In today’s throwaway society, more things end up in the bin than they should. According to the World Bank’s 2018 What a Waste 2.0 report, each person generates around 0.74 kg of waste per day. But that figure need not be so high, if more people think about repair rather than replace. At the R for Repair exhibition, 10 design firms show how discarded or broken items can be given a new lease of life.

Its curator Hans Tan says: “Sustainability can be articulated and practised in an attractive and purposeful way. Designers have a way of interpreting objects.”

Members of the public were invited to submit items that had stopped working or were broken to be repaired. Among the items donated include a watch with a broken strap, a toy bus with broken windows and even an old Singer sewing machine.

Hans then paired 10 local design firms based on their area of expertise with the broken items. Object owners and the designers first had a chat, with the owners explaining the sentimental value of their items. “There were interesting stories, such as a tote bag that was purchased with the owner’s first pay cheque, and even a slightly chipped seashell that was given by a primary school classmate,” he says.

“Sustainability can be articulated and practised in an attractive and purposeful way. Designers have a way of interpreting objects.”

hans tan

While the items may have been better off in the bin, the designers found innovative ways to breathe new life into them, and make them covetable again.

“The premise of this exhibition,” says Alvin Ho, co-founder of Atelier HOKO who repaired a broken porcelain teacup, “is to explore the gesture and meaning behind the act of repair. It reminds us not to immediately default to the common definition of restoring a broken item to its original function and use.”

While consumers need to be conscious about buying things that last, Timothy Wong and Priscilla Lui, founders of Studio Juju, say the exhibition also serves as a timely reminder to designers that they should design for the long term. The couple repaired the Singer sewing machine and added a new laminate so that it can double as a study table.

Hans adds, “My hope for the exhibition is that people will experience a value shift. I don’t necessarily want them to leave the exhibition feeling like they need to save the world. Instead, I want them to want the repaired object for itself and to keep it, which then saves it from becoming landfill.”

R For Repair is now on till Feb 6 at the National Design Centre, 111 Middle Road.

Tote bag repaired by Tiffany Loy

Despite its frayed corners, Arnold Goh still treasures this Calvin Klein Tote bag, because it was bought with his first pay cheque back in 2007. He now uses it as a grocery bag, although it can barely hold anything more than two cartons of milk.

Textile designer Tiffany Loy found a way to expand the bag’s capacity by turning it inside out and stitching cotton cords to the base and lower half. By doing so, the areas which are more susceptible to scratches now have added protection. In addition, cords also form a mesh to hold extra items.

Bracelet repaired by State Property

Yann Lee doesn’t remember which of her parents gave her this teddy bear bracelet but she remembers bugging her mum to let her wear it even when the links wore down and the bracelet broke. That was 20 years ago.

Contemporary fine jewellery label State Property casted a new teddy bear in gold, using a rubber mould. The gold stands out from the other silver bears. The addition of a diamond in the heart of the gold bear makes it an even more precious piece of jewellery.

Glasses repaired by Kinetic SG

When design firm Kinetic SG was presented with a pair of broken spectacles from Minjeong Cha, they felt that it wasn’t a question about fixing the damage but just looking at them from a different perspective. Instead of repairing the glasses to fit her again, Kinetic suggested that Minjeong adapt herself to the glasses.

The result is a playful take on that notion, demonstrated by a 3D printed bust of Minjeong that has been slightly misshapened so that the glasses can still fit “her”.

Cup repaired by Atelier HOKO

Tan Geok Khim owns a tea cup with a broken handle that she can’t bear to throw away. It was handed down from her parents and despite the damage, she still treasures it dearly.

But rather than glue the handle back, Atelier HOKO decided that brokenness can be celebrated and a damaged cup should be seen in a different light. The studio removed the rough bits of the cup, designed a box to store the handle, and came up with a booklet to show how the cup can be used without its handle.

This article was first published by The Business Times.