Aug 07, 2023
by Karl Smith
Space Available Is Changing How We Think About Circularity, Creativity and Community
by Karl Smith
Aug 07, 2023

A problem with fashion and design, particularly when it comes sustainably-minded fashion and design, is that it can feel arch. Noble as their goals for our future may be in the broad strokes, and as much as sustainability effects all of us in the long run, oftentimes brands and their messaging can feel distant from everyday life and from everyday people in the here and now.

The question of how a clothing or sneaker label using Earth-friendlier products actually matters to the average consumer – beyond the understandably core question of price – is easily lost in translation between product ideation and delivery. That’s not necessarily anyone’s fault – or, perhaps, to be less generous, there are often whole departments with precisely this job whose fault it is – but there are nonetheless ways to avoid that kind of disconnect.

Or, even better, to foster connection.

And, when it comes to the question of who’s doing it right, few names comes to mind as quickly as Space Available. The Bali-based outfit, founded in 2020 by Creative Director Dan Mitchell (who also co-founded upscale e-tailer and editorial platform LN-CC), bypasses the usual pitfalls by putting people at the center of its work to the point where “brand” would be an unfair descriptor. Instead, Space Available is something more like a community or even – when you considers its penchant for education and tangible, grassroots programs – an activist organization.

So, what does all that mean in reality? Well, first and foremost, it means action.

Space Available’s products are created in service of a solution rather than for sole purpose of sales, crafted from a mix of environmentally harmful waste and natural products – all of which are gathered locally and transformed, locally, into homewares. Recent offerings include a made-to-order turntable casing – described as being made from “100% recycled post-consumer LDPE and HDPE plastic and reclaimed wood” and having been “collected from Indonesian landfills and waterways” – where the outcome of each unit “equals around 400 bottle caps removed from nature.”

That’s not just product – that’s purpose. And, if an Instagram bio is to be taken at face value – which, in this case, it is – with “4 Million+ Plastic Bottles Recycled,” it’s also something else: progress.

It also means activation: bringing its ethos to life outside of the e-store and outside of the consumer cycle in which it only vaguely participates and which Mitchell, in his continued efforts, so clearly aims to play a part in breaking.

“We believe there’s no such thing as waste, so we’re trying to change the perception – to show it in a high-value setting, which museums usually are. Plastic waste should be in a museum – not the ocean.” – Dan Mitchell, Space Available Founder and Creative Director

With this core principle in mind, Space Available runs regular workshops – not just adjacent to its Balinese base, but also elsewhere in the world and online for those unable to travel. It’s a way to practice what the studio preaches; to be a guiding hand, rather than just another scolding voice without an idea.

Take the recent Circular Design Academy pop-up in Paris, for example. Hosted in collaboration with California’s Western Hydrodynamic Research, the workshop was free to attend and dedicated to the idea (and practice) of “radical recycling” on a grassroots, neighborhood level.

In microcosm, it makes for a strong example of Space Available’s ethos and ethics. This kind of thing is exactly what they’re about.

Perhaps the biggest undertaking of these, though, is its local effort: the Museum of Space Available (MoSA) – which is more or less exactly what it sounds like. A free-to-enter space that showcases Space Available’s work as a creative studio as well as offering a platform to a few kindred spirits in the form of a “community of artists, designers and scientists specialising in bio-innovation, radical recycling, upcycling and future craft.”

Like so much of Space Available’s work, it’s also important to note that MoSA doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it isn’t an inert space, but rather an active one: a mission-driven and community-accessible facility that also plays host to, among other things, an “Upcycling Bar and Recycling Stations offering free repair services for all Space Available customers,” designed for the purpose of closing the loop on the brand’s own products.

And, to cap off a neat little triangle, it also means collaboration – which applies to both of the above. In its capacity as facilitator, Space Available has worked with the likes of Greater Goods, MycoWorks, Western Hydrodynamic Research, Peggy Gou, Helen Kirkum, Nicole McLaughlin, Alex Olson and a long (long) list of other, highly-esteemed leaders in their field. As a design studio and lifestyle brand, Space Available partnered with Nike earlier this year to create a set of limited edition products for the Nike Air Max ‘Give Fresh Air’ Campaign – a small run of circular objects (and another familiar shape, too) crafted from intercepted, ocean-bound plastic.

“We have an open-source mindset and education / skill sharing is part of our DNA. For us to make change we want to inspire people not just to buy our products.” – Dan Mitchell, Space Available Founder and Creative Director

With all this in mind, we spoke to Dan Mitchell about the importance of passing on knowledge, the need to build a community of people with a shared vision and diverse skills, keeping things local, and the vital idea of recycling as something much more than just a token act.

