With the motto “Turn yesterday’s waste into tomorrow’s livelihood”, the mission of the circular design and lifestyle company Supernovas, based in Milan and London, is clear: Challenge top creatives, waste and unwanted materials in recyclable design objects and furniture convert and give customers the freedom to buy, swap or return. We spoke to founder Massimiliano Rossi to find out more …
Tell me a little about your childhood, education and background, how you first got interested in creativity, design and sustainability.
I was born in Milan and grew up in the Brianza district. I grew up surrounded by numerous magazines from Architectural Digest, CasaBella, and Abitare. My father was an architect and my mother’s parents ran a wooden furniture factory. As a result, I was exposed to the bustling furniture shops in the area from a young age. This creative and hard-working upbringing has strongly influenced my educational decisions and inspired me to study architecture and visual communication and finally to acquire my MBA at the Berlin School for Creative Leadership. I started my professional career in the communications industry, where I stayed for over 15 years while also contributing to several startups. My interest in sustainability came later: on the one hand, while studying the rise of the first B-Corps, which is helping brands move to a more purpose-driven approach to business, and on the other hand, by connecting the dots from what I’ve experienced while traveling the world ( for example in Dharavi – India’s largest slum with an economy that recycles waste such as plastic bottles or car batteries). The “circular economy” is the most creative, but most tangible and effective challenge that has to be overcome today. I think that’s because it’s about how everything that surrounds us is designed and at the same time requires experienced communication skills to make it interesting and engaging and as much demand for circular products as for traditional “linear” products produce.
How would you describe these projects?
We have just launched our first two collections, Volta and Afterlife, designed in collaboration with the Italian-Brazilian Paula Cademartori and the Dutch studio Odd Matter. Volta is a collection of 3D printed housewares and stationery made entirely from recycled PET such as bottles and plastic containers. This shows that beautiful everyday products can be made with 3D printing. Afterlife is a furniture collection made from recycled polyethene (PE) for which we have put together various types of cutting-edge plastic manufacturing techniques to create easy-to-assemble parts – all in flat packs. The playful design and eye-catching patterns of both collections prove that waste, if treated with creativity, can also be beautiful and integrated into people’s lives.
What inspired this project?
Both collections are inspired by our mission to transform waste and unwanted materials into dynamic products that evolve with people, in sync with our planet. Moving, changing, and evolving makes life worth living – but when we surround ourselves with “linear” products, they not only become a burden when life changes, but most likely waste too. Rather than asking people to live less like most environmental activists do, we have sought to create better products – beautiful, useful and endlessly recyclable to preserve the beauty of our planet while allowing people to do theirs Continue to enjoy life to the fullest.
What waste (and other) materials do you use, how did you choose those particular materials and how do you source them?
To create our collections, we’ve teamed up with suppliers who have access to both post-consumer waste, such as discarded plastic bottles and packaging, and post-industrial flows, such as gas and water pipes.
When did you first become interested in using waste as a raw material and what motivated this decision?
It was a long but steady process. I was able to learn through my studies and my work in the areas of B-Corp and circular economy as well as through first-hand experience in different countries and innovators. Jane Atfield was turning plastic junk into amazingly patterned furniture back in 1993, and one of my Supernovas partners turned PVC billboards into merchandising for the same advertisers in 2006. In the future, I can’t envision any other way of manufacturing any other business than a company that uses waste or unwanted materials as raw materials for its products.
What processes does the material have to go through to become the finished product?
We work with both 3D printing and industrial plastic manufacturing processes, where washed and shredded flakes of plastic waste are either converted into filaments for 3D printing or into uniquely patterned materials.
What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they get back into the circular economy?
We just launched our streaming service, a unique membership program that allows customers to exchange or return their products if their lifestyle and tastes change. We are also working on an innovative proposal for distributed closed-loop manufacturing. Stay tuned!
How did you feel when you first saw the conversion of waste material to product / prototype?
It was love at first sight – nothing else to say. We work hard every day to inspire other people to have this groundbreaking experience by bringing recycled products into their homes and offices.
How did people react to this project?
We are really excited about the overwhelmingly positive reactions from individuals, companies and the media to Supernova’s offerings and products. Despite the current difficulties in presenting them at trade fairs or in retail, we are very satisfied with the results achieved so far.
How do you think opinions on waste as a raw material are changing?
The global pandemic has accelerated the importance of raising people’s awareness of the fragility of our planet, and we have found that “sustainability” has become a major keyword in corporate press releases, media articles and social feeds. More and more brands are adding products made from recycled materials to their catalogs, and I’m sure people have started climbing the learning curve. To have a global impact, we need to make “circular” products as exciting, engaging, and rewarding for customers as “linear” ones.
What does the future hold in store for waste as a raw material?
Waste is becoming the new “raw material”. That is, when companies opt for a “closed loop” approach, in which products are collected back by the parent company at the end of their life cycle and converted into new products – over and over again.