Embracing circular economy

Tolhuijs Design is a concept and a way of doing design that embraces the fundamentals of the circular economy, thus making your final product an example of environmental and social sustainability.

Consultant and manufacturer of his own line of furniture, Bastian Tolhuijs has turned the concept of upcycling into an art. Tolhuijs design is a reference brand in its own right. To talk about Tolhuijs design is to talk about a product designed and manufactured with commitment and responsibility without renouncing to quality design.

Hi, Bastiaan:

– Sustainability and social impact are two of the values with which you define your work. What do you think this commitment brings to your product? How do you think the public welcomes this social responsibility? Are they interested, or is the success of the product really based on the design of the pieces?

I always wanted to promote my products to the public with the way it is produced, the type of waste products we used. I noticed, you attract people that are interested in waste, and not in the product itself. If you want to sell a sustainable lamp, you should aim to people that search a lamp, and not to sustainability. That is when I changed my way of designing. I started focussing on creating a beautiful product. So I could sell my lamp. And as an extra at the same time I give my sustainable message. My goal is to make sustainable products, to do that, I have to make my products beautiful. The message is transported as a trojan horse in peoples livingrooms. I think and experience it goes both ways. People looking for nice products and finding out we use a sustainable and social way to produce them. And people searsching for sustainable products and discovering our brand saying (hopefully) ‘Hey these products look great, or, I have not seen this brand before’.

– You design and manufacture your products based on the concept of upcycling, i.e. from recyclable raw materials. Does this mean that the quality or standard of the product design decreases or is worse than that of a product made from new raw materials?

In the contrary, If the product would be made from new raw materials, I would definitely choose a cheaper material, a cheaper way to produce. The Fency, it is made from rods of 8 mm thickness. This is perfect for a fency that has to prevent people from climbing over, but way oversized for a wall rack. However, it looks nice, it makes a real statement. But If I would make the material from new raw materials, I would definitely go for a 4 or 6 mm rod. The Spool is complicated to weld, there are round parts, straight parts, are welded together in a shape I would not come up with, and would be too complicated. Now, the material is there, we use it by picking them up, give them a coating and créate a great looking lamp by adding different accesories. There is no loss of quality to the welding spool, there is no harm done in either recycling the spools material or throwing them with the trash and the actual end product is of a much higher quality then the material it began with, serving a happy customer.

– In addition to designing and manufacturing products, Tolhuijs Design advises consumers and companies on the use of waste as a raw material. How is this experience going? How much awareness do you think there is, both at the business and social level, about the need to reduce resource consumption in order to embrace a system based on the circular economy?

I think amongst businesses / companies in general, small and big, the awareness is certainly growing. Most companies are still about making money however, so it’s another thing to do something with the awareness. I think we are in a huge shift though. Going from conservative “old” moneymaking industries into conscious industries. You see at in the energy sector, the food sector, transport, but also furniture design. It is not a trend, at least I hope, it is a development. People feel the responsibility to do and to feel good, instead of having the bank account filled.

– Designing taking advantage of the recyclable materials available at each moment means having a very diverse catalogue but at the same time unique products. How does this affect your marketing? Is this exclusivity an advantage? Is it a problem to work with limited stocks when responding to the needs or market trends?

In marketing we of course tell our story about use of material and upcycling. Furthermore it’s just marketing as every other company I believe. And there are quite a lot of companies working with waste materials these days, which should not be an exclusivity, but a standard. That we make people enthousiast with sustainable products is not right, people should expect from every manufacturer that it is produced on a good way. I would call it a challenge to keep stock up, we like to have a large assortment, but it asks organisation, and is sometimes a logistic hazard.

– Tolhuijs Design gives the possibility to personalize the design of the products that the consumer wishes to purchase. What does this personalization consist of? How is it done?

We offer perzonalization with our collection of tables named ABLE. A consumer can choose a preferred size and material and we will produce on demand. The spool can be as a wall, hang, or floor lamp with different colours, the fency can be in different colors, or sizes, even a custom size if there are larger pieces of waste.

– With sustainability as the principle on which Tolhuijs Design’s business model is based, where do you think the company will be heading in the future? Do you think the consumer is becoming increasingly inclined to demand products that are committed to sustainability, to the efficient use of resources?

We would love to have a non-limited assortiment of products and production chains involving many different waste/resource producing companies and production facilities. Even making chains between companies that can use each others material. There is so much thrown away at different companies, but other companies could really use this material to make their own things. In that way everyone can become a provider of raw/waste material. Logistic companies should also work with this, offering empty truck space to transport materials from a to b.

As said before I think the customer should not search for sustainable products anymore, it should be a given. But yes, I notice more and more people are looking for sustainable products.

If we make a new product we will not try to make it sustainable, it WILL be sustainable otherwise we will not produce it. We will however also look at other ways to make products sustainable. Using upcycled materials is not the ultimate way of sustainable product design. Even better is to not produce the product at all if you could find a way to not use the product at all. We should be aware of companies that sell the same products with a different ‘green’ story. We are looking forward to create great new collection using material which is at hand and to do projects for companies or together with other creating companies and hope to inspire others as well to perhaps get a different look at waste material.

……….. Without a doubt, this is a company whose philosophy, social and environmental commitment lays the foundations of a society based on sustainable development. Ekohunters and Tolhuijs Design share these values and we are proud to have among our designers Bastian Tolhuijs, a reference in European design that emphasizes one of the greatest challenges of today’s society, to curb the huge consumption of resources through the simple solution of waste recovery. This is evident by visiting his shop and seeing the incredible products he is able to design and manufacture through this concept.