Pineskins by Studio Sarmite

How can pine bark, normally considered a by-product of the wood industry, become a valuable material? Sarmite Polakova has been investigating its potential and producing leather-like materials with infinite application possibilities. Some of the results can be seen here.

The Beginning

Sarmite Polakova: Discovering the flexibility of the pine tree bark was a coincidence during my master thesis in Design Academy Eindhoven in 2015. This concept was shaped around the connection Latvians have with their forests, how they love them and how small scale tree cutters are pushed out of it by big, national companies who cut and export the wood, leaving the forest fauna vandalized. This issue is in fact global. What we need globally is to create more balanced methods and contexts in defining the future for the forests and its resources. PineSkins is just one of the possible solutions to create alternative scenarios for the unused parts of the tree cutting industry.

Sarmite Polakova: I did a lot of research on past uses and I found historical research about Saami people from Scandinavia. Back in the days, in a period of extreme cold, they harvested pieces of inner pine bark and turned it into flour and then porridge and bread. What I found amazing was the Saami people knew exactly how much bark can be taken from a single tree without killing it. This is how pine trees differ from birch trees for example. This story about Saami people fascinated me and I tried myself to eat a small piece of bark. While I was not particularly excited about the taste, I did like the characteristics of the bark, meaning, it felt leather-like. However, over time the bark quickly dried out. In order to change this, I started to experiment on how to soften it while also increasing the size.

Main Challenges and Advantages

Sarmite Polakova: The first challenge is the dependency on local tree cutters that are willing to let me in the forest next to them while cutting trees. I would love to be able to collaborate with bigger wood logging companies to make a bigger impact, but that is hard because bigger companies are not willing to change their protocol of working. Small companies are more flexible in this regard. At the same time, not all producers want to accept that working with natural materials means less standardized production and more individual attention. I hope, however, that by pushing more sustainable materials in the market we will slowly change this paradigm.

A slow down material

Sarmite Polakova: PineSkins is a material that brings a piece of forest into your home. It is a really unique material with a familiar, yet unseen look that invites people to slow down. People mostly recognize the pattern yet they are unable to tell what that is.

The Future of Nature-inspired Design

It is becoming hard to ignore how overconsuming our planet is affecting our daily lives. The new generation of designers, including myself, are pushing the boundaries for proposing sustainable ways of producing and consuming. I do, definitely, see a change in society asking more mature questions regarding material sourcing, additives, and processes. However, it is still on a very small scale. We should be especially critical with big brands who, as we have seen it, sometimes put a bright “sustainability” sticker on their non-sustainable products.

Interview with Sarmite Polakova/ Studio Sarmite | Photography Anastasija Mass.