Now here’s a challenge for you. Most people coming to this piece will be in and of the lighting industry. And that means we all carry the same bias of seeing the world through the refraction of the electric light. But there are people around to remind us of where we came from. Chris Fordham has been in conversation with Ana Belen Alonso – and she has a story to tell that touches us all.
How often have you listened in on the type of conversation that starts with ‘well I always fancied running a deli you know, sourcing sustainable coffee, organic produce, getting away from the stress’ or ‘I could really do with finding myself, leaving the rat race and becoming a maker, setting up a craft shop making my own novelty plant pots/ jewellery/ bottle openers ‘ ( I have just returned from Greece, a fair few bottle openers there of note).
Quite often, these pipe dreams mask the reality of professions full of toil, worry and hard work, the empty stalls full of beautiful products at this year’s London design week are certainly testament to that. Thinking about parallels with the lighting industry, I asked myself how the ‘makers’ can compete in a world where we are swamped with cheap mass-produced products, that quite frequently look very similar to artisan designs, yet come from completely different bases, in terms of cost , labour and quality ?
As we fast approach the festive season, with dark nights and winter almost upon us, the warmth of candlelight seems ever more appealing, so I decided to find out for myself a little something about how a producer from the other end of the lighting spectrum (pun intended) designs and ‘makes’ one of the oldest form of lighting, the candle.
Abalon is a company run by Ana Belen Alonso, created in 2015 and based in London. The first impression on entering the workshop is one that instantly sparks creative curiosity. Shelves are full of light shades, porcelain candle holders, unfinished and finished sculptures, jewellery, different-sized pots and a couple of kilns. There is an aroma of lemon grass, and a fair amount of dust, as I found out to my expense after sitting on the chair which, as I dusted myself down, I thought, is just how it should be, right!?
Ana is from Spain and started creating at 5 years old by playing with forms and shape, later (literally) jumping into scrap metal containers to find interesting off-cuts for her design pieces, at her father’s factory.
She makes a point of thanking her parents for supporting her when she was younger, and the influence of her home in the Basque country for her environmental awareness, (a region that has the highest levels of recycling in Spain). She struggled with acute dyslexia when she was at university, which has strengthened her will to succeed. The company’s strong sustainable ethos is a constant theme in her discussions. As Ana explained:
“Its common sense that we all move towards something that is more efficient, and it’s all about having a little bit of information and reconnecting to what you are surrounded by. I started all of this as a part time thing, I didn’t expect to be able to grow a business around it. The first exercise in fine art ceramics is to create your pot, which is what I ask people to do when I teach; to make a simple basic form, something that contains.
I noticed that in London and Britain everyone uses candles. It’s darker and in winter people like to have that fiery moment, and the smell, more so than in Spain. The things that are connecting the human being to an item’s origin is almost disappearing with advances in technology. In Spain, when you go to light a candle in church you can’t do it, it’s a coin that turns on an LED. I believe that we need to be connected to these things.”
The candles are open and finished in gold where a Japanese technique for painting with glaze is used. The porcelain body has a light translucency and its sonority adds to the products charm.
They are 100% Sustainable, refillable with Eco Soya Wax (these are ordered through the company’s website), ethically made and manufactured by different processes. Some come directly from 3D design and 3D printing, which is then cast, and hand finished, whilst others are made by the more traditional casting processes, with four or five firings. Pure Kaolin (China clay) is mixed with other materials to enable the product to be fired in ‘home kilns’, at ‘1250 deg c’ degrees’ this gives better resistance to thermal shock.
The green credentials are part of the whole company philosophy to ‘bring nature back into our arms’ and Ana close attention to the environmental impact of all the materials used in the process, using re-cycled silicone when possible to create different moulds.
The product is made from materials sourced in the uk, with porcelain for the body coming from Devon’s coast, and mixing carried out in Stoke-on-Trent.
‘In the events industry there is so much waste, and we see so much plastic. Our candles are hired out at £3 per candle for parties, weddings, product launches, galleries, after which they are returned, cleaned, refilled and packaged ready to re-use again. Any wax left over from the candles is also melted down and reused, with wicks that can be recovered used in samples’
Brexit has affected her market in a negative way, but the company is moving towards increased collaboration with other design houses in the design of light shades on a 50/50 basis (as covered in the previous article from the light review online – Clerkenwell design week). The most important thing for Ana is to achieve this ‘whilst staying true to Abalon UK’s environmental and creative brand values, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink’.