Rebecca Reubens is an expert in bamboo-based design, livelihood generation, and design education. After working in the international development sector for 7 years, In 2009 she founded Rhizome, India’s first multidisciplinary sustainability design studio. Rhizome works towards achieving a fine balance between development, sustainability, and commercial viability. To deepen her knowledge of sustainable design, Rebecca decided to supplement her NID education in design with a Ph.D. in sustainability from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. In 2012 she wrote the book “Bamboo, from green design to sustainable design” where she focuses on the links between design, craft, and sustainability, expanding the scope of design and opportunities for designers.
Rebecca Reubens/ Source: Lopez Design
The Ethos of Rhizome: Where Craft Marries Art & Design Sustainably
by Manisha AR
Rhizome is a multidisciplinary design studio that works at the intersection of sustainability, craft, and design. Through their sustainable decor range and bespoke design services, they encourage a more conscious lifestyle and a more sustainable world. The studio founder, Rebecca Reubens believes in bridging the divide between the ground realities of working with Indian craft communities, the changing contemporary design market, and pressing global sustainability issues.
Custom-developed terracotta-tile mural based on Gir flora, fauna, and culture by Rhizome. They view sustainability from a holistic perspective and cover the social, economic, ecological, and cultural aspects of design and production. (Image credit: Shweta Sauran, Woods at Sasan)
Sustainable, non-mainstream material choices
Rhizome looks at the entire life-cycle of the product – from raw material sourcing to production to distribution, to use, to end-of-life. To begin with, Rhizome works with clean and sustainable materials like bamboo, repurposed teak wood, brass, aluminum, paper-mâché, and so much more. They frequently find ways to upcycle materials from a host of sources. For instance, they use reclaimed wood from old pol houses in Ahmedabad. Found in Gujarat, pol houses are traditional clusters of homes designed for large joint families that were designed several decades ago. They are currently being demolished, so the studio has found a use for some of the seasoned Burmese and Valsadi teak from these houses’ door and window frames.
Rhizome’s founder has worked with bamboo for over two decades and is one of the three World Bamboo Ambassadors from India, nominated by the World Bamboo Organisation. From being deeply engaged with bamboo, Rhizome has extended its material palette to work with sustainable materials including upcycled metal, wood, leather, and fabric. Reubens tells DP that, “most often sustainable products are considered either too expensive or underperforming when compared to mainstream products.” She wants to change the messaging around environmentally friendly designs. She adds, “Using indigenous craft-based material leaves a smaller carbon footprint, and working with indigenous communities and cultures helps preserve their inherently sustainable traditions.”
Custom-developed bamboo and brass lighting fixture for Woods at Sasan by 1000 islands resort and Spa by Rhizome. When choosing materials, there is a consideration for the life-cycle of the product which results in timeless designs. (Image credit: Shweta Sauran, Woods at Sasan)
Reubens’ passion for sustainability is rooted in her Ph.D. from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in 2016. Rhizome takes sustainability very seriously. The studio’s focus on sustainability goes back to 2009. At the studio, a product is collaboratively co-created by the team, whether an intern, a designer, the support staff, or a craftsperson. When choosing projects, the team at Rhizome ensures that the outcome benefits the producers, the clients, and the world we inhabit. One easy way has been to minimize the wastage of material. For instance, while creating an installation for a spa at Woods at Sasan, Rhizome’s design was mindful of both the creative vision and sustainability. The final brass and bamboo chandelier they handcrafted drew on the natural shape of bamboo poles, such that it was visually stunning and didn’t require too much material loss.
The Lota Collection by Rhizome. Each of the products has a sense of nostalgia for ancestral homes full of history and antiques. Every piece celebrates iconic ubiquitous Indian products by playing with their scale to reinterpret them as furniture for contemporary homes. Image credit: Rhizome
Preserving heritage traditions
“Art, craft, and design are very porous, and creativity should transgress these boundaries,” says Reubens. Rhizome offers a selection of design services and a wide product range that includes furniture, lighting, parametric installations, and lifestyle products. Their collections reflect a contemporary Indian design language that tastefully marries craft with art and design. Rhizome’s designs are created in collaboration with the craftspeople that produce them and imbibe a contemporary take on culture and heritage tradition. When considering projects, Rhizome leans towards solutions handcrafted by rural and urban craft communities. Their ultimate aim is to build products and systems that are ethical, viable, and likely to outlive trends.
A more recent project of theirs has been the Lota Collection, where they are working with Rajasthan’s ‘thathera’ community to create furniture by rescaling and celebrating ubiquitous icons of Indian design, like the lota. While most would prefer to use the technique of metal casting to reduce time and cost, this collection embraces the hand-forming of metal which uses less material than casting and preserves a dying craft tradition. These handcrafted artisanal products are timeless and can fit into any traditional or contemporary Indian home.
