When the textile company Kvadrat presented another product stemming from its year-long collaboration with the French designers Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec early in 2016, we got a small taste of what makes the Danish brand stand out from its competitors. We sat down with Kvadrat’s CEO Anders Byriel to talk about the importance of collaborations, the company’s DNA and how external designers affect it.
Quality, quality, quality: those are the words Anders Byriel uses when asked about Kvadrat’s values. The company is based in the small town of Ebeltoft, Denmark, and it was founded in 1968 by Poul Byriel, who is Anders Byriel’s father, and Erling Rasmussen. In the beginning, Kvadrat worked a lot with Danish furniture designers such as Finn Juhl and Nanna Ditzel, creating a portfolio of furniture textiles.
“When we started our journey in the late 1960s and when I entered the company in the 1990s, we were very contemporary and explorative. We didn’t deliver a lot of textiles for hotels and such—two a year at the most—and today we deliver solutions to more than 1,000 hotels per year,” says Byriel when describing how the company moved from being a small player in the industry to becoming one of the biggest.
Staying fresh with a common thread
In an effort to constantly push innovation and creativity, Kvadrat continuously establishes collaborations with external designers and artists. One of these collaborations is with the renowned French design duo Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, who recently designed the Kvadrat Roller Blinds. Byriel describes his company’s relationship with the Bouroullecs as a professional collaboration and a friendship.
“They have been extremely important to us. We have created some significant projects together, some of them that are less commercial. What drives our collaboration is the urge to explore boundaries, whether they are creative, artistic or technological boundaries,” says Byriel.
When Kvadrat chooses external designers to collaborate with, Byriel and his team looks for a common thread in people’s work. For Byriel, it is not enough that a designer creates one great design. It is a good start, but there has to a be common thread and a series of great work.
“We work with multiple famous designers, and we actually demand a lot more from the established designers than we do from new, upcoming ones simply because they have to prove a lot more to us,” says Byriel.
So far, Kvadrat has collaborated with many international designers, such as Raf Simons, Peter Saville, Olafur Eliasson and Hella Jongerius.
The value of collaboration
Once in awhile, graduates from design schools get employed straight away, but this only happens every other year. As with design students, the urge to explore boundaries is present at Kvadrat, which has always been a design-driven company. When Byriel began working for the company, the employees were all Scandinavian. Today, Kvadrat employs a mix of 50% Scandinavians and 50% non-Scandinavians.
“It takes commitment to say that quality, quality, and quality are our main values. We are obliged to deliver great products when proclaiming this,” says Byriel, who believes more in a certain culture than actual branding, when asked about the brand value of collaborating with Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec.
“To me, it is good to talk about branding, and branding is a good thing. But for some people, the word branding gives the wrong picture. Branding equals culture, and to me, that is what it is all about. The brand descends from the culture of the company. That is part of the reason why we have been welcomed in the architecture business—because we are aware of the culture in our company. When we create a product, we are concerned with the content of the product. We do not make products as part of any marketing stunts,” says Byriel.
Pioneers of real products
Called a pioneer for its modern, contemporary design language, Kvadrat’s solutions have been used in many architectural developments around the world, including the Gherkin in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the Opera House in Copenhagen, which was designed by Henning Larsen Architects.
“One of my favourite expression is ‘Do not underestimate the people you are dealing with.’ People can often look through branding exercises and marketing stunts—that it is why it is all about keeping it real,” says Byriel.