With the strapline ‘transforming yesterday’s waste into tomorrow’s living,’ the mission of Milan- and London-based circular design and lifestyle company Supernovas is clear: challenging top creatives to transform waste and unwanted materials into recyclable design objects and furniture and giving customers the freedom to buy, swap or return them. We spoke to founder Massimiliano Rossi to find out more…
Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design and sustainability.
I was born in Milan and raised in the Brianza district, and I grew up surrounded by piles of Architectural Digest, CasaBella and Abitare magazines. My father was an architect, and my mother’s parents ran a wooden furniture manufactory, so I’ve been exposed to the bustling furniture businesses of the area from a very young age. This creative and hard-working upbringing strongly influenced my educational choices, inspiring me to study Architecture, Visual Communication and finally get my MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. I started my professional career in the communication industry, where I stayed for over 15 years while also contributing to several start-ups. My interest in sustainability came later: on one hand while studying the rise of the first B-Corps that help brands shift towards a more purpose-driven approach to business, and on the other, by connecting the dots of what I had experienced traveling around the world (for example in Dharavi – India’s largest slum with an economy that runs on recycling waste like plastic bottles or car batteries). The ‘Circular Economy’ represents the most creative, yet tangible and impactful challenge to tackle nowadays. I believe this is because it addresses how everything that surrounds us is designed, while also requiring experienced communication skills to make it interesting and engaging, and create as much demand for circular products as for traditional ‘linear’ ones.
How would you describe these projects?
We have just launched our first two collections, Volta and Afterlife, designed in collaboration with the Italo-Brazilian Paula Cademartori and the Dutch studio Odd Matter respectively. Volta is a collection of 3D printed homeware and stationery entirely made with recycled PET such as bottles and plastic containers, demonstrating that 3D printing can be used to manufacture beautiful everyday products. Afterlife is a collection of furniture made of recycled polyethene (PE), for which we have brought together different types of cutting-edge plastic manufacturing techniques to create easy-to-assemble pieces – all shipped in flat packs. The playful design and eye-catching patterns of both collections prove that, if treated with creativity, waste can also be beautiful and integrated into people’s lives.
What inspired this project?
Both collections are inspired by our mission of transforming waste and unwanted materials into dynamic products that evolve with people, in-sync with our planet. To move, change and evolve is what makes life worth living – but if we surround ourselves with ‘linear’ products, not only do they become a burden when life changes, but most likely they become waste too. So instead of asking people to live less, as most of the environmental activists do, we asked ourselves to design better products – beautiful, useful and endlessly recyclable, and designed to preserve the beauty of our planet while enabling people to keep enjoying their life to the fullest.
What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?
To manufacture our collections we have partnered with suppliers who have access to both post-consumer waste – such as discarded plastic bottles and packaging – as well as post-industrial streams – such as gas and water pipes.
When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?
It has been a long but steady process. It was through my studies and work in the B-Corp and circular economy fields, as well as through first-hand experiences in different countries and innovators that I’ve had the opportunity to learn from. Jane Atfield was already transforming plastic waste into amazingly patterned furniture back in 1993, and one of my Supernovas partners was transforming PVC advertising billboards into merchandising for the same advertisers in 2006. Going forward, I can’t imagine any other way of being a manufacturing-based business other than being a company that uses waste or unwanted materials as raw ingredients for its products.
What processes does the material have to undergo to become the finished product?
We work with both 3D-printing and industrial plastic manufacturing processes that turn washed and shredded flakes of plastic waste, either into filaments for 3D-printing or into uniquely patterned materials.
What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?
We have just launched our Streaming Service, a one-of-a-kind members program that allows customers to swap or return their products as their lifestyles and tastes change. We are also working on an innovative closed-loop distributed manufacturing proposition. Stay tuned!
How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?
It was love at first sight – nothing else to say. We are working hard every day to inspire other people to have this breakthrough experience, by bringing recycled products into their homes and offices.
How have people reacted to this project?
We are really chuffed by individuals’, corporations’ and the media’s overwhelmingly positive reactions to Supernovas proposition and products. Despite the current difficulties to showcase them at trade shows or retailers, we are very happy with the results we’ve obtained so far.
How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?
The global pandemic has accelerated the importance of making people more aware about the fragility of our planet, and we have noticed that ‘sustainability’ has become a prominent keyword in companies’ press releases, media articles and peoples social feeds. More and more brands are adding products that are made of recycled materials in their catalogues, and I am sure people have started climbing the learning curve. To aim for a global scale impact though, we need to make ‘circular’ products as exciting, engaging and rewarding for customers as ‘linear’ ones are.
What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?
Waste will become the new ‘raw material’. That is, if companies decide to move towards a ‘closed-loop’ approach in which products at the end of their life cycle are collected back by the mother company and transformed into new products – again, and again, and again.