(All photograph thanks to www.flickr.com/photos/fernando/)

Just before Christmas I stumbled upon a very cool pop up shop housed in a newstand pillar – the Eco Innovators Showcase. ‘What a creative idea’, I thought ‘I’d like to know more about who’s behind it’. So today, we have a HOT Chat with Leyla Acaroglu, the brains behind the Eco Innovators Showcase.

Leyla, tell me a bit more about your background and why you decided to open the Eco Innovators Showcase?

I studied product design and got a little disillusioned with the idea of participating in mass consumerism, so I moved onto a degree in Social Science and Environmental studies with the intention of marrying the two knowledge sets and becoming an Eco Designer.

I worked for several years as a research consultant in sustainable products and packaging at the Centre for Design at RMIT University and recently decided to go out on my own and start my company Eco Innovators. Eco Innovators’ objective is to engage designers with the possibilities of sustainability in design and production and importantly, to help consumers reduce their ecological footprint.

The Eco Innovators Showcase is just one of several advocacy and communication projects that my company runs. The Eco Innovators Showcase promotes local designers that are engaging with sustainability in the design and development of their products and provides a unique retail environment for people to purchase environmentally responsible products.

Eco Innovators are also currently developing introductory videos on life cycle assessment and good environmental decision-making, a quick guide to eco consumption, a resource pack for TAFE and university design students on eco-design along with running short courses for professional designers on life cycle based decision-making in product development. Some of the resources are available on our website.

pillar 1What kind of products are offered for sale at the Eco Innovators Showcase and how did you find them for the store?

The Eco Innovators Showcase has a range of products including jewellery made from recycled vintage dominoes, wallets and bags from recycled car tyre inner tubes, cookbooks made locally and printed on 100% recycle paper, scarves and hot water bottle covers from upcycled woollen jumpers, wattle seed packs, gift cards, belt from recycled bike tyres, Keepcups, organic hemp cushions, notebooks made from vinyl records and handbags made from old 1980’s leather jackets… just to name a few.

I started by sourcing products from designers I had worked with in the past, but once the shop opened, designers started popping up everywhere with great products  so we now have over 25 designers in the showcase.

All products are assessed against an eco product criteria to make sure that they have a reduced environmental impact so that our customers know they are getting good quality eco designed products.

What are your next plans once Eco Innovators Showcase closes in April?

We have a very exciting project in the pipeline that will be the next incarnation of the Eco Innovators Showcase. Hopefully from early 2010 we will have a space in the CBD that is both a retail space and workshop. The new space will be about sharing and exploring innovative ways of designing and creating with the least social and environmental impacts.

We will be sure to keep you posted on the studio shop’s development!

Have you faced any challenges getting the project off the ground? What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

pillar 2The little pillar has presented challenges a plenty! Firstly it’s only 1 metre wide, is a curved surface and I was asked to not drill anything into the walls. So I had to design the entire fit out to be curved and somehow hang off little rails that were previously used to hang all the newspapers and magazines. Then there was the rain issue… turns out that the pillar was not waterproof so we had a bit of an issue when Melbourne’s weather turned on us. Finally, once we were up and running we discovered that of the thousands of people who walked right past us every day on Swanston Street, only a very small number of them noticed us and an even smaller number would stop.

Lucky for us we have had great support and over the weeks we have managed to resolve all our little hiccups.

Where do you turn for eco-living advice and inspiration?

I spent 5 years studied social and environmental issues and in that time came across some amazing authors that have inspired and educated me in a number of ways. For instance, Vance Packard’s “The Waste Makers” (published in 1960) predicted that there would come a time when landfills would be mined to extract the valuable resources discarded by the developing throw away society of the time. I’ve also been inspired by Victor Papanek’s “The Green Imperative” (1983) and “Design for the Real World” (1985) and “Small is Beautiful” by E.F Schumacher, which was first published in 1973.

Finally, what are your tips for what’s HOT in Melbourne?

The Rose Street Artists Markets (60 Rose St, Fitzroy) are very HOT indeed! Every weekend an old junk yard gets transformed into a thriving art and design hub, packed with amazing locally made creations. Lots of the designers at the Rose Street Artists Markets are really embracing sustainability in their craft and have really innovative design solutions. Some of the designers can also be found in the Eco Innovators Showcase.

I also love CERES environment park in East Brunswick, the Good Brew Company’s carbon neutral beer, the Coburg tip for scavenging, Greenline Organic Direct organic food and household products delivery service and my vintage ladies bike!