Yu Nong Khew, 35, Founder of Khew + Cornelius

Architect, designer, researcher, and artist. It’s clear that Yu Nong has worn many hats during the course of her career.

The 35-year-old is a trained architect who has worked for almost a decade designing beautiful towers, user experiences in virtual and physical spaces, and sustainable smart cities with several big-name architecture firms.

This includes one helmed by world-famous Zaha Hadid, who was the first woman to receive the illustrious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

“It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience working with Dame Zaha,” Yu Nong gushes. “As an undergrad, I always noticed more men in the industry, so I desperately wanted a female mentor.”

She goes on to relay what she thought about working with the legendary architect who sadly passed away in 2016.

“The thing about working with Zaha was that she was so ungendered, you never thought of her as a man or woman, because she had such a big personality,” says Yu Nong.

From architectural gold, Yu Nong then turned her sights towards the opposite end of the spectrum.

“I always knew I’d have my own business,” she shares. “But never thought it’d be in trash!”

As co-founder of design studio, Khew + Cornelius, the petite powerhouse has always been interested in how she could marry her love of design and her desire to give back to society.

“I’ve been working on a solution to cut down on the waste so I looked at my immediate surroundings and thought what can I do? I looked at the food that we throw away on a daily basis and decided to tackle the issue of food waste,” Yu Nong explains.

Dress by Cushnie et Ochs and earrings by Oscar De La Renta, both from Shopbop.com;
Photos by Chieko Kato

To combat the issue, the intrepid designer set her sights on creating a smart compost bin that removes food waste and turns it into pure organic fertiliser that sustains and renews the earth.

Best of all? It does this 50 faster than the traditional way of composting, which makes recycling food scraps easy to do at home.

“I wanted to see how I could make design and technology work together to solve the problems that society faces,” she explains.

“Food waste is a big problem, and I wanted to be part of the solution so that future generations can have better lives.”

Yu Nong’s compost bin is currently in its incubation phase, where the product is further developed and perfected before being introduced to the market.

Currently, Yu Nong is also working on a range of 100 per cent compostable interior and lifestyle products.

Words to live by: “Be open to advice from other people but in the end, do what you think is right for you.”

Next up: “I am extremely excited to be in the process of designing and creating products using bio-leather. It’s a type of leather made from plant-based materials like pineapples, mushrooms and water hyacinths. Imagine that: No animals and no plastics!”

The Great Women Of Our Time 2017 is proudly presented by Lancôme.