Anu Tandon Vieira talks upcycling, recycling, and tells us how she puts together the beautiful designs of the Retyrement Plan
Anu Tandon Vieira was holidaying in Greece a few years ago when she came across an American accountant who was selling delightful hand-crafted teddy bears – in a shop located at the end of a lane with a panoramic view of the sea! She couldn’t help thinking that this is what retired life should be like – a period of time more gorgeous and meaningful than your worklife in every single way.
Her “Retyrement Plan” is similar. Anu, a sculpture graduate with a Post Graduate Degree in textiles from NID, brings together her passion for design, sustainability and comfort in exquisitely hand-crafted chairs made by re-purposing material waste from urban jungles. But it would be wrong to think of those chairs as just your good deed for the year – they are also beautiful and extremely comfortable. And every single piece she designs is such a riot of colours and passion that we can’t think of a better person to launch our Colours Issue with. Here, she speaks about what goes into making each piece of her furniture.
On upcycling and sustainability
Our civilization is teetering under the load of material waste. Just a couple of generations ago, everything was reused imaginatively. Sarees were turned into frocks, and these frocks were turned into tiny bags or cushions. I want to do my bit to ease some of that pressure on Earth. But what’s really important to me, is that any kind of upcycling is done not just to make a statement, but to really transform the original object in a meaningful way.
For my designs, I use old rejected tyres that we’ve sourced from a couple of auto shops, scraps of old cloths converted into ropes from looms in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and pieces of discarded packaging material – again converted into ropes – from factories. Each of these objects would probably be junked entirely and find its way to a landfill if not used by us.
The sustainability and durability of the final product is equally important. Not only is each piece re-purposed from stuff that the world calls ‘junk’ , but also it is designed to be durable and long lasting. We want people to pass these chairs and ottomans to the next generation and they are built to be all-weather friendly and amenable to rough usage.
On working with migrant workers
I love Mumbai, but the city has a way of just swallowing the highly skilled migrant workers who come here, and transforming them instead into watchmen and liftmen for its urban spaces. Often there is no market for the special skills these people carry, because the trend these days is towards sleek South East Asian furniture which is nice looking even if not particularly durable.
One of my goals with this project is to help provide a sustainable source of livelihood to just a few of these men and women. I spend time training them, provide design and finishing inputs to their hand work, and collaborate with them to produce the final chairs.
I don’t like the idea of displacing the artist from his comfort zone. So I work with them where they are at home, in their own workshops, instead of transplanting them into the aseptic atmosphere of a factory. When you’re working with artists, you can’t rush them. So we don’t do quick and dirty projects. Each piece often takes as much as 8-10 days, but the effort is worth it for the kind of results we get.
I am a fan of anyone who shows an integrity towards their art form, and the kind of commitment it takes to transform something mundane into beautiful. From the women in Kutch who have converted buttons into exquisite necklaces prettier than those made from pearls, to the little girls in Africa who convert soda crowns into exotic head ornaments, I am constantly inspired by all that’s happening around me.
All my life, Gaudi has been a huge inspiration – in his use of colour, in his ability to transform ordinary objects into statements, and I believe that a visit to Barcelona is a must for anyone who is an art student.
Then there are the Brazilian duo- the Campana Brothers- who do some absolutely fabulous work from waste material, and the Bokja Design Studio in Lebanon. The latter employs traditional textiles from all over the world as part of their beautiful creations!
On selling these products
I end up doing a lot of the selling on my own. In that way I can interact with my customers and tell the stories behind each piece. There is a lot of thought that goes into them- the rainbow of colours in these designs is not co-incidental but thought through and painstakingly crafted, and I love to share those tales with people!
Also, we get so many ideas when talking to customers about how they are interacting with my designs! For instance, I discovered that pet lovers adored my ottomans since their cats could scratch them, nestle in them, and play with them in so many different ways. Now we make really pretty cat pads with old motorcycle tyres.
I do sell through a few stores though- both in Goa and Mumbai- but I’d much rather not add that extra mark-up to my products and continue to sell them personally to create more livelihoods.
On her plans for the future
We have a new range of swings and hammocks coming up soon.
What I’d really like is to have one of the auto majors adopt my designs as part of their office furnishings. They all run schools and institutions which would make perfect homes for my designs. And there would be a nice symmetry to them using their own waste in an interesting manner. Also, a step like that would generate more demand for such initiatives, leading to more work for the labourers and artists.
Personally, I believe in open source and am willing to share my designs and process with anyone if there is demand. The more we can use the waste around us, the better all of our lives would be.
If you’d like to buy an original Retyrement Plan piece, contact Anu directly through her FB page, or look out for events that she is participating in!
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