How to build a design collective… slowly

Upon learning that many designers aren’t clued up on the business side of selling their wares, David Harrigan created ÅBEN: a Nordic design collective with sustainability at its core.

David Harrigan was decorating his home when he encountered a problem – he wanted to browse pieces from designers in cities like Copenhagen and Stockholm, but finding these makers in one place was proving difficult. His frustration would spark the idea for ÅBEN: an online platform connecting emerging Nordic designers with consumers seeking one-of-a-kind furniture, glassware or ceramics. ‘The idea is to help conscious consumers find meaningful, enduring products that aren’t mass-produced, while giving budding designers a path to market,’ explains David.

A handpicked, supported collective

Since its founding in August 2019, David and his team have met with 108 young designers, of which only nine have been selected to be a part of the collective. ‘We’re very meticulous with the designers we bring on board; we need reliable people that can meet deadlines and consistently deliver quality,’ says David.

Once recruited, the designers benefit from a wide range of support. ÅBEN takes care of the platform, PR, customer service, logistics and invoicing; all the designer has to do is make the piece

‘Our mindset is to “overshare” and involve the collective in everything we do,’ he says. ‘This ranges from sharing data about our key audiences, to designers becoming more conversant in the unsexy stuff, like 3PL* and revenue projections.’ ÅBEN also has an experienced Designer-in-Residence – currently Scottish-Swedish industrial designer Nick Ross – who acts as a mentor to the young designers. And David frequently touches base with the designers, which means he can closely control the product’s journey from production to distribution.

The process

ÅBEN’s platform works like any other e-shop, but with a bit of a personal twist. When an item is purchased by a customer through the website, David gives the designer a call, finds out how long production will take (usually eight to 10 weeks), and then passes that information along to the customer. ‘Everyone wants everything delivered yesterday. But in order for a piece to be made from scratch, it takes time,’ he explains. ‘As long as you manage the customer’s expectations, everything is peachy.’

A sustainable criteria

Each product on ÅBEN’s platform has to adhere to two key criteria: it must serve a function, and it must be built to last. Using sustainable material is also a priority: the company ensures 90% of its raw materials are sourced within a 50-mile radius of the designer, and that all wood used is FSC-certified. David says sustainability is at the heart of ÅBEN, and its B-Corp certification reflects that: ‘We want to demonstrate to others in the industry that you can be edgy and fashion-led, but you can also be kind to the environment. It doesn’t have to be an either/or.’

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