In the week that we said farewell to NME magazine – one of the titles that certainly influenced us here at Mix – it feels so right that we’re heading down to South London to meet with a new, relatively unknown furniture brand. After all, it was NME that ‘found’ all those great artists and bands that we still treasure today. We always said we wanted to be like that – to discover new and brilliant brands – not that we’d be so arrogant as to call ourselves the NME of the workplace sector!
There definitely is something a little bit rock’n’roll about the company we’re here to see. Rawside is the brainchild of Richard Gann, who has built a small, close-knit team of like-minded people, whose goal is to design, produce and deliver something different – a genuine alternative – right here in London.
A quick look at the Rawside website will tell you that this isn’t a brand just trying to be different. With the mantra ‘Designed in Brixton – Made in Wandsworth’ writ large across the home page, the look and feel here is more cool fashion label, surf/skate brand or hip microbrewery. Don’t worry though, Richard and the team aren’t some band of hipsters, playing at being different for the sake of it. There’s plenty of substance here, as we quickly discover. ‘We started Rawside right here – and we still do the design work here. We just opened our new production facility, just around the corner, three weeks ago. That used to be in Wandsworth – hence the ‘Designed in Brixton – Made in Wandsworth’ line – but we’re now looking to change that to ‘Designed in Brixton – Made in Brixton’. So we’ve brought everything even closer together!
‘We started off with the idea of simply making a desk in London. Where are you going to actually make a desk in London? We were never going to make a white, formulaic, soulless desk. This all came from being frustrated by boring furniture constantly being used on projects – and also the environmental impact. I had moved out of interiors for four years and got a lot of experience with product and technology manufacturing. I realised that UK furniture manufacturing is really behind in its offering to its customers. You can find some great manufacturing facilities in Europe – but why shouldn’t you be able to produce a desk right here in London?
‘I talked to some buddies of mine from this industry and told them about my idea. They thought I’d never do it – they couldn’t see how we could do this competitively.’
Of course, Richard was determined to prove them wrong – well, we wouldn’t be here if he’d simply agreed and thrown the towel in! ‘We just went ahead and did it!’ Richard grins, as we stroll across to the new Rawside factory facility. ‘We’ve recently supplied 4,000 desks for The Office Group. We produce what we call ‘the non-standard standard’ – so they are essentially a range of products that you can change around, within reason, that are delivered quickly and are as competitive as all the other contract quality products on the market. It’s really worked – we’re going from strength to strength.
‘We literally make everything here. We want people to come here and ‘meet the makers’, to see what we’re doing. We’re a team of 20 now – and some of these guys have been with me from before we even started the business! We’ve got a really great core of makers here – and we’ve produced over 6,000 workstations in the last six months, which is pretty good going, especially seeing as we were in a workshop half the size of this. We plan to be making up to 200 desks a day now we have this facility – and we’re competitive and sustainable.
‘Each worktable is 100% recyclable. The whole ethos of the business is focused on the recognised 4R approach to environmental responsibility (reduce, reuse, recycle, recover) – and that starts with making sure that the product lasts a lifetime. Then, when we do make a new product, we take a look at the materials we’re making it from, and then just make sure it’s travelled as little distance as possible. It’s not always easy, but that passion is at the heart of this business. We use British steel, we use plywood – because it is so much more environmentally friendly – and we use desktop linoleum as a mass manufactured material, which everyone says is too expensive. We’re proof that you can make it work!
‘It’s amazing to think that we only came up with the idea of making a desk in London three years ago!’
Before starting Rawside, Richard had taken some time out of the interiors world and worked in the technology arena. ‘I realised, after four years, that this wasn’t going to be my retirement fund! But during that time I’d spent quite a bit of time in the States and also went out to Germany and China a lot. I saw a lot of factories in China – both good and bad – and saw some amazing factories in Germany, which inspired me.
‘So, realising that what people wanted from their workplaces had changed an awful lot and with technology moving the way it has and agile workforces being promoted, we still believed that, however many quirky spaces were on offer, people still want a flat surface to work at a lot of the time, but not necessarily in the format of a traditional office desk. So, we simply started with the question, what makes a desk a desk and a table a table? Aren’t they the same thing – essentially four legs and a flat surface? Let’s just make a table. Virtually everyone else works with 8×4 sheets, but we looked at the idea of taking a square – if you look at it, what’s the difference really? If you put two chairs around it, then it becomes a two-person desk and if you put four seats around it, it becomes a meeting table.
‘We’re not reinventing the wheel here – and we don’t expect to win any Red Dot awards (although we have some interesting products on the drawing board that might change that!) but we knew that if we kept it true to our principles, it would appeal to the market and the only way it could really work is if we brought manufacturing in-house. So we invested in some great CNC machinery, a good team of designers and makers and then we just started selling it – and it sold really well.’
With such a great ethos, a genuinely personal service approach, new workshop facilities and fantastic, robust products, we’re sure Rawside will continue to thrive, not that they’re resting on their laurels – or prepared to take anything like an obvious route. ‘We’re currently looking for a select group of resellers to work with – we’re probably looking at no more than four or five,’ Richard reveals. ‘We don’t have a Clerkenwell showroom – we’ll never have a Clerkenwell showroom. I’ll have sold my soul to the devil if we ever do that!
‘Who knows where this will take us – maybe we’ll have a Rawside Brooklyn and a Rawside Shanghai one day.’