Leonardo Rodriguez and Lishu (Pokhrel) Rodriguez (both ’01 Environmental Design)
What is El Dot Designs?
We are a bamboo product design firm that specializes in home furnishings handcrafted by local and global artisans using renewable materials. We are certified as a B Corp (Beneficial Corporation), which uses the power of business to help solve our social and environmental problems, cultivating a positive approach toward humanity and our environment.
How did you meet?
We met at a bar in L.A, and then bumped into one another at the Otis cafeteria, realizing we were both attending our Foundation year. The following year, we found ourselves in Environmental Design, where we became best friends and companions on a lifelong journey.
What inspired you to start a sustainable design business?
Our inspiration came from recognizing the needs of a global society. When we moved to Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2003, we saw the real-world effects of pollution and poverty. There we discovered bamboo and its potential to make a positive impact on the environment and millions of people living in poverty.
How do you practice sustainable design?
Sustainability is designed into every aspect of our business. For every product, we consider the social and environmental impact, including the value our product creates for our customers. Sketches are made on recycled paper, production is optimized for efficiency, renewable and nontoxic raw materials are sourced, and carbon-neutral shipping is preferred.
How do you work with local artisans and suppliers?
We have global and local product lines. For our global line, we work in developing countries with abundant bamboo where we study the traditional craftsmanship of the region along with the needs of our artisans and their community. With local production, we use renewable materials and simple production systems for job creation.
How do your artisans view your work?
Our artisans in developing countries are usually poor laborers with little or no educational background. They are usually surprised by and curious about our interest in bamboo (known as the poor man’s timber) and how much we value handcrafted products. This curiosity leads to an exchange of ideas that helps us share our collective story and hopes for the future.
Where have you worked?
Mostly in Nepal and India. We hope to work with more developing countries to understand the different geographical and cultural influences, and translate them into a range of products.
What is the biggest reward and the greatest challenge faced by your company?
The reward is our motivation to be a catalyst for positive social and environmental change. The challenge is that it is not the easy path.
How did Otis inform your practice?
The interdisciplinary interaction at Otis continues to influence our work. Otis gave us a strong foundation to continue our own independent studies, which is what running a business has been for us.