|Studio Z: presented by Anna Zaharakos||| Print ||
Anna Zaharakos and Studio Z
Presentation from the Inspired Jacquard & Entrepreneurial Textile Conference
Studio Z and myself, Anna Zaharakos, brought a perspective to the conference from the “exhilarating” trenches of the current textile industry. On our way to the conference we stopped by several mills, in one case our meeting was delayed due to layoffs. Business was off by 30% at two of the larger mills, and 10% at a smaller mill. We had recently developed an exciting textile, with a new yarn development, just as we arrived at the mill to weave the first samples we were informed that the yarn vendor, had gone bankrupt, with no interested party in buying the capacity to produce our yarn.
[Product photo: Mini Critters, lading pads for gadgets.]
Seth Winner to the right and Scott Lewis
The cross discipline applications and philosophies shared in the conference need to be married with new paradigms in industry. The beauty of crisis is tremendous opportunity. The opportunity to change. It is the artists, designers and inventors that drive change and create new product and new business. That is our role in stimulating this economy, and possibly our calling. I believe itis the bringing together of innovative engineering, product vision, and aesthetic qualities that are and will bring the arena of textile products to a whole new level.
My background in textiles started with a “Dilbert”. moment, So beautifully illustrated in a comic entitled with “Another day in cubicle Paradise”. I am sure that the poor souls depicted are screaming, better fabric please!.
I am an Industrial Designer and Sculptor by training from the University of Michigan, and began my professional career at Steelcase, a major office furniture company. I was relegated to the task of refining top cap details on systems furniture. This was in 1983, when the panel systems were upholstered in a balanced plain weave, in shades of grey. I soon realized that the problem was not the top cap, but the forsaken materials. I transferred to material design in 1986, and proceeded to research textiles. I came across a Jacquard Weaving mill, Mastercraft, a residential upholstery mill, and proceeded to work with them on creating a panel fabric. Together we changed the systems textile Industry by introducing the first jacquard panel product, Amirante and Ashanti, both of which still run today. This product created the competition for all the mills in the systems furniture textile industry to invest in jacquard capabilities.
Steelcase Office Panels woven on Jacquard loom at Mastercraft
We won several IBD awards that year of introduction, 1988. We had made an old systems furniture product look new, sales actually went up on the systems product due to the impact of the new materials. I took my window of opportunity at that time, and started Studio Z. I built the business primarily on a royalty based structure, by licensing our designs. In the beginning I did designs for Mastercraft and as well partnered on furniture designs with a German industrial designer, Wolfgang Deisig.
Over the years the business grew from just myself to a staff of 7 designers at its peak. We in essence had become the design department for Mastercraft Contract. Over the years we worked with a number of other mills as well, however, our main relationship and financial foundation was with Mastercraft. We represented over 60% of their contract business. A year and a half ago Mastercraft went bankrupt. Studio Z was pulled into the “exhilarating” vortex of bankruptcy. There are many reasons for bankruptcy, but in the end those reasons do not matter. Bankruptcy is the wild west, and one soon finds out that there is very little to protect you, and most of us do not have the deep financial pockets to address the multitude of issues.
Over night we lost more than 2/3rds of our business. Through legal loopholes we lost the rights to our copyrights. Our primary products that were the financial foundation to our business we were no longer being paid for. They still run today, but the mills that purchased the bankrupted mill are not obligated to pay us.
The good thing prior to this event was that I had spent a week with a Buddhist Monk in the beautiful rocks of Moab, Utah. Thus anger was not an option. I had every intention of surviving and playing another day. I proceeded to pin two pictures up in front of me at the office. One, this one of Yellowstone national park. Look at the new growth juxtaposed to the remaining timbers of the massive fire of almost 18 years ago. The beauty of the new growth can make you almost thankful for the fire.
The second picture was of myself when I had just learned to stand on my own two feet. I told myself that this was my “inner entrepreneur” and I needed to totally reconnect to the total faith and optimism that was inherent at that time in life. There is obviously no doubt in my mind at the time of this picture.
I cut the space in half, and let go of valued members. We were cut down to the core. The now Design team is, myself, Seth Winner and Scott Lewis. Seth with a background in textiles and well versed in jacquard design, and Scott with a background in illustration. The fourth member is myhusband, Michael, who manages the finances and takes faith in our design ability. The whole here is greater than the sum.
We turned a corner, rolled our sleeves up and proceeded to reinvent ourselves.
Thankfully during the down turn of Mastercraft I had initiated our development of our JacqformTM technology. We have blazed a trail in the weaving and cutting of components over the past several years. So much so, that we have achieved getting our utility patent on the process, trademarked our technology, and are preparing to launch our first product line made using this technology. Our webstore will be up and running soon, hosting a number of our first products.
We have woven furniture parts, bags, small scale items that we are calling landing pads, and pillows. We continue to explore new product arenas for our technology, and feel it is only a matter of time before we successfully integrate this into new furniture designs.
Steelcase/ Details – SOTO – Desktop Pads -06/08
We have also created other products not using the JacqformTM technology, inclusive of woven photo art, throws, and goods made from loom waste. All this is in addition to continuing in our traditional business of textile development for industry and also some furniture design. We are stronger today from what we have been through, and in a healthy way thankful for the opportunity that the change of crisis has brought us.
We are also versed in the technology of printing, and have developed a number
of digital printed interior products.
For the students in the industry especially I shared some of my thoughts with regard to interior textiles, using examples of innovation and opportunity. In glancing at the current textile industry, as related primarily to Interior products, I find the following products and opportunities of note. The “Pellicle TM” flexible mesh fabric that is incorporated into the Aeron Chair by Herman Miller radically changed the ergonomic seating industry when it was introduced over 10 years ago. It was the textile that radically departed this chair from every other chair. It spawned on going genre of mesh chairs.
Another fascinating product example is Crypton TM. A finish inspired by the disposable diaper, creating woven fabrics that can still feel a lot like fabric, and yet be a moisture barrier. Crypton has become a textile category in and of itself.
Old techniques like lace making, embroidery and tapestry are finding new levelsof expression due to computer aided technologies. Integration of laser cutting, electronics, nano-technologies, and optics are creating new avenues for textile products. Designers need to work with yarn suppliers, helping to conceive of yarn qualities and combinations for creating new aesthetics and function with textiles. A wonderful example is the Chilewich product, which creatively uses the inherent qualities of PVC, welding itself in place with heat setting after weaving.
And as always there is a constant appetite for new aesthetic and beauty.Textiles is a fascinating arena, as it is as much a canvas for artistic expression as it is an object and component of function and utility. So to this end, we are continually challenged with exploring, finding, and creating new opportunities in this fascinating and evolving product arena of textiles. I feel that now, more than ever before the opportunity for textiles to play a major role in influencing the design of other products is phenomenal.
Thank you for this opportunity. Anna Z
all photographs where provided by Studio Z and used with permission.
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