Interview: Henrik Marstrand of mater
Trends & Events
We think a company with sleek, fresh designs is nice, but for a company to be truly modern they need to have an aspect that is above just themselves — and mater is a great, modern company creating beautiful furniture that is ethically produced. We love that these are pieces with a serious look, but then have a fun element, like a pop of bold color or an interesting angle to a leg. Mater’s owner Henrik Marstrand graciously answered some questions and gives tons of great background on how mater sets itself apart from other companies and how their designs come to be:
2Modern: What made you want to start a company that produces ethically-minded products?
Henrik Marstrand: I wanted to show the world that great design, improved profits at production end, craftsmanship and ethics can go hand in hand. As a business start up mater is a reflection of one of the fastest growing trends around which is making a difference through business ethics. The team wanted to pioneer a very high design standard into this type of business model because we believe that the design minded consumer audience is not willing to buy into this without huge quality and design compromises.
2M: What is it about your company’s products that make them more ethical than other company’s products?
HM: We are not in the market to be “more” ethical” than anybody else within this field. By commissioning great designers from around the globe our products should be chosen as being alluring design objects with the added touch of ethics. Having said this, every product we launch in the family must leave the planet in a little bit better position than before. This mantra can have many faces such as working with recycled scrap for the Alu high Stool edition or the Folded collection. Still showcasing extreme skilled craftsmanship and product design and providing profits and income for the locals in the susbiz project in India. It could be working with traceable high quality wood like we do in the High Stool Oak collection or even looking into more CO2 friendly local hard woods for the black high stool range. Still providing more profitable options for the local craftsmen where all wood cut offs from the high stool production is made into objects and sold at the local tourist market.
2M: What’s your background like?
HM: 15 years back I’m a business graduate form Copenhagen business schools and have since then held a number of leading positions within fast moving consumer goods companies like DIAGEO and Kraft Foods. I have no background in design other than any other consumer would have but my global business skills have been used extensively in setting this company up. From a design perspective I have used key people like Thomas Lykke from OeO in finding the greatest design talent around.
2M: I’ve read that using local craft traditions is important to your company, how much of the design of your products is influenced by being based in Copenhagen?
HM: A lot. Being from Scandinavia a lot of traditions are reflected in choice of designers and production methods. We have a tradition of minimalistic, functional design with attention to quality. That has been “translated” to craftsmanship principles in India where we make a lot but still true to our Scandinavian design tradition. We even had some of the designers travelling to the areas of production to understand what is actually makeable. Now we even work with local designers –- like Ayush Kasliwal — in a joint launch with a Danish designer. The Mill table series will debut in Milan Design Week and is a design icon on its own but made entirely of recycled teak wood from old construction sites with a frame in recycled steel and aluminum. That way local crafts are translated into a global design language.
2M: And do you mind if I ask how big your operation is?
HM: Head office in Copenhagen, staffed of approx 5, 1 staff in india, and part staffed in local markets with high activity like US. Mater is sold to over 150 retailers and contractual partners around 15 markets.
2M:How many designers?
HM: Currently we work with approx 10 external commissioned designers from around the globe.
2M: Where are your products made and where are they shipped?
HM: We produce a lot in jaipur, India but make products in Vietnam and China also. We ship to warehousing facilities in Denmark and Vermont in the US with an Asia warehouse hub about to launch.
2M: What’s exciting you in the design world right now?
HM: Definitely that people buy less and buy better! That is really good news. The “buy and throw out” mentality is changing and thank god for the so called crisis that has somewhat shifted consumption patterns towards lastable products.
2M: Do you keep up with everything that’s happening with other designers and other companies?
HM: We get soooooo many new proposals weekly and I can see that it is the younger generation that really has connected with this way of thinking. I look at what other brands do when reading magazines and travelling the fairs but we are on a mission with our mater concept and spending a lot of time scanning the market would take focus away from our own stuff.
2M: You guys have a very interesting variety of products available, from chopsticks to benches…did you always envision selling such a wide variety when you first started the company?
HM: No ;-) We launched as a home accessories / tableware brand and quickly moved into lighting and small scale furniture. This was mainly due to the reason that the Mater High Stool really took off globally which was our biggest piece at launch. We got to make a lot of exiting projects in hotels and restaurants and we need more into that category. So we down scaled the small accessories program. But being still a new brand we also want consumers to be able to get something from us at a lower cost where they can “touch and feel” product quality — like the chopsticks, fair trays, pebble cups etc. Many European and Danish retailers appreciate that we have smaller objects available to offer as well.
2M: What steps did you take to get your business running so successfully?
HM: A lot of hard work, a dedicated team and a lot of patience ;-)
2M: What’s your favorite thing about your job?
HM: When visiting production I can now see the scale we have come to and the impact even small changes in business ethics can have at their end. That is really a great achievement.
2M: What’s the hardest thing about trying to run a company like yours?
HM: A startup is so different than corporate jobs where a lot is taken for granted. Everything is done by a few hands and everything is a priority as to where time is spent. We want to make everybody happy but right now we need to get delivery time down significantly because we are selling so much it is hard for production to keep up and still do other things.
2M: I know you guys have a lot shows coming up as well as some new collections premiering, could you just talk a little bit about what’s coming up for Mater in the next few months?
HM: In Milan we show the new Mill Table series as described earlier. New accessories are launching like the amazing Shifting Vase series from Teruhiro Yanagihare from Japan. We are launching new objects from the designers of the our bestseller Mater High Stool — Space from Copenhagen — Trumpet Coat Stand and adding new sizes to their Shade pedal range. New Editions in the High Stool family are launching in soaped oak although they will be expensive they will add a lot to our collection.