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The ethics of specification: Alona Klaro on responsible sourcing, building relationships with suppliers and the importance of design IP

Alona Klaro, founder of Klaro Industrial Design (KID), has set her sights on shaking up the specification game. As a product designer with expertise in office furniture, Klaro is looking to bring the “slow fashion” approach to fit outs and interiors, paving a way for commercial designers to address the evolving needs of modern workplaces […]

The ethics of specification: Alona Klaro on responsible sourcing, building relationships with suppliers and the importance of design IP

Alona Klaro, founder of Klaro Industrial Design (KID), has set her sights on shaking up the specification game. As a product designer with expertise in office furniture, Klaro is looking to bring the “slow fashion” approach to fit outs and interiors, paving a way for commercial designers to address the evolving needs of modern workplaces while prioritising sustainability and local industry.

Still a relatively new approach for the Australian design scene, Klaro’s way of thinking has unearthed some key challenges facing the way we specify, with tender systems, material costs and even social media all raising some red flags. And with a background in sculpting and interior architecture, Klaro is perhaps best placed to make this commentary, having seen both sides of the specification game while also being blessed with the creative mindset of a visual artist.

In a world where we all need to be more responsible for the way we behave as consumers and end-users, Klaro’s commentary has never been more needed. We recently caught up with her to find out more about her vision for a more ethical approach to specification, and the role we can each play in creating better systems, standards, and relationships.

Indesignlive: What is the current state of play in the Australian design scene when it comes to specifying?

Alona Klaro: At the moment, I am conducting an overview of the mid-level market as a foundation to set my parameters from. What’s really clear is that our specifiers are pretty time-poor creatures, and only a few do get time to properly research the furniture and select project-specific solutions.

However, at times this makes zero difference to project outcome, where, once the schedule is uploaded to a big black hole of our online tender system, there is little control left of what actually will be procured by a winning bidder who came in with the lowest price.

Indesignlive: Based on your observations, what are the key priorities and challenges for specifiers at the moment?

Alona Klaro: Priorities are definitely efficiency and speed in processing jobs, and the challenges are the flipside of that, specifically retaining individuality and design intent within such constraints.

Indesignlive: We seem to be seeing a new rise of replica and knock-off culture, perhaps driven by a re-popularisation of iconic pieces from the 50s-70s (think Pierre Jeanneret’s Chandigarh chairs and Mario Bellini’s Camaleonda sofa). What are the realities of this rise?

Alona Klaro: For one, I think it’s really important to acknowledge that there is currently a whole social media dupe culture that glamorises seeking out cheap knockoffs to get the latest look. This isn’t specific to furniture but definitely creates an environment where craftsmanship and design IP is being devalued.

The most glaring problem in this is that these pieces are cheaply mass-produced overseas and are destined to reside in our landfill after 1-2 years of light use. That means there’s less expert manufacturing jobs and a lot more junk in our trunk.

Then of course, there is plain thievery of IP. That’s a moral quandary but also a legal and financial one, with all of the burden placed on the original designer, who needs to pursue the IP and monitor the market for any breaches.

Indesignlive: What should we as an industry be doing to address this?

Alona Klaro: We seem to have this culture that if something is clearly noted as a replica, it’s okay. But what about where a design may be 10% different? Is that ‘passable,’ are we okay with that?

By allowing space for suppliers who stock knock-offs and replicas (whether clearly marked or cleverly marketed) – even if we aren’t specifying those exact pieces – we are reinforcing the message that this is ok, and every time we let it slide, we are robbing ourselves of innovation, vibrancy, and diversity of choices while creating masses of waste and stifling growth of our design culture.

I call for a full boycott of suppliers who have replicas in their range or happy to knock off a branded piece to order. If cost-effective solutions are required – there is an equal amount of generic commodity furniture to fill the gap.

Indesignlive: Do you have any advice to designers who want to prioritise craftsmanship and original designs but have clients who might not be on the same page or who are really pushing cost savings?

Alona Klaro: I would say the main factor is a clear understanding of the client’s budget and specifications as well as the same for the furniture to be selected. It’s a matching-up game. This may offer an opportunity to invest in key pieces, where a visual statement needs to be stronger to underpin a client’s own brand message. The original furniture is almost always a better environmental choice and carries much greater longevity, not to mention its value retention. Whereas the generic gear will only cost the client to dispose of at the end of its considerably shorter life.

Indesignlive: Does building a relationship with your suppliers come into play here? How can good supplier/designer relationships impact your lead times and bottom line?

Alona Klaro: It definitely does. For one, buying power equals better rates. But beyond this, building a relationship means there is a greater understanding of your design intent, and both parties are able to more clearly manage expectations and put in place a well-rehearsed, efficient workflow between the repeat specifier and a furniture contractor.

A good supplier can always tailor a package solution that will tick most if not all the criteria that are put in place by the end client while being able to keep tabs on budget and lead time. It’s worth mentioning that a good pipeline is the best incentive for quick defect rectification. 

Indesignlive: Shifting gears slightly, can you share a bit more on your thoughts around sustainability? Are there things we can be doing within this space that aren’t getting enough attention?

Alona Klaro: To answer this question I would like to zero in on product stewardship programs, why I don’t think they work well, and what a solution may be.

As we have established, cost is everything in winning the next job, whereas stewardship programs normally are accompanied by a surcharge to the client to finance logistics of items to be returned and refurb/recycled. Right there the formula does not work.

I believe the solution should come from the stage zero design intent at the very beginning of product life.

If the piece is designed with materials that carry value in their raw form (steel, aluminium, glass etc…) and are easily dismantled into well-defined pieces, we can tap into an already established process. The ability to monetize these raw materials in the strip-out, end-of-life phase gives the contractor an incentive to properly dispose or action these items and shifts the financial burden to a gain.

Indesignlive: Finally, what other areas of specification process should our industry be considering?

Alona Klaro: Okay, I have three things that immediately come to mind here.

Firstly, I often see specifiers use a brand-specific collateral (images, cad models, spec sheets)  in fit out sheets, but then state that the image is indicative only. This calls for each furniture contractor to attempt to replicate the piece and is pretty detrimental to the brand, as all the leg work is done and no reward arrives.

On top of this, quality and product specifications may not be what was ‘sold’ to the end-client in the first place with an authentic piece of furniture proposal. 

The solution to this is pretty simple, if we know that the client likely will not be able to afford the desired piece, do not put it in the schedule. 

Secondly, know the materials you are specifying. Understand fabric usage – some fabrics are expensive but the roll is wider – so you get better value than if you would specify cheaper fabric that only comes in a 1200-1300mm roll and has a particular pattern direction, creating a lot of wastage.

Do look at the board sizes that you are looking to specify. Some finishes are only 650mm wide, whereas others are 1800mm wide – this can avoid budget and appearance problems, if factored at the design stage.

On a final but similar note, ask about recyclable options. This may not be relevant to each piece, but can definitely be factored into some items. For instance, most workstation legs will tick that box. On a lower level, you can also ask the supplier to use packing blankets and cardboard instead of bubble wrap for made-to-order pieces.

Going back to my earlier point on supplier/specifier relationships, having that open and regular dialogue with your suppliers and contractors will make all three of these things a lot easier for both parties.

Klaro Design

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