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Local designers show how to give old objects new life

At the R for Repair exhibition, 10 design firms show how discarded or broken items can be given a new lease of life.

In today’s throwaway society, more things end up in the bin than they should.

According to the World Bank’s 2018 ‘What a Waste 2.0’ report, each person generates around 0.74 kg of waste per day. But that figure need not be so high, if more people think about repair rather than replace.

At the R for Repair exhibition, 10 design firms show how discarded or broken items can be given a new lease of life.

Its curator Hans Tan says: “Sustainability can be articulated and practised in an attractive and purposeful way. Designers have a way of interpreting objects.”

Members of the public were invited to submit items that had stopped working or were broken to be repaired. Among the items donated include a watch with a broken strap, a toy bus with broken windows and even an old Singer sewing machine.

(Related: Local designer Lisa Von Tang is rethinking the way fashion is presented)

Mr Tan then paired 10 local design firms based on their area of expertise with the broken items. Object owners and the designers first had a chat, with the owners explaining the sentimental value of their items. “There were interesting stories, such as a tote bag that was purchased with the owner’s first pay cheque, and even a slightly chipped seashell that was given by a primary school classmate,” he says.

While the items may have been better off in the bin, the designers found innovative ways to breathe new life into them, and make them covetable again.

“The premise of this exhibition,” says Alvin Ho, co-founder of Atelier HOKO who repaired a broken porcelain teacup, “is to explore the gesture and meaning behind the act of repair. It reminds us not to immediately default to the common definition of restoring a broken item to its original function and use.”

While consumers need to be conscious about buying things that last, Timothy Wong and Priscilla Lui, founders of Studio Juju, say the exhibition also serves as a timely reminder to designers that they should design for the long term. The couple repaired the Singer sewing machine and added a new laminate so that it can double as a study table.

Mr Tan adds, “My hope for the exhibition is that people will experience a value shift. I don’t necessarily want them to leave the exhibition feeling like they need to save the world. Instead, I want them to want the repaired object for itself and to keep it, which then saves it from becoming landfill.”

  • R for Repair exhibition

    Tote bag repaired by Tiffany Loy

    Despite its frayed corners, Arnold Goh still treasures this Calvin Klein Tote bag, because it was bought with his first pay cheque back in 2007. He now uses it as a grocery bag, although it can barely hold anything more than two cartons of milk. Textile designer Tiffany Loy found a way to expand the bag's capacity by turning it inside out and stitching cotton cords to the base and lower half. By doing so, the areas which are more susceptible to scratches now have added protection. In addition, cords also form a mesh to hold extra items.

R For Repair is now on till Feb 6 at the National Design Centre, 111 Middle Road.

(Related: Where to get your designer leather items cleaned in Singapore)

This article was originally published in The Business Times.