Space Available is an artisan homeware and clothing brand founded to “explore the possibilities of an alternative future.” Founded by a husband and wife team, Daniel Mitchell and Hilda Sembiring, the brand works with a collective of artists, designers, bio scientists, and environmentalists to create limited-edition products made from locally-sourced recycled and upcycled materials.
At this point, everybody knows that we can't shop our way out of the climate crisis. Things are reaching a breaking point (or as last summer's floods, wildfires, and heatwaves showed us, it's already here), but that doesn't mean all hope is lost. Climate reporters often advise people to find their niche — you're not going to be able to reduce your country's reliance on oil, fix the fast fashion industry, and overhaul the aviation industry. But you might be able to make an impact if you focus on one thing — and that's exactly what Space Available has done.
Space Available is trying to tackle society’s overconsumption in two parts. First, by encouraging people to simply buy less stuff. "As humans, we need to ease our relentless need to consume. We can do more with less," Mitchell says. But when we need to buy, the brand wants to lessen the impact of our products by working within a circular production system. Simply put, Space Available is turning trash into one-of-a-kind products.
We caught up with the co-founder of the brand, Daniel Mitchell, to find out more about sustainability, responsible design, and more.
Tell me about the brand
At Space Available, we ask questions like: Can we show the value of ‘waste’ through innovative design? Can we offer alternative products that work in harmony with nature? How can we make space collectively for a sustainable future? This philosophy behind the brand is something we have been personally passionate about for a long time, and it's very much in response to the ecological damage we are doing in our current system, an economy of ‘take, make, waste’.
Back in April 2020, we were in our first lockdown, and it became apparent that this pandemic would bring about a monumental change. A new space became available for us to stop and reflect - offering us a chance to reconnect, reimagine and redesign a better future. During this pause, we began to set up our platform and gathered a global community that collectively can bring different skill sets in which we believe can lead to positive impacts within the cultural landscape.
At the same time, during the pandemic, the commercial world here in Bali stopped and there were huge empty billboards on every street which just said ‘SPACE AVAILABLE’. I felt this summed up this current moment on numerous levels and became a fitting name for our brand.
How do you source your materials?
I live in Indonesia, and it's well known that this part of the world is struggling with plastic waste [note: the waste issue is contributed to by locals, but also Western countries who send their waste to the country]. Sadly there's very little infrastructure here for waste management, and we see plastic and waste in the streets, rivers, and oceans.
We work closely with waste collectors here in Indonesia and the UK to transform household plastic into new functional and desirable products for people to use in daily life.
For our clothing, we only use upcycled cotton. We work with factories and gather smaller off-cuts that are usually discarded after production. We stitch these back together and use them for T-shirts and sweats. Furthermore, we use water-based inks, recycled plastic swings tags (which come free with each garment and are reusable as desk objects), and biodegradable or recycled packaging for our garments also.
For us, the next steps are setting up workshop spaces around the world, recycling local trash, and selling the goods only locally within that territory. Our recycling lab in the UK is opening early next year and that will cater only to the UK market. This local-only approach is better environmentally and economically, creating jobs and opportunities for local people.
What needs to change in both the fashion and homeware industry?
On an individual level, we should support brands that are working with waste or recycled materials. Brands that are truly circular or have end-of-life plans or offer repair services for goods.
On a larger scale, we need to get serious about moving into a circular system where we create no waste. Moving into cleaner energy sources and responsible manufacturing — governments should take real responsibility and leadership in this.
I'm actually very excited and optimistic that we will learn from our mistakes and innovate and create amazing new systems, products and materials that will lead to an extremely creative period, one that hopefully will be of benefit to both people and the planet.
What are the challenges you've faced producing entirely recycled products?
What we are doing is still quite new and experimental, so of course there are challenges with dealing with such a new material. Waste is unpredictable - Some of it is new, and some is 50 years old, with both types reacting differently to recycling. So getting the consistency with the material has been the biggest challenge.
Everything we make is hand made by artisans, and it's not easily scalable for us to supply the current demand we are receiving from stores and consumers. But for us it's about staying small, experimental and hopefully inspiring and educating others into exploring these new systems with us; leading to collective global ecological changes. The educational aspect is big for us and the main driving force behind our vision and mission.