October 11 2010
Lucia van der Post
If you’re interested in fine – and new – design, there’s a fresh website worth checking out. Made.com, founded by Ning Li – something of a serial entrepreneur from China – and his business partners, Chloe Macintosh and Julien Callede, aims to bring exciting design within easy and affordable reach. Several other successful entrepreneurs, among them Brent Hoberman of lastminute.com and John Hunt, co-founder of the Seattle Coffee Company, are investors in the enterprise and believe the idea has serious “legs”.
Ning Li founded the company because he was frustrated by the complications involved in selling furniture through the usual route of furniture stores. “There’s a long supply chain,” he says (to you and me, this means there are lots of middlemen, each taking a cut), “and it’s very inefficient and expensive, as stores have huge difficulties with warehousing and inventory.” His notion, therefore, was to work with young, up-and-coming designers, get their products made efficiently and quickly (“The normal time frame for a designer completing a product and it coming to market is anything from one year to three,” he explains), involve the end consumer in the product-selection process and then bring the pieces directly and relatively affordably to the public.
How it works is that a new design is posted up on the website every week. Visitors to the site are then invited to give their views by ticking either the “Love it” or the “Loathe it” box. A product is not made until there are enough people who “love it” to render it economical to produce. The downside is that there is then usually a gap of about eight to 12 weeks before it is delivered; the upside is that it is infinitely less expensive than its retail equivalent.
Ning Li uses only the best manufacturers in China. So far, the most successful design has been the Stroller desk (first and second pictures, £299) by Steuart Padwick, who has worked with Sir Terence Conran’s Benchmark company. Personally, the designs I like best aren’t particularly avant-garde – the wonderfully priced Jazz Club leather chair (£199) is charmingly retro, while the steel Legend Café chairs (third picture, £88 a pair) are based on the classic French bistro chair. The Piggy Bag bean bag (£59), would be a great addition to any teenager’s or student’s room.
Made.com is likely to appeal to two categories of buyer – those who love quality, modern designs and couldn’t otherwise afford these sorts of products, and those who are perfectly well off but don’t see why they should pay more for their furniture than necessary. It’s only been going since March and the site is already creating waves.
But for Ning Li, making designer items more affordable, and therefore more accessible, is not his only motivation; it’s also about getting hot products on to the market quickly and showcasing the work of young designers very early on. Clearly one to watch.