Furniture design

Respect. Repair. Reuse. Recycle. Remember. The world will be thankful! – Interview with Wehlers

It’s Europe’s first certified B-corporation furniture brand: Wehlers was established in Copenhagen by Henrik Holm and Maria Fryd. Danish in the soul, their aim is to be the positive change they wish to see in the world by applying circular principles in the design process.

2015, Denmark: Wehlers is established as a Design Furniture Company, laying the foundations for a future remarkable portfolio, entirely made of sustainable pieces. Adopting the simple but effective philosophy of “Furniture for good”, the founders add to the Danish design tradition by making products that matter from the very beginning of their journey.

Today, Wehlers designs furniture made out of scrap materials and accepts back their products after the life-cycle ends, closing in this way the materials loop. Repairing, reusing and recycling are the guidelines while treating the taken-back objects, as well as during the whole design process.

Don’t miss the opportunity to discover more about Wehlers’ early inspirations, circular design principles, behind processes and further steps by reading the interview with Henrik Holm in the occasion of Sustainable Furniture Week by DesignWanted.

Wehlers - Herink and Maria
Henrik Holm and Maria Fryd from Wehlers

How did the journey for Wehlers begin?

Henrik Holm: “It began when I was studying sustainability and saw that furniture lacks a sustainable focus. I read the book: “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” from founder and owner of Patagonia Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia is an inspiration to me personally and Wehlers as a business. Both companies are B-Corps.”

Wehlers - Stool ans StepStool
Wehlers adds to the Danish design tradition by making products that matter

Wehlers designs furniture made with recycled or sustainable sourced materials through a circular economy approach that is a very important part of your design solution. In your experience, what are the most difficult steps in establishing a circular economy in the furniture industry?

Henrik Holm: “As Wehlers holds to “circular economy” as a value, the choices become easy. And the NOs to materials become easy.

When developing the chair RUM, the designer came with a material that was a mix of plastic and wood – They argued that the surface was great. It was but after use, the material could ONLY be burned or end up as landfill. Hence the choice was easy: No-Go.”

Wehlers - RUM chair - C.F. Møller Design
The RUM chair is made from recycled ocean plastic

Wehlers has designed an intelligent ECO-system, could you tell us more about it and how is this implemented in your designs?

Henrik Holm: The ECO-system demands Wehlers to accept back used furniture. All suppliers of materials have signed legal papers to be part of the solution. For contract customers, the ECO system is: “leave the furniture on the sidewalk, and Wehlers will pick it up”. After this Wehlers will re-pair, re-sell or re-cycle the furniture. That is the ECO system.

And this will be supported by an app that shows the total Wehlers impact on ocean-plastic taken from the oceans, the actual customer impact, and the returned RUM-chairs. To demonstrate that the ocean-plastic does not re-enter the oceans.

Recycling furniture is a sustainable practice adopted also by other designers. Take a look at “I exist, therefore I pollute.” – Reinventing plastic waste with Plasticiet!

Wehlers - RUM chair - ocean
Wehlers accepts back used furniture, so that the ocean plast does not re-enter the oceans

Wehlers closes material loops and takes its responsibility when it comes to utilizing materials. What is your process behind choosing the materials that you use? How do you research and experiment on sustainable solutions for your products?

Henrik Holm: “As all suppliers are asked to be part of the recycling process, it seems that the materials chosen are of a good standard. Wehlers never ends up with an ugly substance material, that is impossible to handle when coming back. That is a good BS protector.

Also, the design brief starts with the words: “Begin with the end in mind” that is a demand to the designer, that Wehlers has an ECO-system that takes back furniture. So mixed materials are a No-Go. We don’t use glue as an example. And obviously, we don’t mix materials.”

Wehlers - Alternative chairs
Since Wehlers has an ECO-system that takes back furniture, mixed materials are a NoGo

As Europe’s first certified B-corporation furniture brand, how would you define the importance of sustainability in the furniture industry? Many furniture companies still have not implemented sustainable practices: do they have an excuse?

Henrik Holm: “There is no excuse. NONE. The trouble for the other brands is that they are faced with a TRANSITION. Transition is difficult and costs money. CEOs don’t like this cocktail. And the board certainly no.

Being a b-corp is great guidance, and supports the Wehlers Brand. Strongly. It is a company certificate rather than a PRODUCT certificate, and this I like. Profit/Planet/People.

The importance is not to be missed or overlooked. In 10 years all brands will offer an item which they will call sustainable. Wehlers is all out sustainable. That is the value proposition and the brand differentiation that Wehlers offers its customer.

Wehlers - packaging
The value proposition is “Wehlers is all out sustainable”

Always pushing for conscious consumption, what can we expect next from Wehlers?

Henrik Holm: “We are on the look for new materials and have found sources that Wehlers is of the opinion that they will sell well. Household plast is of interest. Time will show how we will offer more sustainable items to the Wehlers portfolio.

We have just completed a project where Re-Used wood was transformed into a bench & a drawer on a hotel. This has lead Wehlers to develop tables of Re-Cycled Wood. The result is amazing and will be launched soon.”

Curious to discover more sustainable products made out of recycled materials? Don’t miss Recycled fibre-glass becomes furniture with NESTEP!

Wehlers - Denmark table and Alternative chairs
More sustainable items are going to be added to the Wehlers portfolio