Rob Arcidiacono, founder, Madeforward

Seeing people's passions inspires me to always strive higher ...

So often we’re caught up in the rolling routine of life that we seem to lurch from one responsibility to the next, from work to the grocery store, to the kitchen, to bed. It takes a catalyst – a chance encounter, perhaps, or unexpected insight into another view – to make us pause for a moment and consider the status quo. One local lad not content to follow the norm is designer Rob Arcidiacono. Just over a year ago, Rob launched his own design-based business focused on upcycling and food self-sufficiency. The Madeforward range of products enables city dwellers to grow their own food in urban spaces and is made entirely from ‘waste material’ sourced from the manufacturing and construction industry to help minimise the amount of waste entering landfill. The Weekend Edition caught up with Rob this week to find out more about upcycling and net-positive design.

For readers who aren’t familiar with madeforward, what can you tell us about what you do?
The name Madeforward draws from the concept of ‘making-it’ to ‘paying-it-forward.’ As a Brisbane-based design company, we’re looking to transform the way we design products by challenging the idea of what we call ‘waste’. Madeforward products are made entirely out of material discarded from the construction and manufacturing industry, ‘paying-it-forward’ to the natural environment. At present, the first Madeforward range consists of wall gardens, vertical gardens and benchtop planters, allowing people in cities where garden space is at a premium, to have their own productive gardens and physically reconnect with the food growing process.

How did the idea come about?
I commenced my career as a designer in the toy industry in Hong Kong. While it was an awesome ‘big kid’ job, the realities of poor manufacturing process and limited environmental considerations in production and no thought for the product’s afterlife made me question the whole design process. This resulted in a career shift towards international development, where, having grown up on a farm near Stanthorpe as a child, I became interested in food systems and food sovereignty – or in short, people’s right globally to healthy, quality food. Madeforward was my way of bringing the experience gained in product design and manufacturing together with small-scale agriculture. By challenging the traditional industrial design paradigm, Madeforward seeks to create products in the least harmful way while also allowing people to reconnect with the most basic aspects of growing their own food.

What were your biggest challenges in launching the company?
Madeforward recently celebrated its first birthday. This first year has been a massive learning curve; much of the time requiring me to learn new skills and be a ‘jack of all trades’ in order to achieve goals and reach milestones. This requirement to be flexible and adapt and put your hand to anything and everything has been a huge challenge, but also an incredibly valuable experience in identifying my own strengths and weaknesses.

And what about the greatest reward?
The greatest rewards to come from Madeforward have been those conversations that spark that ‘penny-drop’ moment with someone. They can see what Madeforward is trying to achieve. This in turn inspires them to change their own behaviour and to advocate for similar positive change.

What can you tell us about your philosophy on upcycling and net-positive design?
Upcycling is the process of transforming materials that would be traditionally destined for landfill into new products. By viewing this ‘waste’ as a collection of materials with specific properties and value, we can use innovative design to upcycle – or reuse or repurpose – much of what we throw away, turning it into new products of increased value. Net-positive design is ensuring that over the course of a product’s life, it will deliver an overall net positive social or environmental benefit. Since the industrial revolution we’ve been taking from the environment with little regard for the impact that we’re causing. I believe that all designers have an obligation to ensure that across a whole product’s lifecycle, from manufacturing through to the ultimate reuse or disposal, their designs should give back more than they take. Madeforward’s urban agriculture range does precisely this. It is manufactured locally, supports the local economy and creates employment opportunities. Upcycling ensures the divertion of waste from landfills, while the products themselves promote greenery in urban spaces, encourage connectivity to food systems and healthy eating, and raise awareness around how we view and dispose of waste.

Can you talk us through some of the ‘waste’ materials you’ve used in your products?
At present, Madeforward products are crafted from three main materials: steel, plastic and timber. The timber, grey iron-bark, originally erected in the 1960s was repurposed from International House at the University of Queensland during renovations in 2013. Securing a consistent supply of sheet steel has been more challenging, with the majority being sourced from the sides of old washing machines and fridges, with top-up supplies coming from previously recycled steel sheets. Finally, the plastic used is coreflute, a corrugated plastic material. Given their one-off usage as political campaign signs, a large supply of coreflute was sourced following the 2013 Federal Election. All of these materials, should they not have been upcycled or repurposed would currently be residing in landfill.

Any hints about what might be in the next release of products?
In keeping with the philosophy of net-positive benefit, the next range of products will focus on helping people in urban spaces to reduce the amount of food-waste they produce at the household level. We’re working on a product that’s highly functional, easy and practical to use and looks beautiful, complementing any urban terrace, balcony or courtyard. Watch this space for more details!

Ten percent of madeforward’s profits go to capacity building project around the world, what can you tell us about these?
Madeforward was always intended as a vehicle to further my passions to take similar design methods and implement projects in developing countries. I believe real value can be created by working with local communities, identifying their capacities and human resources and drawing on their local knowledge to facilitate projects and initiatives that are relevant, sustainable and culturally appropriate. I’m hoping to be overseas by the end of this year to commence initial research and community engagement on some of these projects.

What inspires you?
People who are passionate. Those who dedicate their time and energy into something that is larger than themselves; they speak with conviction and knowledge and their enthusiasm is contagious. We all need to live for something and seeing people’s passions and what makes them ‘tick’ inspires me to always strive higher and live a better life.

What do you believe is worth fighting for?
Equality. Whether the concept be based around gender equality, social equality, racial equality or anything else, the differences between the haves and the have nots, the yeses and the nos and the gap between the top and the bottom I believe are far too great.

Only a Brisbane local would know that … Davies Park Market in West End is the perfect place for a relaxed Saturday morning coffee and social breakfast fun!

If you could communicate one key message about the importance of minimising waste, what would it be?
When you throw something ‘away’, it doesn’t just disappear! When buying products, ask yourself, ‘What’s going to happen to this product or packaging after I’ve finished with it?’ If it can’t be upcycled, recycled, repurposed, repaired, broken-down or composted, it’s going to contribute to our already existing landfill problems.

Perk up …
 Espresso Garage on Grey Street in South Bank.
Relax … New Farm Park after a wander around a Brisbane Powerhouse exhibition.
Catch-up … with friends on a Sunday over a Negroni at Kettle and Tin in Paddington.
Be inspired … by spending time outdoors. Mother nature is by far the best, most beautiful designer of us all.


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