• Eva

Changing the business system: Irem, Material Researcher & Regenerative Design Find.

by Eva

Irem has a weird professional job title: Material Researcher and Regenerative Design Find. Irem has been living in Shanghai for 5 years and currently has her own brand called Re:mtr. She works for global brands and design studios based in China.

She has a beautiful smile, with a perfect American accent, born in Turkey and raised around the world. She has been living in Germany, Singapore, London, and Shanghai.

We talked with her at the 1984 Cafe, trying to understand this new inspirational world.

Q: Can you describe yourself in 2 lines?

A: A researcher, curious about objects, people, places, the role of materials, and the power of design. An optimist, interested in regenerative design and development.

Q: In your words, what do you think means “sustainability”?

A: Living in awe, respect, and in harmony with the natural systems, we are a part of.

Q: Re: mtr is the name of your brand. How do you pronounce it?

A: Re:mtr is short for Re:matter which is short for rethinking matter or rethinking material. You pronounce it Re-matter.

Q: In an easy way, what is the mission of Re:mtr?

A: To facilitate brands’ transition to responsible sourcing, positive material selection, and healthy material development.

Q: How did you end researching sustainable materials?

A: I was always interested in materials and stuff. The objects we have around us, what those objects are made of, the feelings certain products give us. I’m still fascinated by that, the psychology of it.

Actually, my mother has a very good eye and feeling for these things… She has a knack for fashion and interior design and styling. She was and still is very curatorial with the furniture, objects, and accessories in our family home. Our home always felt like a museum of hand-crafted objects, colorful, moody textiles, and antiques. When we lived in Singapore and then Shanghai in the late 1990s early 2000s, I would often go with my parents to rummage for unique, handmade, objects and antique furniture. I think that much of my love for natural materials, processes, and traditional craftsmanship, which is by nature slow-paced, non-invasive, and sustainable is rooted in that.

A quiet and comparatively empty corner of our family home.

Q: You said that “ The biggest environmental impact in a product’s life cycle happens in the raw material extraction and manufacturing stages''? Can you translate this? What exactly does it mean?

A: Yes, actually that is a quote from a report by The Sustainable Angle. Similar points are made by various consultants, agencies, and organizations that deal with principles of The Circular Economy. It is referring to the initial stages of a Life Cycle Assessment, which, so far as I know, is the only way to truly know if you have a comparatively sustainable product.

The quote emphasizes the importance of the initial choices we make, right at the very start of the supply chain, to create a positive or negative impact on the environment and the people in the environment within which our brand is operating.

When you consider where the raw materials used to make your product come from, and how the raw materials have been raised, grown, or otherwise developed, you’re taking stock of how much land, water, energy, transport is required for the raw materials to be, and to be extracted from the ecosystem. You can compare this information with raw materials grown or extracted in another way, to find what is the right fit, for your case. Each case is different!

Tea picking, photography by Gabriel Gauffre.

When it comes to processing your material and manufacturing your product, if you remain cognizant of the way your material is being developed, the methods by which your product is being manufactured... Again, looking at where it is being manufactured, how much water and energy is used to process your material and produce your product.

Does the manufacturing facility have an environmental management system in place? Can your product be manufactured such that it is easily disassembled, easily repaired, easily re-manufactured? It’s about asking these kinds of questions, at the very start of your journey, and “starting off on the right foot”, as it were.

Mechanical processing of pliable, clay-like material made from tea-waste using a biodegradable binding agent, developed by Jiwei Zhou. Photo courtesy of Jiwei Zhou.

Q: What is the process for helping companies to shift towards a more sustainable material?

A: Much of the process is about putting a company’s supply chain under the microscope and surveying the region to understand what the supply chain looks like now and what resources are available in the region the company is operating in, that could be tapped into, to shift to a more suitable raw material source, supplier or manufacturer.

That is essential in moving towards not only a healthier material alternative but also better integration of a company’s product into a kind of positive feedback loop in the local economy.