Helsinki, one chilly afternoon of fall 2010. Jaime and Yuan’s daughter is three years old when she becomes stubborn asking for a bow. At first, her parents don’t have any intention to throw on a coat and head out onto the street in desperate search for one before shops will close their doors. However, you know how little reasonable small girls can get when they consider a concrete item is missing in their fantasy world (and even more if we are talking about such a very precious – and pink – detail).
Starting to feel the urgency for finding a solution to this unexpected family crisis, Mexican Jaime de Vizcaya comes up with an original idea: he is going to create a rubber bow out of some old bicycle tires, which have a worn-out inner tube manufactured in brown that now looks conveniently pinkish. As soon as they finish the bow and witness the emotion on their daughter’s face, they recognise the potential of it.
Of course, the fact that both Jaime and his Chinese wife, Yuan Long, had an extensive background in the field of design, helped to easily turn a family anecdote into a business idea. Thus, a new professional adventure soon started for them with the creation of Toinen Elämä (also written 2.elämä), their eco-friendly brand that sells jewellery, complements and items for home decoration, all created from recycled materials. The name of the brand means ‘second life’ in Finnish.
Yuan arrived in Helsinki in 1999 to study at the University of Art and Design, today part of the Aalto University, from where she graduated in the ceramics department later. In 2002 she spent one year as an exchange student in the US, where she first took lessons in jewellery design.
Back in Helsinki she met Jaime, who was pursuing his degree in product strategic design and, at the same time, working for Aarikka, the Finnish brand renowned for their wooden jewellery, home decorations and ornaments. This professional experience helped him to understand, for instance, how Finns can appreciate a piece of jewellery made of gold as much as another one made of wood. The material doesn’t matter that much, but rather the design behind it.
Where you see trash I see a deer
One of the most popular products sold by 2.elämä is “Trophy”, a collection composed of a bear-outlined rug and a wall ornament that resembles a deer whose face has been made by assembling together a bicycle seat, and structural metal steel tubes as its horns.
In this sense, most parts of the materials used by the brand have already been trashed, which at the same time represents a good side benefit not to have to pay for them. Everything from bicycle parts to computer cables and small hard drive components is utilised – not forgetting carpets used at fairs, which after merely a couple of days of being put to use its hundreds of meters are directly destined to recycling centres. Then, the next step of the process consists of washing all these materials until they are ready to be reused for human consumption.
It’s also important to highlight that they don’t add any glues or corrosive elements to their creations so that these can have a healthy life cycle. That is, the moment the items become old and not useful any more, each part or component can be easily separated and recycled. This way, the couple behind 2.elämä use their creative talent to protect the environment.