Wire hangers aren’t all that great—just ask Mommie Dearest—but despite the fact they stretch out sweater shoulders, leave creases in delicate garments and can’t hold up heavy coats, they’re the go-to take-home from most dry cleaners. Liz To, a student at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design was looking for a way to save the ubiquitous closet scourge from the sad fate of a trash can. She developed a useful, unexpected application—a twisted metal stove for Tibetan nomads she calls "thab."
To’s research for this, her graduation project, led her to two books that she found particularly inspiring: Design for the Other 90% by Cynthia E. Smith, and Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek. Ultimately, she chose to design for Tibetan nomads because nearly half the population is still using a traditional three-stone cooker; this method, though simple—a pot is balanced over a fire atop a trio of rocks of the same height—can be incredibly unhealthy and highly inefficient when performed indoors, where a lack of proper ventilation keeps toxic fumes from escaping. The traditional stoves also aren’t particularly fuel-efficient, releasing much of their heat into the air as opposed to applying it to the cooking vessel.
Perfecting the strong cylindrical form required a handful of prototypes. The finished piece uses 64 strands wound together to strengthen the structure, with a series of cross-struts providing additional support. In order to sort out the logistics of getting the wire hangers into the hands of the nomads, who would be taught to build their own models, she laid out a proposal for a product life cycle: North America’s over 30,000 dry cleaners would corral their unwanted wire hangers in designated recycling bins, which would be collected and shipped in batches of 200,000 per 40-foot container at a cost of $3,500, then sold or distributed by an organization like Global Alliance. Gathered rocks and clay complete the construction, and herders who adopted the item into their routine could disassemble it and bring it on their travels. Though she doesn’t have any data on how long they’ll last, she sees their introduction as an opportunity. "Tibetan Nomads are not aware of the health issues that are created from the three-stone fire. I am hoping that thab. not only improves their health but also educates them," To tells Co.Design.