Togetherness is a wonderful way to create. Kvadrat has a great track record for forging partnerships with companies that expand its textile talents and its relationship with Febrik is a natural match.
How many encounters have you had where the name of the person, let alone what they do, fades in less than 24 hours? For Anders Byriel, CEO of the Danish textile leader Kvadrat, and Jos Pelders, co-founder of Dutch company Febrik, the encounter between two successful design entrepreneurs was not one of chance, but by design and for design. The exhibition Knit!, held at Kvadrat headquarters during 3daysofdesign in Copenhagen this past September, was the culmination of a process which began more than two years ago. But it was not just a talk show. The dialogue resulted in an acquisition in May 2018. Anders prefers to call it a partnership, given that Kvadrat now owns half of Febrik.
“It happened in a very natural way; we have the same approach, which is extremely design-driven,” Anders commented. “Kvadrat is very strong in woven textile, but it had not developed knitting textile yet, as Febrik has done in an amazing way in the last few years. Febrik is one of the most successful companies that I have seen in the 30 years of my career. It has a young, vibrant energy.”
The story of Febrik began about 15 years ago. “I did not have any connection with knitting,” Jos told DAMN° during a telephone interview. “I studied technical management, so my work was to manage the production of companies. I worked for companies like Philips and Siemens until 2004, then I moved to a textile mill in Holland specialized in knitting, who was looking for someone to run the production. This is how I came to textile.” But actually there was already another connection. “My wife (Renee Merckx) – who was my girlfriend at that time – is a textile designer, who had worked in that company before me. She then returned to the mill while I was there, so we started to work together and came up with the idea of trying knitting in upholstery design, which hadn’t been developed much yet.”
In 2008, Jos and Renee started experimenting. She created some textiles, while he tested his sales ability. “I didn’t know anything about sales. I just took my car full of samples and went to visit clients,” he recalls. “I liked it immediately, because I liked the type of client that we reached out to and they were so happy when I presented them with a material that represented a solution for them.”
The main characteristic of knitting is that it is extremely stretchable in all directions, much more than woven textile, which is made of two threads, the warp and weft, while knitted textile is made of just one thread (it is also called jersey). Knits have a tactile, three-dimensional expression. They deliver excellent stretchability without the use of elastic yarn. This makes them ideal for upholstering organically shaped furniture.
“I remember when I went to present my products to Ligne Roset in 2012: they did not tell me what they were looking for, [but] when I showed them my product, they understood immediately the potential. It was perfect for the Ploum sofa by the Bouroullecs. We were very fortunate to collaborate with them and with another exceptional partner like Moroso, with whom we explored new possibilities of textile.”
These partnerships were so successful that Jos and Renee decided to found their own company, so in 2013 they established Febrik. “We just kept growing and we found ourselves facing new challenges that were too big to handle by ourselves. We needed a strategic partner with a solid and professional structure. We needed someone with a strong brand and international scope to help us. So, we reached out to Kvadrat. It was just a natural match, we complement each other.”
With the partnership, Febrik left to Kvadrat activities like production, logistics, sales and marketing, while they maintained responsibility for product development. “When we began our activity, we were dreaming of exploring every technique of knitting, but we had only a circle machine, so we focused on what we could do with that. Now being part of Kvadrat we want to be on the front line of knitting, so we are exploring other techniques, like fully fashioned shape knitting, the one Nike uses for its shoes, and also we are exploring the use of knitting for other sectors besides interior design, in electronics and automotive areas.”
For Kvadrat it’s not the first time that they have acquired another company. “When I became CEO of Kvadrat, 20 years ago,” says Anders, “it was a company making €12 million with 70 people; now it makes €230 million, with 900 people working for us, and we went from two incorporated companies to 50. In the last 10 years we tripled our business. Most of this, I would say two thirds, comes from our core business, which is textile for interiors and architecture, but our intention is to integrate world-class competencies in various fields related to textile. We want to be become more integral, we want to be able to give full service to the community we serve, to be the global technical specialists in everything related to textile and its application.”
