• #33 - Interior Delights

    Designers & Manufacturers Under One Roof

    Courtesy of designer Melanie Buatois

    As consumers turn towards local economies, crowdsharing and collective economies, hand-crafted objects are exploding on the design scene. Thanks to platforms like Etsy, today’s creators are able to find success via homespun items. Still, if these designers want to branch out and produce a series of objects at a low price, outsourcing designs doesn’t eliminate the ecological impact of shipping globally. Isn’t there another solution ?

    ArchiExpo e-Magazine spoke to French designer Melanie Buatois, to discuss her Ch’ni initiative and their adventure with local and cooperative product design and production.

    Functioning as a maison d’edition (an edition house), or a publishing house would, Ch’ni works with local designers by financing and producing their objects directly with local manufacturers and fabricators, then taking on the distribution. Similar to a co-op in the sense that everyone involved is in close contact and participates, yet, Ch’ni is the generator keeping the system local and running.

    “I think we lose a lot of quality in our work by using so many intermediates. The essence of an idea tends to get lost somewhere in the process.”

    ch'niHowever, Ch’ni has a unique catch: they work directly with fabricators who are skilled in craftsmanship and artistry, yet have not been trained to work in the field of design.The idea is to recognize skill in a different light.Therefore the objects carry the charm of an expert encountering a new approach, like a wise sailor traversing new waters.

    “It is also a desire to value the work of people around us, around where we live. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that we lost both our craftsmanship and our local manufacturing, when in reality, the world around us is still mostly made and transformed by countless local, capable hands. I’d like to be able to prove that locals can make a lot of great things. We don’t have to cross the world for that.”

    The name “Ch’ni” means dust in the French Bressan dialect, spoken by Buatois’ family.

    “The more there is, the more we see,”  is also a familiar expression for her, representing her vision to expose the craft and savoir-faire of diverse artisans.

    Unexpected Potential

    After studying at an applied art school in Nevers, Burgundy, with a product design option, and taking a jaunt around the Netherlands to experience the vibrant design scene there, Buatois was on the path of creation. She launched Ch’ni in 2016, finishing the year with a crowdfunding campaign on kisskissbankbank.


    Ch'ni on Kisskissbanbank French designer Melanie Buatois

    Ch’ni on Kisskissbanbank

    So far, Ch’ni is a smaller initiative, choosing designers based on their specific relationship with and understanding of materials. “This is very important, because for products to actually make it into production, we need to hunt for this sweet spot between design and manufacturing. It’s all about a sense for unexpected potential, and the talent to translate this potential into a meaningful product.”  

    Buatois opts for working with designers who are just starting off as well, “Like a little push!,” she says.

    The designer selection goes hand in hand with the manufacturer choice.  “What charms us are the techniques they use, their process, their machines. We try to understand their limitations, but also their flexibility to do more than they are currently used to.” Ch’ni tries to work with raw materials due to their open potential, and the openness of the manufacturers is a crucial component.

    “Most people like to challenge their routine, and most of the time, it is a real pleasure to work with these passionate manufacturers.”

    Around the Corner

    In April, Ch’ni will be exhibiting in Paris during the D’Days, at Galerie Joyce. After that, the goal is to expand the scale of their production to include other European countries giving a platform to designers beyond France. Then “to try to use more materials that are sustainable or recycled. And other ways to produce with PEOPLE, on a human scale!”

    About the Author

    Erin Gigl is a freelance design and travel writer, editor and artist.

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