Posted Thursday 12 September 2013
A protective hand hovers instinctively over her stomach, but Kingston University graduate Alice Kim is not a nervous mum-to-be. Instead the up-and-coming product and furniture designer has delivered a see-through PVC pregnancy vest that carries and nurtures a small plant for her final degree project.
Born from her desire to compare the life cycles of plants and people, the brief saw the 23 year old from Seoul, South Korea, explore the care given to babies to see if she could invoke similar feelings of responsibility for tiny green seedlings.
"We can learn so much about caring for people by taking an interest in plants and their growth," Alice said. "People already talk to plants, and that reminded me of how pet owners behave with dogs and cats in their homes too - treating them like children. I wondered whether a plant could be like a member of the family too and decided to test out people's reactions by creating the pregnancy vest," she explained.
With a precious plant perched in its very own protective pouch, Alice said wearers of the vest became aware of just how fragile the seedling was. The most important aspect, she added, was to feel the inconvenience of the vest. "Awareness of its intricate roots and little leaves reminded people just how delicate the plant was, and that its very survival required their close attention," she said.
To test out her theory, Alice asked her course mates and even her lecturer, Jon Harrison, to try wearing it around the product and furniture design studios at Kingston University's Knights Park campus. "Once they got used to it, some said they didn't want to take it off," she said. "Watching my volunteers walk carefully and adjust their movements to protect the plant showed me that they were aware of their responsibility and that care was being given - which was what I hoped for." Alice also designed a miniature stroller for plants which she exhibited earlier in the summer at emerging talent exhibition New Designers in London along with the pregnancy vest.
Alice doesn't intend to market the vest but plans to draw on the lessons she has learned for future projects. "It's not designed to be sold. I wanted to investigate how design could prompt feelings of responsibility and care, and I found it inspiring to observe people's responses," Alice explained. "The birth and growth process for plants and humans have so many similarities, I wanted to give everyone the experience of carrying something that vulnerable, something that relied on them for survival, and then find out how they felt about it," she said.
Now back in her native South Korea, Alice is looking for a job designing interior products. "My time at Kingston University really pushed me to stretch my understanding of design and the power it holds in society," she said. "I feel I have accomplished so much in my time studying in London and can't wait to launch my career."