Allmoge Cushion introduce
WHERE DID THEY COME FROM, WHERE DID THEY GO?
10 X TALES OF BUSINESS IN THE LAND OF VINTAGE DÉCOR. ISSUE 1:2014
Welcome! If you have read my blog you know that I‟m into the business history of vintage decor. I enjoy finding out about the past of an item, the business past in particular. Matters of design are covered in many places. Less is said about the business context. In this publication I have compiled 10 posts from the blog. Can‟t believe some of them are so lengthy! Did I write all that? Must have been hard work … It could be true what they‟re saying - if you do something you enjoy it doesn‟t feel like work … Stories covered range from the silk situation in Iran, to a teak hand chair and Meissen porcelain. Enjoy the read!
Jeanette March 2014
CONTENT 1. Silk. Iran wants it. 2. A hand chair and teak business. 3. To work or not to work. A CEO story. 4. Zebra printed Dux sofa in a boutique factory? 5. Porcelain: A revolution does not have to mean the end. 6. Meissen doing it on their own. 7. Economic stories behind amber glass. 8. Visiting and old cinema and thinking about the quest for new. 9. Orrefors swept away by globalization. 10.Table so blue. As in lapis lazuli blue.
Story No 1.
SILK. IRAN WANTS IT.
Silk. Came into being in China over 5000 (!) years ago. Intially it was a textile intended for Chinese Emperors. With time, however, use became more widespread in society and eventually very useful as a tool of trade. As such spreading to other parts of Asia and beyond. Seen above is a pure silk Isfahan rug. Made in Iran. Silk ended up in Iran via the Silk Road and from the 4th century B.C. until around the 7th century it was the most important article of trade between China an Iran. Trading is one thing, production another. Silk was big business. How about making one‟s own silk? Around 419 AD knowledge began to spread in Iran, not least because of a conducive climate, which provided for Mulberry trees, which in turn is a necessary breeding ground for the silkworm. Myself have never connected Iran with silk production. As it turns out, Iran is today the fifth largest silk producer in the world. But what a ride it‟s been! The Europeans were attracted to Iran‟s silk already in the 1400s. It was so much in demand they even felt the urge for sneaky maneuvres such as diverting trade routes and allegedly introducing pébrine, a disease of caterpillars. The latter caused havoc.
These days it appears that Iranian silk is a domestic affair. Since 1937 there‟s a government office for sericulture that monopolizes the sale of eggs and controls the greatest part of the marketing of the cocoons. In 1980 the production of silk in Iran was granted to a newly established company, the Iran Silk Company. Which brings me to Uganda, Africa. Eh? Yes, indeed. In the past 10 years 500,000 mulberry trees have been planted in Uganda, with the purpose to feed silkworms. All under the auspices of Iran Agro Industrial Group who has invested millions of monies in the project. Apparently, “Now is the time to reap. The investment is worth $9m (about sh27b) … soon … we shall be producing at least 1,500 tonnes for exportation to Iran.” Due to favourable weather conditions in Uganda, the country can produce silk seven times ayear. In Iran they can do it once. Is Iran about to drown in silk?
Story No 2.
A HAND CHAIR AND TEAK BUSINESS.
This is a hand chair. There are quite a few of them out there. The original one was, as far as I understand, designed by Pedro Freideberg in Mexico in 1963. Copies of the original are still being made. As someone noted; made cheaply by Mexican labour and sold expensively in wealthy countries. Like the US. This particular chair is made from teak. Teak is a popular material. Came across a Youtube clip about an American chap in Panama who has a teak plantation. He is on a mission to chase investment. He talks the talk and it‟s rather interesting. Makes it seem like money is “coming out of the air”. I will with leave it with you to decide on feasibility. So did teak originate in Panama? No. Rather from the opposite side of the world: Southeast Asia. Teak is durable, naturally water resistant and contains resins that repel badies such as termites and rot. As such it‟s very popular for outdoor decor, ranging from furniture, yacht building to my garage door.