The Soop Leather Chair in a natural and red finish by Rhizome. The team explores nuanced aspects of sustainable design like the user, the market, and the production lines when developing their collection. (Image credit: Rhizome)
Made to last
Rhizome believes in creating products that users will love for a long time. Reubens says, “We believe that if you love what you have, you’re going to hang on to it for as long as possible.” In the same spirit of extending the product’s life, Rhizome also offers their customers repair and refurbishing services. This means that many of their customers have returned to freshen up or repurpose a product, sometimes even a decade after they made the initial purchase.
Reubens’ design process begins with thinking about the users and their function for the products. As a result, many of the pieces are designed to be utilitarian and made to last a long time. With a background in jewellery design from NIFT, Delhi, and her furniture design training from NID Ahmedabad, her style comes from an intimate point of view. It is the jewellery designer in her that makes her focus on how the product would look or feel against the body of the user, while the industrial designer is in her looks at resolving ergonomics. Embodying these ideals through each decision–whether on the personal, social, cultural, or economic level, is what makes Rhizome’s take on sustainability more long-term and holistic.
Slice Mirror and Bend W by Rhizome. By working with indigenous communities and sourcing local materials, Rhizome foregrounds local traditions and producers in the contemporary design market.
(Image credit: Rhizome)
Founded in 2009 by Dr. Rebecca Reubens, Rhizome is India’s first multidisciplinary sustainability design studio. Rhizome works at the intersection of craft, design, and sustainability. The team strives to imbibe the properties of a rhizome and collaboratively design products and systems that are holistically sustainable and people- and planet-centric. Rhizome offers bespoke design services and a wide product range that includes furniture, lighting, parametric installations, and lifestyle products such as hangers and mannequins. The products reflect a contemporary Indian design language while rearticulating traditional crafts for the modern world.
For over two decades, the design team and the highly skilled artisans at the studio have been working together with non-mainstream materials like bamboo and recycled textiles to create sustainable, slow-designed, contemporary, and ethically crafted furniture. The entire team works mindfully toward producing handcrafted and artisanal products. To ensure high quality, their products go through rigorous quality checks. In order to further explore sustainable alternatives to mainstream materials, Rhizome has expanded its material palette to include repurposed teak wood, brass, aluminum, paper-mâché, and so much more. Check out their website and Instagram to see their stunning articulation of non-mainstream material possibilities and design for sustainability.
Rebecca Reubens founded Rhizome, a multidisciplinary sustainability design studio, as a holistic practice to explore how sustainability could be realised in the global south. Rebecca had just returned to Ahmedabad after working in the international development sector for seven years. Her work across Asia, Africa and Europe had convinced her that the efforts to address the sustainability crises in the global north did not fit the ground realities of the global south. The ecological focus of sustainability efforts in the global north were not realistically transferable to the global south, since the latter had a socio-economic priority as it was still struggling to provide basic human needs. Rebecca therefore decided to establish Rhizome. Below, the design expert tells us more about the practice.
The name Rhizome comes both from my extensive work in bamboo, and also from one of my favourite books, A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari. Bamboo’s underground stems are called ‘rhizomes’ in botanical terms. Each bamboo rhizome sends down roots or sends up shoots, and links itself to other rhizomes. This metaphor resonates with what we believe design needs to be — a decentralised network, without a definitive beginning or end, with tremendous flexibility to inform and be informed by inputs from every adjacency.
Taking on holistic sustainability was often daunting and we often wondered if we were biting off more than we could chew. Sustainability was not the buzz-word in 2009 that it is today, but I believed that climate change and unsustainable practices were here to stay, and that Rhizome was relevant. I also believed that design was ideally positioned to be a powerful game-changer in the world’s sustainability story. To deepen my knowledge on the nuts and bolts of sustainable design, I decided to supplement my NID education in design with a PhD in sustainability from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. One of the outputs of my PhD was the ‘Rhizome Approach’, which is the holistic sustainability design framework we follow at the studio.
We continue to look beyond single silo factors — such as the user, the market and production lines — towards an integrated design brief. Sustainability is not just an add-on to our design brief, it is central. Our designs are developed collaboratively with a cross section of actors, including communities. This helps us look at all the pieces of the sustainability jig-saw — including the economic, social, cultural, and ecological — to design sustainable products.
