Reaching for the stars

Supernovas is a design company with a difference. Founder Massimiliano Rossi tells James Richards how their business model combines high design with circular thinking.

For Massimiliano Rossi, founder of design company Supanovas, the transition to a circular economy is the most exciting challenge of our time. With a background in design and communications, he has created an organisation that challenges traditional ‘linear’ consumption models to make this shift a reality.

‘The “circular” concept involves the design of everything around us,’ he says. ‘However, enabling the transition to circular consumption requires a sophisticated communications approach to make it interesting and engaging. For me, the challenge is to create as much demand for circular products and services as for traditional linear items.’

It’s no accident that the products in Supernovas’ collections have been designed by some of the world’s most respected creative talents, including Paula Cademartori and Rotterdam-based Odd Matter. As Rossi explains, the aim is to make the products highly desirable and overcome preconceptions about circular products.

‘Supernovas revolutionises the way furniture and products are designed, manufactured and consumed,’ he says. ‘We challenge top designers and creatives to transform waste and unwanted materials into recyclable design objects and furniture.

‘The idea is to give customers the freedom to buy, swap or return these items. Our products are designed to be recycled at end of life, so we use mono-materials rather than glues.

‘By allowing people to return and swap products, we ensure the material never becomes waste again. We believe this can be the blueprint for all design companies in the future.’

By allowing people to return and swap products, we ensure the material never becomes waste again. We believe this can be the blueprint for all design companies in the future

Supernovas currently operates a buy-back scheme that offers customers a discount on new items in exchange for the used goods. By the end of this year, the company will expand to a ‘streaming’ model, currently being trialled in London, whereby customers will pay a monthly fee, and can swap items – such as benches and storage crates made from recycled waste – as their needs change. It hopes to expand this service in the near future.

Rossi’s passion for furniture and design started at an early age. ‘I grew up in the midst of a bustling furniture business,’ he says. ‘My father was an architect and my mother’s parents owned a small wood-furniture manufacturer. This creative and hardworking upbringing strongly influenced my choice of education.’

Rossi studied architecture and visual communication, and received an MBA from the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. He then established a career in communications, and took part in the start-up of several ventures. ‘My interest in sustainability came from the initial hype around [purpose-based business certification programme] B-Corps, who are actively promoting more purpose-driven business practices within the industry,’ he says.

According to official figures, the United States and Europe disposed of around 22 million tonnes of furniture in 2017-18 (European Environmental Bureau; US Environmental Protection Agency), with the vast majority of this being sent to landfill at the end of its life-cycle. ‘When I saw these numbers, I started to look at the causes,’ Rossi says. ‘And it comes down to three things: products, consumers and communications.

‘First, in terms of products, furniture is not designed to be recycled; second, from a consumer standpoint, people don’t keep furniture for life; the third cause is about communication. If you want to see a shift in consumption from linear to circular products, the narrative around sustainability needs to be as fun and engaging as a linear one. For me, that means focusing less on the problems and more on the solutions.’

Rossi believes product disposal should not fall to the purchaser. ‘Disposability shouldn’t be a consumer problem: corporations, waste management companies and governments need to work together to make sure whatever product is brought to the market doesn’t end up in landfill or, even worse, our rivers and oceans.’

This article first appeared in the July/August issue of Circular. 

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