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27 Jun 2018

Vegan design: 'If the food industry has gone vegan, then design will be next'

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Erez Nevi Pana’s new furniture collection uses no animal products and was produced on the Dead Sea bed

"Vegan design is a cruelty-free practice that encourages a harmonious stage of living; it represents the beauty that rises from non-violent principles,” says Erez Nevi Pana, an Israeli designer who creates animal-free furniture and products. 

Since launching his latest Salt collection of stools at the Vegan Design exhibition, curated by Maria Cristina Didero in Salone del Mobile this year, Nevi Pana aims to open up a dialogue around creating objects that are completely animal-free. 

It’s an ethical, feasible and environmentally conscious method of creating, which includes a considered approach to materiality that eradicates any traces of animals in the entire design process. Think stools free from wool, leather,  rubber gloves, paint, plastics, resin and industrial glue; instead, the stools are covered in a skin of salt.

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Five years ago Nevi Pana first changed his path towards a more sustainable and vegan approach to life. After viewing a traumatic video of a mother goat’s baby being taken away from her after birth, he realised he sponsored these acts within his own choices.

“The pain and sorrow animals go through just to satisfy our palate is something that became far from my beliefs,” he says. “I started by questioning my food, and later  I started questioning my own design practice, which ultimately led to this approach.”

Nevi Pana’s childhood upbringing was filled with plants, making it seem as if he was always destined to take a more natural methodology. “I grew up in a plant nursery where natural materials always surrounded me, and my fascination grew from there,” he explains. “I think my designs are quite biographical and personal, and the materials reference that— I use soil and clay which relate to the greenhouse, and salt which is local. I mix and match things that are interwoven in my daily life.”

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Some may think that incorporating salt into the design process may be a little far-fetched, but for Nevi Pana, it was an obvious choice. First, to assemble his pieces, he uses plant substances and minerals that are sourced from his native country, and for his latest Salt project these were derived from the Dead Sea. 

Considered the most “vegan place on Earth”, as he explains, the highly salty water prevents any kind of living being to exist and makes for the most visually mesmerising material. “I was always fascinated by the Dead Sea. I came to Israel for a short holiday during my MA studies at Design Academy Eindhoven and went there to catch some sun in the desert.” 

“While travelling there I saw a white mountain in the middle of nowhere and I realised it was a mountain of neglected salt – a byproduct of the manic production of potash and bromine extracted from the water of the Dead Sea. It was like winning the lottery as I got tonnes of free material, so I decided to search for ways to make salt desirable and worthy again.”

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The salt stools are made with recycled carpenter’s wood waste and finished with vegan glue invented by Nevi Pana. Then, immersed in water and fixed to the bottom of the Dead Sea, the salt crystallisation on the surface generates a pure white substance, which forms a new shape on the original object – creating a metamorphosed (and vegan) sea creature that’s grown into a new shell. 

The three to six month process is out of the designer’s hands once left in the sea, meaning the entire cycle is wonderfully unpredictable – each stool is unique. 

As designers look towards more sustainable materials, such as vegan and animal-free substances, these kinds of experiments – although not the most functional – are raising awareness about the possibilities of design. Nevi Pana explains how such experiments as his Salt project will make its way into the mainstream: “I started speaking about salt architecture in 2012; I was the first one to make salt tiles and blocks from 100% pure sea salt. It’s a strong idea and I see so many designers and architects trying to produce their own version, which I highly encourage.”

In the near future, perhaps we’ll see these salt “architecture” tiles transfer into large-sale construction methods, on the exterior of a building or decorating the cities. 

At least for now, the current state of design is certainly heading towards what Nevi Pana states is a more “harmonious way of living”. “If the food industry has turned vegan, then the design industry will be next – we will see more people demanding cruelty-free designed objects. It gives me hope as I see humanity heading towards a more conscientious lifestyle,” he says.

“The next stage will be a show, titled Consciousness, that comments on ‘Breatharianism’ to various degrees, which will end the suffering of animals and bring peace and equanimity to this planet.” Breatharianism is the belief that it is possible to live without consuming food – a rather extreme idea that most likely will not make its way into the conventional any time soon, but, for now, equanimity and a vegan lifestyle can have their place. 

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