Southeast Asia is a big area. In most parts teak trees are grown on plantations. This is controversial, mainly for environmental reasons. Having said that, plantations are also able to apply for Forest Stewardship Council Certification. Which can make it a sustainable business. Burma is today the only country that provides for the logging of natural teak (which is of much higher grade that plantation teak). But Burma is moving on. In early 2014 regulations are about to change and a teak export ban is to be enforced. Reasons being to preserve remaining teak forests and to develop a sustainable hardwood timber export industry. A rather brave decision. Burma is poor. Teak has been great business for the country – $600 million in 2010-2011. Myself thought most of the teak went to Europe and other parts of the West. I was wrong. India consumes 70% of the world‟s teak. China is closing in. And I wish Burma all the best.
Story No 3.
TO WORK OR NOT TO WORK? A CEO STORY.
Quite a sweet deal for the family, n‟est-ce pas? Money for nothing and the chicks for free sort of thing. Cristal d‟Arques was born as a brand in 1968, a subsidiary of Verrerie d‟Arques, since 2000 known as Arc International. This company produces approximately 4 300 000 items of tableware each day. Group turnover in 2012 was 978 million euros. Verrerie d‟Arques was set up in Arques, northern France, in 1825. The head office is still based there. Since 1916 the company has been owned by the Durand family. I haven‟t been able to find out much about the Durands. It was George Durand who bought the company in 1916. Then management was passed over to his son Jacques and then to Philippe upon his death in 1997. Philippe died during a surgical procedure in 2007, aged 57. During his time at the helm he had apparently been a hands-on owner who “deeply marked the group through his knowledge of the industry, his passion for products and his attachment to the men and women who work for the Group, continuing a long family tradition”. Having said that, he was no one man show. There was also a CEO in the picture. Around the time of Philippe‟s death his name was Patrick Gourney. Gourney had joined Arc International in 2003 and for some not known reason was forced to depart prematurely in 2009. Nevertheless, during his tenure a plan was finalised to more clearly separate the shareholding and operational parts of the business. Which I interpret as the family taking a step back in terms of day-to-day management.
What does a CEO actually do? It comes down to size apparently. In a small company the CEO will often have a much more hands-on role in the company, making a lot of the business decisions, even lowerlevel ones such as the hiring of staff. However, in larger companies, the CEO will often deal with only the higher-level strategy of the company and directing its overall growth, with most other tasks deligated to managers and departments. There‟s another family run business in Europe. A VERY large one – it‟s called FIAT. At the end of 2012 total assets were €82.119 billion and there were 214,836 people employed. The founder of FIAT was Giovanni Agnelli. He was apparently a fascist supporter who was willing to sell his soul to the devil to advance FIAT‟s interests. It worked. When Giovanni died it was his grandson Gianni who took over the running of the company. Initially, however, he kept himself busy by leading a jet-setting life galavanting around the globe partying and cruising from fancy villa to fancy villa in stunning places. Eventually Gianni decided to change tack and headed back to FIAT‟s headquarters. But wasn‟t he lucky that whilst he was walkabout (and after he returned) there was a CEO in place to take care of business? Especially when he was known as Il Duro (the tough guy). Must remember for future reference that CEOs can come in handy.
Story No 4.
Zebra printed Dux sofa in a boutique factory?
The story behind this zebra printed 1970s Dux sofa begins with a bed. In 1925 a Swedish chap named Efraim Ljung was in Chicago (USA) on business. He stayed in a hotel and had a very good sleep. The best ever in fact. He put it down to the bed, it sure was something else! After a bit of detective work he realised the secret was using springs in the mattress. Efraim went back to Sweden, with his head full of mattress ideas. He began experimenting with various spring solutions. In 1926 he had perfected the technology and launched his company Dux (beds). Later it also began making other types of furniture. Dux has always had a reputation for making top of the range quality pieces with impressive longevity. The company is still standing. Just. Seems like it‟s been through a few tough years. At the beginning of 2013 they had to close a production plant and relocate head office. They are now optimistic; demand for quality and longevity is on the rise and they have opted to invest in Sweden‟s first boutique factory concept.
