&Bros gains global interest with playful everyday objects
Finland is home to growing number of young designers who refuse to bend to traditional molds or take ethical production for granted. With one foot strongly in international markets, Helsinki-based &Bros is one of them.
Back in 2011, Antti-Jussi Silvennoinen and Elisa Konttinen met Tero Kuittinen and Pekka Kuivamäki while finishing their master’s degrees at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.
They were all wrestling with a very familiar question facing young designers: how to get visibility for their work and, preferably, even paying customers. This sparked the creation of &Bros, a design company focused on the creation of modern everyday objects with a hint of playfulness.
“What connects us is our desire to do and create something new,” says Kuivamäki. “We want to make durable products which have a way of brightening people’s lives.”
While &Bros specialises in everyday objects and textiles for the home, its collection covers everything from jewelry and pillowcases to furniture and even a quirky ‘Creatures from Finland’ memory game. The products have found resellers in design shops all over the world:
“So far we haven’t had much time to do much marketing abroad, apart from visiting a few trade fairs,” Kuivamäki says. “The world is so global today and all sorts of photo sites, blogs and online stores bring [visibility]. That is how most of our foreign retailers have found us. They have seen pictures of our products somewhere, contacted us and started selling them.”
Although &Bros targets global markets, advancing Finnish manufacturing and the design industry is core part of the company’s ideology:
“We talked a lot about ecological and ethical design at Aalto University and they have become self-evident values for us,” explains Kuivamäki. “Like with our cardboard lamp, the material is easy to recycle and the lamp is manufactured locally.”
Success from cardboard
The lamp to which Kuivamäki refers has been a highlight for &Bros. Called ‘Compleated’ the cardboard pendant lamp, which Kuivamäki has designed together with Silvennoinen, has become the company’s most popular product to date. Compleated has found its way to customers as far as in Australia and South Korea, and Finland’s prestigious Muoto2014 gala declared it ‘Light of the Year’.
Today the lightweight lamp is available in several colours, sizes and in pendant, wall and table versions, but its inspiration came from humble beginnings: &Bros packaging for its first products, which were created from cardboard using laser cutting techniques.
“We started to think cardboard is a wonderful material and it would be interesting to use it in other ways than just packaging,” Kuivamäki recalls. ”Almost by accident we noticed cardboard acts in a particular way when it’s cut, which became the core theme for the Compleated lamp. Lasercut plaits create a nice effect on the lamp as they let the light shine through and form a pearl necklace like pattern.”
Combination of art and design
&Bros’ balance of global and local make the company a good example of Finland’s new generation of designers. They steer away from the traditional route of designing for others and instead towards producing their own designs:
“I feel that Finnish design is on a fast track forward. There are many young designers and new ideas, and people are ready to challenge old structures,” Kuivamäki says. “At times I have felt design in Finland was somewhat submerged in old classics, but now there are lots of eager designers and positive energy to drive forward.”
For &Bros the ideal situation would be to combine its design business with interdisciplinary art projects. A year ago the company held its first private exhibition containing unique works of art from its own designers. Now the exhibition is travelling to Stockholm, where it will be showcased at the Finnish Institute in November.
“Of course we want to grow the company and, at least for me personally, it would be wonderful to employ more people,” Kivimäki explains. “But it would be great to also continue [our artistic projects], to have both art and design side-by-side in our operations.”
Text: Eeva Haaramo