As an interior designer based in Los Angeles, James Saavedra has worked on high-end residential design projects, developed products with Pottery Barn, and offered design expertise on TLC’s Clean Sweep TV show in which designers clean up cluttered homes. Along the way, Saavedra discovered there was a lack of furniture to the trade that was sustainably produced but still sexy and attractive. To fill this need, Saavedra collaborated with good friend and fellow designer Kelly LaPlante to design and produce the jak studio collection line of furniture that is both eco-friendly and stylish. www.saavedradesignstudio.com / www.jakstudiocollection.com
As was once the case with sustainably-produced but rough-hewn clothing made of burlap or hemp, the emphasis with green furniture has often been more on sustainability than style. “There wasn’t anything that designers would use,” says Saavedra. “What was available wasn’t design forward.”
Inspired by this void in the marketplace, Saavedra and LaPlante created and launched the jak studio collection in 2008. The high-end jak line is designed with careful attention to both the sustainability of how it is made, and the look and feel of the final product. Central to the jak line, Saavedra says, is the idea that a sustainable product doesn’t have to sacrifice style.
The jak line is hand-crafted in small factories right in Los Angeles, so Saavedra and LaPlante can keep a close eye on how it is made, visiting the factories to ensure furniture is produced according to their discerning expectations. The frames are made of FSC-certified wood, foam is from recycled content, finishes are water-based and low VOC, and the factories where the furniture is built treat people well.
In general, Saavedra has found that consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about design. But with greater knowledge also comes greater expectations. “Most consumers are more design savvy than people were 5-10 years ago, because of the internet and TV shows,” says Saavedra.
This increased knowledge extends to green products as well. Consumers are also becoming open and interested in green products, curious about what green products have to offer compared to less sustainably produced furniture although other factors like price are still central to the buying decision. “They don’t necessarily want green, but they want to know the comparison and make their decision based on price,” says Saavedra.
Like many business owners, Saavedra is finding that key skills for success today are adaptability and perseverance, being able to tenaciously keep moving forward while still adjusting course along the way. The economic storm has settled somewhat, but most consumers are still not spending money in the same way they once did. And since jak launched in 2008, Saavedra and LaPlante found themselves introducing a new product line at the height of the economic storm. “Even people who can afford it are watching their money,” says Saavedra. “People are hungry for simple, back-to-basics things, not flashy and frivolous.”
Saavedra is adapting to the new environment by taking his design business in a new direction. One consequence of the changed economic times is a renewed emphasis on solid, high-quality products that last. A few well-built pieces of furniture that last a long time are both greener and a better value than items that are cheaper but fall apart quickly. “People want smart and resourceful, well-made products that last a long time,” says Saavedra.
Saavedra is also working on developing products at a lower price point and making a foray into new markets, such is the case with his current project of re-imaging the interior spaces of several Mariner Health Care facilities in California. The next step for the jak studio collection, Saavedra says, is to “go back to the drawing board,” reexamining his and LaPlante’s designs and processes to find cost savings that will help them move into this new market. To cut costs and achieve low prices without losing quality, they look at every detail such as how much wood is exposed, how many cushions are used, and how much inside structure the furniture has.
There might not be a magic formula for success, but putting together the right combination of innovation, perseverance, attention to the big picture, and close attention to details can propel a business in the right direction. Saavedra’s design business seems poised for a successful journey with all of these pieces in place.