“That is design, the designer has the opportunity to be the agitator and the agent for change.”
In 2015, Alexander Taylor was presented with a challenge. Sea Shepherd had removed 72 kilometers of illegal deep-sea gillnets from the Southern Ocean during a record-breaking anti-poaching campaign, and the newly formed adidas x Parley alliance was looking to transform what was once a threat to our life-giving ecosystem into a symbol and rally cry for its protection. The objective: create the first shoe made from Parley Ocean Plastic™ to present on stage at the United Nations x Parley launch event. The timeline: roughly one week. The approach: collaboration.
As the leader of an industrial design studio and innovation consultant to adidas, Alexander Taylor is no stranger to the process of dreaming up big ideas and actually bringing them into reality. We asked him how he channels his skill set and Parley AIR Strategy to create change in his industry, and in the movement to protect the oceans.
Parley sees plastic as a design failure, a flawed material. To your understanding, what is the problem?
Industry (designers and consumers) has become complacent. We have to redesign and challenge, and enforce it upon industry to create alternative, more responsible, material solutions.
When did you realize the extent of the marine plastic pollution problem?
I would say the event at the United Nations (UN x Parley) to introduce the first adidas x Parley shoes was the first moment I really began to understand the extent of marine plastic pollution, listening to the environmentalists, explorers, marine biologists, chemists, filmmakers, artists, etc. talking of experiences and visually capturing the devastation and threat.
How do you try to create change as an industrial designer? And in your everyday life?
We are all responsible and my feeling is that everyone can make a difference... for example, by committing to no plastic bags and avoidance of single-use plastic. And educating those around you. I am conscious to always find an alternative, where possible, to plastic in my everyday life.
How do you interpret Parley AIR? What questions do you ask yourself in the design process, e.g., when selecting which materials to work with?
I have always designed in a way that's conscious to material efficiency and process, and feel a great sense of responsibility as a designer. I want to reduce parts and pieces, focusing where possible on making with single materials and reducing glue. I’m always looking to improve a product or material and challenge the system and individuals to seek out alternative, more intelligent, methods of making….that is design, the designer has the opportunity to be the agitator and the agent for change.
What is the value and importance of collaboration in this process?
A designer can never have too many collaborators and should be open to work alongside industry experts, seeking out intelligent, viable alternative materials. It is possible to change, however there has to be a collective will. A designer alone cannot change the system, but they can certainly be the catalyst.
Alexander Taylor founded his industrial design studio in 2002, where he creates furniture and lighting for world-leading manufacturers and galleries. His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA. Taylor has been a consultant of adidas since 2008 and has developed new technologies such as PrimeKnit, which has been hailed as one of the most sustainable and innovative shoes produced by the brand. The studio collaborated on the adidas x Parley shoes presented at the United Nations in June 2015. Learn more
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