Malai: The Conscious Coconut Solution

Malai: The Conscious Coconut Solution

In an attempt to counter the ill effects of the fashion industry, Zuzana and Susmith established a conscious brand Malai. Read ahead to find out more about this sustainable business venture.

Born out of a desperate concern about the impact we as a species have on our environment, Malai is a 100% sustainable, vegan and compostable coconut leather brand, founded by Zuzana Gombosova and Susmith C. S. in the land of coconuts itself - Kerala. This mindful business venture is the commencement of the founders' modest journey into a more eco-minded and conscious route in circular fashion.

Zuzana Gombosova is an advance material researcher and designer from Slovakia and is an MA Material Futures graduate from one of the most renowned art schools, Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design in London. Susmith C. S., on the other hand, is a product designer and maker from Kerala. A graduate of MDes Product design & Manufacturing from IISc, Bangalore, Susmith also has a well-equipped background in mechanical engineering.

The partnership began in 2015, when the two realised they shared a mutual passion for craft and as well as a concern for sustainability in the environment and it was their firm belief in the power of coconuts and 'coconut karma' that the pair decided to combine their expert talent and skill to establish such a well-rounded, eco-minded model.

Zuzana Gombosova & Susmith C. S
Zuzana Gombosova & Susmith C. SMalai

They believe that in order to live sustainably one needs to do far more than just shop sustainably or perhaps not shop at all. Although we live in a complex world where most of us cannot fully detach ourselves from the consumerism of it all, Zuzana and Susmith understand their designation as an artist and a creative and take their job as innovation strategic designers very seriously in such a sought after industry.

"We are fully aware how much we fill our world with goods in the name of design — we felt a need for creating and developing manufacturing methods and materials that don’t have such negative impacts on our environment. As one of the fastest growing communities today, we are not as far with the research and development to introduce biodegradable materials, and to use environmentally friendly resources in the fashion, furniture and footwear industries."

Zuzana Gombosova

Inspired by the beauty and purity of natural materials, and by the life-cycle and sustainable ecology of the coconut palm in particular, Zuzana and Susmith work closely with such bio-materials, aesthetics and visuals to make sure it is in tune with their sustainable and mindful ideology.

The word ‘Malai’ refers directly to the creamy flesh of the coconut and the label specialises in creating 100% sustainable, vegan and compostable coconut leather products and developing bio-based materials.

Malai

"Our journey began with a single material, in an attempt to create one without any ill effects and doesn’t harm the planet. Malai sells completely vegan lifestyle and accessory products such that you could even eat it, but it’s way too pretty for that!"

Zuzana Gombosova

‘Malai’ is a newly developed bio-composite material made from entirely organic and sustainable bacterial cellulose, grown on agricultural waste sourced from the coconut industry in Kerala. Zuzana and Susmith collaborate with local coconut farmers and processing units who provide waste coconut water - the primary resource needed to start the growth of the bacterial cellulose they use to transform into Malai.

It is a flexible, durable bio-composite material that is water-resistant with a feel comparable to that of leather or paper. Additionally, because it contains absolutely no artificial ‘nasties’ the material will not cause any allergies, intolerances or illness, and any product made from Malai is guaranteed to last several years with proper care. One of the most mindful features of these products is that are compostable and on being discarded will naturally breakdown.

At Malai, they also research and explore methods and sustainable resources to produce new biomaterials to emphasise and promote the use of natural and healthy materials. However, their cause runs deeper and the label is also focused on developing technology to process this material to a point where they can design, mould and make it into seamless accessories and products.

"With Malai accessories we strive to achieve clean and neat aesthetics because the texture and character of the material itself is already so strong and distinctive. Besides that we feel really fortunate to have set up the brand in a place like Kerala, with such an abundance of natural beauty. It really is an inspiring place culturally, historically and in terms of biodiversity too. I always try to capture a bit of that essence in our design work."

Zuzana Gombosova

The artists begin the creative process with the core material itself, exploring to see what the material can and cannot do. Based on that, they build a draft idea and continue adding techniques and combining methods of its manipulation until they arrive at a form that satisfies them and is relevant functionally too. The pair conducts thorough research looking for cultural and historical references too in order to build a strong story for each collection.

Adding diversity to the line of materials in the coming future, the label is looking forward to explore many more natural and biodegradable polymers, Abaca fibres being on the top of the list. The label also envisions the use of mycelium based materials.

Malai

In a bid to become more inclusive and spread awareness about the importance of adopting such conscious business models, Malai has established some very successful collaborations with brands like Eva & Lucie, Libena Rochova, Kazeto, Crafting Plastics, and Ma-tt-er, to name a few.

Malai x Eva & Lucie
Malai x Eva & LucieMalai

The founder goes on to elaborate on how the current consumption patterns in fashion are not very appreciable and how the way we give value to materials currently can only be called a travesty.

"In spite of all certifications one can apply for in terms of achieving status of environmentally friendly materials - ultimately everyone mostly looks at the price in terms of comparison with what there already is on the market. There still doesn’t exist effective evaluation of materials and products based on how much they actually cost the environment. Sure there are sane and inspiring businesses striving to pave the way and change the course of this culture, but they are only a niche for now. It is difficult to build a sustainable business in a world where the basic concept of what it means to grow a business is not sustainable at all."

Zuzana Gombosova

This year in particular has brought so many challenges to Zuzana and Malai, but she strives to continue conducting further research and development and, apart from that, hopes to be able to engage with many more interesting practices, collaborate with designers and brands who will help them push the boundaries of Malai.

On her take on culture, Zuzana reveals,

"It’s all about the culture, isn’t it? It is the culture that defines what is acceptable and what is not, what is normal and what isn’t. I have always found fashion to be an especially powerful vehicle to narrate and communicate what is happening in culture around us. And sometimes it can nudge a certain movement in the culture too. My intention is perhaps to remind people all in nature is circular and nothing is permanent. Often we overlook the complexities of the world we live in for the sake of having less worries on our minds, but there are no easy problems with easy fixes."

Zuzana Gombosova

Head over to the label's official website to have a closer look at their magnificent craftsmanship and support the sustainable venture.

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