Designpreneur Tomek Archer shares his top tips as one-third of the most interesting design/tech start-ups to hit the market in 2012.
June 10th, 2014
Words by Ben Morgan
Some of the world’s biggest fashion brands – think Converse and Adidas – have begun to understand the importance to customers of individualised fashion, and the ability to create our own unique products (or at least the illusion of it). Some furniture brands in the US and Europe also give customers the ability to customise certain aspects of products, such as colour and dimensions. But one new Australian brand is combining furniture and fashion to give consumers the ability to create unique, high-end-design pieces with an individual style.
“It’s kind of an idea that’s trending, being able to mass customise,” says NOMI furniture designer Tomek Archer, “but it’s built on a long legacy of ideas I’ve been working on in my furniture up until this point, in terms of an interest in procurement and just looking at different ways of making, production, manufacturing, shipping and assembly all easier and more efficient.”
The website: nomi.com.au, is essentially the only shopfront for this fledgling Aussie furniture brand. Playful, sketch-like branding hints at the more casual approach for this consumer brand. Far beyond a simple product catalogue, the NOMI website is a portal allowing customers to customise the colour, material, size and finishes of an expanding range of furniture. Changing these elements live on the site, renderings of the unique designs are created in real time. Customers can then place their order and have it assembled in the Melbourne workshop and shipped out with some impressive lead times (roughly four weeks, but could be as little as two).
The company is a collaborative venture between three men with unique and varied experience and skill sets. Michael Grassi – with a background in property and business – Henry Gresson – website, marketing and business development – and Archer – an architect and furniture designer – come together to oversee three core elements of the business. “There’s the product design, there’s all the business relationships and then there’s the website and marketing,” Archer explains. “They’re the three main pillars and the three main people involved hook on to each of those.”
“So behind the website there’s a lot of complicated procurement that it spits out. So that all the ordering happens on the website and it then sends the orders directly to the workshop and organises the logistics. The idea really was to invest a lot into designing the system so that once the company launched everything was set up. It meant investing quite a lot in planning to enable things to be relatively efficient and go smoothly now.”
Archer recalls the beginnings of the company. When looking to design a unique piece for his own home, Grassi found it was complex and expensive to get a tailored piece designed to satisfy the aesthetic he was after. From this initial frustration the conversation between the three co-founders developed and NOMI was born.
Key to the concept is having stockpiles of components at hand, which can be assembled and finished as soon as an order is placed. The trio has also been able to keep to a lower price point without compromising on quality.
“I’ve been responsible for developing all of the products,” says Archer. “To some extent the customisation options and how the website works are tied into how the designs were being considered. It’s totally interrelated, a holistic system. The idea was to create a brand and interface that was built to allow you to make relatively affordable and efficient customised furniture products.
“You can design some totally post-modern combinations of stains and colours, and do the kinds of things that no manufacturer would ever commit to in a mass-production context, where it’s just too risky.”
While the team had what they thought was a very strong concept, the business came with a unique set of risks and challenges. “We had to think about all the problems that might come up and develop everything in advance.” There was no potential for a soft launch as, in order for the website to work, all of the products had to be committed to and integrated into the rendering engine, and all of the customisation options had to be tied into that. “So in order to launch with the first product we had to have all of the products broadly developed, prototyped, tested, priced. With it being such an ambitious project that’s designed to operate at a particular scale in order to work, because we’re dealing with efficiencies, it all had to be developed before making the first sale. So it was a huge investment and a real leap of faith, but it seems to be paying off.”
NOMI is tech start-up meets furniture brand, doubling the challenges, but introducing several exciting opportunities for marketing and design. Time will tell if this could be a new model for the furniture design industry in Australia.
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