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UNESCO International Seminar and Interview with Speakers

UNESCO International Seminar and Interview with Speakers



Panel discussion during the “Seoul, UNESCO City of Design International Seminar 2016”

On November 29, professionals in upcycling gathered at DDP International Hall to introduce their studies and work in upcycling at the “Seoul, UNESCO City of Design International Seminar 2016.”  Through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, UNESCO has aimed to encourage cities to facilitate creativity as a driving force of sustainable urban development since Seoul was designated as a city of design by UNESCO in 2010.


Seoul Metropolitan Government declared Seoul Vision 2030, a plan to transform Seoul into a resource recycling city, and is planning to launch Seoul Upcycling Plaza in 2017. Seoul Design Foundation (SDF) is responsible for operating the UNESCO Creative City for Design-Seoul. Prior to the opening the plaza, SDF hosted this international seminar, which seeks to discuss a social role and value of upcycle design which not only recycles resources, but creates a sustainable urban environment through creative and eco-friendly ideas.

Seven cases were introduced from domestic and international speakers. It was divided into three sessions. The first session introduced the future plan for construction and operation of Seoul Upcycling Design Plaza in 2017. In the second session, three presenters shared their studies and researches on the theme, “Social Role and Value of Upcycle Design.” At the last session, four design companies from Korea, Japan and the United States introduced their design process and strategy in the real market.

After the seminar, SDF Global Newsletter interviewed two upcycling designers, Kyle Dubay (Woodward Throwbacks) and Rachel Mulder (THING THING) to learn more about their design works and to hear comments on the upcycling design of Seoul.


Kyle Dubay, co-founder and designer at Woodward Throwbacks

Interview with Kyle Dubay (Woodward Throwbacks)


Woodward Throwbacks is a social entrepreneurship design company that focuses on using materials from illegal dumping sites throughout Detroit. The main resource is reclaimed wood which is turned into furniture, bottle openers, wall signs or planters. Kyle Dubay is the co-founder and designer at Woodward Throwbacks. He studied business administration in college and worked as a graphic designer. In the past, he started making reclaimed wood objects by chance, but now he does it as a business. He also operates workshops to promote an appreciation for the value of upcycling to the people in Detroit.

Q. What was the motivation of using reclaimed wood materials from the illegal dumping sites?

The reason why Bo Shephered (co-founder of Woodward Throwbacks) and I started this business is going back to three years ago when we were biking around the city. Detroit had a lot of problems over the years. People would discard stuff on the street. Bended houses were falling down so the materials were regularly available but the neighborhood environment was in ruin. So, it was a way for us to clean up our neighborhood and to make furnishings for our own apartment. We had the skills set and materials so we started to make things for ourselves and then for our friends and so on. Slowly it became a business. Within a year, it turned into a business. Last year we started distribution and bought a building. This year we bought another building which will turn into a factory for a larger business. Increasing the business was a very natural process but now we have a very clear direction. It suites both our personalities very well as we both worked in the creative industry. It was a good outlet for us and I enjoy doing it every single day. We are going to keep doing this.

Q. What is the most difficult process when making a product using reclaimed wood from the illegal dumping site?

The biggest difficulty using materials that are found on the streets, is that it is always different. Some of the material can be a meter long, while some half a meter. So, it’s always inconsistent. We had to expand our product line to cover all the sizes and variations of the material that we found. Another issue is the fact that some of the material might be rougher than the others, some might have nails in it, some might have other obstructions. We had to take a lot of that out before working to get our finished product. We are not wood experts but we find great textures for different uses of our products. We are currently making videos to help describe our work. Detroit is a very small community and thankfully people are behind each other and they are very excited for our success.

Q. After participating the UNESCO International Seminar and seeing “Upcycling Exhibition,” would you like to give any comments on Korean upcycling design?

I really want to encourage what Seoul Design Foundation is trying to do about the upcycling movement. I think it is a huge task for Koreans to take on. With the culture in the US, upcycling products are more acceptable. In bars and restaurants, tables and chairs are recycled. However, there are no institutions or organizations that connects it all together. So, I think what Seoul Design Foundation is doing is great. Maybe in Korea you don’t have the recognition of the value yet. Nevertheless, you have designers and government together feeling the need to start thinking about upcycling for the future by teaching the public to share the value.

