Typically used as a building material for high endurance surfaces, Arielle Assouline-Lichten first discovered recycled rubber particles while working as an architect on a new construction project in Soho, New York. It piqued her curiosity as a material that is aesthetically satisfying at the same time as it is both sustainable and highly functional.
Ultimately, Assouline-Lichten’s serendipitous encounter with recycled rubber would serve to inspire her first homeware collection. Today, she is the founder of award-winning design studio Slash Objects, whose design mission first began with discarded tyres – a by-product of modern society in which its designers saw new opportunities.
Over 380 million tyres are discarded each year in the US alone, and only 30 million of these are recycled. The significant challenge presented by the tyre waste problem inspired Slash Objects to create new products that exploit all of rubber’s many useful properties.
The studio’s designers imagined new lifecycles in which tyre rubber and other materials could be diverted from landfills and reclaimed for productive use. By reusing resources in new and innovative ways, Slash Objects is currently reimagining how materials can be used through design.
Studio founder Assouline-Lichten explains that she uses design as a vehicle to transform materials from single- to multiple-use resources, and can thereby make design choices that change people’s perceptions of a material – the way we form it, contextualise it and render it in a new light. She explains:
“As designers, we exert a major influence on how products and materials are perceived in our everyday world. It’s central to my process – and my brand’s ethos – to think about what we create and how it impacts both the environment and human life".
She further explains that "Slash Objects is an exploration of materials in space. Materials matter in our world, where resources are finite. We aim to use materials thoughtfully throughout the production process, reducing waste and our impact wherever possible".
At the heart of Slash Objects’ rubber product line is an American-made material that uses recycled rubber particles to create a high-endurance rubber never before used in designing homewares. Slash Objects’ goals include both testing the limits of what has been done before and creating beautiful pieces that prompt people to question their assumptions.
In cooperation with their manufacturers, Slash Objects aims to salvage as much waste as possible in creating their rubber and to put the material to good use. In fact, in keeping with this philosophy, most of Slash Objects’ collection is made from exactly that – recycled rubber. 40 % of their products are made from recycled tyre rubber, which they supplement with post-consumer EPDM rubber.
When creating her first homewares collection, Assouline-Lichten was motivated by a deep desire to learn more about furniture design and its materials. Coming from an architecture and graphic design background, furniture’s scale and products were both new to her. As part of her creative process, Assouline-Lichten always goes back to the materials at hand and asks herself what they could become.
Using her trademark “quick and messy” method of getting her ideas down on paper, Assouline-Lichten first begins by sketching her design concepts by hand. She will regularly toy with an idea for weeks – or even months – before turning it into a design piece. Once the concept has crystallised, the process of its physical realisation begins with Assouline-Lichten creating a 3D model of the concept to determine its dimensionality, proportion and scale, ensuring that functionality is embedded within the design. Rough physical models are then produced, which helps her with proof of concept and determining proportion and scale. The process emphasises the importance of testing all aspects of an idea before making a final, 1:1 scale version
Initially, Assouline-Lichten was unsure whether recycled tyre rubber was a feasible choice of material, and it took a good deal of trial and error before she came to understand not only how to work with the material but also how well it would last over time.
“I ran many tests and used the products in my own day-to-day life to determine how well the material stood up to heat and general wear and tear. I found recycled rubber to be very durable and hard-wearing. As I learned more, I started experimenting with more bold and interesting forms and ways of bringing it together,” Assouline-Lichten reveals.
She explains that the material can be tricky to work with because of its elastic nature, and so recommends experimenting to explore its capabilities and limitations.
“Since recycled rubber has many useful properties in terms of its flexibility and strength, we’ve tested many ways of working with the material to find applications where it functions well,” she says.
To date, Slash Objects has received an enormously positive response to its recycled rubber concept from both the public and press alike. They have also attracted many return clients who take a keen interest in their products thanks to their functionality and unique aesthetic.
Looking ahead, Slash Objects intend to further pursue their deep-seated fascination with materials and material combinations by continuing to create high-end products and furniture made from long-lasting, recycled materials. These are enduring pieces that will last a lifetime or even longer, and thereby help slow the pace of consumption.
“Our goal in producing new products is zero waste. While that’s not always possible, good efficiency can still go a very long way in making a difference in our world. I like to consider each piece’s longevity. Ultimately, we want to create objects that will last many lifetimes; creations that will stand the test of time and remain with a person. I try to imagine ways to utilise more of the waste that past production methods have created. Our focus is primarily on salvaging recycled materials and introducing them into a new lifecycle,” Assouline-Lichten concludes.