5 industry profiles on how to drive innovation in the design industry
We meet designers, executives, and entrepreneurs during Stockholm Design Week to hear more about the solutions that could potentially make a change.
15 Feb 2023

At Stockholm Furniture Fair, designer Emma Olbers together with innovation agency Sally EY Doberman presented the exhibition Now or Never – 1kg CO2e.

— It’s called that because here, we present different materials and material innovations, and what’s shown is how much you get from each and every one of them for one kilo of emissions, Olbers explains. It’s almost like if you translate emissions into money. 

— If we look into the future of the furniture industry, what do we expect and think that we will see? says Kristoffer Lundholm, head of sustainability, Sally EY Doberman. That is what the world is facing now, if our dreams for the future are that a fair like this in ten years will show the same things as today, then we have failed. That’s where the question of materials that we are choosing comes in.

The materials have been counted from cradle to gate, from the moment it’s produced to the moment it enters the store 

— It’s at these points that the producer and designer can choose how to produce — and if you design a furniture that will last for a long time or not, says Olbers.

Have you learned anything from the process?

— I knew that some of the materials had different emissions, she continues, but later on, when I put them up on the table, I really felt the difference in weight. That was new information for me.

And what has surprised you the most?

— When you do an exhibition like this, we have the standard materials like pine, MDF, or birch, says Lundholm. But it’s when you’re starting to dig for new materials that exciting things happen. You see that for 1kg of carbon dioxide, you get this batch of a leather alternative that we show here, which as far as we know is the only fully plant- and mineral-based and biodegradable one. It’s really exciting to talk to these guys who are putting their souls into developing new things.

Ekbacken Studios.

The previous founder of the fashion brand House of Dagmar, Kristina Tjäder, has now entered the interior business as the co-founder of Ekbacken Studios

— It all started with an initiative in Portugal, called Peniche Ocean Watch, which is a so-called blue circular project, she explains. They started to collect fishing nets and in the end, they had enormous amounts of them that they didn’t know what to do with. They started to work with students to do research and together, they found out that 3D printing is a technique that can bear recycled materials better than other kinds of techniques. 

Instead of using a material made of 100% fishing net, Ekbacken Studios has created a furniture range mixed with minerals that are rest material from the stone industry.

— It consists of 70% fishing net which also makes it also very sustainable — through an LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), we learned that we have decreased the climate impact by up to 90% compared to using virgin raw material. We would love to go to zero, if possible — that’s the dream. This is the first waste stream that we’re working with but we want to also have other types, and we also run a research project where we’re trying other types of filling materials.

Can you tell more about it?

— It’s a project that we do together with Chalmers University of Technology, RISE, and our producer in Portugal, to find different waste streams. We want to go one step further to develop this production process so that we can easily make nice furniture, where the finish is good, and find the most sustainable way to do it, says Tjäder. She adds:

— It’s very expensive for the fishermen to hand the nets in for disposal. That’s why they dump them in the oceans instead because they don’t have the margins. We have deals with the fishing industry so that they never dump them in the oceans but hand them to us. For every piece we sell, an amount of money goes back to the initiative, to make sure that the fishermen get paid when they hand in the fishing net. We made this material for us, but in the end, I think that we’ll also try to be an enabler for others who wants to take part of this material as well.

Kartell is a family company and marketing and retail director Lorenza Luti, together with her brother, runs it as the third generation. The brand has almost 20 production sites in northern Italy, using many different technologies depending on the project, in order to be an innovative industry leader.

— Everything that we do has innovation and technology behind it, Luti summarises.

And what does innovation mean for you?

— It’s a keyword. Like the last we did, using coffee pods to create a chair — the first one completely made of recycled material. Or using Artificial Intelligence for a stool, called the AI Chair. We used AI in the product process and the designer, in this case, Phillippe Starck, put his input and some design lines, and then the Artificial Intelligence did the shape, taking away material just to have the essential, the chair, and his inputs in the design. For the sustainability in the project, we used as little material as possible, and, of course, recycled material.

Is it important for your end consumer that they consider you to be an innovative brand, or do they care more about the design or the designer?

— I think that innovation pushes you to success, in design, in function, in technology. We don’t want to hang around to the old things but try to be the first to try technologies, materials, or new designs. This, I think is a plus for the customer. Maybe, he or she understands the object and like it, but doesn’t understand the real innovation behind it — however sees the difference.

