As a form of creativity and contemplation, design has become a central instrument in disentangling complex social and environmental crises of our age. In the last decade, it has come to play a particular progressive role in augmenting ethical and sustainable production practices. Industrially, artists and conscious businesses are ushering a social revolution with sustainable design through two key areas. One, at the foundational scale of designing, that concentrates on the innate possibilities and impact of a design and object at the level of its inception. The other, at the technical scale that centres on the practices, materials and modes of production of a design.
Innovating on both these aspects, Mianzi is a pioneer in designing superior sustainable home furnishings using a simple and natural material – bamboo. Questioning deleterious models of production and translating experimental materials into novel wares, they are heralding new ways of understanding design and products, and our relationships to them. At IKKIVI, we had a conversation with the co-founders of Mianzi, Shashank Gautaum and Ananta Varshney, on their journey into the venture, and the conceptual, material and social features that underlie their (sustainable) design initiative.
Could you tell us of your background and interests through your foundational years? How did you come to feel connected with art and design? Have you been pursuing them for a long time or has it been a more recent initiation?
S: Since a young age, I developed an interest in the engineering aspect of a simple design, when I used to accompany my granddad to his cycle repair shop.
While designing a building with a Zero Carbon Footprint, for a design competition in 2009, (which later got awarded by Indian Green Building Council), I realized the true potential of Bamboo. I then designed a bamboo bicycle and prototyped several bamboo-based furniture and accessories.
After my Bachelor’s in Architecture (from SPA Delhi & Masters in Industrial Designing from IDC, IIT Bombay), I established MIANZI with the desire to revolutionize the way bamboo is seen and used in today’s world.
A: During my graduation as a Bachelor of Architecture, I became more and more fascinated with product design and how sustainability can be more than what it is believed as. Being associated with “going without” sustainability is always belittled, so we came up with products that attain both competitive edge for similar wood or plastic-based products whilst reaping benefits for the environment.
With a drive to build green products, I co-founded Mianzi, to manufacture products that are not only sustainable or aesthetic but economically viable. I reckon that every raw material has a story with nuance and complexity, which, if translated right can bring the most unique products.
What does design(ing) mean for you? Is there something, in particular, you like to showcase through it?
We believe that designing in its essence is a polygamy of different elements to accomplish a particular purpose, in a sustainable eco-friendly approach, and with futuristic minimalism.
MIANZI is a unique home furnishing brand with bamboo as a base material for almost all its products. Could you tell us how you realised that the material would become valuable for experimental design?
Bamboo, as raw material, inspires and challenges us to bring forth products that go beyond the accepted parameters of product design and bring life to fresh ideas that previously seemed improbable with bamboo.
That sense of exploration and giving back to the environment has always been a big influence and inspiration behind Mianzi.
MIANZI is one of the foremost brands in India to exclusively offer bamboo-based furniture and accessories. Could you share with us why it was/ has been important in your view to introduce this idea in the market?
India has a rich cultural and economical tradition of artistic craftsmanship with Bamboo as a raw material – a material that is sustainable, futuristic, and has a vibrant cultural heritage. Despite this, the Bamboo craftsmanship is dwindling and is almost extinct in several tribes.
With Mianzi, we sought to redefine and exhibit the contemporary, elegant, and chic front of traditional craftsmanship. We need to understand that sometimes the greater good can be achieved economically by sticking to your roots.
Could you tell us a little bit about your design and creation process? Where the materials are extracted from, and how they are molded together to construct the intricate details on the pieces?
While experimenting with bamboo, we have and are still in the process of discovering it’s different inherent properties. With a distinct fascination to observe probable design possibilities, we created our own methods by tweaking existing industrial machines and integrating the traditional hand-craftsmanship of adroit artisans.
To make the process as realistic as possible, we developed a few industrial machines dedicated to the work of bamboo bending and molding. The machine is based on existing industrial technology; it is an assembly of different systems to create an efficient tool.
Are there any challenges encountered in marrying together ethical, artistic, and business practices through the design process?
Working with natural material is always challenging especially when we compare it with similar existing products in the market that are made out of wood or metal or plastic. These raw materials have been available commercially for a longer time and a lot of research has been already done, in terms of design and manufacturing. In comparison, Bamboo still needs to be explored more to discover its several properties and innovate. Further, finding a balance between aesthetic freshness, quality, and affordability is quite challenging.
Are there any specific intentions MIANZI holds to generate an impact for the wider Indian and design community – both its artisans/ workforce and consumers?
As we were discussing before, we want to expand Indian craftsmanship and give it its deserving centerstage by proactive collaboration with local craftsmen, bringing high-tech industrial advancements to them, and to substantially increase productivity and nurture their skills. We can introduce substantial growth in this industry on an artisanal and economic level, and at the environmental front.
What are your subsequent aspirations with, and for MIANZI?
With a deliberate and equal focus on expertise research on bamboo, we want to competitively revolutionize the way bamboo is seen and used by the masses, introducing it to the construction and mobility industry, discovering its resilient composition with a breakthrough through an economically viable and sustainable approach.
Is there anything you would hope for, or expect, clients, to discover and take from MIANZI?
In general, people consider sustainability as the latest trend rather than considering it as an imperative choice for our environment and future. Understanding the consumer demand we need to make a conscious effort to market products that are contemporary yet sustainable.
Mianzi with its fresh designs and functional approach expects that more and more people and designers understand that the purpose of sustainability is not to greenwash with yet another eco-friendly material, but rather to rethink industrial production and product conception in a realistic way.
During the last one and a half years, Mianzi has been recognized and awarded by esteemed design fraternities. The acknowledgment of their work from both practitioners in the field and their clients has lended them working opportunities with renowned architects and interior designers across the country, inspiring them to continue to experiment with bamboo and sustainable design.
If you would like to explore and shop their designs, you can visit their catalogue on our shop.