Two young kiwi furniture designers will see their designs produced for potential export before they have even left Unitec Institute of Technology. Click HERE to see the project on BTI TV.
Finewood, New Zealand’s leading manufacturer of bespoke furniture is adding another level to its successful business by developing a partnership with Unitec’s Department of Design and Visual Arts.
The two students, Jesse Hindt and Jane Hakaraia are majoring in furniture design in their final year of the Bachelor of Product Design at Unitec and have chosen soft furnishings as the medium for their final projects. Both are mentored by expert furniture designer and Senior Lecturer in Design and Visual Arts Roger Bateman, who has previously designed furniture for some of Europe’s most successful furniture companies.
Jesse and Jane’s partnership with Finewood involved developing a product brief for a quintessentially New Zealand product that would be difficult to replicate in overseas markets for their final assignment, worth 50 per cent of the year’s work.
Finewood’s brief for Jesse and Jane involved developing a New Zealand themed piece which would allow sustainable differences in offshore markets. The brief required the project to emphasise the attributes of New Zealand that campaigns such as ‘100% Pure’ have come to represent internationally, such as our adventurous spirit and innovative approach.
Other mandatory requirements were that the projects needed to be created with sustainability at the forefront of the designers’ minds, but also with a view to being produced on a commercial scale and suitable for export.
The partnership between Unitec and Finewood came about as the company looked for innovative design-led product ideas.
“This partnership is a beautiful representation of New Zealand at its best,” says Blair McKolskey Managing Director Finewood. “New Zealand furniture manufacturers are on the back foot as the industry struggles against our low cost overseas counterparts but by being design-led we can emerge from the shadow of these competitors.
“Unfortunately it is difficult for small firms to afford full time design capabilities because of the long horizon before benefits are realised,” continues Mr McKolskey. “Equally, design students are graduating with little or no practical experience and it is common to see these students following a career path unrelated to their chosen field. It is a symbiotic relationship and a bit of the good old no. 8 wire mentality being brought to bear,” he says.
New Zealand soft seating manufactures employed just over 6,000 people as recently as 2000 but the figure is now just above 4,000. The country’s furniture exports decreased nine per cent over 2007/2008 as global demand decreased and the New Zealand dollar retained its relative strength in the face of the global recession.
“Larger markets have the ability to carry the costs of developing a new idea. Here we have to work a little smarter and think innovatively to achieve our business requirements. We are working to maintain the integrity of furniture manufacture in New Zealand by involving some of our freshest talent, and our freshest talent in turn will help to keep New Zealand product at the forefront of design and innovation,” says Mr McKolskey.
“The creation of these projects helps to establish a New Zealand identity in furniture manufacture. The country’s creative identity has extended to fashion, music and recently film but until very recently not into the bespoke furniture space,” he says.
Jesse and Jane have worked in collaboration with Finewood through the design and construction phases of their projects, with input from Finewood ensuring their finished products are commercially viable designs.
“Working with Jesse and Jane is beneficial for Finewood as we are looking to produce their finished products on a commercial scale for our clients,” says Mr McKolskey. “The collaboration has ensured that the finished projects are beautifully individual but practical enough to be reproduced by Finewood.”
Roger Bateman has guided the students as they experience the challenges of balancing sustainability, practicality, and an ideological approach to design.
“It demonstrates resilience and forward thinking from Finewood to invest in Jesse and Jane at a time when the furniture industry in New Zealand exists in an economically challenging environment,” says Mr Bateman. “Finewood have recognised that it’s often during difficult times that the best ideas are developed and because of this innovative kiwi spirit two young designers have a chance to establish their design careers before leaving university.”
Jesse and Jane each presented a brief to Finewood explaining how their inspiration is quintessentially kiwi and how their vision translates from environmental influences and other forms into furniture design.
Jesse’s project, a stylised couch designed for the classic kiwi bach has been created according to a nautical theme, recognising New Zealand’s rich sailing history and island geography. It has been created using sustainable New Zealand materials including hemp, wool, and bungee cord with an open structure so the craftsmanship is evident.
Jane’s piece, a chair named ‘Terrain’ is based on landforms which are prevalent in New Zealand’s environment –ridges on hills caused by sheep, the patterns left on the sand by the incoming tide and the movement of loose gravel on the road. The sustainable pine wood lattice structure is covered by New Zealand wool.
Madelaine Reesby of UFL, specialists in designer commercial and residential furniture, is looking forward to being involved with next stage of the partnership as the commercial aspects of Jane’s Terrain chair are refined.
“We are pleased to be involved with Finewood’s journey as they move towards making Jane’s creative expression into a commercially viable product. UFL will watch the progression of the Terrain chair with great interest as its design and execution is refined,” says Ms Reesby.