features
#060 / 2005

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Dublin's design duo

Around the world, designer/makers face the ultimate challenge - how to get product onto the retail (shop) floor. In Ireland, two young furniture designers decided to contract the manufacturing of their line and sell wholesale.

Dublin-based partners Gordon Byrne and Leo Scarff didn't hit on this solution immediately. They paid their dues over four frustrating years, experiencing several dead ends, before their products were picked up by one of Dublin's most prestigious furniture outlets.

Byrne spoke to furniturelink from Cork before meeting with clients about a commercial design project ("keeping the day job" has been important in the strategy). He recounted how the Dublin duo came to work together after both graduated from the environmental design program at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) - Scarff in 1994 and Byrne in 1997. An experimental group design project, coordinated by DIT lecturer Robert Tully, was the catalyst where Bryne and Scarff "just hit it off" because of their similar approach to furniture design. "We are both quite commercially minded - we feel that design is about production, and a designer must exist within a framework of manufacture and supply," Bryne explained.

With this like-mindedness, they established JIST to market seven of their practical and unpretentious furniture and accessories designs. To promote the JIST range Byrne and Scarff began exhibiting prototypes in 2001 at London's Designersblock, a "fringe" show held at the same time as 100% Design (similar to Downtown running concurrent with ICFF in New York). Unfortunately, sufficient presales from prototypes to finance commercial production runs did not materialize. The pair decided to continue with their "day jobs" - freelance interior design, commissions and teaching - to accumulate the capital to contract production in quantities large enough to achieve a unit price that would withstand a standard retail markup.

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Another major factor in JIST's evolution was the establishment of the Irish Furniture Designers Network (IFDN) in 2002, thanks to Scarff's considerable lobbying skills. IFDN has mounted numerous exhibits of the work of 14 Dublin-based contemporary furniture designer/makers in Ireland and abroad.

By 2004, JIST had enough capital to contract the manufacturing of their seven designs to a company in Estonia - an obvious fit as birch multi-ply, produced in the Baltic countries, is used in much of the JIST line. And, as many Estonian manufacturers have contracts with Ikea, they are experienced in the economics of producing flat-pack furniture. Furniture items in the JIST range, such as Byrne's "Nic Nac" mobile storage bin (above), were manufactured in quantities of 100. An Estonian metal manufacturer produced their "best-seller" metal coat hook - shaped like a paper clip (top) - in quantities of 500.

With their products delivered and available at the JIST showroom on Dorset Lane in Dublin, Byrne and Scarffe returned with new enthusiasm to Designersblock in September 2004. Byrne recalls, "I had this overwhelming emotion when we went back to London in 2004. It was the full circle, and we had done it. Four years later we were returning to London, and we had the product ready to sell in boxes - it was an incredible sense of fulfillment. It was the first time we had taken the product out of the boxes as a consumer would - it was brilliant."

However, once again they encountered the frustration of receiving few firm commitments in London. Fortunately, this roadblock was offset by a substantial order from Habitat Dublin on their return home (since purchasing the franchise for Habitat Ireland in April 2002, Malcolm Brighton has been a strong supporter of local Irish design). Healthy sales of JIST products over the Christmas period prompted Habitat to place a second order on January 15.

As of February 2005, JIST wholesale stock was running low. Byrne and Scarff are deciding which items will be discontinued, which new designs will be added and the quantities needed for their second order with the Estonian factories.

The relationship of designer, manufacturer and seller continues, as Bryne and Scarff bring Ireland's new and vibrant design to the world.

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© Furniture Link 2005 (images © Gordon Byrne and Leo Scarff )