From Trash to Treasure

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, they say. How true! While walking along the beach, the British designer Stuart Haygarth recognized that the pieces of plastic lying about had a certain appeal. In a dramatic turn, his career experienced a remarkable boost after producing chandeliers from this found material.

It was a walk outdoors in 2003 that effectively changed the life of Stuart Haygarth. The then illustrator decided to take a two-hour drive with his dog to the southeast from the British capital to Dungeness. They both needed a break from the hectic life in London and to get some fresh air on the coast of Kent. “I found interesting things on the beach. I have always enjoyed collecting items, and I am less fascinated by the typical seashells and stones in the sand than I am with man made items,” recalls the British designer.

© Stuart Haygarth, chandelier BARNACLE

During his studies and later while working, the graduate of Exeter College of Art and Design developed his own particular way of seeing the world. The more intriguing items he discovered on the beach he discovered, the more ideas came to him as to what he could do with his colorful discoveries. But first, he continued to collect. One walk turned into many more, while at home, his archive grew from what was washed ashore. Haygarth cleaned the plastic items and then sorted them according to their color and function.

The first design to emerge from the unusual collection was the iconic chandelier Tide. The circular arrangement with an impressive diameter of 150 cm is a work of extraordinary beauty. At first glance, one would never suspect that this carefully curated smorgasbord consists of plastic parts that would otherwise be destined for the landfill. Upon closer inspection, however, the viewer discovers sand shovels, bottles, hair ties, kitchen strainers, drinking straws, combs, and even broken plastic shards.

© Stuart Haygarth, chandelier TIDE

Today, Tide is still considered to be one of Haygarth’s most successful works. Since then, he has created this chandelier in various colors and sizes and released them as editions. Nonetheless, every piece is unique – that goes without saying – as he is constantly employing new-found objects. “Funnily enough, the chandeliers all look very similar from a distance.” However, it is not only the exquisite beauty of the chandeliers that accounts for their success but also the powerful concept behind them. “The spherical form pays reverence to the moon, which, with its gravitational force, significantly influences the course of the tides. In turn, the ebb and flow of the sea results in the plastic garbage being washed up on the beach.” At the same time, his chandeliers play with the notion of moonlight. Every single component consists of transparent or translucent plastic, allowing light to magically shine through them.

After the first presentation of his work, it soon became apparent that the discarded objects from the beach would turn the designer’s professional life upside down. Together with two additional works constructed out of found objects, he exhibited the Tide chandelier as part of the London Design Festival. The public and the press embraced the chandelier and its play on pomp and trash. It also expressed the spirit of the times. Artists had been using found objects as material in their works for centuries. Yet creating something that comments on plastic waste in the oceans, consumerism, and manufacturing was very much in the spirit of the upcycling movement that took off at the start of the millennium.

© Stuart Haygarth, chandelier TIDE (close-up)

Haygarth experienced first-hand the growth in the market for sustainable designs. As the demand increased, he soon no longer had any time to pursue work as an illustrator. Today, the designer is represented by the renowned Carpenters Workshop Gallery based in London, Paris, New York, and San Francisco. His works have been viewed at exhibitions in famous institutions, such as the Hamburg Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and the London Design Museum. Clients range from private individuals and fashion labels, such as Comme des Garçons, to corporations like Coca-Cola.

Even close to 20 years after that first walk on the beach, sustainability still runs through Haygarth’s work. His approach always follows the same precise method: every individual component is classified according to color as well as function, and the items are then arranged like a gigantic 3D puzzle. In addition to upcycling, more recent works also include repurposed objects. His impressive chandelier Flame, for example, is constructed out of vintage amber glassware. “I no longer find all my materials in nature but also buy objects on E-bay or at flea markets.” Comet is also constructed out of repurposed objects. The designer utilized thousands of acrylic chunks usually used in photo shoots to represent ice.

Haygarth now limits his passion for collecting to his professional activities.  “I have always collected things off the streets,” he says. However, over the years, he has amassed so many objects that he has to store them in a warehouse outside of London. On the other hand, procuring interesting pieces of plastic along the British coastline for his Tide chandeliers has become more and more difficult. It is simply not possible to find as much garbage there as it was only a few years ago. This is probably due less to a decrease in plastic trash in the sea than an increase in communal cleanup efforts. Haygarth estimates that he has removed a few tons of plastic from the beaches himself over the years. “I regard this as a positive byproduct of my work. From an environmental perspective, it is, of course, a good thing that garbage disappears from the beach, in whichever way that may happen.”

Stuart Haygarth was born in Whalley, United Kingdom, in 1966. He graduated from the Exeter College of Art and Design in 1988. Haygarth began his career as a photographer and, as a result, light and environment have always played an integral part in his creative thinking. In 2003, he began to explore the third dimension through sculpture. In 2016, Haygarth and Art Books published the book STRAND, a photographic documentation of the collected man-made objects from a 500-mile coastal walk from Gravesend to Land’s End in the UK.

By the way, Jack Wolfskin also believes in cleaning the oceans and turning waste into something new and teamed up with Seaqual Initiative to make t-shirts from ocean plastic.