Focus on: recycled aluminium
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 | Joanna
I started selling recycled aluminium homewares from my main supplier, Namaste, in 2006. That means I have been stocking these gorgeous items for over ten years. While there are lots of products on the All's Fair website, when you come and see us on a stall, the majority of the goods you see will be made in this way.
At first the range I stocked consisted of one vase and five colours of pointed bowl in two sizes. Ten years later you will find hundreds of different items in a huge range of shapes, sizes, colours and designs. Because I travel around Yorkshire to exhibitions and events I am still able to delight new customers with the range of colours and designs. Now I have two suppliers - Namaste and Azeti - both members of BAFTS and both heavily involved in the design of new ranges. New designs are added all the time and my customers always love hearing about how these gorgeous items are made, from the humble aluminium drinks can, to a special piece to admire on your coffee table or bedside table.
Aluminium is the most common element on earth, but pure aluminium is made from bauxite, which is mined in tropical countries. Aluminium oxide is extracted from bauxite in an extremely energy-intensive process. But aluminium is theoretically infinitely recyclable and because its melting point is relatively low, it is much less energy intensive to recycle aluminium than to destroy the landscape of tropical bauxite reserves. Typically it takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminium than to produce the same amount from bauxite. Incidentally it is the low melting point of aluminium that means you can't put these items in a dishwasher. If the metal starts to soften and lose its shape, the enamel coating starts to lift.
Goods have been made from cast metal in India since at least 3000BCE and sand moulding dates back to the 7th century AD in China. These are traditional skills which have been brought up to date with the use of recycled aluminium and innovations in enamel which can be painted on, rather than melted on.
The aluminium for our goods comes from many different sources, mainly food and drinks cans, aluminium kitchen foil etc. The pieces are melted together, which burns off the paint and impurities. While still molten, the aluminium is poured into moulds. These moulds are hand made using casting sand, which is a mixture of sand, water and other minerals. The molten aluminium floods into the moulds and sets in 8-10 hours. The sand is formulated to minimise the possibility of bubbles and impurities in the finished item, but sometimes these are present. We consider these to be a feature of the recycling process rather than flaws. Once cooled, the items are smoothed and polished, ready for the enamel to be added. Occasionally we find smudges of black on the surface of the item, which is just burnt sand and comes off easily with a fingernail. It's important for the surface to be slightly rough otherwise the enamel paint doesn't take to the surface. Sometimes customers complain that their item is "scratched" but normally this is just the essential "roughing up" of the surface before the enamel is applied. Painters add layer upon layer of alternating clear and coloured enamel to the items, giving the distinctive depth of shine. Some of our newer designs feature pictures of flowers, butterflies etc which are added as a transfer on top of the final white coat and before the final couple of clear coats. it is this enamelling which has enabled them to be certified safe for use with cold foods.
The factory in India where our goods are made is family run and inspected annually by both of our suppliers. They pride themselves on their inclusive employment policy, which employs workers of both genders, all religions and none, and workers are given time off for their own religious holidays. They have paid breaks, healthcare provided for themselves and their family and even a pension scheme. The family business has grown exponentially over the past ten years from less than fifty employees to over 150 now. Employees have been promoted to more skilled, and therefore better paid, work.
I am delighted that Aztec Arts and now All's Fair have been involved in helping to build this business over the last ten years. I love selling these items and I know you love buying them. I love sharing the story behind each product you buy. When you give someone a recycled aluminium gift you are not just making their day, but helping reduce energy use, keeping cans out of landfill, preserving traditional skills and giving great quality jobs to people in India. We think it's win-win and hope you agree.