Malai: The Conscious Coconut Solution
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Head over to the label's official website to have a closer look at their magnificent craftsmanship and support the sustainable venture.