Laugh all you want about what you think the pillars of Canadian design might be, as EQ3 VP of Product Development Enri Tielmann & Senior Director of Brand Development Nils Vik joked in a recent interview: "it's difficult for most to codify what Canadian Design is beyond stereotypical aesthetic tropes and imagery—plaid, moose, antlers, maple syrup." EQ3, a Canadian furniture retailer founded in 2001 that is also producing its own furniture collections, is here to report that Canadian design philosophies could help light the way for other furniture manufacturers around the world.
Photo: Mathieu Fortin / Wedge
With a recent branding campaign launched alongside the opening of a New York City flagship in early November, EQ3 wants to highlight the characteristics of Canadian design they think stand as exemplars in the furniture industry overall. "When we refer to [ourselves as] being 'Canadian by Design,' we are not referencing a specific aesthetic, but rather the values that define Canadian culture: Progressive, Inclusive, Pragmatic, Human." In many ways, their company reinforces this philosophy with business strategies that prioritizes quality overall, whether it has to do with furniture's material and build grade or the quality of life of their factory workers.
As a part of their new branding campaign, EQ3 exhibits what being a modern day furniture company with human-centered values means.
The Traits of a Holistic Design Business
When it comes to building out an inclusive, intentional and progressive value system in a furniture company, what does that look like and how can design itself be at the forefront of change? For EQ3, this begins at the source. A vertically integrated company, they produce their upholstery locally in Winnipeg, Canada, and own and operate a manufacturing plant in Indonesia where most of their case goods are produced.
Photo: Mathieu Fortin / Wedge
Because the company wants to offer their products at reasonable prices that lie comfortably in between ultra-cheap IKEA furniture and a super high-end furniture company, outsourcing becomes necessary as Vik and Tielmann explained: "The biggest challenge in manufacturing products locally is that they become price prohibitive. However, more efficient manufacturing processes can offset higher labor costs and result in more competitive products." Having control over their own international factory guarantees these goals can be achieved, all the while allowing the company to promise good working conditions. If they partner with other companies on a project, EQ3 also conducts factory audits in order to ensure humane working conditions and key competencies.
How to Build a More Sustainable Manufacturing System
There's also, of course, the issue of waste. [The furniture industry is most guilty of] disposable products," state Tielmann and Vik. "Trend and seasonality suggest that certain products will become aesthetically obsolete after a short period of time, and consequently, there isn't an incentive to produce high quality products." So EQ3 works to create products that are "inherently non-disposable, not in quality, function, or design," as Tielmann puts it, so as to provide users with an incredibly long-lasting piece.
Photo: Mathieu Fortin / Wedge
Design strategy can be a huge factor in affecting how sustainable a company's manufacturing process can be. "Designing with constraints in mind allows the creation of great values, while reducing waste, whether domestically or overseas," Tielmann describes. Again, while overseas manufacturing is essential to a lower price point, EQ3 aims to offset this environmental toll through sustainability by design using a number of techniques, like careful material sourcing, optimizing fabric cutting yields and flat packed shipping.
Tielmann hopes the company's emphasis on quality of material and build overall can account for a reduction of furniture waste as a result of consumers: "If something is designed and manufactured well, products can last for many years. I can pass on my EQ3 Ban Coffee Table to my daughter, and one day she can pass it on to her children. I love the idea that the table will last longer than it takes for an oak tree to grow."
EQ3's Future Sustainability Goals
Leading an environmentally forward business requires constant, deep analysis of why strategic business decisions are made, whether big or small. The EQ3 team states that their new retail presence in New York has as much to do with its ability to ensure customer satisfaction and therefore reduced waste as it does brand recognition, as Vik explained: "Return rates on e-commerce platforms are much higher than in traditional retail environments, given the fact that customers are able to physically interact with their purchases beforehand. This means less returned products ending up in landfills."
EQ3's brand new New York retail space. (Photo: Hamish Smyth)
Another one of their sustainability goals has to do with something consumers might not think much of when it comes to ordering furniture: the styrofoam inside your package. EQ3 is hoping in the future to completely eliminate the material from their product packaging. "There is much more work to be done and we don't pretend to be perfect," Tielmann admits, "[but] it is encouraging to see that consumers appreciate sustainable initiatives and that innovative materials continue to be developed, such as honeycomb cardboard for safe packaging."
Perhaps what EQ3 is doing that's most important is calling attention to the ways in which the furniture industry should be held accountable for its carbon footprint and treatment of workers around the world. Vik and Tielmann say, "we need to improve on how we talk about these initiatives as they become part of the value proposition of a product. It ideally could contribute to other companies looking at us as a positive example."