Ms. Surbhi Singhal, Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven
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Issue_96 - 26th May, 2015
Ms Surbhi Singhal, Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven

Connect caught up with leading Dutch designer Tjeerd Veenhoven in the 22 Nov 2012 issue. Connect spoke to Ms Surbhi Singhal, Product Manager, Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven India for what has happened since then.
Please tell us about the organizational set up the design philosophy and the nature of operations of Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven.

Studio Tjeerd Veenhovens’ design approach transcends tangible product design to the innovation of new methods, services and systems. We rely on 6 pillars of thought that we try to touch upon and incorporate in all of our projects: Nature / Government / Science / Social / Education / Commerce We employ ‘Backcasting’ as a planning method which involves assuming a positive outcome in the future; a vision of the ideal sustainable organization, society, or product, and that you then ask yourself: "What should we do today to make this successful outcome possible?” This helps us look beyond the problems and limitations of today and envision a better tomorrow. The founder of the studio is Tjeerd Veenhoven and from the design studio in Groningen we experiment with materials and crafts from all over the world: developing new products to strengthen local economies, ecological awareness and design thinking.
Please tell us about nature of operations of Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven in India?

Palmleather is one a material innovation by the studio that modifies dry and brittle palm leaves into soft and flexible vegetarian leather, which can be used to design various products. It is made from the bark of the Areca nut beatle sheath found in abundance in South India, 55% of these plantations can be found in Karnataka. We have been operational in India since 2011 with the Connecting Concepts exhibition, the Dutch profile in Mumbai. In 2012 Tjeerd Veenhoven started a unit in north Karnataka with a local collaboration to produce and export Palmleather flip-flops. We operate out of Bangalore overseeing and setting up production for our primary project and consulting companies that share our design values. In 2013, we started collaborating with Sristhi School of Design to offer students an educational program on Natural Fibers and Dutch Design Thinking.

How have the projects in India evolved since 2012? Please tell us about the active projects and the achievements.

Currently we operate out of Bangalore overseeing and setting up production for our primary project and consulting companies that share our design values. In 2013, we started collaborating with Sristhi School of Design to offer students an educational program on Natural Fibers and Dutch Design Thinking. We have been quite successful in initiating a complete bottom up project with Palmleather since we first started operations. There is a large scope for setting up cottage scale units in the southern states of India especially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala going forward. We have a growth plan that focuses on growing steadily in a sustainable manner from a small-scale unit to producers collective in the future by encouraging green entrepreneurship at a grass roots level. In 2013, we started collaborating with Sristhi School of Design to offer students an educational program on Natural Fibers and Dutch Design Thinking.
Please tell us about them about the research and educational tie-ups in India.

The Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology in Bangalore offers its students a holistic design education where the young designers are equipped to face the diverse challenges our rapidly developing country faces. One such collaboration has been the ‘Softening Fibers Lab’ with the Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven. The collaboration is a perfect example of an amalgamation of Indo Dutch design sensibilities and Indian craftsmanship. The Softening Fibers Lab is about broadening the scope of indigenous natural fibers. Reinventing and revitalizing India’s natural fiber riches, the quality of its craftsmanship and the development of the national culture around it are its primary goal. The Lab offers a course that makes the students sensitive to the rich natural fiber resources in their own ‘back yard’ via a systematic design process, which involves Exploring, Experimenting and Evolving. Our intent is to continue to offer the Lab to students at Srishti as a path to design for a sustainable future.

What are the key challenges that you foresee? How do you plan to overcome them? How does India figure in the global plans of the studio?

We work with design departments of brands to re- access the materials being used to build products. Developing concepts, supported with our technological knowledge, design, prototyping, marketing research, and business development. We run parallel design development projects, bring them to the proof of principle stage, advice on implementation in or separate from existing processes. Our product design approach looks at sustainability where it really matters, in the material. We support the development of new value/supply chains based on new materials. Thus we are different from a traditional design studio that sets out to work on a design brief dictated by the market or an ongoing trend. For India our approach to design is quite new and difficult to grasp most of the time. We are driven by our extensive knowledge and experience obtained from our own projects, research and development on processes and materials, then extending it to new materials and material uses.
How have the products/ projects been received? Which are the forums where they have been presented?

Palmleather is a unique material, which looks like wood but behaves like leather. It is biodegradable and less environmentally polluting than the leather tanning process. Thus Palmetti is a first of its kind product. It is eco friendly- it is natural, and balances its’ use is balanced with its’ lifecycle. Better still it is not cultivated. The product uses dry fallen leaves of the tree. It is purposeful – it is useful and relevant in todays’ throwaway society. It has been presented on multiple international forums and has been quite well received including this years Dutch Design Week.

What is the future outlook and what is the road map for the future?

We have a lot of experience in implementing our design thinking across products, concepts, services based on materials and value chains. Our ideal match would be to collaborate with commercial partners who want to identify and pursue long- term sustainable strategies, which will help them be more effective than their competition. We are looking forward to collaborating with companies with integrated environmental and growth strategies in India, who have a clear long-term vision to expand business in a sustainable way. This could be company that wish to reduce environmental footprint in the coming years or work on strategies for positive social impact, directly or indirectly.

What is the assistance that you require in terms of support?

In the Netherlands our expertise on material development has resulted in several successful start ups which in itself is a very useful tool to stimulate regional economic growth. We often develop alternative products within existing value chains to diversify output or to offer alternative revenues. We would like to pioneer with small start ups. Parallel existing value chains is something to be tried more often in India where the tendency is still to run with the mainstream economic proven concepts. Invite us over to take a closer look at your company and value chain, there is much more you can get out of it. We believe India is a land of opportunity where the future can still be shaped in any way one wants.

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