"Making furniture shouldn't be harmful to your health," says Christy Everett of Respondé, a modern home furnishings company based in Brooklyn, NY that grew out of a void Christy saw in the market several years ago for home furnishings that are as sleek and attractive as they are safe for the environment and your health. Respondé employs US Green Building Council LEED guidelines for their materials and processes, meaning they use recycled materials, FSC-certified wood, and only source the cleanest finishes available. "There are so many harsh chemicals that go into the production of furniture," says Christy. "This is something you're going to eat off of every day or sit at all day long, so the more we can eliminate the toxins we encounter in our every day lives, the healthier we'll be." Christy and I discussed the importance of green sustainability, the challenges of being a creative entrepreneur in a role that requires a business mind, and how Respondé plans to position themselves in a rapidly expanding home furnishings market.
Shown above: Heartwood console being made from fallen trees in CT
When most people hear the word "sustainable," they hear "green," but, as we're learning, what's good for the environment isn't necessarily good for your health, correct?
Right. Many of the large scale furniture manufacturers who are marketing themselves as sustainable may be using reclaimed wood, but hardly any of their finishes are green. Take, for example, up-cycling pallets into furniture. This may be beneficial to the environment, but pallets often contain chemicals and pesticides that you don't want in your living space. And it's not only user encounters that are harmful, it's in the manufacturing procedures. The craftsmen that are working with these chemicals day in and day out are the ones at the highest risk.
I can see how it's easy to overlook the dangers since, for the most part, we're so far-removed from the making of our furniture. We order it and it arrives to our homes, often fully assembled. Do you think these health concerns are on people's radars?
I think Responde is a little bit ahead of the curve, so hopefully we can be (a force) when it does become a pressing issue in the interior industry. There is definitely a new movement towards health with HPD (Health Product Declaration). I'm on the manufacturing and advisory panel of that organization, and we're trying to get manufacturers to disclose all the chemicals in their products. I'm also working on the membership committee of the Urban Green Council here in NY, helping to bring awareness to the community.
What's been the most challenging thing about starting up your own company?
I think every entrepreneur in product development thinks, "All I have to do is make a really good product and it'll sell itself," and that's so far from the truth. I always undervalued sales pushes because I felt like you shouldn't have to try so hard to get your product in front of the right people, but now I see the importance.
It's hard because you're obviously a creative person, but entrepreneurs have to be good at all of it, including sales.
Yes, and you really do stumble at trial and error. It's such a great way to learn what you didn't know. You're exposed to the complications of business and that changes the way you think. Like if someone is handing out postcards, I know it's five cents if I take their card, and I wonder: Is it worth their money for me to take their card? You don't think about these things until you face them yourself and it's very enlightening and humbling.
As an emerging brand, what's been the most effective approach for you in terms of getting yourselves out there? Is it social media?
I think social media works better when you have an established company. In terms of getting exposure with the right clients, the trade shows are best. You can have the most eye-catching booth and products, but it's easy to get lost among other vendors at the show, so focusing on being at the right shows and meeting the right people and being able to tell your story in a 5'x10' space is the most important thing. Our lines are really clean and that's not always what interior designers are looking for, but their perspective changes when they hear our story.
I enjoyed getting to hear the story behind your Heartwood Collection at ICFF. I love that it's made entirely from naturally fallen trees. Can you share a bit more about the process?
The trees are milled on-site in Connecticut. Because wood is ever-changing and organic, you have to let it dry out for a long time so that the moisture escapes and won't warp when you manufacture it into furniture. The furniture is all hand-crafted and finished with a VOC-free oil and wax finish.
The company is still quite young. How would you like to see the brand evolve in the coming months?
We want to offer a full product line so that we're a single place for people sourcing sustainable furniture. We're currently in showrooms in San Francisco and Miami and we're working with a designer showroom in Philadelphia. We'd like to be in 10-12 cities throughout the United States, so we're working on finding the best retailers that will complement our line. We have a very European aesthetic but with only 4-6 weeks lead time as opposed to 12-16 weeks, which is a benefit of being made in the USA, so hopefully we can provide a service to clients that don't want to wait, but still want the quality and very clean aesthetic.