Friday, June 1, 2012

Meet Your Maker: Sands Made

You may have seen our new collection of Sands Made products kicking around Stockroom the past couple of weeks. Using gorgeous combinations of sustainable woods, Sands Made paddles and boards are simple, functional and classic pieces of craftsmanship. Recently I was lucky enough to spend some time asking founder Robbie Sands a bit about the way the business operates.

S: Stockroom are stoked to have recently discovered Sands Made – how long have you been kicking around (and how come it took us so long to find you!?)?

RS: Great to hear! Our products have actually been used in Australian kitchens for over ten years now. In the past, most of our home ware products were sold direct through word of mouth, usually in tandem with furniture sales. Since the creation of the Sands Made brand last year, we've been working hard to make our product range more accessible to a larger audience. One of the most important steps for us at the moment is getting the word out there and meeting great retailers such as yourselves.

S: Could you tell us a little bit about your background? What path led you to what you do now?

RS: My background has always revolved around creating and designing, starting in my father's wood workshop as a child. University led me to study industrial design followed by multimedia design. Since then I've worked in advertising, web design, usability design, and product design.

S: Are you a sole practitioner, or do you have a team of makers that create Sands Made wares?

RS: Sands Made is made up of a team of skilled woodworkers including my father, Peter Sands who has been producing timber furniture for over 40 years.

S: How about the day-to-day operation of Sands Made - what would a typical day involve?

RS: The day to day operation depends largely on the time of year, jobs change weekly. The following list covers most of it though:
  • Production – Making the products is the most intensive part of running Sands Made. The old adage "measure twice, cut once" comes into play every day, as mistakes are hard to recover from.
  • R&D – Developing new products and refining existing products happens every day, successful ideas are usually tested for about 6 months before we offer them for sale. Products need to be tested thoroughly, often this involves destroying a lovely chopping board by soaking it in water or running it through the dishwasher several times. No product wants to end up in my kitchen.
  • Sales – Connecting with great retail spaces and new customers takes a lot of time, we also like to stay in touch with our customers when possible to hear how they're using our products, people often provide feedback through our facebook page.
  • Marketing – We'd like our products to be approachable to new customers. Currently we're working on adding more in-store and online product information (such as care instructions), we want customers to feel confident about their product choice long after the original sale.

S: All your pieces are manufactured in Victoria. With so many Australian countries now having products manufactured overseas, why do you choose to produce Sands Made in Australia? What challenges/triumphs have you faced keeping your production local?

RS: Currently we produce in relatively small batches when compared to import markets. This gives our business a strong advantage of being very agile, if a product is not performing we can cut it from our line with few losses. If a product is working well, we can explore options and meet demand quickly. As a young company with a small team, Australia is a great development environment for us.

As demand for our products grows, so do the challenges of producing locally. We're currently in discussions with a Japanese run workshop in Indonesia which specialises in precision woodworking with sustainably farmed timbers. We're hoping to have a few of our popular products made there by the end of the year. Our customers opinions on overseas production are split into two main concerns: 1: Product Quality & 2: Harmful logging practices used in South East Asia. We share these concerns and we think we're heading in a good direction for our customers while addressing these problems. We're keen to hear feedback on this decision, feel free to send us an email.

S: Tell me about the woods you use – some are commonly known such as Tasmanian Myrtle, though you also use some more left-field woods such as Celery pine and American White Oak. What guides your choice in materials, or what makes for a perfect cheese board?

RS: Wood selection draws on three important considerations:

1 Environment: where did the wood come from? 
We source all our timber from sustainably managed forests or recovered logs. Sustainability is achieved through compliance with the Australian Forest Practices Code and Regional Forest Agreement, or the Forest Stewardship Council in the case of US sourced timbers.

2 Performance: how suitable is the wood for the job?
Celery Pine (for example) is a very special close grained wood from Tasmania. We find Celery Pine has just the right characteristics of durability, density and stability, which make it perfect for long term use as a chopping surface.

3 Appearance: what aesthetic are we aiming for?
The look we generally aim for is modesty and subtle contrast (we generally steer clear of garish fluoro-coloured products). Black walnut and celery pine give a wonderful contrast to many of our products and age beautifully too. For a more traditional appearance, such as our Cheese Paddle range we like to use a timber closely associated with the product's heritage, Oak in this case.

S: And lastly, what Sands Made product(s) is currently sitting on your kitchen table?

RS: Actually, the dining table is a Sands Made product, I'm not sure if that counts though... We've just finished testing some 10mm thick Cheese Paddle No.5s, we usually produce these at 15-17mm but we want to cut the weight to make them easier to handle. The first prototype is sitting on the dining table at home.

Thanks Robbie! You can view more Sands Made products on their website, or visit Stockroom for more information. Stockroom has a glorious range of Sands Made boards and paddles in store - better get in quick before they run out!

* Images from top to bottom: Trivets, Ahno Board, Asterix, Mote Board 3