This piece was originally written for Lombard Odier as part of their 'Rethinking Everything' editorial. Find out more on the Lombard Odier website.
As orders are placed at the touch of a button, and consumer demand for new “stuff” continues to increase, retailers are having to rethink their business and manufacturing models to keep up.
The ‘see it, buy it, have it’ mentality has become the mantra of most modern retailers. Such is the demand for newness and instant gratification among consumers today than even the already speedy fashion industry is under pressure to rethink its seasonal shows with a ‘see now buy now’ offer. So imagine introducing a company that goes directly against this norm. One that holds no inventory, and where a product only exists once ordered. This is the business model of New York-based OTHR, a brand specialising in 3-D printed objects.
While until recently 3-D printing has been negatively associated with faddy show-off objects, OTHR’s philosophy is as far from creating extra landfil as its possible to get. With a mission to work with the best designers, to create beautiful, desirable objects for the home, co-founder Joe Doucet explains, ‘We’re attempting to create the first well-designed consumer objects of the fourth industrial revolution.’
OTHR may be trying to avoid being a current trend, but there is no doubt that 3-D printing is a hot topic. In the last twelve months especially, conversation has moved from intrigue to actual and factual developments, both in technological and investment terms. It was announced in September that General Electric (GE) have agreed to buy two 3-D printing companies for a combined cost of $1.4billion. According to the statement released, 3-D printing creates more durable products and massively increases potential for new designs. So will it be a game-changer? And how is OTHR joining the revolution?
Three years ago, Doucet became fascinated by 3-D printing and the potential of the technology. To experiment, he ordered a 3-D printed metal fork that cost $250. It wasn’t good, in design or execution, but in the ensuing years the technology has increased to the point where beautiful, hi-res objects can be produced in steel, precious metals and porcelain, for a viable market price.
“We expect the pace of technological development within 3-D printing to increase exponentially, which in term will increase our ability to experiment with design and offer products at more accessible price points.”
Doucet and fellow co-founders Dean DiSimone and Evan Clabots, also see the process of collaboration and design redefined for a new digital industrial age.
“The dawn of the fourth industrial revolution has evolved the way we collaborate. Some of the designers we work with we have never met. Bambu Studio in Alcoy, Spain, for example. Throughout the design process we communicated via Skype and sent prototypes back and forth using only digital files. Not a single box was shipped. The technology expedites the exchange of ideas and collapses geographical boundaries.”
Saving on the air miles maybe, but 3-D printing hasn’t so far had a brilliant reputation for sustainability. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of a brand’s social responsibility, and it is increasingly important to prove clean credentials. But Doucet believes OTHR can be leaders in rethinking this status quo too. ‘We have no factories, no warehouses, and our production process eliminates excessive waste. Our physical footprint as well our environmental impact is significantly reduced purely by our business philosophy and the reality of this technology.’
While IKEA boss Steve Howard recently spoke of society’s inching towards “peak stuff”, most consumers are yet to get the memo. OTHR pride themselves on their awareness, especially when it comes to the culture of disposability. Unlike many of the early 3-D printed products, OTHR pieces are carefully considered, created for quality and designed to last. ‘We are very conscious of which objects do and do not deserve to exist. We are not limited by what is considered to be a best-seller, and our zero-inventory model allows our designers the freedom to experiment, and allows us to be more critical of the products we offer.’
Technological advancements and industrial revolutions aside, OTHR want to create products that are ultimately desirable and that delight their customers. Anyone chosen to create an OTHR product is tasked to design something that embodies three values: Useful, Aesthetic and Unique. The founders decided early on that all objects should have a purpose, not be just pure decoration, and they must also have a ‘high degree of artistic merit’ and be unique in the sense that it is not merely a variation on something that has come before. High stakes for any designer, and OTHR has been lucky to be able to select from the top tier of global talent.
“All our launch designers were from a carefully selected group of leading names; icons, friends and collaborators. But we are also dedicated to launching newcomers with exceptional talent and promise. We have the luxury of taking risks without the burden of inventory. The design ideas come from everywhere: many designers have had something in their back pocket for a while, but never had the ability to execute, others are proposed by us when we see an opportunity to utilise 3-D printing to the fullest.”
OTHR officially launched in the US this summer, and now ships internationally too. From here it is full steam (or printing) ahead into the revolution and beyond. While new designers are constantly being commissioned, objects are only going to get (literally) bigger and better, with larger products on the horizon as the scope of 3-D printing technology expands. The OTHR founders have a simple, if lofty ambition: ‘We want to be the most important and relevant design brand from America since the mid-century movement.’ OTHR is already rethinking production on a pioneering level, next is surely an overhaul of the wider manufacturing and retail industries as technological advancements continue to offer opportunities for smaller companies to disrupt the industrial world order.