As part of its strategy to bring in new customers, Pandora developed an entirely lab-created diamond jewelry collection. The project was a direct response to increasing concern from consumers—especially younger ones—who have criticized the environmental toll and poor labor conditions considered part and parcel of mined diamonds. The lab-grown diamonds are also made with more than 60 percent renewable energy. And when the collection goes global next year, Pandora expects to be using 100 percent renewable energy.
46th Most Influential Project of 2021
Heralded as the first fully hands-free shoe from Nike, the Go FlyEase is made with no laces. The sneaker simply hinges open and closed—users slip their foot in and push down. One of the designers admits the project took “like a ton of math,” but the team iterated its way to the final product for a February release. The U.S. athletic wear giant says the shoe was made to better support its adaptive athletes, like Italian wheelchair fencer Bebe Vio. But the company also realized early in the project development that the shoe also had appeal for “a student racing to class or a parent with their hands full”—perhaps marking the first step in mainstreaming accessible fashion.
India’s electric vehicle market is booming—driven almost entirely by sales of scooters. One of the prime players? Bengaluru startup Ola Electric’s S1. Just rolled out in September, it’s already lapping the standard models. Not only does it eschew fossil fuels for electric batteries, but it also comes loaded with features, like a digital key, geo-fencing and voice recognition—all served up it up a rainbow mix of cool colors. But the company isn’t content to simply design a winner. It’s now building the world’s largest electric scooter factory, a US$322 million initiative in Tamil Nadu. Spread over 500 acres (202 hectares), the so-called Futurefactory will include more than 3,000 robots across 10 production lines, pumping out 10 million scooters each year. That’s one scooter every 2 seconds. Vroom, vroom!
The beauty biz can have an ugly impact on the planet, with less than 10 percent of plastic product containers able to be recycled. South Korean beauty conglomerate AmorePacific is slowly overhauling its packaging across its global portfolio, including developing a paper bottle for its Innisfree brand that slashes the plastic content by more than half. But in October 2020, the company went further than making a better bottle, unveiling the country’s first beauty refill station. The pilot project lets customers fill coconut-shell containers with 15 different types of beauty products, then pay by weight.
Part smartphone, part tablet, the Microsoft Surface Duo was made for mobile multitasking. Released in September 2020, it came with two 5.6-inch OLED screens attached by a smooth 360-degree hinge to offer a range of configurations. Users could hold it like a book to use two apps at once, set it laptop-like on a table for typing, tent it to watch a video or flip it open entirely to take a phone call. The device is loaded with Microsoft Office software but runs on a customized version of Google’s Android operating system, too. The device proved so popular, the company released an upgraded version in September 2021 that included a triple camera setup and 5G connectivity.
Tesla still hasn’t released its highly anticipated electric pickup, but Mattel is filling the gap. When the company released a limited number of high-end remote-controlled replicas of the Cybertruck in early 2020, they sold out within hours. So the U.S. toy titan once again teamed up the Silicon Valley e-mobility company to produce a run of “toy-grade” models at a quarter of the price: US$100 vs US$400. Released in May, the Hot Wheels Cybertruck 1:10 R/C is a spot-on replica of the futuristic Tesla model—complete with a remote control that looks just like the truck’s unique steering wheel. There’s even a free-rolling Cyberquad ATV that fits in the truck’s bed. At one-tenth scale, it can drive at a super-speedy 12 miles (19 kilometers) per hour. And it sold out just as fast.
For over a century, Vogue has wielded a special power over the fashion cognoscente—especially with its September issue. But like many a print magazine, Vogue has been challenged by changing consumer habits that were only exacerbated during the pandemic when most people weren’t all that concerned with keeping up on style trends. Publisher Condé Nast responded with innovation and a much-needed message of optimism to its global audience—consolidating all 26 editions of Vogue under a single editorial theme: hope. To align the two dozen editorial offices working on content in 19 languages across print, digital and social platforms, each editor-in-chief contributed to a portfolio of reporting, artwork and photography around the theme. Condé Nast then gave each virtual team the theme and left the offices to create issues that reflected the amalgamation of creative contributions from their respective local lens.
When German industrial designer Konstantin Grcic set out to make a high-quality chair at an affordable price using the least amount of material possible, he turned to the waste from his other furniture productions. That included sourcing recycled (and recyclable) plastic from Italian furniture company Magis Design products and local car manufacturers. Keeping the price point low required a simple, efficient design that not only used minimal material but also minimal production time. Released in August 2020, each one-piece Bell Chair can be produced in under a minute and weighs less than 3 kilograms (about 6 pounds). It’s also specially shipped in pallets designed to fit 24 stacked chairs, saving space and reducing transportation costs.
Lego produces 110 billion of its interlocking toy bricks each year, mostly made from a petroleum-based thermoplastic that can’t be recycled. But execs at the iconic Danish toy brand were coming under increasing pressure to figure out an alternative. So in 2016, Lego launched the US$115 million Sustainable Materials Center, with the goal of making all of its products from eco-friendly ingredients by 2030. A two-year project to develop a sugarcane-based plastic was successful, but the resulting bricks weren’t study enough to be used for load-bearing building lines. Then in June, Lego announced it had fabricated prototype bricks made from PET plastic from discarded bottles—an initiative that stretched across 150 team members, three years of testing and more than 250 formulations. The new PET brick produces 70 percent less carbon than the standard one, and each 1-liter plastic bottle is enough raw material to produce about 10 2x4 bricks. Next up: coloring the material and stress-testing for durability.
How’s this for customer-centric design? Yvest Saint-Laurent Beauty is handing over the product development reigns to its users. The French company’s Rouge Sure Mesure lets users customize their own shade of lipstick on demand, right at home. The product holds three color cartridges that combine to make bespoke hues from four sets of shades: reds, fuchsias, oranges and nudes. A user spins the “shade wheel” on the app, and then the device mixes the shade on cue. The app can even suggest the right shade for the user’s outfit, skin tone or hair color using their phone’s camera and an AI stylist. Parent company L’Oreal released a beta version in January, with the US$299 device slated to be released globally by the end of the year.