This company disrupts Nordic design, one discovery under the radar at a time

For many emerging designers, moving from a successful graduate collection or solid social media following to a successful business can seem impossible. This is how Åben hopes to help budding designers from a certain design-centric region.

The brand, which launches its online store on August 1, is the brainchild of David Harrigan, a former entertainment lawyer turned entrepreneur who started the company to encourage new talent in Nordic design. Based in Alma, a collaborative workspace and creative hub in the trendy Östermalm district of Stockholm, the studio will release a collection from the first range of its ‘carousel of talents’, including Antrei Hartikainen, young Finnish designer from the year, who makes his furniture in the Fiskars Arts Center, and the brand’s first designer-in-residence Nick Ross, who created a bespoke piece for the brand. (In his temporary role, Ross will also act as a sounding board to help new designers navigate the industry.) To keep its offerings both fresh and focused, the site will bring in and out products from new manufacturers all over the place. every few months. “Åben is a platform for emerging product design talent based in the Nordic countries,” Harrigan tells AD PRO. “It’s almost an incubator … a greenhouse for talent to turn it from good to great.”

Samuli Helavuo’s Edition Shelf will soon be available for purchase from the Åben website.

Photo: Unto Rautio / Courtesy of Åben

A cabinet in natural oak by Antrei Hartikainen.

Photo: Arsi Ikaheimonen / Courtesy of Åben

The idea behind Åben arose as Harrigan struggled to find options beyond the usual big brands to decorate his London home. He had found opportunities to support independent designers directly in fashion, where clients can easily order personalized clothing, but it was more difficult for him to discover and support new voices in design. It was then that he started talking to recent graduates of KADK (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation in Copenhagen), Konstfack (University of the Arts, Stockholm Crafts and Design) and Aalto University in Helsinki – “the Harvards, Oxbridges of design,” as Harrigan calls them – and hanging out in cafeterias meeting dozens of young graduates to ask a single question: ” And now ?

During these conversations, he found that there was no shortage of innovative designs, but found that many young designers struggled to run a business on a day-to-day basis: marketing, communication with clients, taxes, logistics and insurance. “A lot of them think they can launch a web page, set up an Instagram account and their products are going to take off,” he says. That’s why Harrigan decided to build the infrastructure so that “the designer can get back to what he does best.”

Erin Turkoglu’s Pillar Vase, seen here, filled with spring flowers.

Photo: Courtesy of Åben

The seed for Harrigan’s idea also came from examining how other industries operate on the internet and how new talent is emerging in music or art. “What about the products? You know you’ve been successful when your products are offered at Design Within Reach or Fritz Hansen, but what if you’re just starting out? What’s your SoundCloud, your YouTube? Design professionals and collectors he spoke to expressed similar concerns. “There was a whole industry that was in conflict,” says Harrigan. “They wanted to defend young talent, but they couldn’t find it.”

While Åben is supposed to be that online marketplace, featuring editorial-inspired styling, text and photography, Harrigan plans to expand the business into the physical world with experiential offerings such as a commercial hotel or a physical store. Whatever avenues the brand takes, they will all be linked to its long-term sustainability plan: Harrigan’s goal is for Åben to become carbon neutral within its first three to four years.

In the meantime, Harrigan sees Åben as more than a new way to shop. He hopes it will be the center of a new creative community and an antidote to the over-the-top, unadventurous “Blandinavian” style, as it is sometimes called. “If there’s one industry that’s ripe for disruption, it’s Nordic design,” says Harrigan. “We are creating a whole new category.

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About Gertrude H. Kerr

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