News

Irene Purasachit saw the floral industry’s waste problem firsthand – now she makes material for handbags from discarded blooms

Nearly half of cut flowers end up in the trash, never making their way to dinner tables or first dates
Flower clutch
Prototype of Flaux: Small clutch bag was prototyped from Flaux as a proof of concept of the material ability to be made into lifestyle products.

Florist school in London was supposed to be a dream come true for Irene Purasachit.

‘I’ve always loved flowers, and wanted to work with them – but right away I saw how much waste is created because a flower just isn’t pretty enough,’ explains Purasachit, who grew up in Thailand and is now pursuing her Master’s degree at Aalto University.

Irene Purasachit

Since retailers want to stock the best-looking flowers, about 40 percent of flowers grown for cutting are discarded at some stage of the supply chain. The tools used by professionals aren’t innocent either; floral foam, a staple for creating intricate floral arrangements, breaks down into microplastics that make their way into waters.

In her undergraduate studies, Purasachit had already created vases, trays and chair covers from fruit peels. Could she create a replacement for floral foam from the kind of biowaste being anyway produced by the industry? Or could she use it to develop other renewable materials?

A designer doesn’t belong in the lab – or does she?

Despite her excitement, Puraschit ran into a dead-end at her university at the time. She needed to know more about materials and chemical engineering, but these subjects weren’t available to designers.

The flower enthusiast scrolled through what universities abroad offered and found what she was looking for: Aalto University’s CHEMARTS programme, where design and materials science students and researchers develop new biomaterials together.

‘Aalto’s genuine multidisciplinarity brought me here,’ she explains.

Floral Foam
Bio-(floral) Foam: made of 100% fibre from flower stem, mainly carnation and iris.

In her biomaterial work, Purasachit makes use of floral waste in three ways. She dries, grinds and mixes petals into a mass, which is pressed into a flexible material a little reminiscent of leather. Stems and leaves are boiled into a cellulose mixture; after adding a binding agent, she either presses it into a paper or bakes it into a floral foam.

Of the flowers tested to date, irises, carnations, sunflowers work as raw material, as do roses—Purasachit’s favourite bloom to work with.

‘Roses have lots of petals and various beautiful shades, which I try to preserve as well as possible,’ she says, emphasizing that all new biomaterials have their challenges.

‘This can’t be sewn as quickly or easily as, for example, leather and it’s not as durable. That being said, a card-holder I’ve made has been in use for months and it’s just like new.’

New start-up

Lavish use of flowers is a part of everyday life in Purasachit’s home country, she says. Thailand’s capital Bangkok is home to the large Pak Klog Talatin flower market. Each of its 500 vendors produces on average one cubic meter of floral waste per day.

As part of her Master’s thesis Purasachit has conceptualised flower workshops, with the first being planned for Bangkok’s flower market. The workshop would combine raw materials, material production, design, as well as sales—a package that could create new, sustainable jobs and business.

Bio leather
Flaux: a nonwoven-textile/ flexible sheet/ leather-like material. It contains flower petals (mainly rose and carnation) as the main ingredient and colour agent for the material (no artificial colourant, no oil-based ingredient or additive).

Flower materials have also sparked interest in Europe. In Finland, Purasachit has mapped out a collaboration with FlowerResque, which gathers second-grade flowers to make, for instance, bouquets for care homes. She has also entered negotiations with a small, specialized shoe manufacturer based in Germany.

‘Maybe soon we’ll have sneakers made of flowers,’ she says. ‘My goal is to find new partners to test materials, develop prototypes and scale-up.’

coin purse
A set of coin purses was prototyped from Flaux as a proof of concept of the material's ability to be made into lifestyle products.

All photos: Irene Purasachit

Instagram @irenepurasachit
Website www.irenepurasachit.com
Contact: [email protected]

CHEMARTS

CHEMARTS website

Read more
kuvassa kahdet kädet levittävät läpinäkyvää limaa punaista taustaa vasten

Master's Programme in Design - Contemporary Design

What alternative materials can best replace plastic? How can traditional crafts be merged with contemporary design? What kind of products do we need in our changing society? The studies in Contemporary Design are driven by concrete, real-world needs. Students receive support not only to build their creative and professional confidence, but also to expand their thinking beyond conventional limitations, adopting an experimental design mindset.

Irene Purasachit's choice was Contemporary Design. Could it be yours too? The application period for Aalto University's master's programmes starts on 1 Dec 2021, read more here!
Iittala Experimental Design Process
  • Published:
  • Updated:
Share
URL copied!

Read more news

The design space in the virtual reality task
Press releases, Research & Art Published:

Designers find better solutions with computer assistance, but sacrifice creative touch

Computer-guided design can propose more solutions and balance out human inexperience and design fixation
Two models wearing grey solar cell clothing.
Research & Art Published:

Researchers developed invisible, machine-washable solar cell technology for clothing

The discrete nature of the cells protects them – and makes the clothes more attractive, the physics and design researchers say. Promising applications include work and outdoor clothing, and curtains which react to changes in the amount of light.
Sustainability Science day banneri
Research & Art Published:

How to accelerate innovations, ensure food sequrity and make cities green? Sustainability Science Days seeks answers to the huge sustainability challenges of our time

Sustainability Science Days 2022 focuses on global system-level solutions for food systems, cities, governance and more. Sustainability Science Days is Finland's largest two-day science conference on sustainable development, organized by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki.
Image Credit: Anne Kinnunen
Research & Art Published:

‘Painting Energies’ Podcast Explores Light and Energy at the Intersection of Art and Science

A new podcast hosted by physicist Janne Halme and artist Bartaku explores the connections between light and color, plant and microbe, art and science. The Painting Energies podcast builds upon their visionary artscience workings that have been evolving at Aalto University since 2017. Painting Energies is not to be missed for any scientist, artist or student looking to find new ways of combining art and science.