Vegan interior design is definitely a niche market, however defining your target market is the key to success in any business. Veganism hits a chord with today’s conscious consumers. These days people are more aware of the effect of unsustainable consumption on our planet they are changing their diet as well as their lifestyle choices. As a result vegans are one of the largest and fastest growing lifestyle groups across the world with many new products and services appearing to serve this growing group of consumers.
As interior design is such a competitive business, it’s important to promote yourself as a specialist in your field so you can find your ideal customer. Follow your passions when defining your niche and success will follow.
In this post Chloe Bullock of Materialise Interiors, a BIID registered designer and the first vegandesign.org certified designer in the UK tells us about the rising market in her specialism of ethical sustainable and vegan interior design.
Tell us about your career in interior design
My background is after loving art & design (and it’s history) at school, sixth form and art college, I studied Furniture and Product Design for four years at Nottingham Trent University. After graduation over 25 years ago and was chosen to exhibit at New Designers where I won Consumer Product Design award.
After a spell of designing for a furniture company, I was lucky to get an opportunity to work in retail design at the head office for ethical retailer The Body Shop. This began 10 happy years of conscious design education. There within the newly formed retail design team, we designed retail concepts which avoided animal products, animal-tested paint, we always used sustainable timber, we avoided PVC – and we upcycled, re-used and recycled where possible.
I was encouraged to find new materials and work with the in-house Business Ethics team. Our projects were globally tested. I was even able to take a trial store concept to Australia where I worked for 9 months on it’s implementation. Such happy days!
After 10 years I felt empowered and ready to set up on my own. It was hard to leave but I needed new challenges and I was lucky to then go on to work for a wide variety of commercial clients. I did some sensible things whilst planning to leave including saving up and overpaying my mortgage. I knew I was stepping out into the unknown but I felt I had to try it!
How did you start Materialise Interiors?
In the beginning, word of mouth helped me enormously and a number of clients were repeat ones. Colleagues in professional services recommended me and I have worked with a building contractor on multiple projects. I’ve very grateful for that start I had. A couple of years in, I survived the 2008 financial crisis which was a horrible bumpy ride for many in the building industry around me. There was no planning, business case or marketing plan for the business. I was fortunate that one project led to another. Where I could I have always tried to specify the better specifications I learnt whilst at The Body Shop. But after some years I felt a huge urge to gain more education. I also felt I needed to stop and have a plan… perhaps I should have said no to some of the projects?!
First step was to join the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) primarily to continue my learning. I’m a keen learner anyway but I also love the idea of HAVING to do lots of Continuing Professional Development (CPD)! In addition to this I wanted to formalise that I was an interior designer after all these years or relevant experience. I really found it to be a good move as it protects my clients assurances on my professionalism, qualifications, experience and insurance.
How did you move into Vegan Interior Design?
When I heard about the VeganDesign.org course a couple of years ago I leapt on it so I could top up my knowledge! There are many ways animals are used in the interiors industry – in the production of leather – suede – skins – wool – silk – down – feathers – fur – paint – adhesives. Backed with facts from PETA investigations, the VeganDesign.org course highlighted many areas…..
- animal welfare in the wool industry,
- the fact that leather is not the by product (meat is),
- Chinese and Indian leather is not only bovine (basically it can be any animal skin),
- the horror of live-plucked down,
- the appalling conditions that leather tannery workers work in and the devastating effect of the chemicals on their health, and the conditions for communities in Bangladesh where tannery chemicals flow into the rivers where they wash and fish.
- Closer to home, some paint brands unfortunately still test on animals. We need to ask “is the end product or the ingredients tested on animals?”
I also don’t think these are concerns only for vegans. In the way people don’t want cruelty in their cosmetic, toiletry or cleaning product choices. It’s not just about vegan interior design, whether your perspective is the animals, people, the environment or health – there are multiple reasons for exploring alternatives that avoid the use of animals in interior specifications.
Ethical and Sustainable Alternatives
More and more alternatives are becoming available. Technology is moving at a rapid rate and dare I say it – ‘natural’ is not necessarily as natural as you might hope. Most likely it is heavily chemical-laden and ‘natural’ may be a myth and no longer be the right fabric or finish to use. Many ‘natural’ products harbour dust which is a problem for allergy sufferers. Similarly there’s so many exciting developments that are happening in the fashion industry that are beginning to overflow into the interiors and automotive industries such as lab grown leather and leather derived from food waste (pineapple leaf fibre, mushrooms, apple fibres and coconuts).
It’s really an area I hope other designers will explore and consider for their client’s projects. In a similar way to the fashion industry, I feel that the whole concept of ‘Conscious consumption’ is the future for use of the earth’s resources in our industry. Where’s is it from. What’s it’s environmental impact? Is it reusable or repairable? After some uses is it recyclable? I feel it’s the duty of designers to have a good knowledge of what we are putting in our clients homes and businesses. Likewise we need to guide our clients through the process. I feel so happy to have my personal values coupled with my company’s now. It feels very authentic and I now feel like I’m working on a passion project rather than just working.
What sort of projects do you work on?
Mainly I work on commercial projects and then help clients with their homes afterwards. I love a project that includes branding and a shopfront as that’s my background. I enjoy them all and don’t particularly want to specialise – although restaurants/bars and offices are particularly enjoyable. I’d SO love to design a vegan restaurant with a vegan interior! I have my feelers out!
No two projects are the same. There’s lots of challenges designing for spaces that have high footfall and I really enjoy that. I’m also enjoying applying my learnings from healthy building movements such as WELL, Fitwel® and Building Biology. I’ve been busy studying them all! In February I passed the exam to be a Fitwel® Ambassador. Of course I always try to incorporate as many animal and eco-friendly specifications. Clients are usually very receptive. There’s many convincing reasons to choose them – and it often doesn’t effect the budget either.
What are the key considerations when clients choose you as their designer?
My sales funnels are from many directions. Word of mouth, Google searches, social media, networking… Many clients don’t know about my the added values I can offer. For some like Real Patisserie in Brighton it compliments what they do really well and they can talk about their whole approach to their business – right through to their spaces.
How do you ensure your trade supply network uphold your ethical, sustainable and vegan interior design vision and values
This can be difficult when you are a team of one. I don’t have the excellent support I had at The Body Shop. Suppliers can sometimes be loose with the truth – or it can take a while to get a clear answer. There are many certifications and standards you can use. I always look for certifications such as Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), VeganDesign.Org badge, BRE A+ Rating, Soil Association label, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), EU Ecolabel, GreenScreen, Good Weave, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and zero VOC.
Thought for the day.
I know we’ve got enough on our plates doing the job we do. Everyone thinks it’s glamorous – it’s not! Creative – yes, but for about 5% of the time. And well paid? I’m still yet to crack accurate estimating of project time – I don’t know about you?! We like our clients and have their best interests at heart – but they can be challenging at times too. Finally I’d love it if you stop to think for a moment about what you are buying. Where is it from, how long it will last, what’s the environmental cost and where is it going to. It’s your big chance to help make change. All our small steps will add up!