Typography
Detail of the ‘Butterfly’ collection, feminine complements made out of recycled rubber.

“Why kill an animal to decorate your home if you can do it with trash?”

JAIME and Yuan’s daughter was three years old when one chilly afternoon of the fall 2010 she became stubborn asking for a bow. At first, her parents didn’t have any intention to throw on a coat and head out onto the street in desperate search for one before shops closed their doors. On the other hand, you know how little reasonable and intense small girls can get when they consider a concrete item is missing in their fantasy world (and even more if we are talking about such a very precious – and pink – detail).

Starting to feel the urgency for finding a solution to this unexpected family crisis, Mexican Jaime de Vizcaya came up with an original idea: he was going to create a rubber bow out of some old bicycle tires, which had a worn-out inner tube manufactured in brown (the new ones are black) that at that time looked conveniently pinkish. “When I finished the bow she was really happy with the results, and so we immediately saw the potential,” explains de Vizcaya with a fatherly spark in his eyes.

Of course, the fact that both Jaime and his Chinese wife, Yuan Long, had an extensive background in the field of design helped to easily turn a family anecdote into a business idea. Thus, a new professional adventure soon started for them with the creation of “2.elämä”, their eco-friendly brand that sells jewellery, complements and items for home decoration, all created from recycled materials.

“After three years living in China, coming back to Finland was like a second chance, a second opportunity,” de Vizcaya remembers when asked about the beginnings of the project. “That’s why we decided to call it ‘second life’ (toinen elämä in Finnish), but the name was also related our business concept itself: we are giving a second life to items that had been already trashed.”

Wood is good

Long came to Helsinki for the first time in 1999 to study at the University of Art and Design, nowadays part of the Aalto University, from where then she graduated in the ceramics department. In 2002 she spent one year as an exchange student in the US. That was the first time she took some lessons in jewellery design – to subsequently find out her hands were pretty capable of doing delicate work, and her mind of introducing original proposals.

Don’t miss this!

2.elämä will be present from 11 to 22 December at the Christmas market set up at the Old Student House, Vanha ylioppilastalo in Finnish, situated in front of Stockmann.

Back in Helsinki she met de Vizcaya, who was pursing his degree in product strategic design and, at the same time, working for Aarikka, the Finnish brand renowned for their wooden jewellery, home decorations and ornaments. He had started to collaborate with them as a student, after winning a design competition that had been organised to find young talents from the university.

“It was a very good experience because I immersed myself more into the Finnish culture,” de Vizcaya reflects. “I got to understand much better what Finns like and appreciate – and what they don’t. For instance, Finns appreciate a piece of jewellery made of gold as much as another one made of wood. The material doesn’t matter that much, but rather the design behind it. In Finland wood is something very valuable, because it’s part of the daily life, part of the culture.”

Social responsibility

Apart from discovering different applications for natural materials, his time in Aarikka left another deep mark in de Vizcaya. Manufacturing processes there were not only eco but also socially concerned, and this remained with him as something he wanted to continue encouraging through his work.

That is the reason why, at 2.elämä, this multicultural couple try to offer minor jobs or collaborations to those people who have fewer professional opportunities: foreigners, people with substance-abuse problems or, in some cases, even with mental diseases. For this they have established cooperation with the employment office, which takes care of paying a part of the salaries.

“Everybody knows that being an entrepreneur here is not easy,” says Long reflecting on the process of starting-up in Finland. “At the beginning is not that profitable. Also, part of Finnish culture is the fact that you have to be patient; you cannot expect fast results in a short time. Scandinavia moves asserted, but slow. For instance, hiring people is really expensive. Currently, for us it’s almost impossible.”

“On the plus side, in Finland design is a language in itself,” adds de Vizcaya. “Once you do good design, people appreciate it and they find the value out of it. That is the reason why our brand has been accepted not only among our retailers but also among our customers.”

Item for home decoration: a deer whose head has been made by assembling different parts of a bicycle.

Where you see trash I see a deer

However, in order to create “good design”, one must first decide upon the materials to be used for the products’ elaboration. In the case of this brand, most part of the materials that are recollected have already been trashed, representing a good opportunity not to have to pay for them. Everything from bicycle parts to computer cables and small hard drive components is utilised – not forgetting carpets used at fairs, which after merely a couple of days of being put to use its hundreds of meters are directly destined to recycling centres. Then, the next step of the process consists of washing all these materials until they are ready to be reused for human consumption.

“We select materials based on the possibility of having them constantly,” explains de Vizcaya regarding this point. “Design involves mass production; the piece needs to be repeated many times. Then, we don’t add any glues or corrosive elements to the creations because we want them to have a healthy life cycle. That’s something related to sustainability. That is, the moment our items become old and not useful any more, each part or component can be easily separated and recycled.”

For instance, one of the most popular products sold by 2.elämä is “Trophy”, a collection composed of a bear-outlined rug and a wall ornament that resembles a deer whose face has been made by assembling together a bicycle seat, and structural metal steel tubes as its horns. “Why kill an animal to decorate your home if you can do it with trash – and it will look more original?” says de Vizcaya playfully.

 

 

Jaime de Vizcaya and Yuan Long, the founders of the eco-friendly design brand ‘2.elämä’.

Design activism

“For the creation process I normally don’t have a preconceived idea of the exact thing I want to do,” Long points out. “I rather enjoy playing with the materials and let them surprise me. When I design something for 2.elämä I try to keep the original shape or texture of the material. I don’t try to change it into something completely different. This way people can see my work and immediately relate it to where it comes from. I like that because the idea behind the business is that we are promoting the eco lifestyle.”

Jaime agrees to this point of view, and takes it even further: “I am an activist, but using my creative talent. I may not be shouting on the streets ‘let’s protect the environment’, but I am doing it through my design.”

Eva Blanco