Kubedesign: Ecofriendly Cardboard Presents Itself in A New 3.0 Reinassance
Forms, technologies and new style of a ‘poor’ material that has today evolved into new radical chic ideas.
If we think back, several decades ago, the Afro-American pop artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, used it in giant boxes, such as his disposable houses to sleep in, while he was making both ends meet in the streets of New York, before his lucky chance meeting with Andy Warhol. Several street dancers use it, even now, as the most resiliant sides of it as a base on which to exhibit their talents in hip hop and breakdance style, scattered among the hundreds of tourist cities in the world.
And again, several children, in kindergartens and schools, use the waste of it in different forms, painted up to create low cost theatres and scenery. Only in the end of the Eighties, do we begin to glimpse some new ideas, scattered here and there, in which the material, preferably recyclable, replaced the body of lamps or even emerged in all its new make-up from Frank Gehry sketches into the reality of the Wiggle Side Chair, produced by Vitra. This happened just at the moment in which international design was going through a stand by period before it found its expression in the use of high technology materials or even in those common use, such as cardboard. And even after this explosion of different forms, uses and new interpretations, in which cardboard came to define a new lifestyle, the original function of the material as wrapping and packaging returned to dominate in a reversal of the market, returning cardboard to its primary function. We needed to wait for the advent of the first 3D modelling machines in order to revive from this crisis a material which in the end is ‘poor and recyclable’ and to reinvent another way to conceive and produce it, offering a new catalogue of ideas, making and bringing to fruition a new object of desire.
Fortunately, for around a decade, a no drain brain generation, gifted with undoubted talent and creativity, have been sharing, meeting and experimenting with the launch and implementation of new business ideas, which make them now the prominent protagonists in shows such as TEDx, Talent Garden, etc., presenting their dreams, projects and experiences that unite them under the unique tag: the startuppers. Some of them, in Italy, from a family company that produced pressed cardboard for packaging, reinvented themselves to become the providers of the set up for all the Talent Garden shows and other events, including one in Malta for the Pope Benedict XVI, launching their own personal idea of cardboard, combined with design and functionality and giving the right dignity and value to a material that now competes without any inferiority complex, as pieces and icons, an authentic superstar of international design.
We are talking about Kubedesign, a company which, has transformed its family history into a productive reality that is attracting a lot of attention to itself and to its eco-friendly and sustainable products, produced entirely from corrugated cardboard and composite materials, with new 3D technology and sophisticated software and, above all, new ideas, beginning a journey into a new Renaissance of 3.0 design.
They have achieved this despite any retrenchment of national borders and the possible bogey of brexit, because, today, the crises will only be defeated by new ideas and targeted innovative strategies.
Things which we will be better explained by Nazzareno (Naz) Mengoni, P.R. and co-founder of Kubedesign, based in Osimo, in the province of Ancona, Italy. Exclusively for Tablet.
1) Meanwhile Naz, thank you for being with us. In short, from what we have observed, the creations by Kubedesign have literally, as Skins says, smashed the TAG (Talent Garden). Then happened an event involving Pope Benedict XVI, not a only spiritual figure but a true international institution. Tell us all, how it all started?
N.M. I can say today, that Kubedesign was born from a natural evolution of the family tradition. My family continues to produce packaging, while my brother and I, few years ago, created the Kubedesign new life. It all started with us submitting the idea to our first investor, our father, and now, after few years we were able firstly to create and then to disseminate the culture of a green oriented enterprise. From the beginning we have set out to follow the route of the design, hence the company name... because, thanks to the special attention to the detail and the functionality of the articles in our collection, we can say that each of our products is now comparable to traditional materials. Step by step, with the design we have developed, the B2B company. From there numerous projects have been born. Of these the most important contract is what we prepared for Pope Benedict XVI in Malta in 2010. Throne, Altar, 900 seats for the prelates from all around the world, pews... all in cardboard. That was a full set-up that filled us with pride. From then on we have also set up important structures with Talent Garden which engaged us in the realization of all the tables and meeting rooms... of exhibitions, visual showcases for shops ... etc. etc.
2) For each enterprise or family business, with a very specific background, its always difficult to face new enterpreneural strategic policies. Who was the tough nut to crack to convince that it was time to take on new challenges?
