Lucia Bruni On Designing Sustainably, Glass Upcycling and Environmental Impact
With an education that spans Fine Arts, Product Design, Space and Architecture, Lucia Bruni's passion lies in living a sustainable lifestyle and doing her part to help make positive change in the world.
It is through Lucirmás that she expresses her passion by designing and producing sustainable glass products which tell a story.
Lucia has broad experience throughout various sectors in Europe and collaborates with small and large companies, designers and private individuals which have an ecological conscience. Together, they create exceptionally designed, personalised eco-products and creative solutions under the Lucirmás brand.
Lucia shares her insights about sustainable design, alongside her experience in setting up Lucirmás; a design studio and brand which creates products (and services) primarily from upcycled glass.
Highlights from the interview (the podcast is in Spanish)
[Tom Allen] - Could you please share a bit about your background in design and what led you to the creation of Lucirmás? [2:33]
[Lucia Bruni] - I started by studying Fine Arts in Italy (where I was born) and later (12 years ago) I was looking for a change in my life and I moved to Barcelona where I still reside and where Lucirmás is based. [Lucia talks about a Master she studied and how her final project led to her founding her brand. Lucia also did further studies in glass design at the Fundacio Centro del Vidre. Later she did another Master in Product Design at Elisava in Barcelona.]
The investigation I did which centred around glass objects was an important step in my life because I had really discovered a way to work which matched my passion and interest in living sustainably.
Lucirmás is a design studio and workshop which works with various projects and objects made from upcycled glass. We have designed a range of objects such as lighting, tableware and accessories (as well as working with clients such as restaurants to create closed loop systems...)
You're located in a great location in Barcelona and a neighbourhood which is rapidly changing...[5:55]
We're located in Poble Nou which used to be very industrial, but is changing rapidly. We've been here 5 years. In the beginning not many people lived in this area due to the industrial nature, but the neighbourhood has certainly changed a lot. We aren't just a design studio, we also produce all the objects here in our workshop. We also collaborate with local craftspeople resulting in products with 'zero transport miles'. We collaborate with local restaurants which donate a large part of the glass bottles.
We do our best to make sure that the production process is also as sustainable as possible. An example of this is how we recycle a lot of the water used in the workshop (during cutting etc). It's important that beyond just reusing glass bottles, that the whole process is as coherent as possible.
Could you please share a bit about the projects you have worked on (such as your collaboration with Celler Can Roca restaurant) and how you collaborate with clients? [8:14]
Celler Can Roca has won the 'Best Restaurant in the World' prize various times and is very well known internationally. Our project with them is very interesting as they themselves are very interested in finding ways to reuse their waste. We collaborated to create a glass workshop similar to ours next to their restaurant. They have a R&D space and they reuse and experiment with the glass waste produced at the restaurant. We trained the person who runs their workshop and oversaw all of the design work they have done in that space. They've used their glass bottles to create their tableware, such as plates, glasses and other objects. It's interesting to see a glass bottle which would have been taken away and recycled or disposed of enter the workshop onsite and come out as a beautifully designed piece for the restaurant. The resulting objects are tailor made with the chefs to suit the specific serving needs they have. This creates a closed loop system, once again with very few 'transport miles'.
Do you think this is a model that could be replicated in other restaurants or hotels? [10:25]
This is without doubt the best option for a restaurant to reuse their glass waste. You can't forget that glass is infinitely recyclable and that here in Spain, there is a glass recycling system in place. However, when we throw out a glass bottle, we shouldn't forget that it hasn't lost any of it's original function. The best system would be to return the glass bottles and have them refilled with the original content. This system is not in place in Spain though. So the Celler Can Roca project (called 'Roca Recicla') is one of the best systems that a restaurant can have to recycle its glass. It also brings a lot of creativity to the restaurant.
What do you believe are the fundamental ingredients of a responsibly designed product and when should a product be allowed to be called ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’? [12:46]
It's clear that the material you choose to design with is very important. There are many natural materials which can be used that don't have to contaminate the environment.
