Rob Arcidiacono – founder of Madeforward

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Robert (Rob) Arcidiacono graduated from Queensland University of Technology in 2006 with a Bachelor in Built Environment and a Graduate Diploma in Industrial Design. Following a two year period working as an Industrial Designer and Product Manager in the Toy Industry in Hong Kong and South China, he returned to Australia to undertake a Masters qualification in Development Practice at the University of Queensland.

Part of the Masters program saw Rob undertake an action research project into Food Sovereignty and Domestic Food Security in Uganda, before being employed as a Consultant on South-South Cooperation with UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) in Vienna, Austria.

Rob’s newest venture, Madeforward, is the product of his collective experience and skills gained across the globe in a range of different academic and professional contexts. The business model employed seeks to challenge the existing manufacturing system paradigm by designing and developing products using sustainable practices and upcycled materials. Rob also currently shares his experience and knowledge in design thinking and post-industrial design by serving as a sessional lecturer in various courses at Queensland College of Arts, Griffith University.

By viewing an idea as something that can be broken down into its most basic components it becomes easier to identify all of the externalities and critical components. In identifying those core areas one can then systematically work at changing, adapting, creating or eliminating the necessary components to turn that idea into a stand alone reality. 

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

It was the desire to actively promote positive social and environmental change that inspired Madeforward, a business that ‘makes-it’ to ‘pay-it-forward.’ My background and experience in the product design industry, along with extensive research and work in the areas of food production and food sovereignty, resulted in the conceptualisation of a business that combines these two passions. Madeforward seeks to improve existing design processes (by utilising waste, instead of virgin material) in order to create products that allows people to grow their own food and reconnect with natural living systems.   

Can you please explain your business model?

Madeforward is a for-profit social enterprise. Our range of products are designed and fabricated locally in Brisbane and sold through an online store. Financial profits could be maximised should Madeforward outsource production overseas and by selecting cheaper, more readily available materials. Despite it being difficult to quantify the social and environmental benefits of diverting waste from landfill and supporting local industry in monetary terms, this model strives to prove that a business can be financially viable while also providing positive benefit to the local community and surrounding environment. 

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?  

The main focus at present is on expanding the business to incorporate a more collaborative, open source approach within the existing Madeforward philosophy platform. With new innovations emerging that utilise upcycled and waste materials, I am working on making the Madeforward store a space where new and emerging designers working in the upcycling and sustainable design arena can actively contribute, and ultimately showcase their designs and innovations.

How do you make ideas happen?

As a very logical, practical person I generally look towards a systems thinking approach to bring ideas from concepts to reality. By viewing an idea as something that can be broken down into its most basic components it becomes easier to identify all of the externalities and critical components. In identifying those core areas one can then systematically work at changing, adapting, creating or eliminating the necessary components to turn that idea into a stand alone reality. 

What does your typical day look like?

I can’t recall the last time I had a ‘typical’ day. The most common aspects of my day would be by starting with some exercise or meditation followed by a brief planning of the day ahead while devouring a big breakfast and quality coffee from one of Brisbane’s many brunch cafes. On any day I may be wearing a number of different hats; sometimes it will mean spending time in the workshop prototyping or crafting products, other times is may involve meeting clients and designers at various shared working spaces around Brisbane, or it might entail finding a quiet corner to do some sketching or conceptualising of new ideas.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

Given the cost of labour in Australia, by manufacturing locally and utilising upcycled materials (which often require much more processing than virgin materials straight off the shelf), the biggest challenge to a successful business is remaining competitive. This is where the marketing and messaging about the social, economic and environmental benefits of minimising waste to landfill and employing local fabricators is key to Madeforward’s future success.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

I have sketchbooks full of ideas and concepts I would happily give away; these range from fully developed product ideas through to costed business concepts. I simply don’t have the time or resources to bring them to fruition myself, however I do feel they have potential to contribute to positive social and environmental change. 

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

There are quite a few players in the sustainability and social enterprise space creating exciting initiatives and products. With regards to sustainability, Worm Lovers is a growing business based out of Melbourne, working with councils and businesses across the country to promote waste reductions, increase environmental awareness and urban food security.

In the upcycling space, groups like Holloway (based out of West End in Brisbane) are also creating beautiful products out of waste materials. Concerning social enterprise, organisations like Milaana and Resonate are activating positive social change by linking young graduates and students with change makers and social causes.

What about internationally?

Similarly, there are many upcycling and re-use companies popping up around the globe. The US based Terracycle would have to be a standout; with a recently opened Australian branch and offices in over 20 countries globally. Their innovative approach to actively minimizing waste is creating exciting ripples in the design and upcycling space.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

In an ever-changing, ever-more complex world I believe businesses have a responsibility to the local community and surrounding environment to ensure that their day to day operations not only generate profits for their stakeholders, but also actively try to address some of the challenges we are facing globally. 

Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support?

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Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Madeforward is always looking to collaborate, share ideas or explore partnership opportunities. The ‘waste’ space is part of a much larger sustainability movement; Madeforward is unable to achieve large-scale change without working with others, sharing ideas and resources and leading by example. Any discussion regarding collaboration, professional assistance, funding or partnership opportunities are welcomed: our door is always open!

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about start-ups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

What are some of the more effective ways you have seen that help to creating a culture of change amongst a consumer population?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

My local, Kettle and Tin in Paddington, Brisbane.


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