By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Sunday Nation
COMMITMENT TO helping the planet is the noble concept behind Ecotopia, a new 900-square-metre retail zone at Siam Discovery that’s stocked with more than 3,000 environmentally friendly products from a hundred local and overseas brands.
You can find items of use in virtually every aspect of daily life, from chemical-free food and clothing made with natural materials to home decor and advanced gadgetry. The watchwords are sustainable and renewable, and every item is as attractive as it is functional.
You can buy the world’s first notebook whose jottings and scrawls can be erased in a microwave so it can be reused over and over. There are earrings made from discarded paper and apparel woven from bamboo fibre and cotton. Instead of wrapping something in plastic, you can wrap it in washable sheets made partially of beeswax – fully biodegradable, of course.
“We’ve always had earth-friendly products on every floor, but we thought they might not have enough impact to catch shoppers’ eyes,” says Usara Yongpiyakul, chief executive at Siam Piwat, which owns the mall. “So gathering them all in one place makes them more easily accessible.”
Ecotopia opened last month with the concept “Unbox a new shade of green”. Every item has to be more than just ecologically sound, Usara says. It has to have aesthetic appeal and be useful and “advanced” in terms of meeting modern needs.
“Most of our customers are millennials,” she says. “They’re looking for value in what they buy and before they buy they gather information from different sources.
“Awareness is growing steadily about the need to conserve resources, but a lot of people just don’t know how to start. So here we’ve compiled all the green products that fit the contemporary lifestyle.”
New York-based design firm SOFTlab sets the tone at Ecotopia with an upside-down tree made with recycled wood. Its leaves of naturally dyed paper spread throughout the retail area.
SOFTlab, which also hung a Christmas tree upside down at Siam Center a few years ago, recruited university art students to help with the installation.
Basic Teeory makes necklaces from beads of discarded paper.
Browsing beneath the branches, Worrachai Siriwipanan’s Basic Teeory accessories catch the eye with their outlandish design. His necklaces, bracelets and earrings are made with discarded paper that’s rolled into beads, decorated in various painted patterns and laminated. Several are further embellished with “upcycled” materials like chunks of glass and gravel.
“The most time-consuming part is rolling the paper into really tight beads,” says Worrachai, a graduate of the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design in England.
“We can make 300 to 500 paper beads a day, and a necklace will use 120 to 150 of them. Each bead is painted by hand and finished with a laminate film to repel water or sweat. The idea is to show that scrap papers can become wearable art.”
Taktai apparel is handmade using natural fibres.
Kanjira Songpaisarn has for years been turning bamboo, pineapple, banana, hemp, lotus and galangal into eco-textiles and then natural-looking clothes and accessories under the brand Taktai.
“The plant fibres are spun into thread using an engine that has a very mild impact on the environment,” she says. “The thread colours come from natural dyes and the fabrics are made on handlooms by skilled weavers. My main product is a cloth of bamboo fibre and cotton that’s really breathable and comfortable as well as anti-UV and anti-bacteria.”
Clever cutting adds to the clothes’ minimalist appeal. The women’s collection includes tank tops, shirts, blouses, dresses, shorts, skirts, slacks, kimono-style jackets, blazers and lace-up shoes. For men there are also T-shirts and trousers.
Least Studio’s bags and other items can double as cutting surfaces.
At Least Studio, architects Teerapol Akaratiwa and Warunya Nuntasunti have come out with a successful line of lifestyle products inspired by their work routine. Their para-rubber tote bag, handbag, document folder, storage tube, sketchbook, pencil case and passport-holder share the distinctive look of the green grid mats on which material is sliced up, but it’s smooth and lightweight, soft enough to sew while sturdy enough to repel cuts even from a surgeon’s scalpel.
“The grid pattern is coated with a substance so it won’t break when folded,” says Teerapol. “We went through several prototypes before we got it light enough to carry while remaining durable.”
Stationery from Grey Ray ensures less waste in daily projects.
Veteran art instructor Chanchalad Khanjanawong saw far too many students sharpening their pencils too often and then throwing them away when the lead broke. So he designed the EE Defender Cap to both protect the pencil tip and also serve as a holder when the pencil gets short. It became the first item in his Grey Ray line of stationery.
Determining that pencils get too tricky to handle when the length shrinks below two centimetres, Chanchalad invented the 2cm+ Pencil, which has no lead below that length, thus eliminating waste in graphite.
Now there’s the Eco Eraser, which contains no synthetic “filler”, but rather a powder made from scallop shells.
“Erasers contain the kind of synthetic substances that children are always being told to not put in their mouths, so I wanted to make one that was completely safe. A friend told me about a Japanese researcher who’d produced a replacement for eraser filler from scallop shells.
“Our eraser has no PVC and no perfume. It’s made from 100-per-cent natural resources, such as rubber, oil and the powdered shells.”
Jottings from the Rocketbook Wave notebook can be digitally uploaded to the cloud and erased in a microwave oven.
And now for the notebook you can erase in a microwave.
It’s called the Rocketbook Wave – and it also lets you upload your notes to a cloud storage service. The erasing trick is in the Pilot FriXion pen, which uses “thermochromic” ink that vanishes when heated. To erase all the contents, you put the notebook in a microwave oven with a mug of water and wait for the blue thermal logo on the book cover to turn white.
On each page of the notebook is a QR code, a cue for the Rocketbook app’s several functions. The app can crop and enhance the pages to make your digital notes look crisper and more vibrant.
Solar Paper is a portable solar-power charger for your gadgets.
Chicago-based engineering collective Yolk has designed the world’s smallest solar charger. The Solar Paper is only a millimetre and a half thick and weighs just 60 grams, but it will fully charge an iPhone in two hours.
Modular solar panels that are magnetically connected can each generate 2.5 watts of power via USB. You can connect up to four panels for extra output. There are holes in the corners for easy attachment to a backpack, so you can keep charging while out for a hike in the sunshine.
Mindhara's natural hair treatment
When it comes to all-natural personal products, Mindhara, founded by Parisdon Akrasittihiran, has a great serum to combat hair loss that’s made with organic rice. Its facial mask uses a collagen also extracted from jasmine rice organically grown at Thung Kula Ronghai in the Northeast.
Mint extract meanwhile replaces chemicals in the fight against bacteria and plant gelatin does the job of chemical bases normally found in cosmetics.
SuperBee's beeswax wraps
Plastic wrap might finally become history now that Chiang Mai-based SuperBee has found a way to turn beeswax, cotton, coconut oil and tree resin into sturdy, washable wrapping that can be reused again and again.
There are sizes to cover most kinds of bowls and containers and they’re quite attractive with printed patterns. To clean them off, a quick wipe with lukewarm water and soap is all that’s needed.
Ecotopia also has a market selling organic produce from the Royal Projects, Doi Kham and other Thai suppliers.
Ecotopia is on the fourth floor of Siam Discovery and open daily from 10 to 10.
Find out more at (02) 658 1000 and www.SiamDiscovery.co.th.