Malai is a Kerala based start-up focusing on developing novel biomaterials that have outstanding ecological credentials and cover the needs of the industries. Founded by Zuzana Gombosova & Susmith Chempodil, they work with Bacterial Cellulose grown on wastewater from mature coconuts and natural fibers from Banana Stems, Hemp, Sisal and other natural ingredients. Malai aims to design materials with a limited life span that are compostable. In an exclusive interview with Architecture+Design, Zuzana reveals what sustainable design means to her:
Name of the firm: Malai Biomaterials Design Pvt. Ltd.
Founders: Zuzana Gombosova & Susmith Chempodil
Product Range: Malai Bio composite range of materials, Malai Studio accessories
Vision: There is more to coconuts than you thought! We believe the future is circular and regenerative and we are eager to experiment with these concepts in practice in order to bring the world better and healthier materials.
What does sustainable design mean to you?
Sustainable means something that can be sustained over a long period of time, ideally not depleting resources and creating disruption in the flow of natural systems. Not everything shall be sustainable however, if a system of a product manufacturing was not designed for sustainability at the start it can be impossible to make it sustainable at the later stage.
Are your products made from non-toxic, natural or recycled materials?
Our products are made predominantly from the materials we produce which are nontoxic and compostable. These are made from ingredients that often come from agricultural waste streams such are banana plant stems and water from mature coconuts. We are also currently developing a recycled version of our own materials in order to maintain the cycle of production and disposal connected.
How can social norms encourage sustainable design?
Sustainability is not a noble cause; it is a sane and logical way of thinking which sees us as part of the ecosystem rather than an individual element we don’t depend on as species. Tribal societies did understand this very well in the past and developed many sustainable agriculture, forestry and craft practices we use to this day. Unfortunately, they are becoming lost in a flood of current practices and information about their benefits is being lost.
It would be great if we as a society could keep this interdependency knowledge alive and therefore develop a solidarity with the ecosystem we belong to. Supporting a practice or a business that does take this into consideration is what a consumer can do to promote and support this way of thought.
What have been some of the biggest challenges to your commitment to sustainable design?
There have been many challenges over the years. The most prevalent remain having to justify why our materials and products costs what they cost, people especially in domestic market are used to price of mass manufactured goods and materials and find it difficult to understand the real cost of making materials on small scale as a start-up. Another challenge has been finding funding for development of our project, odd as it might seem, sustainability projects do have longer timelines when it comes to returns on investment very often which is not very tolerated in world of private investment.
What is on deck for the next six months within your design practice?
We are currently working on some new formulations for our materials, whether it is to explore full recyclability of the materials or create a version with improved mechanical properties. We will also be integrating some new machinery pieces into our existing production which I am sure will pose some new challenges as well as opportunities. On the product design front, we are working on production of a new collection of accessories for our line, produced in collaboration with artisan clusters around Kerala and Tamil Nadu.