In ten years from now more people will associate precise manufacturing, customization, short and unique series of furniture with the 3D printing technology than with a traditional craftsmanship. Will experienced stonemasons, woodcarvers, glassworkers and ironworkers be able to find jobs in the next decade?
About the condition of Polish furniture industry, the future of crafts, the value of brands, and a new technology fever, I talk with Wojciech Łanecki, the creative director of the new Polish interior brand Brahman’s Home, founded by two brothers Marek and Grzegorz Zbroszczyk.
Trend Nomad: In terms of the value, Poland is the fourth largest furniture exporter in the world. The first three places belong to China, Germany and Italy. In the ranking of exporters counted in tonnes, Poland is second to China. Are these huge amounts of furniture produced in several giant factories, or rather in thousands of small manufactories?
Wojciech Łanecki: In 2013 the Polish furniture industry consisted of about 24 thou. companies, but only 100 of them were large companies [employing more than 250 people – ed.]. Roughly 350 companies are medium-sized enterprises [employing between 50 and 250 people – ed.], and 1,5 thou. are small businesses employing from 10 to 50 people. The vast majority – approx. 22 thou. – consists of micro firms, employing less than 10 workers.
What kind of furniture are made in Poland?
Mainly cheap ones made of furniture board. A huge manufacturer operating in this segment of the market is the Black Red White furniture group, selling low-cost products in more than 40 countries. The scale of Polish exports also stems from the fact that several Polish manufacturers of upholstered furniture are subcontractors of global giants such as IKEA. In addition to affordable products, Poland is also a place where high-end, expensive furniture are made, but rarely they are branded with Polish brands. Final no-name products are exported to countries such as Italy, where are branded with Italian labels and then re-exported to fancy showrooms around the world to be sold for a fortune.
The price of an end-product depends on the reputation of its label. Polish companies perfectly cope with the production process, but still have to learn how to build a good image and a value of their brands.
Brahman’s Home says sincerely from the very beginning: „We are a luxury company from Poland”.
We are honest. We do not pretend that we are an Italian brand to increase sales. We say: „Made in Poland” without any complexes but also without a sense of superiority. We find Polish roots as something natural. However, we are not ambassadors of typical Polish design, because we are inspired by the philosophy of the Far East and we use materials from all over the world.
What kind of materials do you use and where are they come from?
We use Italian and American walnuts. Oak wood and glass come from Poland. Carrara marble is from Italy, leather we buy in the Netherlands. Metals partly come from Italy, and partly from steel mills operating in Poland – those once belonged to the Public Treasury, and since 2003 are in hands of one of the richest men on Earth – Lakshmi Mittal, the president of the ArcelorMittal group, the world’s largest steel producer. Currently, we use stainless steel, polished or covered with a layer of gold. We found only one workshop in Poland that manages to do gilding on as large surface as we need.
Despite the vast number of micro companies operating in Poland, it was hard to find qualified craftsmen?
It was a challenge, probably because the domestic demand for furniture made by experienced craftsmen almost does not exist. The market is dominated by a demand for cheap, mass produced products made by machines. We work in a niche. There are few craftsmen who have 40 or 50 years of experience. Most of the micro companies were founded 10 or 20 years ago and operate in the segment of low-cost and mid-range furniture. They received substantial grants from the European Union and work on the newest machines.
In June 2015 at DMY Festival in Berlin Piero Lissoni was asked whether he is concerned about the disappearance of traditional crafts. He answered: „No. This is the evolution”.
I can agree with him: is a natural change. Some crafts disappeared five hundred or a hundred years ago – this is nothing new. Crafts die, but some values – e.g. the truth to materials – remain. I do not see anything wrong with that experienced craftsmen begin to use modern machines. It is hard for artisans to work in a traditional way and keep the highest quality at the given time. In business, we can not afford such instability. Quality and timeliness of deliveries are our top priority, so we work only with experienced craftsmen who have knowledge of manual production, but they also know how to use modern machines. It’s a good combination.
In the UK and USA organizations such as the Craft Council care about the interests and PR of craftspeople. Does Poland have similar entities?
Yes, The Polish Craft Association. It has been operating since 1933. It is a nationwide entrepreneurs organisation that constitutes the biggest and the oldest structure of the economic self-government in Poland. It represents interests of micro, small and medium enterprises towards government and regulatory bodies, public administration, courts and social-economic organisations in Poland and abroad. The Polish Craft Association influences bills on economic and social policies – taxes, national budget, labour market, EU structural funds and salaries. It is also involved in the social dialogue at the European level.
Does this organization also ensure that the knowledge of craftsmen is being passed down to the next generation?
The Polish Craft Association reports that in more than one hundred professions – from modern ones to these unique with artistic and handicraft character – craftsmen currently employ and train more than 92 thous. students. Thus, there is a significant chance that different kind of crafts will survive. On the other hand, one of our subcontractors confessed to us that he wanted to convey knowledge about his profession to his son, but he was not interested. He prefers to be a waiter.
Polish people need some time to understand that the highest value remains in items made by human hand.
Maybe because craftsman does not earn a lot of money?
It is a lucrative profession, if only you reach a high level of performance and work at the edge of art and furniture industry. Orders received from luxury brands are paid very well. Crafts will always go hand in hand with luxury.
In the next decade, we will see a diffusion of technologies such as 3D printing, virtual reality, the Internet of things and self-driving cars at the mass scale. Millions of people, including taxi and trucks drivers, may lose their jobs. Do you think that at the same time Neo-Luddism movement opposed to technological progress will become stronger than ever?
It has already started, and not just among people who are at the risk of losing their jobs due to replacing them by computers. More and more people of all ages feel overwhelmed by an avalanche of new technologies. They do not want to learn over and over again how to use new devices, and they begin to reject other novelties. The digital world is fascinating, but the real one, filled with objects made by human hands, can be even more alluring. People who are looking for authenticity and dreaming of returning to nature will find the harmony in brands such as Brahman’s Home.
Furniture collection by Brahman’s Home will be available from 1st of September 2015 in the online store and at selected showrooms. If you have any questions regarding the described brand, you can send an email to its creative director, Wojciech Łanecki: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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