Camilla Dybdal Christensen is head designer and CEO of the Danish manufacturing partner behind BoConcept’s cushion range; some of the most sustainably made cushions on the market. The curated collection arrives in on-trend hues and finishes, including corduroy, velvet and florals.
In the interview below, Camilla speaks on the industry, their 15-year collaboration, sustainable initiatives and the differences between high-quality and inferior designs.
You discovered accessories as a young designer. How did you go from interior designer to CEO?
I was living in Germany and was the only female salesperson in a store selling very expensive furniture. I noticed that a lot of customers wanted help styling their new furniture. So, I asked the owner and was given the green light to set up the service. It was very successful, and taught me a lot about design, interiors and people.
In time, I returned to Denmark, where I planned to do a master’s in Psychology, start a business and give birth to my daughter – not in that order [laughs]. I had a summer break to fill, so decided to work at my mother’s then car mat manufacturing firm. To cut a long story short, I had my daughter, did the master’s for all of about five weeks, stepped away from the startup idea and focussed on developing my mother’s company – expanding production to a full range of soft furnishings and accessories. I’ve been here for over twenty years now – fifteen of them working with BoConcept.
Tell us about your design process.
Like all industries, technology has changed the way we work. When we started making cushions for BoConcept, I would draw all print designs by hand. Today, paper and ink has largely been replaced by computers. I also now have a team of designers, so the creative development is more collaborative. However, I still draw many of my designs on paper. My team would say I’m old school, but I can live with that. [laughs]
In recent seasons, photography has been a starting point for many of our printed designs. We find imagery that reflects the brief. We then isolate a small section of the photo, to the point where it becomes abstract, and then manipulate and replicate that imagery across the design. It’s a fun process and the final print carries traces of the emotion and narrative of the original piece.
I have a wonderful relationship with BoConcept and travel to Istanbul with Christine [Accessories Product Manager] to buy fabric for production. That annual trip is invaluable. We not only hand-select beautiful textiles at one of the world’s biggest fabric fairs, but it’s also where we get to discuss consumer insights, mega trends, colours, the brand, market performance and important things like good wine [laughs]. It is very inspiring.
How does a consumer know they are buying a high-quality cushion?
Functionally speaking, our cushions are made using high-quality fabrics woven in Europe. So, they are wonderfully soft, rich in colour with fibres that remain intact for years. A cheap product will nearly always be made using poorly woven fabrics. The fibres will fall out, the colour will fade within weeks and the ‘handfeel’ just doesn’t compare.
Funnily enough, this warn, reused effect is trending right now, but these products will degrade beyond anything the consumer desires. The look is not by design. They’re simply very bad products.
On the ethical side, inferior cushions are made and dyed using harmful chemicals that are banned in Europe. These chemicals, and importantly the way workers are forced to apply them, amount to horrendous conditions, ill-health and an absence of human rights. If you’ve seen the effects first hand – and I have – you simply wouldn’t support this kind of product.
Tell us about your approach to sustainability.
Firstly, our location, expertise and size mean we can cut out excessive transportation, as all cushions are designed, filled and sewn in our Danish factory, just 50km away from BoConcept’s European Distribution Centre.
Our waste never exceeds ten percent. So, we put a lot of effort into ordering materials to match consumption. If necessary, we sew cushions in slightly varying dimensions to use as much of the fabric roll as possible. And we don’t order zippers in standard sizes but in metre lengths and cut them to fit. It’s more time consuming, but we simply won’t tolerate waste.
Our designs are all Oeko-Tex ® certified, so customers can buy knowing the manufacturing processes are sustainable and the products are free from harmful chemicals. Incidentally, Oeko-Tex ® just tested our oilcloth, which is treated with our own formulated recipe. They said it is the only oilcloth they have encountered that is completely free of fluoride. Lastly, all of our BoConcept cushions are filled with 100% recycled feathers.
What global trends are you most closely watching?
Sustainability is everything. It’s what the consumer is focussed on now and will be for the foreseeable future, as I see it. And they are using the benchmark of sustainability to target the brands they want to be associated with.
The industry must deliver authentic messaging and end contrived greenwashing, because the consumer can see through it. They want to retell our real stories to show their peers they are doing their bit. The consumer is sophisticated and understands that companies can’t be great at everything. So, I am focussing on constantly improving our production; better communicating my company’s strengths and being honest about where we need to do more.
This is a focus I have been dedicated to for many many years. I’ve been lucky enough to give and organise talks on the subject as a board member for the Danish Home Accessories Association. Because in truth, this isn’t a trend at all. It’s the future survival of our companies, our industry and more importantly our planet.
What is your favourite design from the new cushion collection?
I love it all. Never ask a designer to choose one of their babies. [laughs]
Visit BoConcept at www.boconcept.com/en-gb/