3 of the best social enterprise projects for colour-lovers

There’s a growing trend for homewares made by enterprising companies motivated either by tackling social problems, improving communities and people’s life chances, or being able to work using materials and methods that are environmentally sound. Here are three we’ve found that embody a conscious ethos within gorgeous colour-rich pieces.

Paris designer Léa Beart collaborates with Panamanian craftspeople

Paris-based designer Léa Beart’s boyfriend is from Panama and she was visiting the country for the third time when she began developing her collection of woven lights in collaboration with artisans in the country. “I knew the culture quite well and speak Spanish so I wanted to discover more of the place and meet craftspeople in their communities,” she told us. Her Panam Panama collection (“’Panam’ means Paris in ordinary French,” says Léa) is now a completely cross-cultural project. Léa sells the collection in its original palette of materials – soapstone and woven fibres – in the art galleries and small concept stores of Panama City in Panama, where the idea was born. She has also reinterpreted the designs to suit the local materials and manufacturing processes of Paris, selling the same lights but made from granite and woven leather in the city’s chic Bon Marche shop. “It was obvious to me that I didn’t want to import the creation from Panama to sell it in France. I wanted to stay local, so I created the idea of a ‘twin collection’ making both with local materials and know-how,” she says.

On working in Panama and the origins of the design Léa told us, “I wanted to mix different technics and materials, but also to connect different craftspeople with each other. Sometimes, they lived very close and had never work together, sometimes it was communities in different parts of the country, but the idea was to bring the experimentations we made with a specific craftsman to another and ask him to re-interpret the object with his own know-how.  In the middle of the trip, I started to note that there were a lot of fan grids in the street and I was curious to try to weave into the grids with the local fibre and see what happen, so I started to keep a record of every fan grid I found. With each craftsperson, my process was to suggest modifications to their habitual ways of working in order to experiment together.”

Israel’s Iota collaborates with Negev Desert Bedouins

Mint shop in London has just added to its esoteric collection the brand Iota, which was founded in Israel in 2014 by Shula Mozes, on a dream of blending her love of knitting with her wish to do something socially responsive. Her focus was on the countless communities of women worldwide who are not able to work outside of the home – knitting, she felt, could give them an opportunity while also creating an exciting platform for bespoke design. Along with Tal Zur, an industrial designer with a basis in textiles, they embarked on their project to create luxury products for the home. The collection includes cushions, blankets, pouffs and stools made using traditional techniques and materials such as wool, cotton and synthetics.

Currently, the collective are working primarily with Bedouin women in Israel but as project manager Dorit Chesler told us, “our dream is to employ hundreds of knitters worldwide. The vision behind ‘Iota’ is to establish a movement that allows different people from around the world to learn the technique of traditional hand-craftsmanship, to provide them with employment and allow them to earn an honest living. This idea contains a social responsibility and a way to maintain traditional arts by extenuating the importance of knowledge and skills. It also portrays the belief that regardless of the infinite possibilities that technology offers, people still seek a personal and unique hand print.”

Marni’s collaboration with Columbian makers

Uber fashion brand Marni has established quite an extensive collection of beautiful metal, painted wood and PVC cord furniture since it began its collaboration with Columbian ex-prisoners in 2012. The collaboration also includes women from the region who are finding emancipation through the work. The highly covetable pieces are made from recycled materials and are wonderfully crafted. But it’s the colour combinations present in the chairs, tables, oversized baskets and other objects that are a huge part of the appeal. For this year’s Milan Furniture Fair the brand presented a playground installation full of pieces, including a rather amazing set of swings that present the idea of fun children’s products in a whole new light. Find out more here.

To find similar products in production head to Mint where the Caribe collection by Ames and Sebastian Herkner embodies both a similar ethos and aesthetic – see examples in our opening image.

Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

The Chromologist 2019 | Farrow & Ball

The Chromologist