Space Available covers a lot of ground – brand, studio, community, educator – how do you consolidate all of that into a single idea?

Dan Mitchell: Space Available is a circular design platform that is striving to positively impact culture through products, services and experiences that make space for both humans and the planet. We specialize in recycling waste plastic, Upcycling garments and work with innovative bio-materials such as mycelium for use as within architecture, interior, furniture and lifestyle objects.

What does that look like in practice?

DM: We’re building a full ecosystem that includes a school, studio, recycling centers, bio-labs and a museum here in Bali and will transport this spirit around the world through pop-up and educational activations.

And because we’re striving to make change, we feel that education and access is an important piece of that and something very much at our core – hence the need for the school. We also believe that creativity and craft can change the world, so the studio plays a vital role in that for us and our collaborators.

Speaking of change, there’s a tendency for people to think of recycling as some kind of stand-alone project – something that has to happen simply because it has to happen. I feel like you guys are challenging that perception.

DM: The recycling is such a fundamental part of our mission and so far our products and projects have used more than 5 million pieces of discarded ocean-bound plastic, with the majority being bottles and bottle caps.

Our recycling center transform ‘Waste’ into new material we use for our products. The Museum of Space Available not only has a gallery but also an upcycling bar and recycling stations.

We believe there’s no such thing as waste, so we’re trying to change the perception – to show it in a high-value setting, which museums usually are. Plastic waste should be in a museum – not the ocean. And we’re not alone in that: some of our furniture has also been showcased in museum such as the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and the National Design Centers in London and Singapore.

“I’ve been working with waste materials now for almost a decade and as a creative I’ve always been conscious of the idea that I’m making something that’s positive for the planet – as opposed to just making stuff.” – Dan Mitchell, Space Available Founder and Creative Director

Has that always been the goal – to push that message as far and wide as possible?

DM: We would love to look back in the next decades and say that we helped move things forward from a positive ecological and societal perspective – to be able to say that we changed culture and behavior in some measurable way.

Right now we are on on a mission to open five Space AvailableCircular Design Recycling Centers’ per year around the world with a view to taking our global platform hyper-local. Local waste, local jobs, local opportunities etc.

There are a lot of brands out there making “sustainable” products but very few sharing that knowledge at a grassroots level.

DM: We have an open-source mindset whereby education and skill sharing is a part of our DNA. For us to make change we want to inspire people not just to buy our products but to go out there and make their own. If they can learn something from us then that’s a great thing.

As someone dedicated to lowering impact and scaling back production on a global scale, where do the products come into it for you?

DM: I’ve been working with waste materials now for almost a decade and as a creative I’ve always been conscious of the idea that I’m making something that’s positive for the planet – as opposed to just ‘making stuff.’

I’d always felt that, despite the hectic pace or the world, change in the industry was happening very slowly and there was no space for these new ideas to really take hold. But, during the pandemic, we were all forced to stop and reflect and I felt like this was the space we needed to rebuild in a more positive way. That’s when we decided to launch Space Available: a platform that could hopefully share ideas and show the possibilities of circular and regenerative design.

And that’s not a solo effort, of course. A huge part of what you do is collaboration. To your mind, what makes a perfect partner for a Space available project?

DM: There’s so many people out there innovating with materials and systems – people with incredible expertise that we just don’t have. We work with companies or individuals that can help us on our mission, as well as with people or brands in the culture space who can help us amplify our message and reach more people.

Recently we collaborated with Braindead on a mycelium project, which is a great way to help push the bio-based space forwards with young people. We’ve also worked with cultural icons such a Peggy Gou and Alex Olson who have great ideas, taste and design.

Beyond that we also work closely with the craft community and with the scientists who are pushing things forward in their space. That means bringing together a diverse group of people to make things happen: people like Nano Uhero – a master weaver, who worked on our collaboration with Alex Olson and was a part of the CDA activation in Paris – and MYCL, for example, who help us on the bio-design innovation side of things.

We’ve also had great support from premium retailers around the world and have launched several educational pops-ups with stores such as Dover Street Market and Selfridges.

In terms of pushing forward, what does that mean for you guys in the imminent future?

DM: We recently launched our Circular Design Academy Program which was very well received and we are now building a permanent space for the school here in Bali. So 2024 will be a big year for our educational side of things.

As part of our mission we want up open 100 design-led recycling centers around the world, and we’re looking for likeminded local partners in different parts of the world to do this with. So, you know, let me just say: get in touch if you want to partner with us to recycle your neighborhood’s ‘waste’ into beautiful Space Available products that make space for people and the planet.