It’s a strategy that explains the acquisition of shares in companies like Wooltex in 2011, a manufacturing company based in the UK, which was already a supplier of Kvadrat. “We wanted their competencies to keep growing globally, but we needed to vertically integrate them to respond to the needs of our clients, such as Jaguar and Land Rover.” The same approach also led to the acquisition of Kinnasand in 2012, giving them access to the high-end residential sector, and Really, a company they acquired in 2017, which represents innovation in circular economy technology and sustainability.
“Since 1968 we have been driven by design, performance, and beauty,” says Anders. “I say beauty provocatively, but we cannot forget the aesthetic aspect of our product. It must be performative and sustainable, but it also must look amazing.” Anders is particularly interested in design with an artistic touch. Kvadrat is also very active in the art sector. “Every year we do about three art projects,” says Anders. “We have worked with art institutions like the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, the upcoming M+ in Hong Kong and the Tate Modern in London. The art world is very resourceful for us; it is a big source of inspiration. Our key reason for working in art is to help the artists to develop their vision.”
Anders is himself an art collector. “As Kvadrat we have a collection of conceptual works and installations,” he explains. “My personal art collection is mostly made up of photography, sculpture and also some drawing. For example, I bought six sculptures by Swiss artist Olaf Breuning that weighed 18 tons; it was a real problem to move them. One of my favourite works in my collection is a sculpture by Pierre Huyghe. I have works by important artists working in photography, like Thomas Demand, Wolfgang Tillmans, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Richard Prince, Miriam Bäckström, Shomei Tomatsu, and Tomoko Yoneda. I recently bought a seascape by Hiroshi Sugimoto. I had been obsessed with the seascape for quite a while. I also buy emerging Scandinavian photographers. Other artists in my collection are Danh Vō, Dan Graham, Raymond Pettibon, and Ai Weiwei.”
Art is not Anders only passion. He loves studying. “I am obsessed with education,” Anders admits. “I studied Intellectual Property law, then I earned an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA), and last year I graduated from the YPO Presidents’ Program at Harvard Business School in Boston.” As the only Danish person who has ever achieved that, Anders can be quite proud of his achievement. “I was offered to complete a PhD in business administration, but I turned it down.” However, Anders has not stopped studying. “I love reading, I read about business, contemporary art, philosophy. I also love reading poetry. I always read poems before going to bed. I also do intellectual holidays, in the winter, when it gets dark so early and I spend days at reading, and in the summer. Even at Kvadrat we meet to discuss what we are reading.”
One might wonder how Anders finds the time to do all this studying and reading, while running such a big company. “One becomes more efficient as time goes by,” he answers. As someone who became CEO of the company at 34, he is apparently not afraid of challenges. “Being a young CEO was challenging,” Anders confesses. “I didn’t think I would work at Kvadrat when I was young, because my father did not want his family to work at the company. It was his business partner who later asked me to join the company. I was very surprised, and I had to think about it for a month, but then I accepted, because, even while studying law, I have always loved the creative content and also because I saw the potential to transform the company to being a world leader.”
Even during this difficult time of Covid-19 and lockdown, Kvadrat is doing quite well. “The financial crisis in 2008 scared me,” Anders recalls, “but that experience taught me how to handle a big crisis and now we are facing this crisis in the same way, that is, by keeping together. We have a very strong sense of community.”
The Covid-19 crisis has also brought major changes in how they work. “As far as the digital aspect is concerned, we have jumped five years ahead,” Anders says. “Even our carbon footprint has improved by being more digital. Even before the Covid-19 crisis we had started the process of becoming a science-based target company, now we are even more aware of how important it is to create a sustainable economy.” The architectural space is changing a lot as well, according to Anders. “The private and the public space are overlapping: the home looks more like an office, because people are working remotely, while the office is getting homier. During Covid-19 it seems like the home and the office are becoming identical spaces. But something that we really miss is the aspect of being together, especially in the creative and innovation fields, we need to be together to create.”
By Silvia Anna Barrilà