Revology attempts to revolutionise New Zealand's furniture design industry

A Wanaka start-up is hoping to take their design for a new type of chair worldwide. 

Revology design #1 is a chair made from linen, and uses flax, which is five times stronger than wood. Weighing less than 3.5 kilogrammes (versus about 10 for the average chair), the design made an appearance at Paris Design Week, and won a gold award for product design at the 2016 Melbourne Design Awards.

Alex Guichard and Monique Kelly, the couple behind the chair, recently took time to speak with Idealog about the chair, the reason for crowdfunding model, and trends in New Zealand furniture design.

Idealog: How did the idea for the chair come about? Why a chair and not, say, a table or sofa?

Monique Kelly (MK): The idea for Revology began with a material – natural composite fibres and in particular flax fibres, or linen. For a few years, Alex had been trying to find a product that would showcase the beauty of this material. It was when I bought him two old bentwood bistro chairs for Christmas 2013 that he finally had his eureka moment. He knew that the shape of the chair and its complexity would be perfect for showing the potential of linen composites and would really create something different from anything else on the market.

There are three key advantages of linen composites – strength, weight and beauty. Each object we work on has to combine these three advantages. A table would not be a great idea as I don’t know if you want to have a super light table that could fly away in the wind? However, a chair is perfect. It is lightweight, strong and beautiful. So now we have design #1, our bistro chair, ready to launch in 2017.

We have a number of ideas for future projects and we don’t necessarily want to be defined as a furniture designer. We may go outside of this realm. And we also want to explore the potential of other natural fibres and are testing some now. As long as we think the advantages of the material will bring something to the design, anything is an option.

Why the Kickstarter model?

MK: Crowd funding platforms, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, have become the best way to test and launch a product into the global marketplace. The marketing, communication and PR machinery behind launching a campaign is massive and has become a very competitive market as we are finding out. You really need to prepare the ground before launching the campaign and already get as many people behind you as possible. Kickstarter gets 20 million views per month on their platform and we think that this audience is aligned with our brand.

The idea behind crowd funding now is to get your product in front of as many potential buyers as possible in the international arena. It’s a big risk and the ultimate test of consumer feedback. We love our product but will others? We hope so and believe they will. Crowd funding will tell us if we are right. A successful crowd funding campaign will be the commercial validation we need for our first design.

Once you have a proven product that the consumer will buy, it will mean that we will go from being a R&D focused company, to one where we have our first product on the market. This step into a becoming a revenue earning company will make it easier to raise capital if we need to and provide us with the momentum to start developing other objects.

Monique Kelly (left) and Alex Guichard.

Could you describe some of the tech in the chair?

Alex Guichard (AG): The technology behind Revology stems from the know-how of how to transform linen fibre into a shape. Currently the vast majority of the world’s linen production is used in the textile industry and only a small portion for technical purposes. It is only recently that we have begun to tap in to its potential in the automotive, aero spatial, construction, sports and leisure and design sectors. The mechanical properties of linen are extremely interesting and we are only just starting to tap in to the potential of these fibres.

Up until now, there has been a technological barrier to using these fibres. Currently, those transforming linen composites use a pre-consolidated sheet and thermo-compression to mould parts, which is time consuming and costly. This gives the parts sound mechanical properties but the surface quality is not great and the parts made are usually hidden away.

We use a special moulding technology using an alternative and innovative heating solution, which allows us eliminate the need for a pre-consolidated sheet. The technology we use allows us to control the temperature in the mould and ensures that we do no burn the fibres. It also allows us to have a great surface quality, and the linen mould comes out ready to be integrated into the design and no painting or finishing is needed. This technology is protected by over 80 patents and allows us to be fairly certain that our chair will not be copied. 

The use of composites in the chair has allowed us to go beyond the forms that are possible when using other materials. The organic shape with differing diameters is only possible because we are moulding a flexible braid and making a hollow part. We are going to be able to produce a chair that will be about 3kg in total and 5x stronger than wood.

How might this chair increase someone’s productivity while also keeping them healthy?

MK: The materials used in the chair will be sourced as far as possible from sustainable, natural products.

For the legs we use linen which is sustainably sourced from Europe, where over 80% of the world’s linen is produced. European linen uses zero irrigation, stocks 250,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, is fully biodegradable and recyclable, and is completely waste-free. All parts of the plant are useful and utilised in some capacity: long fibres for fabric, short fibres for paper or felt; seeds and oils for livestock feed or human consumption, as well as varnish, and linoleum; and shives for gardening, animal bedding, compost, etc.  Combined with the resin the linen fibre forms a composite that is 100 percent recyclable.

The seat is made from a bio-based resin, which uses glucose extracted from plants instead of petrol. Essentially you are sitting on sugar. This is better for the planet, society and ultimately good for the consumer.

Natural composites are a sustainable solution to the current dependence on fossil fuel based materials (common plastics based from natural gas and petroleum). We believe that by advancing the technology which enables greater use and potential applications for natural composites, and we doing our part to promote natural materials, protect the planet, and in turn our health and future for the next generation.

What is the market for this product? Homes? Businesses?

MK: Home, café, restaurants, hotels… anywhere you need beautiful chairs.

What are some trends we’re seeing in New Zealand furniture design?

MK: The furniture market is globally very competitive. To be seen above the rest, you need to have something different and unique that stands out. Being part of Paris Design Week this year really showed us how competitive it is out there and finding an idea or concept that is different is very difficult.

It is really hard to say that we have a particular design trend in New Zealand, it is such a global industry now and we cannot but be influenced by what is going on elsewhere. It is more that each individual designer brings their own imprint to their design and this is what makes it unique and successful. David Trubridge has this with his beautiful pendant lights inspired by his natural surrounds as does Tim Brown and Allbirds with the innovative use of natural wool fibres in the footwear industry.

Anything else you’d like to say?

AG: Design #1 is the chair that breaks the mould. It has not been done before. There is most definitely a shift in popularity towards natural products with more organic lines, and colours and textures that work in harmony with our environment. At Paris Design Week the watch words were “slow design”. For Revology this is conscious design, from the seed to our end products and beyond, for Revology slow design represents well-being and respect for individuals, society and the natural environment. We are designing for the next generation, lessening the negative impact on the planet. This is what we aspire to do.