Author: Unnati Saini
Two decades ago, as a student at National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Rebecca Reubens began working with bamboo purely by accident. “I was arm twisted into the project by professor M.P. Ranjan—the late design thinker and mentor whose contribution to the community has been phenomenal—who had the last laugh when I was blown away by the possibilities it offered,” she recalls. Reubens’s work on the project led to her seeing bamboo as more than just a material. “It was a vehicle to transform the world,” she says. In 2009, after working with it for close to a decade, she founded Rhizome—a multidisciplinary studio whose end goal is “Not sustainable design—it is sustainability,” she explains. “I’ve never really resonated with the term ‘sustainable design’ because the way it is phrased seems to indicate that design should be sustained, not that design should sustain.”
Reubens’s studio is aptly named. Bamboo is a rhizome—a self-generating plant that sends out both roots and shoots and links itself to other rhizomes. The plant’s autopoietic nature resonates with her belief of what design needs to be: “A decentralized network without a beginning or end, with the flexibility to inform and be informed by inputs from every adjacency,” she says.
In addition to sourcing its material from local bamboo suppliers who ensure sustainable resource growing, Rhizome is labour intensive and uses its own waste and waste from other channels where possible. It also builds on existing craft traditions to keep them evolving. “The only way to keep something alive is to ensure it is dynamic. The moment it is not moving, it is dead; it is conservation,” Reubens says.
While bamboo objects and furniture are common enough, the ones that come out of Rhizome’s studio acquire an uncommon, almost elemental beauty like this sculptural Sawboo chair (pictured). The studio’s recent Slice collection—a range of chairs, tables, stools, and benches—embody the strength and materiality of bamboo while imbuing it with an aesthetic that is both modern and timeless. It is design with an eye on the future, and a hand in making that future sustainable.
This month of March has been quite an exciting one. We've celebrated Women’s Day, and shortly will go on to celebrate Holi, and then Easter. So many wonderful things and that's not even the half of it. The industry is picking itself up and creating some amazing designs for your hearth and tummy. As you know, we are always on the hunt for the best designs in India, and we proudly present to you some for the most exciting new launches that have come our way this month and the month before. You should check them out for yourself...we did, and we love each one of them. So, here goes...presenting, the hottest new launches in Indian design today!
Made in India, by Rhizome Designs
Rebecca Reubens is a veteran product designer with two glorious decades of championing bamboo. Her label Rhizome Designs recently designed this side table with a vintage tagara as the top.
We love the simple artistry of this side table by Rhizome Designs.
Rebecca is on a mission to create bespoke works with bamboo as her main ingredient.
10 essential pieces handcrafted in India for a zen bedroom
Our Home Edit series will help you carve out a serene space. In this edition we curate a stylish bedroom.
In this age of stay-at-home, our space and surroundings have never been more important. While what’s happening outside is beyond our control, what we can do is curate a safe space at home to relax and unwind after we clock-out.
Our bedroom especially is a place for us to slow down – a room where we take respite from the day’s stress. We’re craving one that is cosy and calming, and we’re doing that with essential elements from homegrown labels. From the snuggle-perfect bed to calming candles, these pieces balance comfort and simplicity.
What: The Soop Chair
Both clean and dramatic, this easy chair is crafted using bamboo and a recycled rope weave by the winnow – Indian soop. Create your own cosy nook and sink into it with a book to unwind after a long day.
With sustainability at the core of its designs, Rhizome has a holistic approach towards sustainability. Fusing it with craft and design, their designs are made of bamboo in their atelier in Ahmedabad.
Author: Namrata Kedar
The Indian fashion industry is one place where you can find several women fashion entrepreneurs. Through their creations, they nurture some of the subtle aspects of nature, culture, tradition, and environment. A woman knows best how to bring out the best in her creations. She knows how to protect and give a breath of new life to those things from the bosom of mother nature that are on the verge of extinction.
Sustainability is the watchword these days. Creating sustainable products is not just trendy; it is the need of the hour. Climate change and the environment depletion make us all sit up and think about what we can do to save mother earth as we know her. These women fashion entrepreneurs are on the path of sustainability.
Interview with Women fashion entrepreneurs
Here are interviews with a few women fashion entrepreneurs in India, who have carved a niche for themselves in the field of fashion and sustainability.
Dr. Rebecca Reubens core expertise is for bamboo and rattan. She is the founder of Rhizome, a multidisciplinary sustainability design studio. She is a world bamboo ambassador for the World Bamboo Organization. A trained industrial designer from the National Institute of Design, India, she focuses her creations on design, craft, and sustainability. She is associates with multi-governmental institutions, governments, NGOs, SMEs, and communities in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Rebecca is the author of the book, ‘Bamboo: From Green Design to Sustainable Design.’
Here is an interview with her, where she talks about sustainability, her journey so far, and her experience of being a woman entrepreneur:
Tell us something about Rhizome, India’s first multidisciplinary sustainability studio?