Do you think that biobased materials will become even bigger for the industry?

— I think that it’s better, for bigger objects, to use recycled materials. We tried biobased materials and we have one, called Componibili, but we didn’t manage to make a chair out of it yet. It’s a little bit less stable material but I think that with the work we do, we will be able to make it in the future.

When it comes to new technologies, can you share anything on any new ones coming or that you think will grow big for you or the industry?

— We are working with new materials that we have to adapt to use the technologies that we have, to achieve the quality and the same results as what we had but with materials that are used, and recycled. We are continuing with the AI experimentation on that family of objects.

Lastly, AI, say, in three or five years from now, will it become bigger? Can it take over the designer’s role?

— No, I don’t think so, and we don’t want it to take over. We want AI to help us be quicker and more efficient in the project. For example, the experience with our chair says that normally, it takes two years for a chair to arrive on the market from the first drawing. With AI, it took less than one year. So, this was a big time gain and I think it can help support but not substitute the designer.

A prototype of the new version of Carry On by Mattias Stenberg for Offecct.

In the last decade, the seating solution Carry On by designer Mattias Stenberg has grown into a bestseller for Offecct and its owner company Flokk.

— Up until this day, Offecct’s design manager Øystein Austad says, it’s been made in wood, a PUR foam textile, and a handle, so you can carry it around. Now, the environmental division of Flokk has been looking into a new take on it, which is reduced and with a better environmental-friendly story. So, we’re looking at replacing the core with a new one that is called REPP, which stands for Recyclable Expanded Polypropylene, a material that is quite light but strong and can be more efficient in production. We can also use a drawstring that we have developed and use at Flokk, instead of glue or staples when we are mounting and making it at the production facilities, which also makes it easier to take apart and do exactly the same when there’s a take-back.

When Austad mentioned reduced, it’s due to the fact that this version — which is yet a prototype and is expected to be launched in the second or third quarter of this year — consists of fewer parts. 

— I think that it was originally 55 parts — now it’s 36. And when it comes to the use of REPP, it’s now made of about 23 or 24% recycled material. We’re now looking into a research project together with the material supplier of this material, where the goal is to reach 60% but where we also have the possibility to make it 100% recycled.

Is it even more important for you, working so much with the contract market, to lead the way with material innovations like this?

— We have a huge responsibility. Of course, architects and designers have a big influence and responsibility on what they’re using when buying our products for projects. But it’s also about us as a producer. At Flokk, we produce 1,4 million products every year, so we need to do it properly and more clever products in terms of how they’re put together, mounted, and constructed, as well as using the right materials for the right purpose.

For the third time, Vestre and Note Design Studio joined forces to create the Norwegian brand’s stand at Stockholm Furniture Fair, following up on last time’s award for Best stand at the 2020 fair.

— We have always focused on the sustainability aspect, also for this year, says Note Design Studio founder Johannes Carlström. 

Similar to previous years, the two have used a lot of raw, very heavy materials like tiles and plywood, mounted to not harm the material itself so that it can be packed and reused. 

— This year, we have the similar idea with the floor, which can also be just packed again and shipped back to the producer. And for the walls, we want to minimise the waste, so it’s just frames cladded in textile, a superlight construction, minimal material use and also possible to reuse and set up in another place in another stand. Basically, in the end, there will be almost zero waste from this stand.

And you’ve also rented material?

— Yes, the stones on the floor are rented, so they will go back to the producer after it’s used here, so it won’t be in a big pile of trash. It will be used in a school, parking lot, or a square somewhere.

How does it work to rent it like that?

— Many producers don’t work that way and it’s not easy, so we had a discussion with the producer, trying to make a point that it won’t be destroyed, you won’t see any difference, it will be as good as new, and you can use it and sell it again. They were a bit sceptical in the beginning, but in the end, it turned out well. For us, we need to start to think in these kinds of ways. In general of course, but specifically on fairs — it’s one of the big issues that we need to try to solve in the future. We can’t create a whole village of scrap material at the end of one week’s fair — we need to create new ways of thinking about how we can build, how we can take back material, and how we can reuse it.

Have you reached peak sustainability now, with this stand, or can you make it even more sustainable?

— I don’t know. I think we can do more, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

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