The manufacturing process is also very important. Working with materials such as plastic for products which are bought and then thrown away quite simply shouldn't be possible. Plastic is a material which could be used where needed for its specific characteristics (one of these characteristics being that it lasts 1000s of years) but when it has a very short life span it just doesn't make sense.
We also need to consider other stages of the product life cycle such as the packaging used as well as the ability to disassemble or separate materials of an object at the end of it's life. When it comes to packaging, it should also be possible to reuse and retain its value for other uses. The packaging and product should occupy as little space as possible so as to reduce the environmental impact during shipping.
What were some of the biggest challenges in setting up Lucirmás and how did you get around them? [16:10]
When people first discover our brand and products, they understand that it's designed to be as sustainable as possible. However many people fail to understand the amount of love, time and effort which goes into making each product. There are many people involved in each phase of the project taking care of all the fine details, from collecting the original bottles through to the design and manufacture.
The logistics and sourcing of bottles is not easy. We don't go to a warehouse to buy kilos of glass. We source each bottle from different locations and we want to offer a high quality artisan product that is mass produced in order to keep the price as accessible as possible. For this reason we have a large space in the workshop where we store a large range of bottles.
Each product we make has its own story. What excites us is the possibility of the products we design to create an emotional link with the end user which encourages them to hold onto it for a long period of time.
Rather than buying it then throwing it away, the client values the product and understands that the product is hand made with love and tells its own story.
What tools or processes do you use frequently in the running of Lucirmás that you feel you couldn’t live without? [19:37]
In having the workshop in a mixed space with the studio, our design process is very hands-on. Our process is based a lot more in the practical making and experimenting with materials and processes than it is by working through ideas on paper.
So you launched Lucirmás in 2006...? [20:42]
[Lucia explains how the project started very organically and step by step over time. Initially she worked on her project in parallel with other work, she rented other workspaces and equipment until the moment that she decided to take the leap to work on it full time.]
It wasn't until roughly 6 years ago that Lucirmás became a full time project. With the growth we've managed to start collaborations with other designers and artisans to get to where we are today.
You've achieved a lot in the last 6 years then... [22:30]
It comes down to a lot of persistence, of believing in the project, in asking lots of questions and of evolving not just professionally but personally, because I see that those two paths go together.
There are moments of lots of effort and other moments when you are able to enjoy it, but I think that's the path of many entrepreneurs.
Now in Spain there are a lot of people who are starting their own projects, maybe due to the crisis and the high rate of unemployment. The crisis has created many interesting projects and many people have been brave enough to try something new and give it their all.
For the budding social entrepreneurs who are listening, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting their own business and what are the first steps they should take? [24:00]
I think it's important that they have a clear idea and plan of what they want to do. From there, look at the different ways of doing it and the steps you need to take. [Lucia relates to her own experience when she had nothing and thought, 'I can't do this as I don't have a workshop, money to invest in tools etc.]
At the start you need to test the idea and see whether you really see yourself doing something over time. Not important to not only see if your business is viable, but to understand all the different elements of the business model that are required to make your business work. [Lucia explains this in further detail.]
On many occasions, artisans are very involved in the making of their creations perhaps without understanding the steps required to make that viable. [Lucia talks about the necessity to promote your work for the people to know that you exist.]
To finish off, could you please share a few books that have inspired you? [26:58]
[Lucia discusses the three books listed below in detail.]
The book 'Failed It!' is very easy to read and he says, 'Try to find imperfection instead of finding perfection.'
Designers in many ways try their best to be perfect but sometimes perfection doesn't excite you.
Erik Kessels talks about how imperfection inspires and surprises more than something that is perfect.
Things (and objects) need to excite you. Nature is perfect, but within it there are many imperfections which are beautiful.
Initiatives, people and resources mentioned in the podcast
- Celler Can Roca
- Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson
- Como Nacen Los Objetos by Bruno Munari
- Failed It! How to Turn Mistakes Into Ideas and Other Advice for Successfully Screwing Up by Erik Kessels