Design impacts sustainability because it orchestrates how materials are harvested, produced, used, and discarded. The question is whether you want to take accountability for these design decisions and their impact on sustainability. Rhizome, since its inception in 2009, does commit to doing this. We go beyond the environmental aspects and also consider the social, economic, and cultural elements which influence sustainability.
What can we expect to gain by visiting your studio?
Bright minds hard at work and sound design!
Who can visit?
Anyone and everyone
From your student days at NIFT, how has your journey been so far?
Exciting and always growing larger and yet quieter. Moreover, the scope and understanding of things that impact design required consideration while designing expanded exponentially. Whereas, the ego has become smaller.
Why have you chosen bamboo and sustainability?
I chose bamboo because of sustainability. Bamboo is one of the most sustainable materials known to man and needs leveraging for sustainability. While I don’t only work with bamboo – I work with other sustainable materials as well.
Bamboo is my material of choice because I have been working with it for almost two decades now. I began my bamboo journey as a student at NID, then as a part of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, and finally through my practice.
What are your future ventures, especially at this time when a sustainable lifestyle is become a necessity due to compelling environmental reasons?
We have a new brand of sustainable jewelry called Baka. We are also moving into the fashion space.
How can the college-going youngster and the young office going population adapt bamboos and sustainability in their lifestyle?
Buy less, and what you buy, buy sustainably. Read and keep yourself informed. Check up on tall claims and beware of greenwashing. Pick the real ones – we all know who they are – and buy things that are classic and will last you longer. Buy into experiences rather than ‘stuff.’ Look at alternate service models rather than ‘stuff.’ – take public transport or an Ola instead of buying a car.
How can the common man, especially the college-going and the office going people make the best use of your creative collection?
Our collections are convenient and competitive in terms of price and performance. They are a good design. So it is simple – buy them, use them, don’t throw them away. Get a piece customized from us – we want you to love what you own and keep it forever.
As a successful woman entrepreneur, how was your journey so far?
It was possible only because of support from my family and friends. Cultivate a strong network – this is what will catch you when you jump into the universe with eyes wide open.
“It would be super if there were no women’s day – because gender equality existed. Unfortunately, it does not. Some of us are more privileged than others – we need to speak up and be the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves. Fight for equality – quietly and loudly – make sure you are heard and seen if you are privileged. Be the change you want to see.” - Rebecca Reubens
GoodHomes, August 2020
“Bamboo offers designers the potential to be the change they want to see in society. To be able to create responsible design is what mostly drew me to bamboo.” — Rebecca Reubens, Founder-Principal Designer, RHIZOME
REBECCA REUBENS Founder-Principal Designer, RHIZOME Rebecca Reubens, Founder Principal Designer, RHIZOME, fell in love with the versatility of bamboo almost two years back. From then to now, she’s been on a quest to mainstream this humble material. “Bamboo is a lightweight material which is easily and traditionally crafted by a lot of marginalized factions - women, indigenous people, and the economically poor. Through the design of bamboo products which provide livelihoods for these people, designers can be orchestrators of social, cultural and economic sustainability along.
Casa Vogue, 2018
The Ahmedabad-based design studio has been consciously making beautiful furniture using sustainable materials since 2009. From colourful patio chairs to repurposed copper plates made into tables-sustainability is more than just a trend for its founder, Rebecca Reubens, who will soon launch her sustainable jewellery line.
Rhizome is a multidisciplinary sustainability design firm working at the intersection of craft, design and sustainability. Dr. Rebecca Reubens used the word "rhizome' as a metaphor to describe her vision of what design needs to be a growing network flexible enough to be anchored, to leap into the future, or to do both simultaneously.
Author: Vivek Gopinathan
Photo’s courtesy: Rhizome
Dr. Rebecca Reubens Bamboo is one of the oldest materials of bamboo was something that those humans have been making use of cultures across regions came to realise lightweight and since prehistoric times. The versatility and employ. From cutlery to weapons minimalistic, away
In the house of bamboo
Ahmedabad is not a typical bamboo city, but there is Rebecca Reubens of Rhizome. She works at the intersection of design, craft and sustainability and her core area of expertise is bamboo.
We were lucky to meet her at the Rhizome studio. Only a small door sign told us that we were at the right place. But it became obvious once we entered her studio-workshop: walls covered in bamboo, craftsmen working on bamboo hangers and the complete interior design consists of bamboo furniture.
It was very interesting to get an idea of her design thinking and to see the products that evolve from it.
And now we had thirst for action and wanted to work hands-on! So let’s get some bamboo. But this was easier said than done. The city is like a gigantic labyrinth with friendly people and confusing advises. After hours of wandering around in the heat we finally found what we were looking for.
Studio Rhizome, wherever you look you see bamboo