Livable Creator Sep Verboom thinks global and acts local by seeing the world “connected”

Designing through a future-proof approach between people, environment, and society, industrial designer sep verboom, who is also a postgraduate in sustainable development and anthropology program, has contributed to shaping green-minded people through design and transparency and how we suppose take account of environmental issues endlessly.

a portrait of livable sep verboom ©aaron lapeirre

verboom is also known for his "livable" label and his design engagement with traditional communities in all around the world. this earned him the belgian henry van de velde “young talent award”  and the german recycling design prize in 2018.

Now, what is “Livable”?

Livable is a design and research platform with a mission to envision a future-proof approach between people, environment and society. this platform invites all of us to see the beautiful merge of tradition, modernity, social, and ecological engagements that all seem to blend under the umbrella of “design”. with this, sep verboom manages to connect with traditional communities, industries, local governments and ngos to ensure that livable makes scaleable impact. 

livable aya steaming rattan bending

some projects involved such as in the philippines' cebu city, where he had successfully incorporated a recycled metal structure with rattan structures in the design of a lamp. in indonesia, verboom and his team collaborated with the locals to balance traditional techniques and modern approach for rattan furniture.

The same goes for his caro barro project, a handmade ceramic vase which he developed with a similar traditional-contemporary modern approach for brazilian vale do jequitinhonha in 2016. all of this put up to the highest recognition of how crafting, design, and human contact can be beautifully amalgamated and result in social and ecological-based product results. 

livable carobarro sculpting

to fulfill our curiosity from all the experiences and ideas that verboom has developed at such a young age, the design story team has exclusively interviewed sep verboom to acknowledge further his humble thoughts on design and how we should connect it to all aspects through transparency over any design language at all sense. 

The Start Of Livable

“the start was simple; just like all things start simple. with the first project, i ended up in the philippines - it was actually a graduation project from my school - so i got introduced by the local community in cebu city in the central of the philippines."

livable rattan weaving

"There, my challenge was to innovate “waste management”, which at that time was a big word for students. what we did was explore, talk to people, get to know everyone involved, and speak with the locals so that we have a good view on how materials were reused. later on, we ended up working together with the local junk shops who are collecting scrap materials, and there we found these electric fences - those metal protection guards that seemed to be a very interesting material. so we talked to them and agreed to work on something with the material.”

The Raw Initial Approach

“The logical step was to look at what is interesting here, what is typical, and what are the materials and techniques available here. so i came in contact with rattan weaving – which for me was totally new - and then we started to make the prototype by firstly doing some workshops with people in the community. this is how the first project came out; it was called fan lamp, made from the combination of metal fan guard and rattan weaving, so that was the start of the project.”

livable fan hanging lamps (shot by aaron lapeirre)

“But i was quite naïve. i was 21 at that time. i sort of promised everyone that it is going to be a great project and that we are going to make a lot of objects or lamps here, sell them, and it is going to be a great business model. then, i learned about the reality - that there is a lot more that comes to it like the logistics, the shipping, the declaration, and other things. so for me, that was so much more than just making an object or working together with people. it is about creating the whole system.”

“There was a point where i looked back to my first project, and wow! never again i wanted to do all these things, it is too much to handle for only one person. but i was very happy that we could work together and collaborate with other people - and this is how things started to evolve."

"I started searching for local partners first before we began any project. in this case, we did not have to do ourselves but also get the experience with these other people, which makes a bigger identity.”

livable ropehope: rope processing

and now, fast forward 8 years later, sep verboom has successfully found the balance between working with local communities and having his designs roam all around the world. what kept him going was seeing the world as if they are always “connected”.

What are your thoughts on thinking global and acting local at the same time, because they require macro and micro ways of thinking?

“At this point, we cannot disconnect one thing from the others just because they sound or seem different. we are all connected somehow (through globalization and technology), we just need to shift to a better balance. it's like we can use a lot of knowledge from the east, west, north, south, and from as many angles as possible without having any of them superior to the other. the design has to be able to connect everything, that it should be far different from politics, which might dictate an angle at some point.”

livable jiwi publication ©aaron lapeirre

“One nice example is a project i made in peru two years ago, when we worked with certified wood in the peruvian amazon. there i started creating a collection of objects and sold them only for the locals; because we found out that most of the timber and wood was also consumed in the same country."

"So our target group was there. but at the same time, we published a book worldwide. so this is our way of working both locally (not ship everything to the west), and globally, because when we see it in the bigger picture, this whole issue about deforestation is a global issue as well - one that starts locally.”

“Hence these challenges are the same: each local, communal problem always connects to a larger network or a bigger issue. once you see how things are indeed connected, you can see life as a very small world and it makes sense to connect all the dots. even in indonesia, where we work together with rattan companies to make furniture, there is a lot of materials that are sourced locally, but there are also some that are from italy. does it become locally produced? maybe. and this “local or not” concern is a constant battle that will forever be arguable."

livable jiwi objects ©aaron lapeirre

"However, we can now start seeing it from the perspective of “it as a network”. so, when we see products from italy, it does not mean that the whole object is made and sourced from italy. same with indonesia and other parts of the world - it does not mean everything is made and sourced there. this is not a problem at all; we just need to be transparent and make it clear of how things are globally connected right now.”

Courtesy of The Design Story interview with sep verboom on may 12th 2020