Until a few hours ago I had never heard of this concept before. Sounds rather upmarket. And it is, if one is to believe Wikipedia, which states that boutique manufacturing is a method used for the custom production of certain products in limited quantities by hand or with a restricted level of automation. Products produced this way often include ceramics, furniture, amplifiers, yachts, boats, leather goods or watches and jewellery among others. In industrial countries, boutique manufacturing is being selected generally for high class goods in upper price levels and only for single products or small batches. Sounds good to me. Local manufacturing (even though beds since a few years‟ back are made in Portugal), boosting jobs and skills and giving customers quality goods – Dux could be on to a winner here. With an extensive back catalogue, perhaps we shall see new Zebra sofas … Animal prints are very trendy
Story No 5.
Porcelain. A revolution does not have to mean the end.
In a not so far away land, many many moons ago, repeated attempts were made to make fine porcelain. There were years of failure and big losses of money.
Porcelain making, who cared about porcelain making? Not many. With the No 1 man gone, direction was adrift. Previous customers were no more. Business was in a disarray.
But the struggle continued, porcelain was prestigious and the support of rich and powerful people meant that improvements in manufacturing were slowly being made. And then one day, perfection.
Then one day a most capable man was put in charge. He sorted out production, organisation and updated the design. He was to lead the production for many years. Other competent managers followed. And so porcelain making continued until this day.
The No 1 man of the not so far away land was intrigued and eventually hooked. He and his First Lady On The Side became the main sponsors of porcelain making. Eventually even owners of the production plant. Porcelain was a definite status symbol, an It product for the rich and powerful. Everyone had to have porcelain. Business was booming. Time marched on. The rich and powerful were rich and powerful at the expense of poor people. One day they had had enough. They rebelled, they were very very angry. So angry they killed many of the rich and powerful. Including the No 1 man.
Manufacture nationale de Sèvres is now run by France‟s Ministry of Culture. The item above was seen at Criterion Auctions and described as follows: Sèvres style bleu celeste ground novelty casket in the form of a grand piano. Estimated price £120-£170. Sources: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/sevr/hd_sevr.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacture_nationale_de_S%C3%A8vres
Story No 6.
Meissen doing it on its own.
Combined, the above led to a sharp decline of the profitable Chinese export of porcelain to the west. Joseph Schumpeter would have pointed to his thoughts on creative destruction. Who would have thought that the European porcelain industry would be sooo interesting? Not me. In another post I wrote about porcelain from Sèvres in France. People involved in that company managed to crack the code for fine porcelain making due to industrial espionage by a Jesuit priest. He was over in China doing missionary assignments when he „out of interest‟ happened to come across the missing link, kaolin clay, which had eluded the Europeans. He wrote a couple of detailed letters to colleagues in Europe who got the porcelain ball rolling. His first letter was dated 1712. Two or so years prior, however, mission had already been completed. Events had unfolded in Meissen in eastern Germany, which had enabled the production of the first European hard-paste porcelain outside of the Orient. It helped a great deal that Meissen is located near a massive deposit of kaolin clay.
Just as with Sèvres porcelain, Meissen porcelain was for the rich and powerful. Ownership went straight to the top. And Meissen just like Sèvres is still at it making porcelain. Both under firm government tutelage. Which is rather interesting. Everyone knows how to make porcelain today. Yet, evidently, this is seen as an important, and I imagine, rather profitable business. Three hundred years later. To reiterate, interesting. And by the way. These Meissen vases are massive – measuring almost 1500mm high. Very impressive.
Story No 7.
Economic stories behind amber glass.
Amber is such a beautiful colour, don‟t you think? Before amber was a colour it was a substance known as fossilized tree resin. It wasn‟t until 1500 that amber in the English language also became associated with the yellow-orange colour of the material. Thus, these days the meaning of amber is twofold. How interesting. The automotive and transportation industries appear to have a total infatuation with amber. Think traffic lights and signal lights on cars. A dedicated amber room in the Catherine Palace outside Saint Petersburg show off both the colour and material most stunningly. So stunningly it disappeared during World War II. It was reconstructed after the war. In a more humble context, there‟s also glass out there in an amber colour. This story is about amber glass (crystal) made by Ryd and Eda Glasbruk (glassworks) Sweden. Ryd is a tiny village in the southern part of the country. Current population is 1415. The glassworks was founded in 1918 and went bust in 1971. In its heyday it was one of the larger employers in the area with around 60 staff.
