«There is a gap between industry knowledge and the consumer knowing where the products come from and how they are made». In conversation with the Founder and Creative Director of NKDWare, Kirsi Enkovaara
Kirsi Enkovaara is a London-based designer and the Founder and Creative Director of NKDWare. After studying at the Royal College of Art and working for an array of high-street brands, Enkovaara decided to start her own brand to bring to light what the industry is missing. «There is a gap between industry knowledge and the consumer knowing where the products come from and how they are made», she explains. Companies rarely detail the creative process and supply chain of a product – yet, with a rise in consumer activism, «the journey a product takes before it reaches a customer has started to gain an interest». NKDWare attends to the handmade by detailing a production timeline and by sharing «the real stories of who makes the products and where the materials come from».
Born in Finland, Enkovaara has always been surrounded by design. Nevertheless, her work does not rely on traditional Scandinavian sensibilities as she cites herself as an «emotional designer». Early on she realized that «design doesn’t need to be form follows function – it can be broader and experimental with a notion of storytelling». It was moving to London that shaped Enkovaara, as she was at once exposed to different cultures and ideas. Her move to Spain, Thailand and back again have nurtured a perspective on design and a desire to collaborate and connect communities.
NKDWare’s first collection is a result of Enkovaara’s experiences. A collaboration with three ceramicists: Dr. Linda Bloomfield in London, Capucine Giraud in Paris, and Pollasate Lohachalatanakul in Bangkok. This collection, entitled The Potter’s Wheel, issues a series of ninety vases by each individual maker. Personally selected by Enkovaara, for their values and material knowledge, each maker is asked to respond to a brief using the traditional ceramics technique of the wheel. As the ceramicists employ their own expertise, personality and local materials, the collection evolves into a series of vases that are the same-but-different.
The Potter’s Wheel initiative focused on the throwing lines of the technique; «to capture the moment that the spinning motion of the wheel is in contact with the hands». The moment that the weight and traces of the maker are the most evident in the clay. From it’s conception, the collection is human-centric, it is a reminder that «there is a person behind every product». For each collection, Enkovaara intends to envision a concept, brief and basic product design before handing over the reins to a maker – «this type of collaboration is common in the industry yet the role of the maker is rarely emphasized». Whilst the three series of vases are named after their cities of origin, they are presented alongside the story of their maker. «Putting a face to the supply chain at the moment, reminding consumers that there’s a person at the other end, may trigger change», in consumer habits and the industry at large.
In recent years we have seen the increasing development of conscious consumerism; brands are expected to be socially and politically engaged, with consumers seeking out those in-line with their worldview. With a focus on climate change, it is not unusual for brands to employ greenwashing marketing techniques and thus «it’s difficult to see what is real and what is not when sustainability is a selling point». It is challenging to distinguish authenticity, this growing consumer activism is pushing for brands to be transparent in their business practices and principles. NKDWare could simplify their production and environmental impact by focusing solely on artisans based in London, Enkovaara clarifies that «our supply chain and our consumer behavior is reliant on our global community and trade – the problems we face are global». By operating this way, the brand hopes to develop solutions as to how we can make larger, global supply chains sustainable and ethical.
A case study by the Business of Fashion – Lessons From Fashion’s Journey to Radical Transparency – found that brands built from the bottom up are able to offer fuller disclosure. Transparency is not easy, especially when it comes to unravelling multi-brand companies and large supply chains. Whilst the study may not pertain entirely to the homeware market, Enkovaara agrees that transparency «needs to be in the DNA of the company structure and in the values of the company from the beginning». Each product listing on their website is accompanied by an introduction to the maker, a production timeline, material origins, description and technique, and packing and shipping details. This is accompanied by «as much visual information as possible» that documents the individual maker and their process from start to finish. The level of detail provides a line of sight into the brand, where ethics and sustainability are not a gimmick.
NKDWare’s level of transparency is akin to what Rebecca Robins, Global Chief Learning and Culture Officer for Interbrand, calls «radical honesty». Referring to the Business of Fashion’s case study, a brand is successful in their transparency by acknowledging their shortfalls and ways in which they can improve. With the Bangkok editions of The Potter’s Wheel, the product is shipped by air freight from Thailand to the UK, and will be shipped from London to the consumer. Enkovaara discusses the limitations of one-person operations, in terms of how much they can produce and the resulting high price point. As the brand evolves, Enkovaara hopes to combat these issues.
The goal of the brand is to expand to larger scale production, without sacrificing any of the NKDWare standards. «We want to show both sides of the industry: products are just not made on a potter’s wheel in a garden shed, we want to show us how ceramics are made in a factory because it’s still a handmade craft process». Production is polarized between this idea of small makers and mass-manufacturing, but Enkovaara feels the answer lies somewhere in the middle, «a collaboration between these worlds is where you can make the biggest change». This meeting in the middle could lower the brand’s current luxury price point, while maintaining the quality and storytelling of its product. With large scale production a new set of issues arise – the auditing of factories, to ensuring workers’ rights or managing pollution. A fully sustainable production method is yet to be seen full-scale within the design sector but Enkovaara’s NKDWare is at the forefront of the conversation.
The Potter’s Wheel collection is just the beginning of NKDWare. For the next collection, the aim is to choose another technique and concept as well as another three or four cities and makers. Clay is an abundant and sustainable material that has many uses around the world and will remain part of the brand’s identity. At the same time, Director Kirsi Enkovaara discusses the possibilities of her sustainable material journey with an interest in textiles and glass. Dissecting complex supply chains, specifically the textile industry, has the potential to inform and encourage transparency within big retailers in the future.
NKDWare is a brand in its early stages, born out of a desire for change. At the heart of the brand is a passion for people, creating opportunities for small makers and enriching consumers with design stories and knowledge. By exposing layers of invisible labour, the production process is humanized to the outside world. «Due to the global pandemic we are thinking much more of humanity and people in general», as we realize our communities, economies and planet are much more fragile than we had anticipated. The way we talk about design is changing, «beyond sustainability we are talking about kindness and equality» and this is the future of successful retail. «A few years from now, I hope that the brand will have more reach, be richer and full of stories» exclaims Enkovaara.IMAGE GALLERY