Martina Bragadin and Margherita Crespi have chosen the name META for their start-up company, from the Greek word for “to go through”, because in the industrial building in the north of Milan, they collect discarded materials from temporary set-ups – exhibitions, fashion shows, photo shoots and fairs – waiting for a new life. The two set designers, who trained at NABA in Milan, have been working for two years to set up a business based on the collection and sale of recycled materials. Their clients are linked to the fashion, design and art sectors, that need to find solutions to dispose of materials that are difficult to reuse. This is where META comes in, selecting and collecting the material, separating its components, cleaning it and making it available at affordable prices to new customers, including students, artists, professionals.
Wooden platforms, 6 quintals of pink sand, 50 metres of silver fabric, scraps of foam rubber, are some of the materials currently populating Spazio META. We asked the founders to tell us about the genesis of their project and the future prospects.
When did the idea of setting up Spazio META come about?Margherita: The idea came about during the Milan Furniture Fair a few years ago, when the immense waste of materials used to build the stands, once they had been dismantled, led us to reflect on how we could intervene. The consideration also concerned our work as set designers, since we are aware of the costs of sets and their very short lives: an hour of shooting, a major exhibition, or a one-evening fashion show, and everything, from the seat to the catwalk, has finished being “useful”. However, we know that to set up this kind of events, 200 to 400 seats are produced which are no longer needed the next day. The pink sand we offer at META today, for example, filled the pool of a photo shoot that lasted a few hours. Why does all this have to be waste, and why cannot it have another life?
How exactly does Spazio META work?
META is not just a shop, but a community space: it will be a reference point for artists, designers, photographers and all those who need materials to create, build set designs, express themselves.
Clients contact us because dismantling large set-ups is often costly and complicated, and even large companies are starting to run out of space to store unused materials. We assess what they propose, make a selection and collect it. The transfer of the material is free of charge, while its evaluation and transport to our space is chargeable. Later, we clean, dismantle and organise the materials into shelves, by type and purchasable by weight. The materials available at META will always be different. Today you can buy carpeting at 1 euro per kilo, plexiglass sheets, or foam rubber; other prices apply for individual items, such as wooden platforms, or pedestals, at 55 euro each. We want to resell at fair prices, because we want this to be a lively place, also frequented by artists and students from academies, where you can find 50 blue chairs, and, the next month, 10 metal displays and 50 metres of silver fabric. We would like people to come to us, have a look, and from the materials start to set up their work and create. META wants to stimulate creativity. Thanks to word-of-mouth, well-known fashion brands are contacting us for the first collections: the space is slowly filling up.
META is not just a shop, but a community space: it will be a reference point for all those who need materials to create
Do you have any role models that have helped you understand how to organise your work?
Martina: I have worked for years in Paris, where I got to know the Réserve des arts - pour une création circulaire et solidaire, a French association that encourages professionals in the culture, crafts and art fields to support a circular economy through the reuse of discarded materials. It was founded in 2008, has grown and is now structured and active, organising educational and awareness-raising activities. You can find everything from colourful feathers sold by the kilo to plexiglass display cases, but they also provide spaces and skills, such as carpentry and sewing workshops to encourage reuse processes. Margherita and I want to import this model into Italy: we are starting from Milan, but we are opening up to the whole territory. In France, they are light-years ahead in terms of the circular economy.
What was the first step in Italy?
Despite the initial struggle to understand how to structure the business and how to economically manage the evaluation and collection of materials, we were encouraged by winning an announcement launched by the Milan City Council, Fabriq Quarto, for socially useful projects in the northern districts of the city. Otherwise, we did everything with our own resources, self-financing, and set up our own company. We realised that in Italy the issue of “waste” is a delicate one: we do not make money out of waste, we set up a business to collect it, recover it and reintroduce it into a sustainable production cycle.
The selection of space is also consistent with your approach: you have chosen a disused industrial building to give it a new function.
We have visited a lot of places, but we were struck by this building, which was a 1950s industrial space, a factory with large windows and a large courtyard, which is suitable to load and unload materials and to host the educational activities that will animate it. Moreover, META will be used as a cultural and debate centre: we will hold exhibitions, workshops and awareness-raising activities. We have also built a carpentry workshop, where we can dismantle and make unrecognisable the collected materials of the most famous brands.
we do not make money out of waste, we set up a business to collect it, recover it and reintroduce it into a sustainable production cycle
META is a challenging project. Do you run everything by yourself?
META has expanded a few months ago: Benedetta Pomini joined this project. She has worked in the art world, with the Triennale di Milano and with various organisations and institutions. She helped us at the beginning of the project to look for announcements and funding: she also wants to give a concrete response to the waste that lies behind the production of exhibitions and set-ups.
What are your future prospects?
We want to reduce waste, shift the focus to the potential of existing resources and make it possible for artists to obtain supplies at fair prices. It would also be nice to be able to work on the major events of the Milanese economic system, such as the Salone del Mobile or the Fashion Week, to get to the first links in the event’s organisational chain: to involve companies, institutions and designers to raise their awareness and start planning precisely from the materials coming from the discarded sets and stands. Administrative issues are not easy to deal with, in a country like Italy, where regulations unfortunately do not encourage the collection and recycling of “non-prime” materials, i.e., perceived as waste and unsuitable for construction, even if perfectly usable. We want to work to reintroduce “waste” into the design chain, but it is an uphill climb. It is a pity, because for some sectors it would be a necessary step forward, reducing costs and waste.
Martina, Margherita and Benedetta are rolling up their sleeves, filling their shelves, anxious to be part of the new life of a historic district, just a stone’s throw from the Polytechnic University. In Bovisa, they have opened a gate, an important passage: it invites Milan to reflect on the design dynamics of the events that animate it. There is a lot of talk today about reuse and sustainability: enough talk, better facts. Welcome to Spazio META.
Where: Spazio META: 9, Don Minzoni street, Milan
Opening image: Spazio META in Milan, in Bovisa district. Photo Daniele de Carolis