Fairtrade Furniture

Buyer: Furniture

Location: UK

"It all started with the idea of creating a 'feel-good' chair", says Hugh Ross, Founder of The Fair Trade Furniture Co Ltd. "The point being that body, mind and soul should all feel good when sitting on our furniture."

Weaver Noriyono

The Fair Trade Furniture Co. is a UK organisation based in Salisbury that combines Swedish design with Indonesian materials to create unique chairs, sofas, and tables for use in garden-rooms, conservatories and summerhouses.

Hugh explains: "Once my wife and I decided on furniture made from sustainable materials that would lend themselves to a fair trade approach, the next challenge was to find a designer; one with real world experience, empathy with the producers, and knowledge of raw materials.

"After a year or two of going down blind alleys, we eventually hooked up with Swedish designer Tord Kjellstrom, who rose to the challenge magnificently. From his design studio in Northumberland, he dreamed up a range of possible approaches, including the concept of an asymmetrical chair, now known as the 'Semarang'.

"The materials we were looking for, such as rattan and seagrass, are primarily found in South East Asia, as are the skilled craftsmen needed for the intricate weaving involved.

"Until last year, a producer group we called Pondok Kayu Tropis (PKT) carried out all of the carpentry and weaving for our flagship chair. This brought us the name of the chair, as PKT is based half an hour west of the port of Semarang."

PKT employs its own carpenters, and provides them with steady work that pays 25% above the local average, as well as giving them training and other benefits such as paying for healthcare costs and the free loan of a motorbike.

"As the Semarang's popularity continued to grow, we needed PKT to increase production capacity by as much as 50%, but they seemed unable to meet this demand. This left us with a very difficult decision to make - how to find an additional supplier.

"Luckily we found a solution that suits everyone: we asked our other partner Inori to develop a new stream of Semarang production with one of their carpentry-based partners Karya Wahana Sentosa (KWaS). They are now providing the 40-50% extra capacity that we require, whilst PKT continue to be our primary supplier, and are relieved that they can grow at a pace that suits them."

So with everything up and running, and Fair Trade Furniture Co. meeting demand from their UK consumers, why did they need support from Shared Interest?

"Thanks to your investors, we are now able to provide steady orders and regular monthly payments to PKT, which in turn allows them to provide secure jobs to their team of carpenters and weavers. Without Shared Interest, our business would not be able to help these jobs exist." So if Hugh could give one message to investors, what would it be?

"Above all else, it would be thank you for your support. The Shared Interest facility has made a real difference to how we operate, enabling us to be more efficient and better able to deliver the benefits of working on a fair trade basis to our Indonesian partners."