MINI and Paul Smith co-create sustainable design with a twist


The MINI STRIP is a custom-made one-off car: a product of the sustainable design collaboration between these two iconic British brands

MINI Strip Paul Smith

August 27, 2021: Announced in November 2020, a unique collaboration between auto brand MINI and luxury lifestyle brand Paul Smith is aimed at sharing creative thoughts on sustainable design. Resulting from this collaboration, the MINI STRIP highlights an innovative approach to the concern of sustainability in automotive manufacturing. 

The theme of ‘Simplicity, Transparency, Sustainability’ is what guided the design of this car, and showcased these inspirational ideas for a more sustainable automotive design. The process of creating this car began with completely stripping down a three-door MINI Cooper SE, and reducing it to its structural essence, as the name ‘MINI STRIP’ suggests. With sustainability at the forefront of this design, just the elements that the designer considered absolutely necessary were defined, implemented and put in place. 

MINI Strip Paul Smith

Explaining the concept, Oliver Heilmer, the Head of MINI Design spoke about how the MINI STRIP displays in an impressive way, the futuristic approach shared by MINI and Paul Smith towards innovation and design. Talking about the shared pride of creating such a strong character statement together, he also said that Mr. Smith brought a non-automotive and fresh perspective to the collaboration.

The application of the principle of maximum reduction was a result of the jointly-led process, and it led to the production of a minimalist, high-class design with a fresh and unconventional appeal. There are several clever touches which give the exterior of the three-door MINI Cooper SE a unique aesthetic. An intentional part of the exterior design was the raw material. This led to the body being left in an unfinished state without the application of any colour paint, but only a thin film of transparent paint to protect against corrosion. Even the grinding marks from the factory have been deliberately left intact on the galvanised steel panels to clearly identify the car as a functional object, and a robust companion for everyday life. And it was this intentional rough-hewn effect which was named ‘the perfect imperfection’ by Paul Smith.

MINI Strip Paul Smith

There are several sections of the familiar MINI black band that have been 3D-printed from recycled plastic and their basic material qualities, like the metal panels, have been left exposed. Mr. Smith, who is a bicycle enthusiast himself and enjoys rolling up his sleeves occasionally and modifying or replacing parts of his road bikes himself, was the inspiration for the visible screws in the add-on parts, which indicate how easy dismantling would be and how simply the vehicle can be reincorporated into the raw-material cycle at the end of its service life. The striking texture of the functional and distinctive front and rear apron inserts are due to their manufacturing in a 3D printing process.

Increasing the theoretical range are the blanked-off radiator grille of the MINI STRIP and its wheel covers, which also help to reduce the drag in a hallmark electric car fashion. Using recycled Perspex to manufacture the grille trim and aerodynamic covers on the wheel saved both weight and resources, and this recycled Perspex was also used to make the large panoramic roof, which allows spectators to gaze at the largely bare structure of the body shell inside.

MINI Strip Paul Smith

What MINI calls a ‘twinkle in the eye’ and what Paul Smith calls a ‘classic with a twist’, they both refer to the same thing - unexpected details like the high-contrast colour accents which are only noticeable at a second or third glance. Opening the doors reveals the signature Paul Smith stripes in a vivid composition of five colours. The charging flap adds a splash of neon green when opened, alongside the engraved drawing of an electric plug on the flap, which is Mr. Smith’s own work.

All of the trim parts have been purposefully omitted, leaving the exception of the topper pad, dashboard and parcel shelf, which makes the body shell the dominant visual feature of the cabin. The insistence of Mr. Smith to have it coloured blue is what gives it a particularly eye-catching effect. The intense blue tone and the exposed basic material give the interior a unique aesthetic appeal, which makes it feel ‘dressed’ yet bare at the same time.

MINI Strip Paul Smith

The dashboard has a large, semi-transparent section with a smoked-glass finish, instead of the usual multi-part design. And inspired by MINI design’s traditional use of circular elements, the geometry of the MINI STRIP has been largely simplified with a more graphical interpretation. With no classical centre instrument, the driver’s smartphone takes the centre stage. Placed where the centre display would normally be, the phone automatically connects to the car, and becomes the media control centre. The toggle switches for the power windows and the start/stop function can be found in the interior, located lower down in the centre stack, where the other physical controls can be found.

The seats are upholstered in a kitted fabric, making the interior completely free of both leather and chrome. The mono-material design of the seat covering make them fully recyclable, including the piping, which allow the material circularity to be maintained. Made from recycled rubber, the floor mats have a terrazzo-like pattern which are a by-product of recycling and manufacturing process, showcasing the multi-coloured constituent elements positively, enjoying a second life as a part of this material.

MINI Strip Paul Smith

The dashboard topper pad, door shoulders and parcel shelf are made from recycled cork, and display a highly simplified geometry. The type of cork used in making them does not contain any synthetic binding agents, making it fully recyclable. The pleasing firmness of cork combined with its soft feel make it an ideal substitute for foamed plastics in the future. Because of its recyclability and its status as a renewable raw material that actually ‘fixes’ carbon dioxide during its production, it creates a potential to reduce greenhouse gases.  An added positive side effect of the kitted fabric and cork is that they are both open-pore materials which enhance interior acoustics.

The steering wheel has been reduced to the most essential functions in the MINI STRIP. The rim has been wrapped in handlebar tape, in true road bike style, while three aluminium spokes connect the rum to the steering wheel’s impact absorber, whose mesh covering make the airbag behind it visible. As is on the exterior of the car, there are visible screws here also, which show how simple it would be to dismantle the steering wheel at a later date and reuse the aluminium. In the one o’ clock position is a small fabric Paul Smith label, which is one of the pointers of the collaboration found in the interior.

MINI Strip Paul Smith

The same mesh material that covers the airbag is what has been used to make the door panels; making the door structure clearly visible behind the mesh panel, held within a frame. However, the transparency of the knitted mesh changes as per the angle of view, creating a further dimension to the interior’s appearance. The seat belts are made from wound climbing rope, and the pull handles in the door shoulders are made from the same material, livening up the interior with their bright orange finish. The door openers are in milled aluminium, and are housed in cork door shoulders, giving a high-class finishing touch to the door area. As one looks further up the door, the exposed airbag unit in the roof pillar can be seen. It has the same effect as the visible cable routing in the interior, purposely drawing attention to the normally concealed functions and using them to create an aesthetically agreeable effect.

The ingenious details that have been incorporated into the MINI STRIP live up to the ‘form following function’ ethos. The central themes of the design process - simplicity, transparency, and sustainability shine through every aspect of the car. This enables the MINI STRIP to translate MINI’s Creative Use of Space philosophy into a fundamental and radical redesign of a MINI, especially the interior, making it a catalyst for more sustainable use of resources in automotive design.

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