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Jane Withers


Jane Withers is a leading design curator, consultant and writer. With an MA in Design History from the V&A/Royal College of Art, Jane worked as a journalist and critic before moving into curating. In 2001, she established her own studio working as an independent curator as well as consulting for brands on creative strategies to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Jane has curated exhibitions and programmes for The Royal Academy of Arts and V&A Museum among many others. Jane has long had a specialism in water and the role of design in addressing the global water crisis and her work in the field has won wide recognition. She is the author of several publications including most recently ‘Water Futures – Where will the water come from?’ and ‘Materialising Colour – Journeys with Giulio Ridolfo’, a collaboration with Kvadrat published by Phaidon this summer.

Jane has curated the Brompton Design District as a platform for experimental design since 2007. She teaches and speaks internationally and has served on numerous juries. She has been a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art, Design Academy Eindhoven, and Kingston University/Design Museum MA course. She was awarded an honorary fellowship by University of Westminster for services to the environment and is advisor to the London Design Festival.


What is an Alternative Thinker for you?

An Alternative Thinker is someone capable of envisaging new narratives and inspiring change. Many of the values and systems that we live by no longer make sense and in this enforced pause the damage caused by our state of acceleration is starkly apparent. Right now, we need to imagine alternatives: we need to be open to new ideas, new encounters, new people, new ways of thinking, living and being.

What are you bringing forward in your work?

As a curator I see my role as a synthesizer, shaping and communicating ideas, and bringing together cross-disciplinary collaborators to explore solutions to today’s complex and critical challenges.

What would you like to see change in the current economy?

It’s dangerous to see the economy in isolation, it should be part of a holistic vision for the future. I would like to see us prioritise the environment and a more humane and equitable society. The shift to a circular economy where we husband resources and materials for the long term is an essential part of a new economy that attributes and expresses values beyond straight monetary terms.

Tell us what your vision of the new world – post COVID-19 – is like?

It is too early to say what the world will be like post-Covid-19, but now is the time to ask questions and look for opportunities in the crisis. There’s much we can learn from this period of enforced slowdown and it’s up to us all to help shape a more equitable and less wasteful society. Our biggest challenge is the environment. This is the last moment in which we can hope to stem disaster, therefore I hope this period gives us a chance to reflect, challenge and recalibrate.

What are the questions you have been thinking of for years and never had the time to answer?

I’ve been exploring waste for several years now. Clearly, we are at a crisis point and need to radically rethink wasteful attitudes and our throwaway economy, changing systems and materials as well as thinking and behaviors. I’m working on an exhibition on Waste for London’s Design Museum in 2021 and planning projects around this that look at how we can revalue what’s considered waste, and transition to a new material era.

Who would you like to collaborate with in terms of brands / institutions / property developers / other Alternative Thinkers?

Partners who are concerned about the environment and see the potential of design as a catalyst to change. Forming collaborations across business, science and creative cultures, as well as collaborating with other Alternative Thinkers.

Water Futures

Water Futures – a year-long research programme at A/D/O New York exploring how design can help solve the global water crisis. Divided into 3 themes – Harvesting the Sky, Pollution and Purification and Drink Local, the programme included a series of workshops, lectures exhibitions and an open call and resulted in the publication Water Futures: Where Will the Water Come From


The Substitute, 2019

Brompton Design District

Brompton Design District

Brompton Design District

Way back in 2006, South Kensington Estates commissioned us to collaborate on the development of the South Kensington and Brompton areas of London. The brief was to develop a strategy to nurture design retail in the area. Our approach has been to create a platform for experimental design staged in empty property in the area. Ironically, in 2020 the theme was to have been ‘Go Slow’ exploring design that shifts the focus away from material accumulation and towards wellbeing and ecological balance.

Wonderwater Cafés: How Much Water Do You Eat?

The Wonderwater Café, an initiative by Jane Withers and Kari Korkman, aims to make us think about the impact of what we eat on local and global water resources. With increasing concern over food security, Wonderwater menus illustrate the breakdown of water used to produce the dishes served in the café and show how we can make more sustainable choices.

Wonderwater Cafés: How Much Water Do You Eat?

Wonderwater Cafés: How Much Water Do You Eat?