After closure the buildings were knocked down and all evidence of former glory vanished. Or glory. Not much is known about Ryd glassworks. From what I gather it was a family affair with a rather low profile. Eda Glasbruk, on the other hand, was founded in 1835 and closed down already in 1953. The name lived on, however, as the entire village is now known as Eda Glasbruk. As in Ryd, the buildings housing the former glassworks were eventually knocked down. Globalisation can be a tough enemy. But in this instance with a twist. Eda Glasbruk is located on the Swedish side of the Norway/Sweden border. It‟s home to a miniscule population of 233 people. Things could have been bad. But always look on the bright side of life. Such as geography. Norway is a very oil rich nation. Incomes are high. But so are the outlays. Food and stuff in general are almost double the price of the same ware in Sweden. It‟s a no brainer of a business idea to lure the Norwegians over for some sweet shopping. In 2005 a large Eurocash Supermarket was constructed on the very same site of the old glassworks. THE END.
Story No 8.
Visiting an Old Cinema and thinking about the quest for new. Paid a visit to The Old Cinema, London yesterday. This place only showed up on my radar a month or two ago, even though I‟ve been hanging around London off and on for nearly 20 years. How odd.
Consumption drives the economy as nothing else appears to do it. Can‟t be manufacturing – manufacturing? what is that? manufacturing has gone China.
The Old Cinema is housed in a former „picture palace‟ and is, in its own words, London‟s only antiques, vintage, and retro department store. It‟s filled with interior decor goodies with a past, but also some new ware. All items are displayed very appealingly, with tags telling the story of origin and style.
The said ad, having claimed the virtues of Made in China, shifts from a historical perspective to a current one. With some surprise it recognises that China is now an economic threat. Sweden must wake up to this fact and work harder than ever to stay competitive. Old ideas have to give, Sweden must reinvent itself. Through globalisation.
I walk around and think, why aren‟t there more places like this about? There are so many funky vintage and antique pieces in existence crying out to find a new home. They‟ve been around the block once, even twice, and are keen to do it again. They are made of solid stuff and have plenty of stamina left. The quest to buy new, new, new is alarming. But I‟ve come to understand that buying new is necessary to support the economy and welfare of advanced economies. Aka the Western World. But buying new is better than that. It‟s saving the world. Came across an ad the other day in a Swedish newspaper. It was placed by an organisation (Sverige tar matchen) that I‟ve never heard of before. It claims to represent Swedish businesses and the bottom line is that Sweden must do everything in its power to sustain competitiveness and a high standard of welfare. The answer is globalisation – ‟170 000 Chinese were working for you whilst you were sleeping‟ is the message in the heading. The argument is so persuasive. Globalisation has been great for the Chinese, and other nations in the Far East. It has supplied them with sanitation and fridges. Pay is so much lower than in Sweden, there are appalling working conditions but never mind. Thanks to globalisation China has heavily reduced poverty and is now taking steps to move on from being a „factory floor‟ to a centre of design and innovation. In the meantime us in the West buy buy and buy new. China is spitting out TVs, mobile phones and cheap clothing faster than we can blink and we indulge in consumption.
Around 20-25 years ago the entire Western World discovered the benefits of Made in China. Industries ranging from textile to electronics shifted their manufacturing to the Land of Cheap. In return we us here paid less and less for our kitchen table, fridge and TV. Now we could buy a new TV every year, sending the old one to the landfill without a second thought. No one has ever accused the Chinese for being stupid. They invented pretty much everything over there before we in the Western World even could walk. Obviously, obviously they would take on board all the technological know-how we were giving away and starting to Benefit. Obviously they were going to become a threat. It was only a matter of time Meanwhile we here can‟t make our own clothes. Can hardly make anything actually. Knowledge and equipment have so many layers of dust on them it‟s impossible to shake off. In the process of globalisation, entire communities have vanished, moving on to where ever there was work. Joseph Schumpeter calls new replacing old in an economic structure creative destruction, it‟s necessary to go through hell to get to heaven. Where we are now? What happens if buying new is not a constant? Be scared, really scared. The environment on the other hand might take a leap for joy.
