Erika Braccini calls herself the “guardian of nature” – a fun way to describe herself as a person who strongly cares about the environment. She simply never stops thinking about what significant impact her design will have on people and their surroundings.
Describing herself as sociable, strong and adventurous, the positive Italian (who is currently living in London) reuses materials and creates useful products out of them. “I extend the lifespan of the so-called ‘waste materials’ and turn them into something else that is more desirable,” she said.
At the beginning, Erika was confused as to what she wanted to study for her undergraduate degree at the Camberwell College of Arts. “I really wanted to study something about the environment and at the same time do something to prevent its destruction,” she said.
“I was very open with my tutor and explained my confusion in what I should study, also considering that my background was in arts. I still remember the day he said: ‘Erika, if you really want to do something for the environment, you should really think about design.’ He opened my eyes and horizons; he helped me find the answer I was struggling to find. From that day I have never had a doubt in the path I have chosen and I believe that design has a great potential to be part of the solution to tackle environmental and social issues.”
Erika was passionate about conserving the environment from a young age with her love for animals and the beauty of nature. “I have never understood why humans had to destroy such a balanced and beautiful environment mainly because of power or because of their greed. Nature has given almost everything to us: from the air we breathe, the food we eat and the clothes we wear. I am not an extremist environmentalist; I am okay if we use land to grow food, if some people hunt or fish to provide food or if we use natural or even manmade materials to produce objects, houses and if we explore nature or even use cars,” she said.
“But I do think we should all act accordingly and be more responsible. I think a single plastic bag is not a problem if this is used in a more sensible way. The problem arises when plastics bags are over used. I really want to make changes in some aspects of our system. I want to create a dialogue with people and bring knowledge to them.” Erika graduated from her college of arts studying 3D Design where she started incorporating environmentally-healthy designs into her products.
During Erika’s first two years of studying 3D Design, she focused on “upcycled” products where she converted waste materials into new and desirable products. “I thought that upcycling waste and used objects was the way forward to make people realise the amount of waste generated by us,” she said.
In her final year, she shifted towards service design, working on one of her favourite works: Gaia Cabinet. “I now believe that through involvement, people can have a bigger impact on the issues I want to highlight with my design. Thus, my last project was a piece of furniture made out of recycled plastics and stainless steel, which instead of functioning as furniture, contained soil and earthworms,” she said.
“I used it as an educational tool for children to teach them how to prevent food waste, how to compost, how to grow their own food, how important it is to have a healthy and balanced diet and how important it is to connect with nature,” she added.
Further speaking about the usefulness of Gaia Cabinet, Erika said, “it was designed to be in line with the circular economy, an economy without waste where all the materials go back into the same system they come from. As described before, Gaia Cabinet is made out of recycled materials and therefore once its life span is over, it can easily disassemble and be placed into the recycling bin, making a truly zero waste product.”
When creating her products Erika said she wants to bring knowledge, create dialogue and make changes. “What I would like viewers to receive from my works is for them to question themselves on the issue I am trying to highlight with my design and to find out more about it and perhaps start their own positive revolution on that particular issue.”
“My principal aim in designing environmental products is to create a dialogue amongst people and perhaps inspire other designs/designers to think more of the impact that design has on the environment,” she added. “Also, with little steps, I am hoping to find a possible solution to solve environmental and social issues with my designs. I feel there is no point in going out on the street and protesting anymore. I believe that design and arts are a more tangible solution to have real impact.”
As for ideas on how to start her projects, Erika gathers inspiration from a variety of things: “reading, talking, travelling and observing people and everything around me. If there is an issue I am particularly interested in bringing up, I start researching more in depth on that issue,” she said.
Once Erika finds an idea through reading, researching and observing she starts sketching what comes to mind. “For me, it is also very important to play with materials and see how I can work with them. Starting to make something is fundamental for my design as I can see what is tangible and what actually works,” she said. “You can draw as much as you like in design, but if you then don’t try to make it real and test the materials, the whole process will simply be a waste of time.”
Thoughts about the future
Right now, Erika is working on further developing her Gaia Cabinet project. “I want to introduce it into the educational curriculum and bring it to primary schools in London and possibly abroad,” she said. “The next project I am working on is about pollution in the oceans and how that affects people’s health. I will be joining an expedition on a sailing boat to research plastics and toxins in the Atlantic Oceans and how these are related to people’s health.
“I hope to create a global movement, dialogue and project that can make people realise the importance of protecting the oceans and its wildlife and by protecting them, automatically we protect ourselves,” she added.
Among these upcoming projects and expeditions, Erika’s short-term goal is to settle down as a designer. “I’m still in the process of understanding what kind of business I want to take, considering that I only want to focus on environmental and social issues,” she said. “I would like to design projects that bring positivity and solutions to the environment, people and community. At the same time, I would really like to develop new materials and implement the circular economy principles with them.”
Erika said she would never stop travelling and bringing adventure to her life and added, “Always be positive, surround yourself with colour and think with a child mind. You will discover another world!”