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Maja Vidaković Lalić, Architect, Founder and Creative Director of Belgrade’s Mikser Festival

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My latest days are filled with hard work, but also excitement at the approach of the biggest global design event, in Milan

My baby project, “Young Balkan Designers”, is turning ten and getting a treat for its 10th birthday. We will be presenting seven “jewels” of the Balkan youth creative scene, discovered through Mikser’s regional talent competition, at the prestigious Milan International Furniture Fair, from 21st to 26th April. I’m proud that the fair’s unbiased and highly demanding jury, comprising some of the world’s leading design figures, has listed seven winners of our competition among the participants of its prominent Salone Satellite talent exhibition, celebrating visionary design through this year’s slogan “Designing for our Future Selves”.

I can’t hide my enthusiasm that, in very dark intellectual times, without systemic support, with a lot of sacrifices and juggling almost non-existent funds, a small group of people, equipped with will, talent and a deep sense of responsibility and respect for nature and human values, found a way to bring to life some rather innovative ideas for the future, and to represent our region in the world’s biggest design arena in the best possible way.

After years of supporting students’ experimentations in design, we finally teamed up with the five most progressive furniture manufacturers from all over the Balkans to develop really innovative, sustainable and circular products for the world market, with the help of our mentoring experts and my long-time friends, prof Jelena Matić from Belgrade’s Faculty of Forestry, another “mother” to the YBD project, and Nikola Radeljković, the enfant terrible of the regional design scene and one of the founders of the renowned Croatian-Austrian design collective Numen / ForUse.

Under their marvellous conducting, collaborations between young designers and companies are not only a matter of professional development and mutual learning about sustainable design but also a process of creating new positive Balkan (hi)stories. I promised to keep the surprises until the Milan premiere, but once given this space to share some of my current obsessions, I can’t help sharing the secret.

Thus, the new Srem brand “Boreal” and Slovenian designer Sara Badovinac are challenging local readings of history by creating a line of sculpture-furniture made of several-thousand-year-old bog oak rescued from the Sava by local divers. Visionary “GIR” from Kraljevo joined forces with the talented Marija Kojić from Kragujevac to develop an innovative desk that uses various add-ons made of recycled paper to adapt its functions to the habits of future generations. Renowned for preserving the cultural heritage of local woodcarving, “Zanat” from Konjic is collaborating with Herzegovinaborn, Athens-Belgrade-based designer Vanja Bovan on a family of circular objects for food preparation made from waste wood, carved to create sound and other sensations that activate users’ senses and restore real conversation at the dining table. Highly awarded Croatian brand “Prostoria” gave their trust to George Bosnas from Greece, whose witty design for the next-generation multi-use coat hanger, based on the concept of replaceable parts, will make every circular economy fan super happy. Young progressive brand “Nunc” from Đakovo joined their love for the coffee-drinking ritual with artists Milija Čpajak and Anđela Jerinić from Belgrade, closing the loop with a series of low coffee tables with tops made from leftover coffee grounds. With the support of the Slovenian Centre for Creativity, Maja Repotočnik from Ljubljana will present the new generation of toys made of used fashion fabric, enhancing children’s emotional intelligence and empathy towards other living beings, while raising their environmental awareness.

These imaginative stories will hopefully encourage other entrepreneurs to co-create innovative sustainable solutions for our planet and our future, together with the youngsters who will inherit our planet and who certainly understand the future better than us.

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