Story No 9.
Orrefors glass production swept away by globalization.
It‟s most upsetting. Orrefors, the jewel in the crown of Swedish glass production, yesterday ceased domestic glass making. The furnace burns no more, employees have not only left the factory, they have also one by one moved on to other employers. Taken on positions such as bus drivers and working at the National Booze Company. Jobs have been lost, skills that have taken years, if not generations, to acquire are facing extinction. Production of Orrefors glass is now moving to Turkey. How good for Turkey. How extremely sad for Sweden and the region of Småland in particular. Orrefors has produced utility glass and art glass made of crystal since 1898. They will continue to make glass, the only difference is that they won‟t be making it in Sweden. What is the problem with this? We all know about globalisation. A fact of life, a sign of the times for the past three decades or so. Design and marketing in Country A, production in low labour cost Countries B, C and D. There are signs that this scenario is about to change. A growing number of companies in Country A are moving production back home.
Reasons being increased labour costs in the Other Countries, increased efficiency back home, lower energy costs back home, lower transport costs. And perhaps a realisation of the benefits in keeping design, marketing and production within reasonable distance of each other. Globalisation, however, largely still remains a fact of life. And I am very, very upset about Orrefors being swept away by this tidal wave. It‟s a gut feeling. It‟s such a shame. Actually it‟s a bloody disgrace. The current owner of Orrefors is New Wave. With a chap named Torsten Jansson, a self made millionare, even billionairen in charge. He has often proclaimed his love of glass. Swedish glass especially. He has a house near the Orrefors plant. He‟s about to open a luxury restaurant in nearby Kosta. New Wave has pumped millions of money into Orrefors. To improve this, to improve that. Things didn‟t work out, Orrefors continued to bleed. In a capitalist world this is not OK. Profits must be made. And I can understand that. The closure of Orrefors glass production in Sweden is still highly upsetting. It‟s a gut feeling. Can‟t somebody just help? THE END.
Blog post dated 13.7.13
Story No 10.
Tables so blue. As in lapis lazuli blue.
For some reason or another blue is not a personal favourite when it comes to interior decor. Don‟t ask why. That‟s just the way it is. There are, however, exceptions. Such as this lapis lazuli table. Once had a ring with a lapis lazuli stone in it. Not sure what happened to it, but I know I loved it to bits. I reconnected with that feeling when seeing this table (that should really be plural as there were two of them). The brilliant blue took my breath away. Decided to do some research about lapis lazuli. Found out that it‟s been mined in the Sar-i-Sang mine in the Kocha valley of northern Afghanistan for the past 6 000 years. The country has been ravaged by war and exploitation for many years, but the mine is still going strong.
Which may have something to do with the difficulty getting to it. It‟s tucked away so far into remote rocky mountains you most likely give up getting there before you‟re half way. Came across a most interesting short and sweet clip about lapis lazuli mining. The tables seen above were up for sale at Lots Road Auctions today at an estimated price of £800-£1200. And I think about the poor hard-working miners who only get paid (peanuts?) when they find some lapis. After hours and hours slaving away for free with the most basic of tools. What to think of the tables now? Appreciate them ever so more.
Vintage dĂŠcor is fun. Because itâ€™s different and has a story to tell. From a business perspective , there are a lot of things that are not immediately obvious. For example, did not have a clue that Mulberry trees were planted in Uganda for the sole purpose of exporting silk to Iran. Nor did I know about the rather exciting history of European porcelain making. And what to think of globalization.? Is it a blessing or a curse? Those are facts to contemplate. Ciao for now and see you soon. Jeanette THE END.