Interview with Jaime de Vizcaya and Yuan Long

The couple behind 2.elämä walks us through the four years of adventure since this eco-friendly design firm was established. Get ready to know all about their astonishing Body Harness Collection 2015.

Yuan and Jaime in their office
Helsinki-based designers Jaime de Vizcaya and Yuan Long. / PHOTO: 2.elämä

It’s been four years since the beginning of the 2.elämä project. How has the brand evolved through this time?

Jaime: Part of our evolution has been that we have been working little by little in different areas. 2.elämä’s designs are now present, not only in jewellery, but also in fashion and home decoration. We have even carried out some interior design projects and we’ve collaborated with other companies.

Yuan: But maybe our biggest achievement in all this time is that we have fulfilled our original idea, which was to set up an eco-friendly design brand called Toinen Elämä (2.elämä). It is important to remember that the fact that a product has been manufactured under environmental concerns is not enough. Design, originality and functionality have to be present too. After these four years we have reached certain awareness within our field. In Finland people now recognise our brand and they talk about it.

The Finnish economy is now going through a period of recession. How has this situation affected you as entrepreneurs?

J: Our practises and philosophy have helped us keep floating despite the current situation in Finland. Sustainability can be understood as a political and social concern, but there is also an economic side to it. We produce locally, which means we don’t need to have a big stock. On the other hand, the fact that we are working with recycled materials makes it easy for us to establish a mutual-benefit relationship with other companies. We go and directly pick up some of the items they want get rid of. This way, they spare the money of transporting them to the recycling centre and we obtain the materials we will be working with.

Why was it so important for you to take an eco-friendly approach to the industry? Was it easy to put it into practise?

J: After living three years in China, a highly consumeristic country, we understood that we as designers have the responsibility to reflect on mass production processes. This means we need to ask ourselves what happens with the products we make once they are not used anymore. If you watch documentaries on this issue, you realise we haven’t given an adequate response to the question so far. So, we wanted to implement our environmental social responsibility by doing things differently.

Y: On the other hand, being an entrepreneur is never easy, but I think it would have been even more diffucult to find support for our business concept outside Finland. Here we could have access to some of the materials at a low cost or even for free, and people have a great sensibility for products like ours, which encouraged us to continue believing in what we were doing.

Tell us about your new designs, the Body Harness Collection 2015. What kind of materials did you use? How did you put the pieces together?

J: Well, for the materials we went back to bicycle and car inner tubes and computer components. As always, we are not gluing it but ensembling the parts with metal pieces, so that their separation can be facilitated for proper recycling in the future. Sometimes it is not considered among designers that while your product can be very fancy and look really nice, once its life ends you also need to think about how to make it easy to separate the parts so that they can be recycled. We think these body harnesses are something completely out of the box. We actually locked ourselves into an old wooden house in the middle of the forest to clear our minds and seek for insipration for the new designs.

Y: And rubber as material is very easy to use because it has a lot of elasticity, which gives more movement-freedom to the user as well. We wanted to do something more related to fashion this time, an industry we had been collaborating with on several occassions. We always think very carefully before deciding on the materials, because first we need to make sure that we can have access to it in the long term and not only temporarily. Otherwise we would always be doing limited editions, which doesn’t make that much sense.

Design of 2.elämä’s Body Harness Collection 2015./ PHOTO: 2.elämä.
Design of 2.elämä’s Body Harness Collection 2015./ PHOTO: 2.elämä’s

We’ve recently seen that 2.elämä has collaborated with YK-Liitto, the UN Association of Finland, to create awareness on how trash is overflowing the seas. What can you tell us about this campaign?

Y:That was a great, challenging project for us. The UN Association apporoached us and asked us to come up with a give-away gift that would be representative of the campaign they were working on. The campaign was based on the work made by the artist Chris Jordan on the islands of Midway Atoll, where he did a photo-reportage on dead Laysan albatrosses. The babies of this bird species are being fed plastic by their parents, who find it floating in the middle of the ocean and mistake it for food. So, we designed a bird made out of light-blue recycled fair carpet. Later on we also made a second design for them, which consisted of a pair of earrings – this time made of plastic bottles.

Plastic earrings
Earrings made out of recycled plastic bottles. / PHOTO: 2.elämä

As far as I know you usually travel to Germany to participate in the Ecostyle fair celebrated annually in Frankfurt. How was your experience this year? Why are these kinds of events interesting for you?

J: Ecostyle Frankfurt was a great success for us this year. We got a great response from Germans, there were several people interested in us and we got to close some deals with shops and even museums there. At the fair you can find all kinds of companies with an eco-approach to the industry. And there was also an area for students to present their own eco-projects.

What are the future challenges for 2.elämä? (Are you) Already planning to expand?

J: Yes, we have been thinking about expanding. Actually, we we’ve recently moved to new office in Pasila (Helsinki). We also have more people working with us now and we are really happy with that because we like to make it fair for everybody to be considered to join our team. There are a lot of foreigners with difficulties to find a job in Finland. So, we try to keep a very multicultural team by hiring both locals and people from differet parts of the world.

Body Harness Collection 2015./ PHOTO: 2.elämä
Body Harness Collection 2015./ PHOTO: 2.elämä

2.elämä new website will be launched just before Christmas this year, and it will also contain a link to their webshop. In the meantime you can find them on Facebook.

Text: Eva Blanco