N.M. Fortunately our parents had a very ‘trendy’ vision of the future; that’s why they were our first supporters. We have created a business plan all together and, in a few years, starting basically from scratch, today we invoice almost EUR 1 million and we are ready to go international. We are, in fact, looking for partners to develop our green oriented mission by creating replicas of Kubedesign Italy.
3) Big question: the earliest appearances of objects or other items, in which corrugated cardboard was called on to demonstrate its performance, before or after wear, has always only highlighted its natural fragility. In the end, we are only talking about cardboard. Do you not fear the same fate for your products? In what way are they really different and why are they so enduring?
N.M. In Kubedesign we reflected in different ways from the very beginning. We have 2 product lines, one a collection for the design world that is sellable in the traditional retail market and one for the world of staging which we produce only for event companies. It is a fundamental distinction that sets us apart from all the others. Everybody now can take a piece of paper/cardboard and create any gadget, but for us the value of the company is another thing. The corporate culture and the idea of the market placement that we launched was clear from the beginning, making good design, indeed. For this reason we studied around 50 different types of cardboard and different processing technologies. Today, the result is that each item of the design collection is studied for the most suitable type of carton that can be compared for duration and resistance to articles made with traditional materials. To achieve this standard and to position ourselves in the design market, we decided to "pair" cardboard also with other materials that enhance the performance of our products; In fact, all the front elements are made of recyclable, shockproof material; the tops of the tables with waterproof material moulded furniture is reinforced in the lower legs with wooden hinges; giant lamps are combined with a luminescent plexiglass... etc etc. For us its important that the items in the collection are perfect. This is different to the market that was born in the last two years in which they use cardboard in order to be ‘hip’, to us it is important for us to enhance the quality of the items that we produce, we want to give our soul and form to our elements in a way that it is not possible to do with traditional materials! Having invested heavily in research and development we want to position ourselves in relation to the world of design and not in the cheap range. Besides, compared with wood and metal and plastic items, we are very, very cheap. Even in our sector, in a few years, there will be a distinction between companies that have bet on the numbers and those who, just like us, have invested in quality.
4) In several tv shows and, product placement opportunities, a number of your pieces are immediately noticed, including some of the guests seated on them. And so, every item will tell a new story. If we say, for example, Mika ... What is the new story that Kubedesign could tell us?
N.M. . Yes, recently we have provided furnishings for several tv shows and dramas. If you say to me Mika, I would say now that I have been able to realize a dream that we have had in the bottom drawer or create a recording environment or a musical event with a number of ideas that I'm sure would revolutionize the propagation of sound, I can't say more because some patents that we are building are under analysis and in the next few years we might see the world of music and entertainment as valid supporters. I say this because more and more we are working on tailor made contracts. More and more we do design, let me explain: today Kubedesign is able to BUILD with different types of material; to call it cardboard maybe does not help because some of these materials are durable like wood but much lighter. When I say build I am talking about free standing elements. For us today on 70% of the work is to create forms that would be impossible to do or very, very expensive traditional materials with. I speak of elements such as those that we create for the preparation of visual showcases for chain stores or exhibitions ... for us it is the same when we submit a project, depending on the duration and budget that our client partners provides us with, we recommend them to build with a cardboard material rather than an other. Among the most important works, I recall a production of approximately 200 sqm. That we made for our partner. A complete house, fully realised, with beams and walls of cardboard that we installed at HOMI, Milan in 2016.
5) Design, Technology, Innovation, Eco-sustainability, People. If you had to make a choice, which of these 5 elements would you delete in order to continue to be what you have become now? And why?
N.M. We can not eliminate any of these elements if we want to look to the future.
I always tell my colleagues that anybody can ‘buy’ technology and innovation but, without the minds of people who create them, all the rest couldn’t exist. Then I always add that without design there would not exist excellence and without eco-sustainability we could not fulfill our responsibility to safeguard future generations. We are in a period of history that will be remembered for years and years. Only with determination and the desire to never give up and look ahead can we change the world.
6) The process of renewal often reveals both positive and a negative aspects. What have these been and what are they still now for Kubedesign?
