Njusja de Gier wears many hats at Kvadrat, the textile manufacturer that has grown from a local, Danish maker into a huge global brand. So big, in fact, that it now owns a number of other respected brands, including Kinnasand, Danskina and Maharam, as well as the recently launched Really, which makes particle-board from textile waste.
Technically, de Gier is Senior Vice President of Marketing & Branding, but she is also a curator, a cultural strategist and a driver of innovation. Since joining Kvadrat in 2008, she has played a key role in strengthening the company’s ties to the creative community through a series of experimental projects. Many companies might see collaborating with well-known artists and designers like Thomas Demand and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec on non-commercial projects as a way to “culture wash” their brand, but for de Gier these projects are not just about cultural kudos. They are a chance for the company to learn more about its own products and push the boundaries of its manufacturing capabilities.
De Gier is also heavily involved with Kvadrat’s plans for its brands at Milan Design Week, which this year include a pigment library in tribute to the painter and graphic artist Finn Sködt, who at 75 is still producing new work for the brand.
Here, she talks with design journalist Anna Winston about Kvadrat’s approach to collaboration, why Milan Design Week is still the most important event in the design calendar and the circular future of textile manufacturing.
Anna Winston: What does Nordic design mean to you and to Kvadrat?
Njusja de Gier: We are not necessarily a Nordic design company – we are cosmopolitan because we work with designers all over the world. But I think what I see as Nordic design is that there are certain values: craftsmanship, high quality and a sustainable way of producing. The companies are very human in the way that they work and the working conditions translate into the design. The designs are always very innovative but the products come out with this very simple look.
When you look at Nordic design today, there is also an approach to colour, but this doesn’t apply to Kvadrat. Of course we work with some designers from the Scandinavian region, like Margrethe Odgaard, but then we also work with designers like Giulio Ridolfo, Alfredo Häberli or Patricia Urquiola and they have a very, very different approach to colour.
AW: What shifts do you see coming colour-wise in design?
NdG: [It’s difficult to say because] we have very different colour streams. But there has been this pastel, very light and feminine look, and I think colours will get more sumptuous. It has to do a little bit with the more luxury kind of feel – there has been a lot of prosperity so more people are buying products with a more heavy richness – but maybe it is also that people want more warmth and to feel more secure. You can see it in fashion, that richer colours are coming in a little more. Interiors is really a slower translation of fashion.
AW: You’ve been a driving force in Kvadrat’s “soft strategy” – its focus on collaborating with artists and other creatives in big exhibitions and individual projects that are experimental and about more than nice upholstery.
NdG: Yes, that was actually my idea! We already had a link with artists and designers because all of our products are created with external designers. The first designers that Kvadrat worked with were also architects and artists and jewellery designers – they were very much part of this Modern design movement that happened in the 50s and 60s in Denmark. Before I joined we had had a few collaborations, like with Olafur Eliasson on The Serpentine [Gallery Pavilion in 2007].
Initially I said let’s just ask a few designers if they could upholster their favourite pieces or a prototype in Hallingdal, one of our founding textiles, but then I thought this is really boring…
We needed to be more than a nice piece of high-quality textile; we wanted to connect with the creative community and show people that you can do more with a piece of textile than just upholster a sofa or make a curtain out of it. We wanted to start investigating creative ways of working with textile, working with material and working with space.
I curated 36 designers with four other curators and we said OK, you can make whatever you want, it doesn’t have to be a commercially valid product and you can get as much Hallingdal textile as you want. It was a super big success. Then we had Divina and My Canvas, and now I’m working on our next project for next year.
AW: Why is Milan still so important for a major brand like Kvadrat?
NdG: Everybody is in town. All the buyers are there, all the designers are there, all the producers are there and then there’s a lot of architects and curators and other influencers and all the press is there. There is not another event that matches that.
When you see how creative the installations get, it’s also more conceptual than any other design event. With the fashion brands popping up, the car brands chipping in, even perfume brands and jewellery brands, it’s getting more and more important. And you can see it when you go into Milan – the whole city knows it’s the design festival.
AW: What is the future for Kvadrat?
NdG: We are of course already big, but we want to be THE global supplier and seller of design textile.
Sustainability is also super important for us. That has always been there. Now we are also working on recycling our own waste but also other waste that is out there. We know that we all need to reuse materials – we are depleting all our resources and we are polluting the planet with trash – so [at Kvadrat] we want to become more circular in our approach.
With Really we have a circular product, we can take textile waste back and put it again through the process, so we are now also going into the next step. How can we set up processes to create a circular economy? You have to talk to the furniture manufacturers, you need to set up systems for people to take it back, and you need to educate designers and manufacturers about how to design for a circular economy. It’s a very long process, but it’s very high on our agenda.
Kvadrat in Milan 2019
Kvadrat/Raf Simons: No Man’s Land
Via Archimede 26
Kvadrat: Blue is Divine
Corso Monforte 15
Salone del Mobile
Pavillon 22, stand E25 + F20
Milan fair grounds, Rho