Following its successful Kickstarter campaign in 2021, Brighton-based product design studio Gomi has launched Collection One of its “regenerative” portable speakers, made from e-bike batteries and reusing “unrecyclable” plastic.
The speaker concept developed from a university graduate project to a viable, ready-for-market product in the space of five years. Gomi’s co-founder Tom Meades says the studio not only tries to take waste out of the system but also “keep it out of the system”.
Meade says that the studio’s main concern was how the speakers could be “high-end in terms of aesthetic and function but also put sustainability and circularity first”.
“Waste materials can be desirable materials”
E-bikes can be written off for many reasons, including faults with certain parts or being replaced by newer models. Gomi takes battery packs from disused e-bikes, “dismantles each cell”, and tests them for capacity, says Meades. From there, the team can carry out safety tests and put them into the speakers’ power banks.
While an e-bike battery might need around 50 cells to power it, Gomi’s speakers only need four, meaning cells from each e-bike battery can power up to 12 speakers. Even with these second life cells, the speakers can last up to 30 hours which, according to Meades, is much higher than existing portable speakers on the market.
Meades believes that recycling in general is “a marginal activity” in the UK, so Gomi sought to make the biggest impact possible by upscaling its recycling efforts. Despite the fact that most councils in the UK deem Low Density Polyethene plastic and plastic film waste as unrecyclable, the studio uses this to make the new speaker.
In the project’s early stages, the team at Gomi would knock on doors and go to shops and restaurants to source the plastic. Now the team works with a couple of recycling companies around the UK, which Meades says has “a bigger impact”. The plastic waste is then turned into pellets which are used to make the product. “This proves that waste materials can be desirable materials,” says Meade, “it just needs to be designed better”.
A new manufacturing process
Because of the unique nature of the materials used in the Collection One speakers, the studio can’t use regular manufacturing processes such as injection moulding. Plastic injection moulding involves melting plastic pellets to a malleable consistency and then injecting it at pressure into a mould cavity, which fills and solidifies to produce the final product. This process also would not produce the desired marbling effect that appears on Gomi’s speakers.
Gomi built custom machinery and custom moulds, “all developed in house”, to suit its process and desired outcome, says Meades. He adds: “Recycled materials are a pain. Every time you get a new batch of plastic it has a different shrink rate so it does present its own challenges.” Though he admits that the processes are“not perfect yet”, Meades says Gomi has come a long way in refining its production.
“Art world aesthetic”
“There are two worlds at the moment – the sustainable design world and the high-end design world”, with little interaction between the two, according to Meades. The general consumer attitude is that “waste materials aren’t as good as raw materials” when it comes to aesthetic, as they are seen as “less valuable”, he says, describing design as “a medium to convince people otherwise”.
Collection One represents an “art world aesthetic”, says Meades, featuring “colour experimentation” through marble effects inspired by local artwork. Gomi never repeats the same marble design, so each speaker is unique. Using “loud colours paired with minimal design” directly opposes the mass of “grey tech” that saturates the market, says Meades.
“Fully repairable for life”
Gomi spoke to hundreds of people about the biggest problems with tech today and, according to Meades, most said they were frustrated with the lifespan of certain products. In response, Meades says the studio has designed its speakers to be modular and “fully repairable for life”.
While “most other speakers are glued together” – meaning they have to be thrown away when something breaks – Meades explains that the parts of the Collection One speakers “click together”, so they can be easily dismantled and fixed. Gomi customers can contact the studio via a form on the website and send the product back to be repaired.
If it’s an easy fix and requires no extra parts, Gomi will instruct the customer on how to fix it. This service is free and included in the product’s warranty for two years, after which Gomi will carry out repairs for a fair cost, which Meade says is “similar to how Patagonia do it with their clothes”.
Comparable to Sonos pricing, the Collection One speakers retail at £299. The fact that they are created in-house, from design to manufacturing, does add cost but also “adds value because of the design, ethics and sustainability story behind it”, says Meades.
“Fully focused on the audio space”
Gomi has previously designed, manufactured and sold wireless chargers, portable chargers and speakers but has chosen to focus on this portable speaker for the time being. Now Gomi is “fully focussed on the audio space”, Meades says we can expect to see the studio developing more products based on the Collection One speaker, as the team has “learnt so much from their research with audio specialists during this project”. He also expressed an interest in developing headphones that use the same regenerative design principles.
Meades adds that Gomi plans to continue to “develop future products internally”, as it has since the studio’s beginnings. The majority of Gomi’s funding to date has come from the two successful Kickstarter campaigns, and it has recently received venture capital and angel investments.
The 12-strong studio will continue to collaborate with artists and designers around the UK, who will contribute to and influence the aesthetic design for the speakers. Meades revealed that Gomi has its sights set on Milan Design Week so it can “showcase what they can do with waste” and hinted that the next product is likely to be released next year.