I think the community does understand the value of upcycling. Nowadays we are trying to get the younger generation which doesn’t have the financial strength to open their own shops. We give them an opportunity to come to our shop and experience the work with their hands and gain some skills that will help them. I am very glad that Seoul Design Foundation is trying to take the initiative and trying to bring design more to the fore of culture because everything is design.

Q. Is this your first time to Seoul? What is your impression of Seoul and DDP?

We were very excited to come to Korea. We have connections to some Chinese companies but had never been to Asia. We were excited to see Korea’s design since Seoul is a Design City. My first impression of Seoul was a little bit like Manhattan or Time Square. DDP was beautiful; it is in a very impressive place. I will spend more time tomorrow to explore a little bit more.



 Rachel Mulder, designer at THING THING

Interview with Rachel Mulder (THING THING)

THING THING is a manufacturing design studio in Detroit. Simon Anton, Rachel Mulder, Eiji Jimbo and Thom Moran are the designers. They originally met at the University of Michigan and gathered for their first project using recycled plastic in 2012. THING THING’s art works are unique and its experimental designs have been introduced at the Venice Biennale, Hong Kong Shenzen Bi-City Biennale and more. Rachael is the only female designer of THING THING. She has been passionate about Italian designed plastic wares since childhood and always seeks ideas for new projects with recycled plastics.

Q. What was the motivation of using colorful recycled plastics?

I think there are a lot of motivations to work with plastics. Originally it was just one project.
What we wanted to do was to address waste in Detroit because there’s a lot of garbage dumping. Another thing about plastic is: it is colorful while other materials aren’t that colorful. So, we started using plastic as a way to address the waste in Detroit and make something that was colorful. Also, the material was inexpensive since it was recycled. Plastic rubbish is basically worthless when it’s colored but we could figure out something to do as independent designers since we could have free materials to work with. 


Q. What is the most difficult process when making a product using recycled plastics?

It is very difficult to work with plastic. Especially engineering. For example, the very colorful plastic that we were using, was specially engineered to cool quickly and was not absorbing well. It was very hard to heat up and cool down quickly to work with. Some of the most difficulties we’ve had is when trying to make new things out of it. But I think that is also the most rewarding part because finally you figure it out how to make something out of it. We took our works to the plastic engineers and they were impressed of how we made it. It has been a very interesting journey and very rewarding. Every time I do a new project or make a new machine, and then figure something out, then the next project is like “what if we did this” “I think we can do better" so it's always a revolving process by the desire to really bring the material to its full potential. There are many safety requirements for working with plastics. First, you should be careful not to burn it. Whenever we work on plastic, the goal is to not passing the burning point because molecules in plastic need to be relaxed in a certain temperature. You never change the form. We can make everything but since we’ve been working with recycle materials, we do not make anything that’s for food.

Q. After participating the UNESCO International Seminar and seeing “Upcycling Exhibition,” would you like to give any comments on Korean upcycling design?

Seoul Design Foundation has been a wonderful host. Participating in the seminar has been a very interesting experience for me. Specially, the initial meeting we had with the panels this morning was great. It was very informative and unique opportunity to talk about different ideas and skills in upcycling. We could hear the benefits and challenges when working with recycled materials. When presenting the work at the seminar today, the questions in general from the audience, were regarding very different things. They were physical questions such as what it means to be a designer, cost and impact; I experienced the same process in the past. Talking about upcycling in Seoul has been a very enlightening experience. It was ​refreshing to rethink about our works and to hear the problems from the audience. It’s always good to be challenged and expanding knowledge.

Seeing the “Upcycling Exhibition” was very impressed by the upcycling designs of Korea. It looked like it was going in the right direction. I think seminars or gatherings like today and talking about the real issues to make products out of upcycling are very helpful. Korean upcycling designers will benefit largely by having conversations like this.

Q. Is this your first time to Seoul? What is your impression of Seoul and DDP?

Yes, it is my first time in Seoul. Seoul is beautiful; I’m having a wonderful time. DDP is the first Zaha Hadid building that I have been able to visit. I walked around, went inside and it is so beautiful. I just arrived yesterday so I haven’t had so much experience to look around Seoul but I am very excited.



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