How three friends launched London design studio based on sustainability

When Bibiana Farenzena moved to England to study a Masters course in Design for Communication, she never expected to run her own design consultancy business eight years later.

The Brazilian-born designer is the co-owner of Upcircle along with friends Ophélia Gisquet and Mercedes Alvarez-Fojo.

Upcircle, which was launched in 2017, is a design studio based in London that offers sustainable design consultancy services in digital, graphic, furniture and interior design.

Mercedes Alvarez -Fojo, Bibiana Farenzena and Ophelia Gisquet

“We are all friends and we bring different skills to Upcircle. The idea behind our business is to promote the circular economy and the tree pillars of sustainability: economic, environment and social”, says Bibiana.

“Ophélia went travelling to South Africa when she discovered places and people that had the ability to design and create from very little resources, recycling and upcycling materials.

The community had a creative and very clever mindset and it was then Ophelia had the idea of applying this into her designs too.

“The three of us decided to set up Upcircle using our different skills on projects, which support sustainability and recycling.

She said Upcircle’s approach to projects focuses on design, the type of materials used, how they are manufactured and the impact it has on society.

Bibibana studied a BA in Visual Design at a university in Brazil, going on to study Digital Print in Textiles at Saint Martin’s College in London. She has also completed a Masters in Design for Communications at the University of Westminster.

The 32-year-old has a wealth of retail experience and has worked with Marks & Spencer, Asos, Body Shop and TKMaxx, to name a few.

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Asos Activewear campaign
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Asos Activewear campaign
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Asos Activewear campaign

Ophélia, 32, was born and studied in France where she did a foundation year in design in Toulouse, followed by an interior design course.

She studied a Masters in interior design and architecture and has worked on projects designing offices, homes and hotels across the globe.

Mercedes graduated in Business and Accountancy from the University of Barcelona and holds an MBA degree from the University of Westminster.

The Spanish-born business developer has worked in the construction industry for 15 years working on projects around the world.

Bibiana said: “Our extensive skill set allows us to work on projects together to promote sustainability and recycling.

“For example, we have worked on student accommodation projects where we use materials, which are recycled and sustainable.

“Many people do not realise but furniture in student accommodations usually have a life of five to seven years because the trend of interior design changes, so the contractors decide to refurbish it and the furniture ends up in landfills.

But if we design with a different mindset by reusing the same furniture or recycling it, we can create a big positive impact on the environment.”

review palette

The trio are currently working on a project with PhD students at the University of West England to create a permanent installation to increase awareness about sustainable palm oil.

The set will include trees, ferns, moss and the furniture will be made out from offcut plywood (reusing common waste in joinery workshop). The joinery will be produced by a Bristol-based company who share the same values about sustainability.

Palm oil is one of the world’s widely consumed vegetable oil and it is used in everything from soaps to biscuits and cosmetics.

Bibiana said: “The aim of the project is to raise awareness about sustainable palm oil because production often comes at the cost of the rich of biodiversity in the rainforest.

“We want to change consumer’s decisions about palm oil and how it can be sourced in the future.”

Upcircle is also working on a project with the university to refurbish four external courtyards, adding manifestations on the floor which is an affordable and sustainable solution. Some of the furniture will be supplied by an outdoor furniture company named Vestre that has “strong sustainable values”.

Bibiana said: “Some of the furniture will be produced by Bristol Wood Recycling Project, who use recycled elements.

It is a charity that offers free training to people who want to learn joinery or develop their social skills.

“We are also designing three new student accommodations with the aim to implement as much sustainable product and finishes as possible.”

In addition to the university projects, Upcircle is gearing up to take part in the London Design Festival in the summer.

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Installation for London Design Festival 2017

Last year they had an installation called Roots Grow Love, which was a striking wooden structure ​containing plants to celebrate the love of gardening, to promoting Loughborough Farm and bringing the community together.

Upcircle worked with Loughborough Farm and a group of volunteers from different associations to build the structure which was made of recycling wood and plants from the farm.

The last 18 months have been a whirlwind for the team at Upcircle and there is plenty of exciting projects in the pipeline for them.

Bibiana said: “Our approach has been well received by the industry and we are very happy to see more companies working with us.

“We believe that Upcircle will have a bright future thanks to the great collaboration of each business partner and the hard work.

Palm Oil
Palm oil project at the University of West England

“Our values at Upcircle will be a plus for our designs and our clients. By producing a great design and having a positive impact in our society, we hope our studio will make a difference in the creative industry.

“At Upcircle we want to be part of this movement of start-ups that have new ways of working, changing lifestyles and perceptions about work.

“It’s time for us designers but also consumers to change the way we live and produce things. Slow design is about time and so is Upcircle.”

See more from Upcricle over at their website –


Copyright: Upcircle


How junior designer went from film sets to digital media

We have been chatting with junior designer Jafor Abu. He tells us about being a landscaper on films including Star Wars Rogue, getting “hot and sweaty” in his project work and a part-time job in Sainsbury’s.

Jafor studied Film Production at the University for the Creative Arts, graduating in 2014.
A year later, he started work in the film industry as a landscaper working on films such as The Huntsman, The Winter Soldier, Star Wars Rogue One, The Mummy and
Kingman 2, to name just a few.

Jafor Abu

“I have always had a passion for the film industry and because of this, I always brought the digital software into every small film project I took part in”, said Jafor.

“The film industry days were very hard as it included waking up early and coming home late but I never complained as this is what I wanted to do and eventually I wanted to work my way into the art department at Pinewood Studios or Warner Bros Studios Leavesden.”


At the time Jafor was also working in Sainsburys part-time but he soon realised it was becoming difficult to juggle his personal and work life.

He said: “I was working at a film studio for five days a week and at Sainsbury’s for two days, which left me with no time to relax or spend time with family, which is really important to me.

“I had to keep my second job at Sainsbury’s because the film jobs were only available on contract terms. When there was a job, I got a call otherwise I was waiting around for at least a month for a call.

“As much I loved the film industry and the people I had worked with, as an individual I could not rely on just hope or getting by.

“I really had to find something and go hard at that and work my way up.”

Jafor then decided to take a step back from the film industry and delve into the world of freelance.


For almost two years he worked as a freelancer on short-term contracts until he was appointed as junior graphic designer at Inner Media, a digital agency, this year.

Jafor said: “In my role, I love the freedom of creativity, which leads me to show my full potential of my skills when designing.

“Sometimes it gets too hot and sweaty when you are up to your eye balls with work but that is in any work place, I prefer to get all hot and sweaty at something I really enjoy.

“I have always found the digital software’s such as Adobe Suit very interesting.

“No matter what problems I may face when dealing with a project, there is always assistance and help from my fellow work peers, I work with a beautiful team.

“My goal for the future is to keep on going with design and never look back. I want to ensure that whatever I do, I want to leave a smile on everyone’s face.”




Copyright: Jafor Abu