Design Collaborative: A World View

July 1, 2008

As part of a principle that promotes social and environmental responsibility, 3form's Full Circle product line celebrates the beauty of indigenous artisans.

By Janet Wiens

From its work, the 3form company appears to be active in the realm of philanthropy. Its mission: collaborate with skilled artisans in countries around the world to transform the elegance of their designs into products for the architecture and interior design community. The fact that 3form is a for-profit company committed to sharing the craftsmanship of indigenous artisans to help them, their families and their communities, makes a compelling and important story.

Founded by Ray Goodson and his son, Talley, 3form is known for many products, including the signature Varia Collection, which showcases decorative interlayers housed within environmentally preferred resin. While the company offers numerous products, it is the Full Circle Collection that is the most appealing from a societal and personal perspective.

"Full Circle reflects our company's commitment to sharing the artistry of indigenous craftspeople with the design community," explains Jill Canales, vice president of design and marketing. "Through our collaboration, we provide income to them while helping to preserve the production of local crafts that have been produced for centuries in many cases."

The line truly represents the world-fossil leaf and bamboo rings from China; Capiz shells from Indonesia, and banana fiber form Nepal. These and other creations are transformed into a variety of products, including screens, signage, and acoustical panels that are often used in restaurants, theaters, offices, and other installations.

Canales says that Full Circle had a soft launch more than a year ago. To tell the line's story, she says that the company felt it had to visually show its clients the people behind the products. Photographer Robin Saidman traveled throughout the world to document the people responsible for completing the first step in the Full Circle process.

"Full Circle initially had eight products, and we expanded the line by seven new designs this year to give us a total of 34 Full Circle products," notes Canales. "The photos capture the work that is done and enables us to share what is so important regarding the line. We will add products and document their production as our employees and partners identify new artisans for collaboration."

Itemba is crafted by HIV-impacted women living in South Africa. By creating this intricate design, the women earn money to provide for themselves and their families.

Itemba was one of the line's original products and is a crochet of copper and traditional beads. Crafted by HIV-impacted women in South Africa, their association with 3form provides income for the women and their families. The women also receive training in business and job skills, marketing support and mentorship.

"Our clients want specific environmental and societal information regarding the products in the line," says Canales. "They want to know who creates the original product, where and how it is produced, and how our artisans are compensated. We have found that they are sharing this information with their clients, which impacts more people and makes 3form's commitment richer and more rewarding."

Adding products to the line involves two major steps before reaching the last stage of production. First, the staff at 3form evaluates U.S. trends regarding patterns and design themes. Then, staff or 3form partners identify artisan groups that can provide crafts to be transformed into products to meet the trends.

Palau is produced by indigenous artisans in Colombia who harvest coconut palms and then wash them naturally before they are transformed into products in the Full Circle line. Palau was used as door inserts in the ZED 451 restaurant in Schaumburg, IL.

Docey Lewis is a consultant with 3form and has worked with natural fibers for more than 25 years. Lewis' travels have taken her to more than 35 countries where she has gained extensive knowledge and an appreciation for the work of indigenous artisans. She began her now four-year association with 3form by helping to bring the Lasso product to market.

"I was in Colombia working with Aid to Artisans," she explains. "The project involved exploring new uses for the fique and sisal plants instead of weaving them into coffee bags. I invited Ray Wenzel, former 3form designer, to Colombia, and our efforts resulted in the production of Lasso."

The indigenous people of Colombia use the fique or sisal plant to weave Lasso and Lasso 2, which was used for the circular screens in the ZED 451 restaurant.

The network that Lewis has developed through her work with ATA is highly valuable as she and the staff at 3form continually work to bring new products to market. "Designers and their clients are more interested in using products that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible, which fits the Full Circle profile," notes Lewis. "My work with ATA and others has provided me with an excellent base from which to identify areas that are rich in crafts with the artisans to fulfill 3form's requirements."

Lewis says that there are numerous opportunities to add products to the collection-part of an ongoing effort to celebrate the quality and the beauty of work produced by indigenous people. The challenge, as it is with most products, is to evaluate production capabilities and final manufacturing requirements in the United States, as
well as considering the opportunities for using the products in the marketplace. Thankfully, the market for Full Circle products should remain strong as an increasing number of designers and their clients seek to make product choices that benefit society and the environment.

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She was formerly marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at
[email protected].

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