Studio Can-Can: “We All Have a Responsibility to Make Ethical Decisions”

Emily Turnbull
©Studio Can Can

London-based Studio Can-Can  is a vegan interior-design practice founded by Creative Director Emily Turnbull, who has over 20 years in the design industry.  Emily’s vegan design experience includes retail environments, cafes, hotels, sculptures, hostels,and community spaces.

Emily has been meat-free for 32 years, also runs Battered vegan fish and chips, and is a member of the Vegan Design Council. We were very grateful to Emily for taking time out to provide some interesting insight into the vegan interior design industry.

First of all please introduce your organization and what you do.
My name is Emily Turnbull and I’m the Director and owner of Studio Can-Can, a vegan interior design company.

What are some interesting or innovative developments in vegan design?
Sustainability and careful consideration of materials and construction and how this affects the environment is an important part of being a vegan designer, so I’d still avoid some faux leathers, made from plastic and prefer to go for Pinatex (made from pineapple leaf fibers), which also has a low environmental impact. Also, check out Zoa who are producing a bio-leather grown in laboratories from collagen.

Personally I’m pleased that there are groups designing products that help reduce the amount of micro-plastics that go into the ocean, so this isn’t anything that makes a difference to a visible environment like a store, or a home
as such, but will make a difference to our future, it’s called the GUPPYFRIEND, by STOP!MicroWaste.com

Will vegan design products become as popular as vegan food?
Yes, I’m sure they will. It’s just a matter of time till products are labelled ‘vegan’, like food. I’m seeing more and more Instagram pages from vegan designers!

Can you give us some examples of what services your clients request?
I would say that vegan interior design is still in its infancy in the UK, but this is changing fast. For the past few years whenever I typed in ‘vegan interior designer’ to Google, there would only be two ladies in the US and me over here in the UK. This is no longer the case. Vegan fashion design has changed massively in the past year and I think/hope that interiors will follow shortly.

It has to really – as a shop selling vegan/eco aware clothes or food, should itself be a vegan environment. But, we need more progressive thinking clients that work holistically through the whole  process…vegan food + vegan fashion + vegan home + vegan interior.

There is still a bit of greenwashing going on within the industry, but I’m sure in the coming year, this will start to change. A range of things need to happen. We need progressive clients, who aren’t just greenwashing, but
taking the environmental impact of design seriously.

Studio Can Can
Coal Drops Yard, Image by Mick Simpson

What are some typical hidden animal ingredients which consumers may not be aware of?
Vegan design means using materials that don’t include any animal products, here’s a list of typical animal derived ingredients and what they would be listed as…
-‘Natural Hair’ from hogs, squirrels, camels, goats and ponies are often used in paint brushes.
-‘Shellac’ is a resin like secretion from the female lac insect, used to give a glossy finish and as a binder.
-‘Cochineal’ comes from various types of lac, scale insects; its secretions are used to make a strong carmine dye.
-‘Bone black’ made from the charring of bones to produce a very dense black.

-‘Ox gall’ is a watercolour medium based on the animal protein from gall bladders of cattle, which improves paint flow.
-‘Tempera’ paints use egg to bind the pigments together.
-‘Gelatin’ is obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones in water. It is usually obtained from cows or pigs.
-‘Rabbit skin glue’, also called ‘hide glue’, made by rendering an assortment of animal parts. Traditionally used in the preparation of gesso, as a sealant (size) on canvas (and wood panels) underneath gesso.
-‘Casein’ is an adhesive binder made from the proteins in cow’s milk.
-‘Honey’
-‘Beeswax’

What advice do you have for vegans decorating their homes?
I’d say reuse/recycle furniture as much as possible. Salvaged and recycled is best. Use sustainable wood. Also the production of commercial concrete, paints and synthetic materials made to look like wood, releases lots of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Treated laminate flooring can contain glue that has animal derived ingredients. Some conventional paints are made with a milk protein binder! Vegan paints are made from vegetable casein, which is a protein glue. These more natural paints are also usually biodegradable.

Vegan home products are normally better for people with allergies too. Synthetic alternatives, or plant-based products and natural fibres like linen, cotton and hemp normally lead to a healthier, chemical-free home. Leather used in furniture production, is full of toxic chemicals.

Things are progressing with furniture, upholstery, home-ware, bedding, car interiors and paint, but you need to research a little bit. Paint seems to be especially on the ball with veganism. The company ‘Organic Natural
Paint’ has this written on their website…’None of our Vegan Paint contains any chemical wetting agent, or any animal derivative such as from the female lac,(shellac) beetle or Ox gal. The paint also does not contain any bone, or bone derivatives, or has been tested on animals in any way.’ I’d give it a year and soon it will be much easier to find alternatives.

Studio Can-Can design
Image by Mick Simpson

What are your future plans for Studio Can-Can?
I seem to be doing a lot of talking about vegan design to magazines at the moment, which I’m more than happy to do. I’m in the process of getting together a ‘UK centred’ online platform, where it’s easy to find advice on vegan/ethical materials and info. I’m in talks at the moment with a (hopefully) new vegan client who owns a large vegan food large vegan food brand, so we’ll see where that takes us, but that would be a fully vegan build project.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for interior design and how much of an influence will veganism have upon it?
Animal agriculture is one of the main causes of climate change, if we are to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, interior design has to change and quickly, in the same way that fashion design and architecture has to.
We all have a responsibility to make ethical decisions, vegan design should be the norm and limiting waste should be included in our training at University. The term ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, should play a large part in the future of
design.