By Erin Saltzman, Arizona State University

Bamboo from China. Salmon leather from Alaska. Hardwood and jipijapa from Bolivia. These are just some of the sustainable materials shaped by 10 top designers and showcased at the “Design for a Living World” exhibition at the Desert Botanical Garden.

The exhibit, developed by The Nature Conservency and currently on display in Phoenix, prompts visitors to think about the products they use everyday.

“As designers, we can make a difference on a big scale and a small scale,” says industrial designer Yves Béhar in a video showcased within the exhibit. He is one of several well-known designers who participated in the sustainable design project.

Mizrahi-designed dressBéhar, founder of a company called fuseproject in San Francisco, worked with an indigenous women’s organic cocoa and chocolate association in Costa Rica supported by The Nature Conservancy.

Most cocoa for drinking is prepared by making hand-processed cocoa patties. Béhar made a tool to grate the cocoa patties and collect the shavings inside the tool. The user can turn the tool over and the cocoa falls into a cup, where he or she can add hot milk or water.

The 10 designers' work will be showcased until April 1.

This is the first time the Desert Botanical Garden has had an exhibit like this, said Jane Adams-Wahlgren, a volunteer.

“It seems like this a good inspiration to start to get people’s attention,” she said.

Adams-Wahlgren, a Phoenix-native, said she loves that the designers are making things and doing things that come to life.

She said more designers aren’t using sustainable materials simply because they lack ingenuity, but it's possibility that the trend hasn’t caught on yet.

Other designers included Isaac Mizrahi of "Project Runway" fame, who used salmon skin to make leather to create a dress (pictured at right) and shoes.

“Ecology and glamour weigh the same to me,” Mizrahi said in the video. He doesn’t believe the environmental issue is just a fad. The only challenge with his design, he said, was trying to make it as eco-friendly as possible.

“I love the concept of taking something and making it a usable and useful item,” said Sylvia Holt, a Phoenix resident who was taking in the exhibit.

"I loved the salmon leather. He [Mizrahi] took something so smelly and turned it into something beautiful," said Holt.

Another famous designer included in the exhibit is Kate Spade, who found rosewood in Bolivia and made wooden tiles. Author and artist Christien Meindertsma used organic wool to make a rug, and jewelry designer Ted Muehling used vegetable ivory and black pearls to create jewelry.

“As designers, it’s our responsibility to think about what we can do to integrate the world better,” Spade said in the video.

Gale Smith, a volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden for more than 18 years, said that many of these materials have been used before, but that most people are simply unaware of their use.

"It’s such an interesting concept," Smith said. "We’re going to have to do use more sustainable material in the future," she said.

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. You can learn more about the exhibit at the garden's website. 

'Design for a Living World' combines sustainability, top-notch designers
Phoenix design exhibit presented in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy focuses on the life cycle of materials and the importance of conservation measures