over time.
A little bit more about yourself - you both have very different backgrounds, how has this influenced your work?
We knew each other from a young age and shared design ideas whilst studying art and architecture respectively. Dust London was born out of an ambition to set up a studio that explored our mutual interests in design and passion for organic and sustainable materials. Michael studied fine art at University of the Arts London. He spent 6 years working in artist studios and exhibiting across London. He has a passion for combining handmade processes with modern techniques. Matt studied architecture at The University of Manchester/The Bartlett, University College London. He is interested in the use of innovative materials and their application in design. With backgrounds in art and architecture, our approach to design draws on our experience in those environments and carries through to the objects we create. Our complimentary skill sets are key to how the Dust London project continues to evolve.
As a designer duo do you co-create your work or is there one of you behind each object?
We are both involved in the designing and making process of each product within the collection. The large planter is a tricky object to cast when one of us is by ourselves, so we usually do that together.
Do you think that in the future you would like to test other waste materials or is there something special about tea that inspires you?
The Dust London collaboration is driven by the search for organic waste materials. We are always experimenting within the studio to discover new material properties. For the moment, we are focused on the tea waste collection and excited about its design possibilities. As designers become aware of the material, we are receiving requests for bespoke products and surfaces, so there are challenges to overcome as we explore other functions.
We are speaking more and more about recycling, reuse and circular economy - do you think that for the future generations this will be even more natural?
For us, the first step is to raise awareness of how wasteful habits in the modern world have become. The second is to highlight the potential of adaptable materials and the role they can play in changing the approach to design. It will become more natural for future generations, but there is a long way to go before industries across the world adopt a truly circular approach.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming plans and projects? Where can we see your work?
The build up to Christmas is always a busy time for us, so we will be in the studio a lot building stock for each product in the collection over the coming months. We are part way through shooting a video about our concept and process for The Home of Sustainable Things, a small shop set up by a couple in Islington. They have curated an impressive collection of homeware, furniture, books and a materials library with the intention of educating the local and wider community. The Home of Sustainable Things is project we are very excited to be part of – visit the shop to see our coasters and vases in each of our tea variations. We have recently been selected by the Tate Modern who will be stocking our products in their homeware and furniture shop early next year. We have also been invited to run a series of workshops to demonstrate our process in the Clore Gallery, accessed just off the Turbine Hall, on Sunday 1 December 2019. On the same day, we will be presenting our work to a public audience limited to a capacity of 30 people. That will be a free but ticketed event, so keep an eye on Tate Modern’s website for further details.