A trip to 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 with the modern city in mind. Oliver wanted stylish, affordable furniture that was designed specifically for small spaces, but during his search, what he discovered is a worrying lack of sustainability in this type of furniture, which is very often made from cheap, fragile materials that don’t stand the test of time.

When he realized he wasn’t going to find what he wanted, he decided to create it himself. And so Fuzl was born. His products are made from solid wood and use an innovative clip solution to join the pieces together, which means there is no need for tools, as the clip is a manual fastener.
After two years of developing, designing and producing a collection of five innovative furniture designs, testing and certifying to EU standards, winning awards and fundraising, Fuzl is ready to launch its products on the market, but not before taking a step in the right direction to ensure a sustainable process.
Knowing full well the magnitude of the challenge of achieving truly sustainable manufacturing, Fuzl has launched a Kickstarter campaign. Under the name “a journey to sustainability,” they hope to delve into the murky world of hidden environmental costs and commission a comprehensive study on the environmental impact of their supply chain that will enable them to build a successful business that gives back as much as possible, both to the environment and to their buyers.

We speak to Oliver Theobald, founder of Fuzl to find out more about this exciting project:

What was the motivation behind this project, apart from a small apartment and the prohibitive price of housing in London?

During my 15 years in the working world I had made a series of decisions that were taking me further and further away from what I loved (design). Although all of these decisions were gradually equipping me with experiences and skills that I now use as a business owner, no one position had been enough for me. I wanted to run my own business and I wanted it to be one that had room to achieve a higher level of environmental sustainability. It was at that point, while spending much of my life on trains as a salesman, that I started drawing furniture. And it was on that train that I finally realized that the opportunity to achieve my ambitions was within my grasp – all I had to do was pursue my ideas in furniture by creating a new company: Fuzl. (That was the beginning of it all.)

Do you think Fuzl is inspiring a change in the furniture industry and the way people look at furniture?

I think we’re entering an era where people are much more aware of their responsibilities to the environment. I really believe that people are motivated to change for the better, but that often the task can seem too overwhelming, leading to a natural feeling of helplessness and therefore inactivity. For companies like Fuzl, it is easier to make decisions that improve the environment, but more importantly, this must not impose a massive price increase (otherwise the benefits will only be felt on a small scale, limiting the reach and adoption of their products based on cost affordability).

Is Fuzl inspiring change? Maybe on a small scale, I go around preaching to everyone I know, but sometimes it seems like little more than a drop in the ocean. Every piece of Fuzl furniture that people buy makes me feel better because it’s a more sustainable option than a lot of furniture on the market, but we can do more, both in terms of the scale at which we work and the way our products are made, shipped, procured and delivered. Perhaps our enthusiasm is infectious, at least I hope so.

Flat-pack furniture seems to be booming. Everyone is making flat-pack furniture now. What is Fuzl doing that others aren’t?

I’ve been watching the explosion of small companies in the market that, in their own way, are redefining what flat-pack means. I’m proud that Fuzl is part of this movement and if our combined efforts mean a widespread move away from “throwaway” furniture solutions, then I couldn’t be happier.

What are we doing differently? Well, when I started this, I had a sense of being one of the pioneers of this new philosophy (even if it was a delusion fueled by my own ego). Now I realize that there are many ways to get to the same point, and I am much more realistic about how unique it is what we have designed. What I think sets us apart is that we are not just “passionate” about sustainability for its marketing value. We really want to do something about it, and our motivation to learn more about our impact and how we can improve it is going to be the mark of our individuality. We hope to be able to continue to make a profit despite our ambition to be sustainable and to be able to withstand the growing pains of a small business.

Why does Fuzl want to be more sustainable?

I spoke to a sustainability professional in a bar two weeks ago and that conversation got me thinking about my own thoughts and opinions on the matter. It seems my interlocutor had recently been besieged by an overwhelming sense of the magnitude and impossibility of this task. She mocked my plans around sustainability and questioned our plans saying that “the world is a lost cause, let’s try to kill the planet and then it will kill us”, I remember those were her exact words.

I can’t be that fatalistic, I also get exasperated at times and feel conflicted when watching David Attenborough’s latest show, but at the end of the day I know that as short as my life is, my son – who is now 4 months old – is just beginning his journey. By taking small steps (perhaps imperceptible on a global scale) to improve my own sustainability I am doing my part, and also teaching my son to do his part as well. All we need is for people to talk about improving, to find small ways to promote change, and to inform others that when it all adds up, we will be improving on a global scale. I know this seems naive, at the moment it’s all I can offer, and it’s always better than giving up.

Why a Kickstarter campaign? Sustainability can be a bit of an abstract concept for some people, why does it take money to be sustainable?

I think the Patagonia company put it perfectly: you can’t have an environmentally sustainable business if it’s not first economically sustainable. No matter how well-intentioned you are, if you go bankrupt you have no way to promote change. We know that reaching a goal of zero emissions and a broad commitment to environmental sustainability is a big challenge even for a small, agile company. We are also familiar with the costs of sustainable options for both sustainable materials and production processes, so it’s going to be a long road, so yes, we need money, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to stay in business.

Kickstarter is a way to build a little pyre, around which we are dancing our own dance of sustainability. But more importantly, it’s a way to get financial support for our project through the purchase of furniture, which will stoke a little more public interest and, slowly but surely, allow us to get down to business. Kickstarter is for all those who have told us “oooh I like it, I want to get a piece”, to actually pledge. We have to sell furniture to make a difference and this Kickstarter campaign is the beginning of our initiative to do that.

As we move forward and our company reaches profitability, we will be able to invest in improvements year after year and as the years go by we will get closer and closer to our goal, sharing our successes along the way.

So what comes after this – where do you see Fuzl in five years’ time?

If my wildest ambitions were to come true, I would have a team of designers, sustainability gurus, operations experts and craftsmen making our furniture to customers all over the world. We would be known for our breakthroughs and would have inspired other companies to take a similar course.
Find out more about Fuzl’s sustainability journey and become part of their Kickstarter initiative here, and follow us to get your hands on their furniture…