In the book ‘New Silk Roads’, author Peter Frankopan considers the causes and effects of global change over the course of history, up to present day. Life is in constant flux and when looking at historic events retrospectively, patterns emerge revealing aftershocks that move down interconnecting fault lines, across markets and vast geographical areas. For example, shortly after the Chinese Government dropped it’s ‘one child’ policy in 2015, shares in companies making prams, nappies and baby formula sky-rocketed. Meanwhile share values of birth control manufacturers tanked. Change creates risk and opportunity, however you can be fortunate enough to find yourself in the right place at the right time.
Design trends are constantly shifting too and as the spotlight of ‘what’s hype’ moves from one trend to the next, this favours new (or old) producers in turn. Many aspects of design – like fashion – go around in circles. In my article Tech Interiors of Future Past in December 2016 I called out wicker as a re-emerging trend material in commercial interiors. This trend has developed and many more manufacturers have integrated traditional wickerwork into their furniture collections. This was prevalent at last week’s Salone del Mobile in Milan.
Cause: At the time of writing in 2016 I considered that stripped back, tech-focused workplaces are key drivers in the integration of natural, tactile materials into our lives, specifically in lobby, dining and breakout spaces, where people sit to relax. Hence the rise of biophilia, bent wood and wicker. Design hotels and restaurants have also seen a huge rise in use of wicker furniture. It’s not far fetched to suggest we draw comfort from material references to bygone times, like grandma’s wood and wicker rocking chair. Throw in the sustainability factor and the creative desire to always explore new materials and it was perhaps inevitable.
Effect: Long established specialist wood and wicker furniture producers find themselves thrown back into the spotlight. The more responsive producers will subtly reposition their product and brand to appeal to a fresh new client base. As sales revenues for bent wood and wicker furniture increase, others now try to follow suit but face an uphill battle due to the complexity, skills and expertise involved in traditional time-served craft production.
The competition is now on between the centuries old traditional craft masters and younger competitors, as this trend hits the mainstream. As with any style or material trend, the window of time is limited before the spotlight moves on, but play it right and company fortunes can be built upon it.
In my recent article Battle Lines are Drawn I wrote about acquisitions by office furniture makers, with ‘new nordic’ brands being snapped up by Knoll and Herman Miller amongst others. Strategic partnerships have also been formed to offer big players exclusive distribution rights for fresh young design brands across key markets.
I now find myself wondering which traditional wood and wicker specialist manufacturer will be snapped up by a big name. Or which wicker cane producer will use their new-found potential to become a much bigger player, as we head down the silk road into a wicker world…