XC90 presents… sustainable materials

Designer and entrepreneur Kelly Harris Smith pioneered the use of wool felt in the USA. Now she’s turning her attention to inspiring a new generation of sustainable creators.


Biodegradable and sustainable, wool felt is a naturally-sourced material

“We empower little ones to design great things,” explains Kelly Harris Smith, product designer and founder of Minni, a children’s art studio in Boston’s creative district, South End. At this creative community space, children take part in classes spanning architecture, interior design, wearable art and toys. There’s even a class for doll’s house furniture design.

“As a kid, I only did sports growing up, yet I was a creative person,” says Kelly. “My parents gave me a sewing machine for Christmas when I was eight and that got me interested in making things from an early age. But I didn’t do any classes after school in art or design. I didn’t even know industrial design was something I could have majored in at college until after I’d graduated.”

This is the impetus – to engage and enthuse young creative talent – behind Minni. A space where children from the age of 18 months to 10 years old can learn about design, develop creative thought and think about things differently. Having a space like this is “flexing a different muscle”, explains Kelly.

From an education and early career in architecture, Kelly moved into industrial design almost by accident. “While working as an architect I had a side project making laptop bags and iPod cases for colleagues and friends. And I made them out of wool felt because it’s 100% natural, biodegradable and sustainable. It’s actually one of the oldest man-made materials.”

Durable and lightweight, wool felt is a dense fabric made from compressed and matted fibres. Kelly started importing it from a mill in Germany, because she couldn’t find a felt of good enough quality in the USA. She uses it to make large-scale installations, room divider hanging panels, area rugs and acoustic wall tiles that are sustainable and beautiful to look at. “I think the felt material really took me from doing one thing to another,” she adds of her transition from architecture to industrial design.

Kelly describes her design approach as a focus on natural, sustainable and recyclable materials, and she always starts with the person who will use it. “How does it function? How is the person going to use it? These are the concepts I design around.”

She recently won the 2018 NYCxDesign Award for her button ottomans, which are made from a unique quilt-like fabric that is primarily wool content, and she’s talking to a Portuguese cork company about developing a new material from cork and wool remnants. She’s also working on projects that reuse cardboard. “It’s finding a new use out of what is otherwise waste,” adds Kelly. “I try to incorporate this mentality into the work we’re doing at Minni. Innovation can start at an early age.”

The new Volvo XC90 features tailored Wool Blend Textile upholstery. This is our idea of modern, sustainable Swedish luxury.