London Design Fair’s Material of the Year 2019


The London Design Fair is an international design event that draws almost 30,000 visitors per year with a strong focus on eco-friendly solutions, preserving dying crafts and sustainable 3-D designs. Within the fair, the 2019 Material of the Year exhibition Second Yield drew attention in showing unconventional ways that biomaterials can be integrated into design.

Last year, designers from all walks of life dissected plastic as the material of the year. While the world is still talking about plastic and its abundant use and abuse, this year’s scrutiny at the fair was bestowed on biomaterials.


The biomaterials focus was on waste from agricultural by-products. Global designers, innovators and creators involved in the exhibition concentrated on design that contributes to the circular economy— a concept of reducing, reusing and recycling materials. They considered how to best and sustainably use biomaterials at scale for a new life cycle.

As with our KOHLER WasteLAB™ in Kohler, Wisconsin, where Kohler is setting a precedent in the ceramic industry by creating beautiful tiles from industrial dust and materials that were bound for landfills, these designers discovered new ways of reutilizing existing materials.


The focus on a Material of the Year at the London Design Fair began in 2017 and is widely anticipated by the fair’s visitors. This year, four design teams stood out with their creative and innovative approaches to incorporating biomaterials into design. The finished products are not only useful and functional but are also aesthetically beautiful designs.

Cornhusks Repurposed

In Mexico, cornhusks are discarded by the ton as waste products of corn that is omnipresent in the local cuisine. Mexican product and material designer Fernando Laposse looked at cornhusks as biomaterials to repurpose in design. Laposse explored integrating cornhusks into a veneer material called Totomoxtle that he incorporates into wall coverings, decorative vases and more. Totomoxtle is produced from Mexican cornhusks that range in color from deep purple to soft yellow creams.

Biomaterials at London Design Fair

Fernando and his team, who have an interest in the politics of food and are seeking to help communities in Mexico who cultivate it, entered into a partnership with Tonahuixtla village in Puebla, Mexico. The partnership encourages the continuation of traditional farming practices and preserving expertise connected to growing diversified corn crops.

Fernando Laposse product design

From Potatoes to Plastic

Chip[s] Board, an innovative biomaterials company cofounded by Rowan Minkley and Rob Nicoll, uses food waste from potatoes and turns it into high-value circular economy material. The inventive founders partner with McCain, the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products, to supply the start-up with the ingredients necessary to produce a new form of plastic.


Parblex is a potato waste-based material, that can be integrated into fashion and interior design as an alternative to overused plastic. The material finds applications in eyewear, fabric and cushion buttons and badges.

Parblex product

Palm Tree Leather

Dutch Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven focuses on product design and experimented with bio materials from areca nut palm leaves found in Southern India and other regions to create a new material. Areca nut is a primary ingredient used in Indian cuisine. The palm trees shed their leaves in October, leaving 80 million square meters of them unused and discarded annually.

The palm leaves are softened through a process that turns their hard and brittle texture into a soft and leather-like substance known as Palmleather. The material serves as a basis for interior rugs and other design objects. The designers cut the leaves in strips and place them vertically to create creative, unique patterns.


Hemp, Wine and Tobacco Lamps

Johannes Kiniger and Giulia Farencena Casaro of the sustainability design start-up High Society in northern Italy came up with a new plant-based material produced from a variety of biomaterials: post-industrial waste, hemp waste, residue from wine production and stalks from tobacco cultivation.


The designers focus on incorporating their material into lighting designs. Their lamp shapes are made by compressing and molding the plants’ waste material and enhancing them with a bio-based binder. The finished form is coated in natural wax to enhance shine and protect from humidity. High Society creates these minimalist and elegant plant-based lighting designs for commercial or residential surroundings.

The team from the Dolomites also feels strongly about their community. Part of the proceeds of the lamps helps fund an initiative against drug dependency initiated by the Forum Prävention in Bolzano.

To see how Kohler is participating in the circular economy, visit the WasteLAB.

Source: photos are courtesy of v2com.

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