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 grave concern about the impact the fashion industry and 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 towards 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, environmental sustainability and their firm belief in the power of coconuts and 'coconut karma', leading the pair to combine their expert talents and skill to establish the well-rounded, eco-minded model that is 'Malai'.

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. After all, we do live in a complex world where most of us cannot fully detach ourselves from the widespread consumerism that exists at every level. And so, Zuzana and Susmith understand their designation as creators and take their job as 'innovation-strategic designers' very seriously.

"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 apart from specialising in the vegan and compostable coconut leather products, also work on developing bio-based materials, aesthetics and visuals to make sure their creations are in tune with their mindful ideology.

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 so much so that you could even eat them - but they're way too pretty for that!"

Zuzana Gombosova

The label's name Malai, apart from referring directly to the creamy flesh of the coconut, is also the name for a newly developed bio-composite material created by the brand, that is 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'.

The flexible and durable, bio-composite material 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 this material is guaranteed to last several years with proper care and on being discarded, will naturally breakdown.

To further emphasise and promote the use of natural and healthy materials, the label is also focused on developing new technology to process these bio-materials to a point where they can design, mould and make them 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

To get a brief insight into just how these wonderful products come to life, Zuzana discloses that 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 functional. The co-founders then conduct thorough research, looking for cultural and historical references in order to build a strong story for each collection.

Malai

Adding diversity to the line of materials in the coming future, the label is looking forward to exploring many more natural and biodegradable polymers, Abaca fibres being at the top of the list.

Furthermore, 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

Zuzana goes on to elaborate on the less than desirable consumption patterns in fashion 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 many challenges for Malai, but Zuzana strives to continue conducting further research and development, and apart from that, hopes to be able to engage with many more interesting practices, brands and collaborations to continue pushing the boundaries for the label.

On her take on the current creative and contemporary 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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