As a child, designer Midushi Kochhar would always feel drawn towards seemingly unimportant objects. “I had a fascination towards things that were lying around, which others weren’t paying attention to,” recounts the 29-year-old. This curiosity to experiment with such trivial items combined with a master’s degree in Industrial Design led Kochhar to establish Ylem, an Okhla-based research and design practice that focuses on crafting products with sustainable life-cycles and value chains. Shedding light on the thought process that made her take the first step towards building Ylem, Kochhar explains, “My educational background encourages me to solve problems. I like to create products that do so but that contradicts my mindset of consuming minimally. I try to find the right balance between aesthetics, production, capacity, reusability, and environmental impact.”
Taking the sustainable route
Design is everywhere and, no matter how inconspicuous, it makes our life easier. However, given the tonnes of waste being generated and the non-renewable resources being exploited, the future requires us to shift to sustainable design practices that solve problems but also have little or no adverse impact on the environment. With principles of green design at the core, Ylem thus works with food waste-based design to create functional products—across domains of décor and fashion—that are “as biodegradable as possible”. As a circular venture, the team believes that “waste is a design flaw” and therefore, waste generated by one industry can be used as a resource in the next industry or another product. “Every now and then, some experiment we do results in a scalable material. We offer this as a bespoke application or something that can be for mass consumption,” shares Kochhar.
Towards a green future
Of their many innovations till date, the list includes eggware—a ceramic and concrete-like material made using egg shells combined with an algae-based bio-binder. The result is used to create bespoke pieces that are lightweight, water-absorbent, and biodegradable. Giving us an insight into crafting the technique, Kochhar shares, “I was experimenting with kitchen waste and different kinds of bio-binders. A lot of concoctions later, one of them worked.” Ylem also has plumewear—a surface material made from upcycled chicken feathers. The team uses waste feathers and their binding strength to create bioplastics that are applicable in several functional and decorative settings. Kochhar has also perfected Hasiroo, a natural fibre made from the leaf sheaths of the Areca Palm tree. Ylem uses this fibre to make vegan slippers.
These innovations root from the brand’s attempt to promote the idea of going ‘glocal’. “Locally, we have enough waste, there is enough stuff around us that we can use to make a profitable business which is not just good for the environment but also for the venture,” Kochhar explains. Reflecting on the need to create suitable alternatives ‘now’, Kochhar concludes, “Alarming people does not work; we need to present the market with workable solutions. I am not saying that eggware will completely replace ceramics… we are not proposing a complete shift but if there is a small amount of material that can be saved or reused, then those changes are possible within the current industry.”