Sustainable design interviews: a conversation with NOMA

in sustainable interviews

With sustainable design growing as a new paradigm in the interior design industry, companies are experimenting with innovative materials and processes.

A new generation of companies placing sustainability at the core of their vision is also arising. It’s the case of NOMA (opened in a new window/tab), a French brand that has been launched during the winter edition of Maison & Objet 2020.

NOMA stands for “noble matières” (French for “noble materials”). And for NOMA, recycled materials are the noblest of our times and should be valued. Which is why NOMA’s first collection is all designed starting with recycled raw materials!

As a whole, NOMA aims at designing high quality pieces with the lightest environmental footprint. This is achieved by embracing a circular design model, that considers the entire lifecycle of a product – from design to disposal.
But let’s get to know NOMA a bit more, meeting its founders: Bruce Ribay and Guillaume Galloy.

Let’s start with something about you and your company. How did the idea of NOMA come to life?

When we met, 10/12 years ago, working side by side (already) for a luxury goods company, we started discussing this idea as a vague possibility. We both took different routes, but we kept discussing this as a more and more tangible possibility. It is only 2 years ago that both our agendas synchronised again and we decided to go for it.

But the context is radically different and we cannot ignore it. We made the obvious choice to place sustainability at the heart of our company, and more precisely eco-design, and the use of recycled materials. We combined this with our own experience, high-end furniture development.

What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

On an operational point of view, we focus on eco-conception.
This means we take into account the impact of the whole life cycle: conception, production, distribution, use, re-use, end of life. And we start from the very first design stage: what will we use our products for, and how can we reduce the environmental impact through their whole life.
This translates into beautiful long lasting products (they will have a long life and they need to be “loved" for a long time).

At the same time, we focus on using recycled or waste materials to produce easily recyclable pieces. This is an every minute work, and this is only possible if we manage to get all our “ecosystem" on board: our suppliers, but also the designers, distributors, ...

On a more holistic point of view, we see sustainability as we could see finance. It is an aspect of the company you have to take into account for a durable business.

How did you decide to make circular design the focus of your company?

The first thing is probably the environmental context we live in. We simply cannot ignore it. When we made the decision to start a company, it was clear this was going to be part of the equation. And we decided to put this question at the core of our business.

The second thing is to decide on the answers we would give: do we design and produce “another” chair? What is the purpose?
After some discussions, we decided our furniture should be beautiful (of course everyone will have a say), durable, and would be only the “current life” of the materials we use: we would use as much existing/recycled material as possible, and our furniture could be considered in some years (as late as possible) as raw material for something else.

Console made out of 91.6% recycled material.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: NOMA (opened in a new window/tab)

In your mission you associate high quality with recycled materials, two concepts that are still often seen as opposites. In fact, recycled materials are commonly associated with poorly-made DIYs, hence low quality. Have you also noticed this tendency?

You are right, and this is the case for large part of recycled material.
We would rather focus on a more positive side.
We have been through an intense sourcing phase, and we found beautiful materials. These are the ones we have shared with the designers. These are the most NO-ble MA-terials. They do not look like anything we know and have their own identity. And this opens a new range of possibilities for designers.

Transparency is also a key point in your mission. Can you tell us more about that?

Consumers are being more and more knowledgeable and you cannot fool them anymore. Transparency is key. People want to know what they buy. And this is only normal.

On our side, we are taking on the sincere commitment to be open and above-board at all times, on the history of our creations, our associates, the materials selected and the manufacturing processes we use.

Coffee table made out of 92.8% recycled material.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: NOMA (opened in a new window/tab)

Our world is in urgent need for sustainable development in all fields. In your opinion, what would speed up the change in the interior design industry?

If we focus on our field, we strongly believe that beauty is an extremely powerful driver for change. As you just pointed, “recycled” for instance is associated with low quality and/or ugly.
By the moment we can produce beautiful and sustainable furniture, there will be no barrier and no reason not to choose it.

Indoor air pollution is another challenge we need to face. And I was positively impressed to see your attention on avoiding toxic products in your designs. How do you do that?

There are two aspects to this: the sourcing of the raw materials and the processes and finishes we use.
This is a work we perform hand in hand with our partners/suppliers.
Because we are starting our business, we could make a decision at every stage and choose our suppliers based on the material they use, the process they master and their attention to these points. Then we challenged them on all possible aspects to go one step further.

We also have to say that manufacturing in France is a great part of the job: regulations are quite stringent already compared to other “manufacturing” countries.
Next step is to improve again on the baseline we draw.

We also collaborate with an eco-design consultant company, MU Cooperative (opened in a new window/tab), in Paris, and we share with them all the results in order to get a precise expertise.

Armchair made out of 82.1% recycled material.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: NOMA (opened in a new window/tab)

Sustainability is now a trending topic, and it has become “a must” to show an interest in it. But when the interest is not genuine, this can turn into a mere pretence (greenwashing etc.). In your experience, do you see a lot of this “riding the wave of the moment” or do you think a real culture of sustainable design is developing in the industry?

Both your statements are true… but if we want to look at the “half full glass”, there is a very strong sustainable culture building-up. More and more awareness of the context, more and more understanding of the complexity, and more and more sincerity.
Sustainability as a marketing tool will die, even though there is still a long way.

What are your next steps on your sustainability journey? Can you give us a preview of what you have in the pipeline?

There is indeed a lot to be done. We have several goals we want to pursue:

  • Working on decreasing the impact of our existing products by improving our designs, processes, material selection, partners' education, …
  • Developing a full range of furniture (we still miss quite some archetypes)
  • On a different direction, we are putting quite some efforts in making sure our products will be recycled. One of the drivers is for instance the ability to disassemble, another one is to ensure the information (about the exact composition of the materials) will always be VERY easily available.

Many thanks to Bruce and Guillaume for joining me! And good luck for your amazing project!
DforDesign X NOMA.
This interview is an editorial collaboration with NOMA.

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