This is the beginning of an interview series about young entrepreneurs around the globe working within the creative fields such as photography, product design, fashion and music just to mention a few.
Below you find the very first interview which is about Jonas Hojgaard and his up and coming Danish furniture brand Nordic Tales. It all started with the lamp Bright Sprout and have grown exponentially ever since. If you want to know more after reading this little interview, you will find him in Milan during the furniture fair April 7–13.
Core77: What inspired you to start Nordic Tales?
Jonas Hojgaard: Nordic Tales is the product of an idea about that it is possible to handle the whole range, from idea to development to sale, as a designer! You don't have to wait for somebody to approve or disapprove your ideas to realise them! A design business put in the world, mainly and primarily to contribute with aesthetics and secondly to earn money will have a set of values that the general business man can't compete with.
What would you say are the values that define Nordic Tales?
We are storytellers just as much as we are designers. We try to contribute with products that you can influence and give your own touch. We grant you with "the power to design!"
Maybe the fascination about this remodeling / customizable thing comes from all the years I spent playing with Lego as a kid, or maybe I'm just curious.
When I design, I always try to achieve some complexity, to make it more than what it is! My ultimate goal is to do this and then hide it and let you discover the products' true features—it surprises you and gives you that very special "A-ha!" feeling!
Besides this, my goal is always to make something that you can't really describe why you like. The design should be a sum of many small details, balanced so that none outshines the other. The experience of the design should resolve in an emotion that you like and not any particular characteristics that you can point out.
I find it much more challenging to achieve this in design than in, say, photography. Design is more difficult especially because it has to be producible on a large scale. Photography is much easier since it consists mostly of visual parameters.
When you talk about surprises and little things, can you give me a few examples of what this might be?
By surprises, I mean things that are not visible at first sight—I want to create a deeper layer for those who really pay attention. Obviously this is much harder to do in design than photography, where you traditionally work with three depths that create a hierarchy in the photography. You have a focus and something in the foreground and some in the background—this allows you to compose and control how people read the photography, and in which order.
Usually I try to work with the construction of the design as the "background." The hope is that you will not truly understand the full functionality or construction concept before you touch the products. For example, the "Framed" series is based on bendable wood, which makes the pieces easily collapsible by removing the brass pipes.
In your collection, you have products designed both by yourself and by others. How do you decide on which designers to work with?
In Nordic Tales, we value the designer's personality just as much as the design itself, as the personality usually is reflected in the design. We tend to choose strong entrepreneurial personalities, especially if we choose to work with a designer outside Scandinavia. The idea is that the designer should not only provide us with a design but become kind of an ambassador for the brand.
The brand's name is Nordic Tales, which captures the appeal of your products. How do you stay true to the brand when working with non-Nordic designers?
When we work with external designers, we are always involved in the process at some level; so far, no design has arrived finished in our perception. Nordic Tales is all about involving the buyer in the design process, and let them give the design a final direction, so we meet that goal by being involved in refining the design from external designers. Furthermore, we make sure that the design we assign lives up to the traditional standards of Scandinavian quality and aesthetics.
You started this company on your own, without really having finished university—what led to this decision?
I started the company doing second semester of my masters in architecture. Nordic Tales was simply too interesting and needed my full attention. I must say that I had some sleepless nights making the decision, but I have never regretted and I find comfort in the fact that some of my idols never finished university.
So who are these role models of yours, and what is it that makes you think of them in this way?
Obviously the man I'm referring to is Steve Jobs, even though it might sound cliche. I am fascinated not only in his products, but also by his ability to get people to work, and get back on the horse when knocked off.
This fascination with design and photography, do you know where it comes from? Is there anyone in particular that has influenced you?
As a kid, I always had ongoing projects where I created things. For example, when I was about 6, I made a foam kisses throwing machine! I was very determined and persistent in my projects and got really mad if I didn't succeed (which is still the case today...).
Also, I already had the entrepreneurship mentality as a kid—I bought a color printer at the age of 10, for the purpose of making money by selling A4 prints to my classmates. And I guess my fascination of photography began on a trip to Indonesia in 2008. Not only the visual part of photography, but also the ability to communicate with people whom I could not speak with.
So what was it that made you start studying architecture at Aarhus School of Architecture back in 2007 if hadn't had your design epiphany yet?
Actually, the plan was to study medicine, since my family is in the medical industry. Unfortunately the acceptance quote at Aarhus University was exceptionally high that year, so i figured that I better not waste my time trying, so I applied for architecture and got in!
From thinking about following your family tradition of medicine to falling into the world of design and photography. How do you use these three worlds inform your approach to design
I was always very fond of biology and math in school, when I was preparing for Med school. I think that my fascination with natural occurring rhythms and symbiosis between living organism might be reflected in some of my designs, since I tend to follow certain rules when I create something new.
So you have a Bachelor's degree in architecture, you have worked as a photographer, and are now running your own design brand—do you have any new projects coming up?
I think that everybody is familiar with the term "displacement activity," and when everything gets a little to serious, I tend to spend some time on a specific displacement activity, a new brand called Since2050—this is a much different universe than Nordic Tales, kind of opposite you might say. This universe is a great counterweight to the aesthetic values in Nordic Tales, and sometimes working with the opposite makes me more certain about what Nordic Tales really is about.
Tell me about Since2050—what does this new project stand for?
The brand Since2050 is a textile and accessories brand that does bags and basic wear.
the universe has its roots in the future, and is loosely inspired by a happening occurring in 2050. The idea is that from this date everything will be executed differently. I work on different collections, some based on a post-apocalyptic reality, other based on a highly developed eco-society, depending on my mood.
You already have one brand up and running, is there anything you do differently when starting up this new brand of yours?
If I should start a brand today, in the case that Since2050 will not remain a "castle in the sky," I will be in a position to predict future obstacles in another scale, avoiding unexpected things to occur out of thin air. Things that are only problems because you are unprepared, but would have been possibilities, if they had occurred in the horizon.
What has been your greatest challenge with Nordic Tales?
The most challenging thing about starting any kind of business that involves the full spectrum, from innovation, production, marketing and sales, is to work with all this at once. Creativity is limited by rules, yet at the same time production most definitely depends on them. Also, sales is about being very extroverted, which can be difficult if you are deep inside a creative process.
How do you, personally, handle these various layers of the business?
I have been in all levels of the business, so it is rather easy for me to color the work. Some of the work is blue-colored routine work, such a service, which is delegated to the staff. Other things, such as optimizing the cash-flow or the supply chain, are a little more tricky and you have to be very committed to succeed—therefore I'm primarily responsible for this part of the business. It can be very difficult to go from this one opposite to another where you have to lose yourself in a creative process. But it comes more naturally now than it did when I first started. Early in the project, I used a lot of energy in this transition.
One last question before we wrap up this little interview: As a young entrepreneur, can you give us a few pointers of what to think about when starting up a business? Some Do's, Don't's and Keep-in-mind's.
When you are starting a business, nobody will acknowledge that you run a business before you have proven it to them, and to some, you even have to prove it twice. You have to do the walking yourself, and you will fail repeatedly until you succeed. You will tend to give up, and have "sad Sundays," when you ask yourself if it is really worth it. But doubt in your project will only slow you down. Doubt is delay.
See Hojgaard's work at Nordic-Tales.com.