Space Available's Dan Mitchell on combatting burnout, Bali life and nature
Space Available is on a mission to create a circular future, they collaborated with woo on our merchandise and visual design, we spoke to the founder about it here.
image Team Woo
words Rhys Thomas
Dan grew up in Newcastle and got into skateboarding when he was ten, in the early '90s. It wasn't a cool thing to do back then, in working class northern England. “The skaters that were around were a lot older, I was 11 and they were like 17” he tells woo, adding that “this provided a shortcut into music, art, skate culture, which was my education really.” By the time he was 16 he decided he was bored of being around people his own age, and left. The self-directed intuition and curiosity stayed.
In his early 20s Dan ended up in London working as a buying assistant for Office, the shoe store. Having always done art direction on the side, eventually he made the move into it permanently, and then in 2014 after a fair bit of success he moved to Bali with his wife. It was time for a reset, “I was like surfing and living a lot more consciously generally, and London wasn't really suiting that type of conscious lifestyle that I was looking for.”
Dan actually had the idea of creating a farm, and was generally into the concept of circular systems: things that go around and around forever, like water. “I ended up getting involved in Potato Head [a resort, beach club and creative playground] to the point where it was burning me out, though not through any fault of theirs. Then the pandemic hit, so we had to stop and rebuild and reassess everything.”
Dan once again found himself fatigued, but from the pandemic came Space Available. “In Bali specifically, there's billboards everywhere, advertising all the hotels and beach clubs. A couple of months into the pandemic, nobody had any money so they all got taken down. I’d always be going past empty billboards which had the words 'space available' on them. It hit me there, I needed to create space for something better for me, for people, for the world.” He says. This idea would become Space Available.
Today, Dan has been working on a new collection, which is showing in Paris in January but he’s also found some space to chat to woo about his work, the collaboration with woo for our own brand collection and general visual identity, and more feel good things!
shop artefacts of planet woo
Your values and the idea of circular design are a big part of Space Available, can you explain them to us?
In a nutshell we're trying to create a better world for both people and the planet. Our tagline is: making space for nature. People tend to read that as an environmental message, saying like, we're working to try and restore nature. And we are doing that, but really, we're on about making space for the individual. Ultimately we are part of nature, and if we don't take care of ourselves, how can we take care of anyone or anything around us. So the products are there to try and make space in our lives from a point of wellbeing and we also want those products to be good for the planet. We have an educational strand too which aims to help people here in Indonesia, I want to leave a legacy of helping to create the next wave of designers and creatives. We offer free workshops monthly too. Essentially we just want to leave the world slightly better than we found it, in a holistic sense.
What was the reason you aligned with woo?
woo is a wellness brand at the very core, and Space Available is but without saying it aloud. For example the first product we made was a meditation chair, which is crafted from recycled plastic. So we were trying to like, you know, promote the culture of meditating but doing it through conscious design, by using waste plastic. So we're encouraging people to make space for themselves by meditating while sitting on an item that's better for the planet. So when Stephen [woo's CEO] approached us about woo it made a lot of sense, there was a lot in common.
You helped woo to launch, what work was done then?
It was brand strategy, helping carve out the direction of the brand, which led onto brand identity, helping to see how the platform could look and feel. From there we looked into expressing these ideas through merchandise. Colours are selected to trigger specific emotions, we made sure the garments are upcycling where possible, there's our recycled plastic in there as well.
How did you turn this idea into a business?
In the beginning, I was just sharing notes on Instagram, writing, creating pieces of content from old counterculture movements like the back to the land movement from the '60s. As I was doing that, brands just started organically reaching out like woo, for example, after I shared what I was doing on my social networks. From there I felt like Space Available could become a platform for sharing information but maybe also an agency helping out other brands or whatever. So I sort of started doing that. From there I wanted to explore making merch based around our ethos and message. Very quickly a lot of department stores wanted to stock us. It was terribly exciting but also daunting because we were like, well how are we going to actually do this. How do we make the clothes?! From there it was about taking a risk, investing in a team and infrastructure. We just about managed it and things grew. As things grew, we started looking into the educational aspect and other ways to round out our approach.
How can a brand actually help the world? There's an irony in creating something to reduce waste, you know?
Of course, making things by nature isn't great for the environment, because there's energy usage, you know, in whatever you do. What we're promoting is circular design, which is different. We're working towards a circular economy, we're not claiming to be "a sustainable brand" that's perfect. I just don't think that exists. I don't think any brand can say that at all, and so we don't claim to. But what we are trying to do is show the alternative to mass culture. We have all of this waste around us and in a circular system, we would never have to create plastic ever again. Plastic actually is a fantastic material, it was invented in the beginning to be sustainable material of the future. Because in the 1800s the ivory trade was getting out of control and plastic became a solution. and now of course plastic is out of control. We could say "Let's not make anything and just exist" but that's not realistic, so in our little way we're saying we can turn waste into something new. It's an alternative, it isn't perfect, but it is so much better. It's a good start. And we're not doing what other brands do where they make a handful of recycled items and put those in the shop window to make it look better. But I understand it's very difficult to suddenly change if you employ thousands and make billions.
Who inspires you?
Off the top, Buckminster Fuller and the Eindhoven Academy. If you go right the way to the bottom of the instagram page you'll see more influence mentioned there. I'm also very interested in materials more so than brands, there's one called Microtech here in Indonesia who are innovating with mycelium and it's some of the best mycelium material I've seen. Greater Goods, they're an upcycling company in London, Helen Kirkham.
So you burned out a little, and then made your own company, is there a better balance?
I think I have found a lot more balance. We are still working long hours because it's a startup and we do feel it's important work that we're doing, but what's been quite nice is we work from my home, my wife and I set Space Available up together but the whole team work from ours, when the kids come home from school they just hang out with us too. We are just about outgrowing the space and relocating to an office nearby, which is nice in ways because the home will be just our home again too.
What makes you feel good?
I'm very much family oriented. Seeing my kids grow up is the best thing. Doing work that feels important and is something I believe in. I also do a lot of movement work, working out, surfing every day, ice baths, meditating, journaling. The discipline of carving that all into my daily routine makes me feel good also.
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