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Erik Thorstensson on Creatables

Earlier this month I posted a little round-up of products by the recycling mavens behind the Swedish design firm Creatables. I've had a subsequent email exchange with Erik Thorstensson, one of Creatables' founders, and here's what he had to say about his company's genesis, the state of men's tennis, and the challenges of sourcing industrial castoffs from which to make new, winsome products.

Erik holding up two Old News newspaper holders in a photo by Jonas Ekstromer.
Erik holding up two Old News newspaper holders in a photo by Jonas Ekstromer.

When was Creatables founded? How did it come about?
Creatables was founded in mid 2008 after I met Petter Danielsson and Oscar Ternbom at the Scandinavian technical fair where all three of us had won prizes for innovation regarding packaging and reuse of packaging, and we found we were all really into eco-design. Creatables actually started when we made joint attempts to develop smarter packaging solutions that could be transformed into household/design products to reduce waste. The first products were our wallet and our patented clothespin. 

The Swedes' take on making waste into useful products.
The Swedes' take on making waste into useful products.
What came next?
But as our work progressed and we found more and more interesting product solutions for the packaging materials, and at the same time saw the amount of waste in the packaging process we figured why not implement the products in the waste surfaces and sell them on their own? And then with the help of my old design teacher Kenneth Bringzén Creatables was started as a network, identifying surplus materials and spreading the material throughout the network so we could efficiently develop design products to be applied in these surplus areas industrially. The general idea has always been to be a movement rather than a company. Producers invest materials, designers invest time and the consumer  buy the products and the profit is distributed in relation to the investment. 
Are any of your products available in the US, or are Americans best off buying online?
We have had a lot of requests but we are still a bit too small to be able to handle the US market, so for now it's still best to order it online. But we are planning an expansion to the US sometime during 2011. At first we will start by sending products made in Sweden but as soon as possible we want to make products locally from US suppliers and their surplus materials. We aim for local production, and a worldwide movement. So this is a shout out to designers and suppliers, and shop owners, if you are interested in participating in the project feel free to contact us.
Where did you get the idea to make Old News, a newspaper holder made of indoor tennis flooring? Are you guys tennis players or was it the material that drove the product, as opposed to an interest in the sport?
We found the rolls of surplus tennis floor when visiting a company in another product development project, and just loved the material. This is one of the few products that we actually sat down together in one session and developed. It was a great session with us three together with our friend Jonas Forsman sitting down and cutting the material into different prototypes. We have a lot of ideas from that session in our database but the first one we refined for production was Old News. As we like sports and love [Swedish tennis star Robin] Soderling's recent success on the tennis court, we wanted to keep the relation to the origin of the material and named the colors from the tennis courts. So to answer your question the material came first, but it could have been the other way around too.
Here are Creatables' patented, award-winning clothespins.
Here are Creatables' patented, award-winning clothespins.
You guys must have tons of indoor tennis courts in Sweden. Is there a lot of left over material to work with?

They're produced and installed every now and then all over Sweden and Scandinavia, but not as often as we like. Our source supplies most of northern Europe with these indoor training courts. As the demand is rising now we need more material of this sort so we are actively looking for more producers that have materials with the same feature set as this tennis floor material. We are also lifting our focus to other sports floors, watch out for the J-O Waldner ping pong wallet or something like that. We don't mind hunting around a bit, because this way, the more we sell, the better it is for the environment.
Is most of what you make from otherwise scrap material? Or was it just Old News?
Our products are all designed to be manufactured from reoccurring production surplus, this way we help our clients be more effective and find new ways of being green. So we have etched metal, laser-cut metal, lots of textiles and plastics. All production that starts with sheet material generates waste and we try to figure out products that can be applied in these waste areas. And if one producer has a material and process that works for us, there's bound to be more of the same materials wherever similar products are produced. This spring we are launching our clothespins from packaging waste and also some really sweet jewelry from etched metal surplus.
Robin Soderling bested Roger Federer in the 2010 French Open quarterfinals.
Robin Soderling bested Roger Federer in the 2010 French Open quarterfinals.
Are you guys big Soderling fans? Or maybe Federer? Or Nadal, even?

We love Soderling's recent success and followed the Federer-Soderling match [Soderling beat the Swiss champion Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of the French Open this year] this summer and loved that he won. But we still have to hand it to Federer, he is an awesome tennis player and we hope they'll meet in many great finals in the future. But it's always more fun when the games are a bit more even than the more common crushing Federer victories.

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