At Emeco, they make chairs to last a lifetime. You’re thinking: “So what? Doesn’t everybody?” Actually, no. Stylistic obsolescence – a product becoming obsolete (unfashionable) after a period of time – is what keeps the fashion and home deco industries going. Most introduce a new must-have collection every season so you will keep on buying more stuff. Read here why and how Emeco designs things – with famous designers such as Phillippe Starck – you want to hold on to. And your children after you.
If a chair could physically last your entire life, would you want to keep it that long? If you look at your granny’s furniture; do you go wild thinking you might own them one day? Probably not. That’s however exactly what Emeco is proposing. They design their chairs to be handed down from generation to generation. Their slogan is “Firstly, let’s make something that lasts”. Not just physically – having a functional lifespan of between 80 and 150 years – but also emotionally. By designing it to be timeless, together with famous designers such as Phillippe Starck and Nendo. This article explains how cool company Emeco became super successful even though they encourage people to buy less.
Why strong enough to last a lifetime?
During the Second World War the US Marine was in need of chairs. Chairs that could withstand water, salt air and sailors. Meaning they had to be extremely strong. Strong enough to last a lifetime. Emeco took up the challenge and produced the aluminium Navy Chair, officially named the 1006. They were forced to manufacture it from recycled aluminium as metal was scarce during the war.
The Navy Chair was a hit. Not only because it was indestructible, but also because it was multi-applicable. In the decades that followed the US Government bought it for many of its hospitals, prisons and police stations. Until, by the end of the century, sales started dropping as demand by Emeco’s largest client was decreasing. Why? The chairs hardly ever needed to be replaced…
Emeco’s second life
When new owner Gregg Buchbinder saw that designer Phillipe Starck had used Emeco’s 1006 for the lobby of a hotel he decorated, he knew what to do. Together they made the Hudson chair which Starck described as “washing the details from the Navy Chair” for the Hudson Hotel in New York. Emeco’s second life as a design chair company had lifted off.
Heritage against recycling
In 2001, when the Hudson was launched, Starck’s idea was that recycling was out. Instead, he was passionate about products that would last forever, being handed down for generations. His slogan for the Hudson launch was ‘Heritage Against Recycling’. A bit confusing to me to be honest as the Hudson is made out of recycled aluminium. Anyway, what he meant was ‘make something so well (timeless and strong), you never have to recycle it’. The Hudson was made to last 150 years. It was a huge success.
More than just good looks
Many famous designers followed Starck’s example, such as Nendo, and collaborated with Emeco since then resulting in beautiful design. Emeco’s chairs, however, are more than just good looks. The company has always remained loyal to its original principles; making things that last a lifetime – both physically as emotionally – from recycled materials. Everybody they have worked with embraced these principles and created something beautiful with it. Such as Nendo, designing a stool named SU.
Won’t they be out of business soon?
Emeco’s philosophy is to make chairs in a way they can last a lifetime. So actually they are encouraging people to buy less. Living in a growth dependant economic system, where success is judged by ever-increasing sales volumes, this actually sounds rather contradictorary… Won’t they be out of business soon as they make something that never needs to be replaced?
The world is a pretty big place…. And also, when you think about it, companies like Lego or Rolls Royce, whose products also stand the test of time, are still very much alive and kicking. People love them as much as they did decades ago. And aren’t we detesting our throwaway culture more and more anyway? Every day we hear about resources becoming scarce. Products will inevitably have impact on the world’s environment and resources but, by being useful for as long as possible, that impact can be minimised. That’s why companies such as Emeco, but also furniture company Vitsoe (“Living better with less, that lasts longer”) and outdoor clothing & gear company Patagonia (featuring the add “Don’t buy this jacket”), know that long term success is not about being fashionable but about being of timeless quality.