Lives with Purpose – Alumni Profile

Object designer Rachel Vosila combines creativity with a problem-solving mentality and tangential thinking when designing for a more sustainable future. As founder of Kelpist, she takes the concept of regeneration from ocean floor to furniture store via innovative use of materials, whilst inspiring the next generation of eco-conscious change makers at UNSW’s School of Art & Design.

Valuable lessons learned at UNSW

My initial choice to apply for UNSW Art & Design (at the time, known as College of Fine Arts, or COFA) was based on alumni and industry feedback on the education I would receive through the course. This, paired with my experience at the Open Day, cemented UNSW and the courses offered as a place I knew I would really thrive.

As someone who came with a very limited art and design practice (I didn’t study these in my senior years at high school) I knew I needed a holistic, varied and flexible approach to my design education. I’d say the Bachelor of Design program delivered on everything that I needed!

For me, the most valuable gift from my time at UNSW are the relationships I built with mentors, friends and now industry peers. These are the people that lent a hand when I was struggling to understand a new concept, provided me with critical feedback in my design development, and checked in with my progress as a new graduate. I am grateful to say they are the people who I continue to collaborate with in my practice today. 

Loving what you do - a career with purpose

I am very aware of the privilege I have which allows me to pursue work and projects that give me purpose in my life and career.

Working as an object designer in my design practice, I have had to navigate how I felt about designing furniture, objects and products in our already oversaturated and product-filled world. It is hard to estimate how many thousands of tonnes of furniture end up in landfill every year, and as one can understand, it is difficult to reconcile with this statistic when looking to design more. 

Seeking to tackle this issue, I founded Kelpist in the effort to develop regenerative, compostable furniture made from seaweed. Currently, the project aims to validate the theory that by using responsibly sourced seaweed as biomass for production, the resulting furniture will be beneficial for the environment at the beginning of its life cycle as well as the end - truly regenerative. The very fact that I can spend time working on this project, learn from inspiring marine biologists, collaborate with materials scientists, and try to redesign the entire ecosystem surrounding furniture production to put the environment first is enough purpose for an entire lifetime!

I also could not go past the topic of loving what you do without mentioning the purpose that comes with being a casual academic and teaching in both the undergraduate and postgraduate design courses at UNSW ADA. The conversations, perspectives, and design ideas that I share in and see unfold provide me with a sense of pride and solace, knowing that there are so many other young, engaged designers who want to tackle the many challenges we currently face. 

Highlights on the career journey

Highlights include being selected as an emerging designer for WallPaper magazine’s 'Graduates Directory,’ starting and completing my One a Week Project (designing and constructing a chair a week for an entire year), showing work in Milan alongside an incredible group of Australian designers and more broadly, building a sustaining career in design.

Problem solving at work

I love solving problems! I really enjoy looking at the bigger picture and seeking to truly understand the root of a problem cause before moving forward with a solution. 

In the case of what I am trying to achieve with Kelpist; why is it that so much furniture ends up in landfill every year? Is it the result of poor manufacturing and construction, poor material choices, a lack of knowledge on how to repair broken items (or an inability to do so), affordability and accessibility to quality items, or a lack of value placed on what we furnish our homes with? 

I would say all these identified issues play a contributing role to the broader problem, and a lot of these are the result of poorly designed and manufactured products. If we are to find a way to source raw materials, manufacture, consume and dispose of products in a regenerative way, we need to address all of these identified problems.

Building resilience

To borrow the phrase ‘there is more than one way to crack an egg,’ it is worth remembering that even when faced with setbacks and challenges, there is usually another path forward. It may just require a change of perspective, new insights, a unique approach, or unexpected methodology. 

The positive thing about resilience is that it is a learned behaviour. While setbacks in design, career and life are bound to happen, they can act as tool that build resilience, to come out the other side stronger, with new knowledge and with a broader perspective.

Proudest achievements

This is a hard one to answer, as I cannot say one single moment or achievement stands out as most significant. I’m proud every time I have the opportunity to share my work in a casual conversation or to a room full of people, I’m proud when I see people engage with my design work in meaningful ways and I’m proud that the research and development I am doing with Kelpist opens up discussions around circularity, regeneration of our planet and forces us to really reflect on what is broken and what needs fixing. 

Advice for current students

Many students share their worries with me about their lack of experience when entering the industry and goodness, do I remember feeling that too! I came across an interview from 2021 with James Dyson recently, who shared an invaluable perspective on this issue:

“A lack of experience is a great help. An expert thinks he knows it all, but he's also rather inhibited by his experience, his knowledge, and he finds it difficult to steer off the well-known path. Whereas, if you have a lack of experience but huge curiosity and you approach your new challenge with naivety, I think it's easier for you as an inexperienced designer to come up with something different and to follow a different path.”

If there is anything I learnt from my time at UNSW it was to push boundaries, seek out a different path and to tackle the problems that others are not solving. I agree that naivety can be an asset, especially when we, as designers, are using it as a lens to apply our design thinking.

Founder of Kelpist, Object Designer and Casual Academic, Rachel Vosila
Rachel Vosila

Rachel Vosila is Founder of Kelpist, Object Designer and Casual Academic at UNSW School of Art & Design.

Degree and year of graduationBachelor of Design, Object Design, 2014.