I found Nina on Instagram collecting memories of Vilnius. As soon as I noticed she’s a designer who focuses on sustainability and social responsibility, I had to get in touch.
Nina is a London designer who was living and working like a local for a month in Vilnius. The blue skies and sunshine (uber uncommon in Lithuania) has allowed her to enjoy the city‘s manageable size, the dunes and mooses in Neringa, and even mushroom picking for the freshest risotto ever.
When I found out the first thing she does after waking up is not a morning check on her mobile, but yoga, I thought she might be an unusual talker. And when she said Lithuanian language does not sound hard to learn, I realised she is special. Nobody said that. Ever.
Falling into interior design //
Nina does not like to follow the given path, thus, soon after finishing school, instead of choosing university she started to work for an international interior design company in London designing hotels. Her career began as an administrator and she gradually, over several years, developed to become a designer and eventually associate of the company.
Working on hotels is a complicated business. One has to handle long and slow projects that take several years of dealing with layers of clients, operators, and various consultants. Working there for almost a decade brought fascinating experience. All her training was on-the-job which made it perfectly possible without graduating from university.
Nina+Co is born //
It is difficult to apply Nina’s strong sense of ethics to the corporate hotel industry and so the desire to do her own things in her own way encouraged Nina to start a creative studio: Nina+Co. This allowed her to work on smaller, more intimate projects with a faster time scale, and to branch into coffee shops, pop-up cafes, restaurants & private residences.
Her newest work is a collection of handmade, small scale, batch produced ceramics: The Breakfast Collection. This project has no client so there were no compromises to be made. It gave her a chance to inject her own ideas and creativity. The handmade ceramics are durable and will last for generations so long as they are handled with care. As The Breakfast Collection is produced in London the designer tries to keep everything local; materials have been sourced carefully, as close as geographically possible. All the packaging she uses is recycled.
Small decisions – big decisions //
Interior design is complex as it deals with budget limits and involves many parties. Hence, decisions are not easily made. I asked her about whether there is a niche for sustainability and in what aspects they can be visible.
According to Nina, it can exist even in small decisions. When sourcing for materials, she chooses her suppliers carefully. If there is a need to use timber, she will strive to use reclaimed timber, or from a sustainably managed source and as local as possible.
There is also sustainability in another aspect that is not so much environmental, but social. Nina is currently working on a social enterprise cafe for the homelessness charity, Centrepoint, in London’s Soho. Simultaneously, Nina is designing a bakery and cafe for Luminary Bakery, which offers opportunities for vulnerable women in East London to build a future for themselves and their families through baking. These enterprises with social responsibility are pretty trendy in London. A lot of young entrepreneurs are starting new businesses not with the aim to get rich themselves, but with the aim to live modestly and to give back to the community.
All Eyes On London //
Since we were already on the topic of London, I asked how sustainable London is? It‘s totally unsustainable! – she answered immediately.
London is excessive in so many ways: too many cars, too many people and too much waste.
The supermarkets are now forced to charge customers for plastic bags in a bid to encourage people to bring their own, but Nina is baffled by this slow progress and questions why all plastic bags are not replaced with biodegradable materials instead.
London is huge with many people living on top of each other, too close perhaps, but not necessarily knowing each other, or even talking to each other. So despite being surrounded by literally millions of people, it can be a lonely place. Nina is lucky enough to live in a lovely area where people do talk to each other, and they make an effort to help each other. If you can find that, then London is a wonderful place to live.
Sustainability Habits //
Nina came for an interview wearing her favourite mended sweater with heart shaped elbow patches. She makes a conscious decision not to buy clothes often, avoiding most high street brands and buying items of better quality that will last for a long time. Nina prefers furniture that is recycled, vintage or antique, or made of solid, natural materials so that they can easily be recycled. She tries to buy organic and locally produced food as far as possible. Finding organic food in London is easy, but it is way more expensive than non-organic food. Instead of buying fresh food from big supermarkets with lots of packaging, she shops locally from her local fruit & veg shop, fish from a local fishmonger, and free-range meat from her local butcher. She also makes a conscious decision not eat very much meat, but to buy more expensive, locally produced organic meat in smaller amounts.
Nina shared with me the story of her buying takeaway coffee: I took a take away coffee the other day here in Vilnius for the first time in ages and I felt so guilty about the wastefulness of the paper cup which would probably not be recycled. Nobody‘s perfect, but it‘s just good to be aware of these things. Because once you are aware you can stop and change your habits.
The future //
Nina says that ideally she would like to combine her experience in designing hotels with her sustainable ethics. Her dream project would be to design a sustainable, social enterprise hotel.
She is also planning more products to complement the ceramics; household textiles from organically grown, fairtrade cotton printed using eco-friendly water based inks.
The newest Nina+Co project – The Breakfast Collection ↓