Fuzl, a Trip into Sustainability
Fuzl is a London-based furniture design company, founded by Oliver Theobald, that designs and builds smart, easy-to-assemble, space-saving furniture solutions for the modern city. Oliver wanted smart and affordable flat-pack furniture that was specifically designed for smaller spaces, but in the process of searching for such furniture is grew increasingly concerned about the lack of sustainability in flat-pack, which is very often made from cheap, flimsy materials that don’t last.
When he realized he wouldn’t find what he wanted, he went off and started making his own. And so Fuzl was born. Fuzl furniture is made from solid wood and makes use of an innovative clipping solution to hold the furniture together, which means there is no need for tools as the easy-clip is a hand operated fastener.
After two years of development, designing and building a range of five innovative furniture designs; testing and passing EU standards; winning awards and raising funds, Fuzl is now ready to release its products to the market and it is determined to step off in the right direction for sustainability during this process.
Knowing full well the scale of the challenge in really achieving sustainable manufacture Fuzl has launched a Kickstarter campaign. Under the name a “trip into sustainability” they hoping to delve into the murky world of hidden environmental costs and commission a comprehensive study into the environmental impact of their supply chain which will allow them to build up a successful business that gives back as much as possible, both to the environment and to their buyers.
We talk to Oliver Theobald, founder of Fuzl, hoping to learn some more about this exciting project.
What was the motivation behind this project other that a small flat due to the prohibitive price of housing in London?
OT - I was 15 years into my working life and had taken a number of decisions that took me further and further from what I loved (design). While these decisions were all incrementally equipping me with experiences and skills that I am now drawing on as a business owner, no one position had been enough for me. I wanted to run my own business and I wanted that business to be one that had scope to achieve a heightened level of environmental sustainability. It was at that time, while spending a lot of my life on trains in a sales capacity, that I first began sketching furniture. And it was on that train that I eventually realised the opportunity to achieve my ambitions was within my grasp, all I had to do was to pursue my ideas in furniture by starting a new company - Fuzl. (That was the start of it anyway.)
Do you believe Fuzl is inspiring a change in the furniture business and in the way people understand furniture?
I believe we are entering a time when people are much more aware of their responsibilities towards the environment. I truly believe that people are motivated to make a change but that often the task can seem too daunting, which often leads to a natural feeling of powerlessness and therefore inactivity. It is for companies like fuzl to make it easier for people to make decisions that will improve the environment, but importantly not at a massively increased cost (otherwise the benefits will only ever be felt on a small scale, limited by the reach and adoption of your products according to their cost accessibility).
Is Fuzl inspiring change? Maybe on a small scale, I am preaching about this to everyone I meet, but it feels like a drop in the ocean. Every piece of furniture that people buy of ours makes me feel better because it is more sustainable than a huge amount of furniture on the market, but we can do more - both on scale and in the way our products are made, shipped, sourced and delivered. Perhaps our enthusiasm is infections, I hope so.
Flat-pack furniture seems to be booming. Everyone does flat-pack furniture now. What does Fuzl do that the rest don't?
I have been watching the explosion of small businesses onto the market who are in their own way redefining what flat-pack means. I am proud to call fuzl a part of that movement and if by our combined efforts there is a wholesale abandonment of short-term furniture solutions, then I couldn't be merrier.
What are we doing differently? Well when I first started this it seemed that I was indeed one of the front-runners of this new philosophy (even if that deception was fuelled by my own ego). Now I realise that there are many ways to skin a cat and I am much more realistic about how unique what we have designed is. What I think sets us apart is that we are not just 'passionate' about sustainability for the marketing value. We really want to do something about it and our motivation to learn more of what impact we are currently making and how we can improve that is going to be the markings of our individuality. Hopefully we can still make profits despite our ambition to be sustainable so that we can endure the growth pains of a small company...
Why does Fuzl want to be more sustainable?
I spoke to someone who is a sustainability professional in a bar two weeks ago and that conversation put my thoughts on this into stark focus. She seems to have become besieged by her overwhelming sense of the magnitude and impossibility of here task. She scoffed at my plans around sustainability and questioned the point when, "the human world is a lost cause, we're going to try to kill the planet and then it will kill us", was what I remember her saying....
I cannot be so fatalistic, I also feel exasperated about it at times and like everyone else feel conflicted when I see the latest Blue Planet program. But on balance I know that however short my life might be, my son - who is now 4 months old - is only just starting his journey. If by taking small (perhaps imperceptible on a global scale) steps to improve my own sustainability I will have done my bit and will have taught my son to do his bit too. All we need is people to talk about getting better, find small ways to make a change, inform others of how and when you add it all up we'll be doing better on a global scale. I know this seems naïve, but it is what I have to believe otherwise we might as well give up.
Why a kickstarter campaign? Sustainability might be a bit of an abstract concept for some people. Why do you need money to be sustainable?
I think the Patagonia company made this point brilliantly. You cannot have an environmentally sustainable business if your business is not financially sustainable. It doesn't matter how good your heart is, if you go bankrupt you have no power to enact change. We realise and understand that getting to a goal of net zero carbon and a broad level of environmental sustainability is a massive challenge for even a small agile company. I am also familiar with the costs of sustainable choices and so it is going to be a long haul, otherwise we would not be able to stay in business so yeah, we do need money.
Kickstarter is a way for us to build a little pyre, around which we are doing our very own type of sustainability dance. Most importantly though it is a way for us to garner support for our projects through the purchase of furniture, which will stoke up a little more following and slowly but surely we'll get up a head of steam. Our Kickstarter is a fanfare moment that will get all those guys who've said "oooh I like, I'll get something", at a party and actually get them to commit. We have to sell furniture to make a difference and this Kickstarter campaign is the start of our initiative to do so.
As we go and as our company achieves profitability we will be able to invest in improvements year on year and as the years mount up we'll get closer and closer; sharing our successes along the way.
And what comes after this? Where do you see Fuzl in five years time?
If my wildest ambitions were being met, I would have a fantastically talented team of designers, sustainability gurus, operations experts and makers building Fuzl and Fuzl furniture for customers around the globe. We would be known for our little steps and hopefully would have inspired other businesses to take a similar course.
Learn more about Fuzl's Trip into Sustainability and support their Kickstarter career here and stay tuned for Fuzl Furniture coming to Ekohunters soon.