#26 - Battling Megacorps

Battling Megacorps

Courtesy of Connect

Whether it’s a yearning for quality, the acknowledgement that less is better or a desire to conserve scarce resources, craft methods are increasingly regarded as innovative in the context of 21st century globalization and mass consumerism.

How the Craftsman Turns a Profit

In taking a stand against reprobate behaviors such as overconsumption, waste and the exploitation of labor, many people are turning their attention towards avant-garde start-ups and small enterprises, enticed by their affability, authenticity and individuality. Of course valuing craftsmanship for these positive virtues is all well and good, but still manufacturers and makers must ultimately turn a profit in order to survive.

In one example, Swedish venture Iris Hantverk works with visually impaired craftspeople to make brushes by hand, in the same manner since the late 19th century. At its core, Iris Hantverk focuses on brush binding, manufacturing its brushes in Enskede, Stockholm. The historic Swedish enterprise is capitalizing on the expanding universal appeal of products built to last. Sara Edhäll, a co-owner of Iris Hantverk, observes, “We remain a relatively small company. It wasn’t our intention to expand globally, but with the growing worldwide interest in sustainable consumption and production, the interest in our products has also grown. We have customers in countries across the world, including Japan, the USA, Europe and Australia.”

With scale, Jan Kath can ensure livelihoods are preserved.

At Jan Kath, a much sought-after contemporary carpet designer, sumptuous rugs are hand woven in Kathmandu, Nepal and Azilal by more than 2,500 skilled carpet weavers. Designs are drawn up on a computer, but it is the creative skill of each craftsman that breathes life into every carpet. With scale, Jan Kath can ensure that fair wages are paid and livelihoods are preserved.

Jan Kath's showroom in Cologne. Courtesy of the designer.

Jan Kath’s showroom in Cologne. Courtesy of the designer.

The Industrialization of Craft through Technology

More and more, mass industrialization and the standardization of processes act to encourage a lot of smaller enterprises to think about how their unique handmade products can still reach a global audience. New technologies, including LEDs, 3-D printing and CAD, together with an understanding of the capacity of good craftsmanship, ensure companies remain authentic and true to their craft while simultaneously producing on a larger scale.

From its factory HQ in Valencia, Spain, LZF Lamps crafts a prepossessing collection of wood veneer lights by hand. Established in 1994 by Mariví Calvo and Sandro Tothill, LZF has built a reputation for excellence. Working with wood from the beginning, LZF developed Timberlite, an in-house patent that transformed the way in which the company uses veneer. “One of the interesting facts about production at LZF is that it revolves around the same methods we used when I was involved in production,” says co-founder Sandro Tothill. He adds: “Over time, we’ve employed more people who work on individual elements. Our Timberlite wooden veneers are punched, riveted, spliced, cut into strips and cut on a digital plotter, all by hand. Similarly, the shades are constructed by hand.” LZF is a small company that remains true to its artisanal roots, while also reaching a global audience.

In Detroit, the industrialization of craft through technology has been spearheaded by Shinola, a successful brand whose craft repertoire includes watches, leather items, bicycles and stationery. Shinola’s HQ and ultra-modern watchmaking factory are housed in the former Detroit-based research laboratory of General Motors. Watchmaking had all but disappeared from the U.S.: Shinola made an investment in “skill at scale,” so reinvigorating this exceptional craft.

In a further example, London-born e15 (now headquartered in Frankfurt) explores the relationship between technology and craft in furniture and industrial design. The company is represented in more than 40 countries worldwide and stands for “consistent, progressive design coupled with high-grade materials and innovative, handcrafted production methods.”

furniture e15 archiexpo craftmanship

Kerman sofa, Iza carpet and Backenzahn stool by e15. Courtesy of the brand.

Reinterpreting the Meaning of Luxury

Increasingly, conscientious consumers across a global audience are taking steps to reinterpret the meaning of luxury. For these individuals, luxury is much less about notions of ostentation and overpriced goods. Ilse Crawford, a renowned designer, academic and creative director, believes: “Modern luxury is on a smaller scale but it’s more thoughtful, tailored to one’s specific needs, with more emphasis on better living. It’s more human.” (Monocle, 2016).

Modern luxury is on a smaller scale.

As a good case in point, Danish company ARCHITECTMADE is obsessed with craft and perfection, ensuring its handmade wares are of the highest quality and able to stand the test of time. Architectmade’s products are small luxuries and classic designs by celebrated Danish architects, including Finn Juhl, Hans Bølling and Kristian Vedel.

Morten Jensen, Architectmade’s CEO, explains: “I have always felt the need to work with something timeless, something made by hand in such a quality that enables it to last a lifetime… [and] you appreciate it more and more, as time goes by.”

Discussing the consumer, Jensen adds, “I encourage people to purchase less in terms of quantity but with better quality. I would like to be able to give people something that lasts and makes them happy.” It is this philosophy and approach that has enabled Architectmade to grow and capture the imagination of customers globally, while remaining true to its craft.

Courtesy of Architectmade

Courtesy of Architectmade

The Essence of Principles

The number of companies valuing provenance, craftsmanship and heritage remains comparatively low. While bigger brands often pretend to attach importance to such principles, it is those small and medium-sized enterprises whose craftsmanship prevails and whose products are reaching an eager global market.

The companies featured here provide examples of authentic craftsmanship and the genuine desire to connect with people in real terms, offering handcrafted products that will last for many generations. Their global reach is doubtless helped by our prevalent digital age, where social media, blogs and websites increase brand recognition and value. Above all, they demonstrate that authenticity and larger-scale production can work in unison.

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