ICON You say that MWA is born out of a loathing of design’s abuses. What are these?
Julien De Smedt There is a type of design that is for beauty pageants, that addresses issues of aesthetics above everything else. My experience of this is that the best ideas I’ve had have been turned down for less radical and intelligent solutions, because of the label’s fear the customer won’t like it. But if you tell the story, right people get behind it. We shouldn’t treat the consumer like an idiot.
ICON Is it easier to have principles when you have financial backing?
JDS We don’t really – we’re self-financed and we have to be extremely careful. We have a business plan, but we are moving step by step, and our first collection is very modest.
ICON What agendas does the first collection address?
JDS It looks at flat-pack. There is nothing new about this, but we pushed the idea a bit further. The Accordion trestle does something others don’t, which is to disappear into a single stick. The Butterfly hook fits in a standard envelope for shipping and you fold it when it gets to you. It’s a simple gesture, but a strong message. I don’t think the collection is totally in tune with people’s expectations, but we need to find a return on our investment so we can re-invest in the right things.
ICON What issues do you want to address next?
JDS We are researching displacement. There has been a recent exponential increase in the number of people without a home. We are looking at whether we can create what we call a “life house”. We don’t have the answer now, but we’re coming closer. We are also looking at obesity, education and mobility – it is extremely broad and very ambitious and we don’t pretend to resolve problems, but what we do state is that by looking at these issues as a start, it triggers design ideas that are entirely unexpected.
ICON Is this an education programme, more than a design venture?
MWA It is education through communication. We’re working with a photographer rather like Benetton did in the 1990s to make people aware of situations related to consumerism they didn’t know anything about. For us it is important that what we say and what we do are as one, and that our products reach people. I feel I have more of a responsibility with MWA than I do with my architecture practice because the business of product design is much more related to the masses.
ICON How will you make and how will you reach people?
MWA We are producing mainly in Denmark, and we have been approaching about 650 shops around the world. We have an online shop and we are also opening a store in Copenhagen next month where we will sell our stuff, as well as products by designers with the same values as us.
Makers with Agendas