Ones to Watch 2017: material conservationist Seetal Solanki
It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch is our chance to showcase 12 creatives who we think will be making an impact in 2017. The people featured have been whittled down from a global pool of creative talent and have been chosen for their ability to consistently produce inspiring and engaging work. Each one practices across a diverse range of disciplines and continually pushes the boundaries of their creative output. Ones to Watch 2017 is supported by Uniqlo.
We caught up with each of our Ones to Watch, to talk about their work so far and their hopes for the year to come.
Seetal Solanki is a name recognised by many. It’s unsurprising: the designer worked across fashion, sportswear, automotive, lighting and architecture before launching Ma-tt-er, a material research consultancy back in 2015. Ma-tt-er’s work as a studio is one of huge consideration. Every element of a project it undertakes is thoughtful and representative, creating pieces of design that reflect the world around us, but also display the power to change our environment for the greater good.
Seetal describes Ma-tt-er as a rather unconventional business. She likens her role, simply, to that of a chef, who “works with the land, sea and experts in their fields, such as farmers, scientists, cultures, geography, global and local markets, importing and exporting, which relates to social, economical and political situations. Most importantly chefs can use one ingredient to its full potential, such as cooking lamb three ways”. This is an approach evident within the Ma-tt-er team, of which Seetal is the only permanent member. An assistant joins her a few days each week; designers and project managers come in at different points; even archaeologists and geologists join her if necessary for a brief. As a result the work is a mix of materials and culture, the academic and creative, which is ultimately personable in its end result.
Ma-tt-er: Micaella Pedros Joining Bottles Experiment
Ma-tt-er: Micaella Pedros Joining Bottles Experiment
When outlining how Ma-tt-er approaches a brief, Seetal appears to leave no stone unturned. Nothing is haphazardly decided, she is formidably meticulous in producing the best work possible. When asked about her process, Seetal drew us a diagram identifying the three main considerations of a new brief. “We start with identity which means we look at people, space and materials,” she explains. This is how Ma-tt-er works for a client’s needs: if a space needs to feel warm, cool or contemplative they choose a material, “that can evoke a sense of feeling”. Following this, the team will consider the lifecycle of a material. This stage attempts to “understand every single aspect of that material, where it comes from, how it’s used currently, and if it is possible for it to take on a new continuous lifecycle”. Finally the system of the material, its “longevity, modularity, versatility and ability” are each considered for a project to take on maximum affect. Overall Seetal believes it is not always “about new materials, but about realising what we already have and for a user to think about where these materials or products are eventually ending up”.
This conscientious process is one that has been adopted across a wealth of projects this year. Seetal recalls travelling widely as a favoured highlight of 2016, starting in South Africa with the British Council as part of The Maker Library Network, which will open a materials library with Blackhorse Workshop in the new year. A further trip to Iceland, which was actually meant to be a holiday for Seetal, turned into a research trip. “I brought so many rocks back with me it’s unbelievable. Thankfully my husband doesn’t think I’m mad.”
As for client-based projects, Ma-tt-er has been working with lifestyle store Open As Usual, creating a strategy for the store to identify its purpose. The ongoing project also includes commissioning all its digital content and curating in-store events each based on a monthly theme. “January is all about January Blues, as blue is the signature colour for the store and that is the best way to kick it all off.” Now, Ma-tt-er will consider the merchandise for the store, “based on mood rather than seasons, or menswear or womenswear,” Seetal explains. “We wear certain clothes and colours depending on how we feel. It’s about the psychology as well as the mindset. The retail industry is a great arena to explore these ideas.”
Overall Seetal creates work which is sustainable, contemplative and relevant. She showcases an important aim to “bridge the gap between all industries as we are all affected by design and manufacturing.” As Ma-tt-er settles into a new, larger studio, Seetal hopes to hold workshops opening it up to the local and wider community. With work consistently steeped in fascinating research this will help to give better understanding of not only Ma-tt-er’s practice but the materials themselves. Because as Ma-tt-er’s manifesto identifies, “everything, and everyone, Matters”.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.