N.M. The very, very good aspect is that we're just at the beginning. We feel as we are pioneers a market that did not exist industrially and that, I'm sure in the future, will become very, very important in terms of economic value. Today we cannot even imagine what we will do in the next few years with what we now call carton but which in reality is a structural material; as I said before, definitely, we will BUILD. A downside is the word: cardboard. Culture leads us to compare it to packaging. In fact we are talking about a much lighter kind of wood. Let me give an example to help you understand better. We have often to deal with different types of people. When you talk to a 60 year old furniture maker they will laugh at cardboard, not believe you and think it is a joke but when they try and test it they realize the validity... but when you do try the same with a child 5/10 years, they do not associate the material with anything they know and recognize it as a material like any other... for us that child between 10-15 years will be our customer.
7) We understand that Kubedesign uses quite versatile technology and equipment. This means that if, one day, our community visited your company to ask you to create one or two items, using decorations or forms (where that’s possible) designed by us, would you consider this?
N.M. It is already possible. Today, only because of cost, this is a process that we carry out for companies only, but as soon as we get the chance to create structures branded by us, this is a service that we want to give to the final consumer; we want to give the opportunity for everyone to become a designer or graphic designer of their own item. Are we or are we not a nation of makers?!?!?!?!
8) Permeability and Inflammability, especially when we speak about cardboard, are the first two enemies to deal with. What happens in this case, with a Kubedesign item?
N.M. Yes, these are two issues that we face daily and here again an entrepreneurial culture is essential to explaining the features of our furniture and the matter is very simple. For materials such as wood, plastic or metal there are limits; these exist for our material as well.
I give you some examples: just as wood cannot be left outside in the rain, also Plexiglas, if not properly treated, will turn yellow in the sun and metal sheets, again if untreated, will rust... so cardboard too, if untreated, has its limits. So the matter is the same. Today, with small tricks, you can make cardboard fireproof and permeable, within limits.
9) Design today, it is still a choice for few people, including some of your pieces, to which, we imagine, many people are definitely attracted. Why should we spend around € 900 for one of your 'Clorinda' armchairs when today, with around € 200, it is possible to buy a plastic chair from a much more famous designer? Is this not what many people would wonder about?
N.M. Today purchases are made in a different way than in the past. What we offer is the best price that we can for a product that has unique characteristics. Today design is becoming democratic, those who buy are well informed and they want to know about the product. I do not believe it is the ‘name’ of the designer that is any more the driving lever, but the quality of the object that we buy. You have spoken, in this case, about a chair that requires a particular craftsmanship in its making, but if you think of the giant ‘World’ lamp, a floor lamp 110 cm tall, with a front graphic printed on luminescent plexi, which not only illuminates the area around it but also gives a unique effect; if you think about it, it does not exist in any market, in any material, and if it did, you could not produce it for EUR 780. For us it is important to achieve an almost artistic design that you would only get the chance to produce thanks to our cardboard.
10) China, Japan, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA. In which of these 6 countries would you first like to export your furniture?
N.M. We are working a lot on internationalization, and I think it is important to export in those countries where a product like ours will be most appreciated by the culture of the people. The dream of the United States is always in my thoughts but we must proceed step by step and look for partners/investors who decide to work with us to export our mission... maybe we will go first into the UK and then arrive in Japan. We are very ambitious and we believe that only by working with those people who we feel possess inside that special something can we create a company that is able to make known our collections and to disseminate the message of a truly green oriented future.
11) Architects, professionals, celebrities, fashion victims, interior designers, fashion designers, designer furniture stores. Which of these categories is the greatest lover of Kubedesign pieces?
N.M. The giant lamps, the XXL, shaped furniture, furnishings and the Kubedesign items are quite unique and totally additional products. The target buyer is not really definable, but are all united by the desire to buy an emotional product. I believe that in each of the products we make there is truly a piece of our soul.
12) We salute you with the last question. Among some of your beautiful lamps dedicated to comic heroes, we did not see Diabolik, Jeeg or Gundam. Can we say that to you? Have we offended you. What have these characters done to you?
N.M. We take one step at a time... today we have added to our design range a collection of a lot of appealing lamps with the images of Superheros on Warner Bros. license.
These items are also unique of their kind; Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman will give us a hand to put out the message that the future will be even more rosy and green, as opposed to what they want us to believe... on the other hand, the Superheros are lamps that once switched on light up and protect us in our homes.