24 Jun Neighbors By Design – Creating Community Through Design
After traveling and working all over the world, Zoë Melo is building a new project from her Los Angeles neighborhood. Come meet her and the team behind Neighbors by Design on Wednesday June 28th, sign up for this site visit and social impact mastermind, or join Interconnected Strategy’s meetup.
Aurora Meneghello: Can you describe your project?
Zoë Melo: Neighbors by Design is a community-centered design project that uses design as a tool to bring neighbors together and in the process create products made out of materials donated by the neighbors.
Our mission is to use the resources of our community by recycling and creating products made out of materials that otherwise would end up in the landfill.
We envision a local community where we can be neighbors and supportive of each other and share our skills to create a local project. A community where everyone is nurtured by sharing and having a sense of belonging and closeness.
Aurora: What inspired you to create Neighbors by Design?
Zoë: I live in a very diverse neighborhood in the west side of Los Angeles, very few people know Del Rey, an area between Mar Vista, Marina Del Rey and Culver City. And since we moved here, I’ve seen a potential to create a socio-impact design project with a regenerative approach. Little by little I started knowing the neighborhood and meeting our neighbors, slowly learned about their skills and a desire to participate in a community-oriented project. Right after I moved here I saw a lady picking up trash, and I went to talk to her. She told me she lost her job and was doing this to help her husband by selling cans and glass bottles. I asked her, if she had a choice, what would she like to be doing, and she told me she loves sewing. I never forgot Maria’s eyes and words. Like Maria, there are many other low income people in the neighborhood, and I thought I could use my experience in socio-design––working with craft communities in Africa and South America––to create a local socio-impact project that would help them bring more income and do something they love. So, I decided to start the project right here, in my backyard. My next door neighbor, Liz Comstock, makes her own clothing, and once developed her own line of accessories. She is very creative and skilled with sewing, embroidery, and many other techniques and also loves the idea of bringing neighbors together. Little by little we got to know each other, and when I talked to her about the idea, she joined me, and we started this project with the intention that we could later implement in other neighborhoods.
My other inspiration is the amount of waste people generate. Over-consumption is a big problem, and we need to educate people at the local level by bringing them together to reuse what we have in our communities, and create a new model of cooperative with a more regenerative approach.
Aurora: How did you bring your experience in design to the project?
Zoë: I am a socio entrepreneur working with designers and artisans communities for more than 17 years in Africa, Asia, South and Central America. Before this project I was the co founder of a company called TOUCH that produced and sold sustainable products to stores and online. I also have organized 3 TEDx events where we used recycled materials to design the space for the event, bringing together local designers and makers to create the spaces for the audience to interact.
I see this project as a continuation of the work I have been doing with artisan communities and sustainable design. I think that we are in a moment politically and economically that we need to create a new form of interacting with each other. Capitalism and sustainability have proven to not work so well for people and planet, so I believe this project has a potential to bring something new to our communities.
Aurora: What type of products is the group producing?
Zoë: We are working with makers in our neighborhood to create practical products with design appeal. The products are designed to be made from common materials that neighbors can donate, such as T-shirts, denim, outdoor banners, bottle caps, wood from construction sites, textiles samples for upholstery etc. From these materials, we are making coasters, small rugs, journals, some up-cycled furniture, tote bags, wallets, and more, depending on the skills of the neighbors working with us. So far we are working with techniques such as embroidery, macrame, and block printing. We try to bring into each product some of the identity of the neighborhood by adding decorative representations of the local flora and fauna, and will brand each piece for the neighborhood. We plan to sell the products first at local markets and pop up events, and then at local stores and online, where I have experience from my previous business. We we are also collecting seeds from our neighbors so along with the products we give “seeds of happiness” to encourage the community to plant more trees.
Aurora: What type of support are you looking for at the moment?
Zoë: We are always looking for advice from people who have experience with similar projects and from those skilled in the legal matters of company formation and how best to employ neighbors. We are looking for people with knowledge of local grants and grant-writing. We are also looking for a writer who might like to help us with our marketing texts.
Aurora: Is your space open to the public yet?
Zoë: As of now, we are just working from my home studio in the backyard, which makes complete sense since this is a neighborhood project— but no, it’s not open to the public. Eventually we would like to find a space where more people can join the project and we can have it open to the public.
Aurora: What can we expect to see in the near future?
Zoë: Soon we will be launching our website and will unveil our logo, business model, collaborators, advisors and partners. Also we have been invited by Architect and Designer Carolina Tinoco to be part of the exhibition “Nouvelles vies” that will take place in Paris next September. For this exhibition we will showcase 2 of our products in collaboration with local designer Flavio Biciotti that also has joined the project.
I believe sustainability goes beyond the environment, we just need to have more empathy, to be more human in order to live fully and happy with others.
Want to learn more? Meet Neighbors by Design on Wednesday June 28th, sign up for this site visit and social impact mastermind, or join Interconnected Strategy’s meetup.