Trying to help vulnerable people make a living

Earning money from their business ideas is not what furniture
designers Mattias Rask and Tor Palm are about. Through collaborating with craftsmen and women around the world, they want to create local jobs and develop their own knowledge. Money? No, it’s not about money.
Photo: Marika Brorsson

South Africa, Vietnam, Peru and Romania. This is where the former LiU Malmsten students have created contacts with local craftsmen and women and started projects together with them. Ceramicists in Cape Town, weavers in Ho Chi Min City, furniture makers in Peru and craftspeople among the Romany in Romania.

“Everything began when we both came back from our internships in design offices in Stockholm. It felt really meaningless, a grey environment with desks and computers. We discussed the meaning of being designers; our planet certainly doesn’t need more ‘stuff’. So we thought about what we could do that would feel both meaningful and creative,” Mr Rask explains.

These thoughts led to them doing their graduate projects in Cape Town, studying how local ceramicists work.

After they graduated a few years ago they started their company Glimpt (a mixture of the Swedish glimt and the English glimpse; the idea of getting a glimpse of a different type of handicraft, a different culture, a different country).

Then followed a journey to Vietnam. Their encounters with weavers there resulted in a series of seats that are now selling the world over via the Cappellini furniture company (pictured, left).

“We don’t earn any money ourselves from this, but it is good both for our reputation and because it helps get handicraft into people’s front rooms,” Mr Rask says.

After that there were trips to Peru, leading to a series of small living room tables made by furniture makers in the Andes (pictured, below right).

“Sales are going really badly. That’s a shame, as the products are really good. But we are also learning from the experience. Things like lack of communication due to language differences.”

The latest project has just begun in Romania, where Romany craftspeople will be making lounge furniture, probably from woven willow and other materials.

“We are in contact with a Romanian organisation who are working to support the Romany. We don’t know if we will make any money out of this, but since Romania is a part of the EU it makes business easier. We’ll see.”

The motivation for Mr Rask and Mr Palm is not to become rich off the projects. The idea is more to find a meaning in helping vulnerable people from other countries get the chance to sell their products on different markets.

Until now they have been partly funded by scholarships. Apart from that, their income comes from other jobs.

“We have been working on this for four years now. We’re going for it. We believe completely in our niche and we think it will work. One day it is bound to pay off.”

From LiU magazine no 4 2014