Grant Gibson: Material Matters

The Material Matters fair launches in London this week. Mater talks to one of the founders, Grant Gibson, about where his fascination for materials came from.

Please tell us about your work?

I’m a journalist by background. I fell into writing about design after leaving university in the mid 90s. I wanted to get into magazines and the first one to offer me a job was a title called FX, which dealt in contract interiors – so hotels, offices, shops and bars. I found the subject matter fascinating.

Subsequently, I went on to edit Blueprint, worked on the RIBA Journal and then edited Crafts for over a decade. However, for obvious reasons, it became increasingly difficult to work in print.

So when my contract with the Crafts Council came to an end a little over three years ago, I was looking for something new to do and alighted on podcasting. That was how Material Matters started. It was a complete experiment but quickly found an audience. This September my business partner, William Knight, and I are turning it into a fair at Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf from 22-25 September.

What drew you to focusing on materials?

A combination of factors really. When I was editing Crafts I was dealing with makers who were usually obsessed with a particular material. They also have a huge role to play in combating climate crisis. If people understand materials and where they come from, then they understand how the products we use are made, and perhaps they might be a little less willing to casually throw things away. Material intelligence is key in my view.

What material are you most excited about right now?

That’s a hard question. It’s fascinating to see people doing things with waste and re-evaluating materials. At the fair we have makers such as Smile Plastics which works with recycled plastic and challenges ideas about ‘waste’ and the system that creates it. Having said that, I’m also fascinated by the potential for stone and cross-laminated timber in the construction industry, which could significantly reduce the field’s carbon footprint.

Please can you tell us more about the Material Matters fair? 

Sure. William and I came up with the idea for Material Matters 2022 while the nation was still in lockdown. At that moment it seemed the world – and the way we did business – was going to be transformed. If we were to create a fair then it needed to have a genuine sense of purpose. We were clear from the outset that conventions needed to be broken. It shouldn’t simply be about bringing a load of stuff together under one roof for the sake of it.

We’ve used the podcast to guide much of our thinking and have attempted to craft the fair around the venue itself.

What can visitors expect to find? 

Material Matters will bring together over 40 world-leading brands, designers, makers and organisations to celebrate the importance of materials and their ability to shape our lives.

Each floor does something a little bit different. Floor one, for instance, is devoted to innovators – companies and designers experimenting with materials. Floor two is the show’s learning space, where visitors are invited to take a deep dive into a material. It will also house a space where we throw the spotlight on a particular designer or practice – this year LAYER, founded by Benjamin Hubert, will be celebrating the launch of its new monograph.

Floor three is for material-led products. It will play host to a range of companies, makers and manufacturers including Fora Form and Ragnars. Finally, floor four is a stupendous 50-metre long loft, full of atmosphere that will contain our talks space and cafe, as well as designers and makers working in a huge variety of materials – from ceramics and glass to orange peel and sugar.

Essentially will be full of designers, makers and manufacturers who are either experimenting with materials or are experts in their own right.

It’s all very exciting!

Finally: What is a material?

Well literally the definition is ‘the matter from which a thing is or can be made’. But it can also be more abstract – information and ideas can provide material for a piece of writing, for example. Ultimately in one way, shape or form, we’re surrounded by material.

Find more information about the Material Matters fair here