Van de Sant: Circular furniture manufacturing

As part of our #SpaWasteNotChallenge highlighting the concepts and benefits of A Circular Economy, our partner Stephanie Hodgson of MeetthefiveR’s has carried out a series of case studies with our trusted Brand and Spa Partners to find out more about the great efforts they go to to keep waste to a minimum, use responsible materials and keep waste from polluting our oceans and environment.

Keep reading for the third in a four part series of case studies, looking into exciting and innovative examples of circular economy in the spa industry.

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OVERVIEW

The challenge. Most furniture is mass produced, the vast majority of which is made from virgin materials. Even hidden components such as supporting frames and padding are typically made using virgin wood, plastic, foam, etc.

The solution. Van de Sant makes sofas, chairs, loungers, benches and more completely from recycled and recyclable materials.

What makes it circular? Van de Sant fabric is made from post consumer textile waste. The padding is made from recycled foam and the structures are made from plastic waste rescued from land and sea. Even the metal they use comes from cutting waste, bar the screws and bolts. Importantly, too, every piece of furniture they produce can be reprocessed into new pieces. 

The benefits. Sourcing rescued waste materials creates new local jobs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. All furniture is designed for comfort so there is no sacrifice for such an environmentally friendly option. The team collaborates with and supporting other local artisans and designers.

Billions of trees are cut down each year to make furniture. BILLIONS. Some of that timber is visible and adds to an attractive look. Some of it, though, is hidden. A lot of the wood used for chairs, sofas, beds and the like are never seen but wood is chosen because chopping down trees is still cheap.

Plastic, too, makes up a good amount of the inner structure and padding. Think: foam or other stiff padding. Petroleum-based fabrics are also typical so we’re seeing tons and tons of this material throughout the entire design. Does all of this really need to be virgin plastic?

Robert Milder doesn’t think so. Robert is a Dutch designer and innovator helping to address issues like deforestation and plastic pollution, one piece of furniture at a time. His business, Van de Sant was born from a need to address the latter, specifically ocean-bound plastic, but he quickly realised he could make sofas, chairs, loungers, benches and the like entirely from rescued materials.

Van de Sant works with ReBlend and BIONIC to source fabric made from post consumer textile waste and recycled plastic PET. Van de Sant padding is made from recycled foam. The structures are made from plastic waste rescued from land and sea. Even the metal they use comes from cutting waste, bar the screws and bolts. Importantly, too, every piece of furniture they produce can be reprocessed into new pieces. In other words, everything can be recycled again.

Looking at the very sleek design of the lounge chair, pitched in the UK’s Dragons’ Den in 2018, we can see how he’s managed to do it. The body structure and fabric yarn are made entirely from ocean plastic. That frame is completely hidden and yet is incredibly high quality. The chair looks and feels like any other designer piece except it happens to have saved a tree or two, employed a cutting edge designer, made use of post consumer textile waste, saved about 20 bins-worth of plastic from ending up in the ocean and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Robert’s pitch won six offers, including one giving him exactly what he came for: £70k for 15% of his business. Though he ended up accepting that offer the deal never went through, as happens on the show from time to time. Nevertheless, his appearance gained him international recognition and he hasn’t stopped reaching out to markets beyond HQ in The Netherlands. 

I also got to interview Robert about his business. Surely a less stressful meeting than with the Dragons. Recycled materials are still underdeveloped and not yet to the sort of scale required to bring costs down. The technology is there, yes. But collection can be difficult. Virgin materials remain cheap and demand is still catching up, to name but a few barriers. Watch this space for our upcoming exclusive spa pilot scheme with Van De Sant – bringing the circular economy furniture model easily into a spa FF&E budget.

Although Van de Sant came into being with consumers in mind, it ended up winning ground in the commercial market. Offices and their waiting rooms, hospitals and the hospitality industry were all keen to pay up for furniture that would help them meet their ESG/CSR/sustainability targets. Robert isn’t unhappy with this for now since his prices are somewhat more palatable on corporate balance sheets but he hopes that with increased demand and production that they may reach more consumers directly in the near future.

I am now in regular contact with Robert to network with some of his supply partners and also to collaborate with Van de Sant on the circular economy campaign I created for and have developed with the Sustainable Spa Association. In fact, one of his partners, ReBlend, is now also collaborating on that campaign, the #SpaWasteNotChallenge, and we are all continuously trying to find ways to work together more, drive more mutually beneficial projects, and grow each other’s reach for the benefit and good reputation of the international spa sector.

References and further reading

Van de Sant corporate film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq3utxlhcuE

Dragon’s Den episode featuring Robert Milder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aZYCmsd2KY 

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