2019 year in review and some Venn Design history
A message from Venn Design founder Tyler Benner
I recognize there is still most of November and all of December to come, though the temperature change and dwindling sunlight has inspired me to do some reflections I’d like to share. I feel fortunate Venn Design has progressed since the early days when a Venn chair was only an idea in my mind and I was combing the internet for various materials and methods to build the first sphere.
Looking back, I drew some of the first patterns and lists of characteristics in 2012. A year or so later I worked with Peters Upholstery in Mastersonville, Pennsylvania, a scant few miles from the home I was raised in. Rural Lancaster county is characterized by rolling hills, winding roads, farms and orchards, Amish horse and buggies, and a hardy, creative local populous.
The first Venn chairs were only fabric coverings, and many of them were decidedly egg shaped. But I continually received compliments from people who saw or sat on these first models. There in the back of my dreams the idea stayed, until the summer of 2015 when I met Fine Karunamit of FYN Apparel in Portland, Oregon. I’ve always been on the lookout for other creative people and I wanted to someday meet a person with her sewing skills. It is truly a compliment when I say she’s like Rambo at a sewing machine because she can make it fly with one hand behind her back and both eyes closed. She makes it sound like a well-oiled machine gun and never misses. Fine is a sewing machine whisperer. Which makes sense because her first love is couture and wedding dresses – fine silks, gauze, and embroidery is some of the most challenging sewing – her speciality.
Over the span of several months, I researched materials and learned through trial and error. I digitized the patterns and started establishing a supply chain. I reasoned we needed to make a Venn chair truly upholstered, adding foam and felt to our construction. And I built the first website – 4 rotating pictures and a paragraph of text. Already a huge upgrade had happened in the quality of Venn chairs and we started making happy customers. Early 2016 was our first major sale with Touch of Modern, the first time masses of people were exposed to my ideas about the future of furniture.
I took things step by step from there. I studied lean business manufacturing to improve process, quality, cost control, and enable reasonable consumer pricing. Our first distributors came on board, like Hunt and Gather, and Made Here PDX, and Boys Fort. Even the local West Elm in downtown Portland invited us in for pop-up-shops and Christmas gift highlights. I developed partnerships with Pendleton Woolen Mills and PVS In-store Graphics to make our iconic designs. I worked with photography specialist and multi-media composite artist Sean Rice to learn how to present spheres in the most appealing light and circumstance. Order by order, we grew and made improvements.
Press started to take notice, with notable mentions in Portland Monthly and their Design Annual edition. Our launch press was Domino Magazine. Portland Made wrote a feature. Robb Vices told our story to their high-class clientele and now we’re in their store too. We’ve even drawn attention from international brands like Popeye Magazine out of Tokyo who featured us in an issue on craftsmanship. Bike Portland published a fantastic overview of our forthcoming cycling shoe. And friend and colleague Dr. Mark Cucuzella even featured Venn in his book, Run For Your Life!
On a journey like this, you learn many details that fill you with inspiration. Like how a customer and expecting mother brought her Venn chair to the hospital because it was the only chair she felt comfortable sitting on. Or how John Malkovich walked into Boys Fort and bought several chairs for the holidays. I’ve always loved his movies and somehow knowing he also appreciated my creative output was hilarious and enriching – I laugh every time I see the compilation on YouTube where someone supercut all the times he says the word F##k in the movie Burn After Reading.
Along the way, I also got connected with Katy Bowman. Katy is a biomechanist, author, teacher, and thought leader. First she was a customer, but when she approached me about Venn Design sponsoring her popular podcast Nutritious Movement, I didn’t hesitate. Katy’s work has been highlighted in places as nationwide as the Today Show where they published a segment on how correct posture and daily movement increases brain plasticity and overall health. I highly suggest you check out her now dozen or more books on biomechanics and incorporating realistic change in your every day.
2019 has brought incredible change. We kicked off the year by establishing business partnerships with Huckberry and Robb Vices, producing more chairs in a month than ever. Let me tell you it felt especially good to ship out our first pallet of finished goods! Color specialists Woonwinkel invited us to their summer collection and now we’re producing chairs in specific colorways for their incredible design aesthetic. And I was introduced to Kitchatna Apparel Manufacturing, a top-quality factory in Salem, Oregon, with the ability to scale. Over the span of 6 months and many trips across the country and back and forth from Portland to Salem I slowly transitioned our manufacturing to Salem. New products like our forth-coming floor pads are in the pipeline. We are now officially running all production through the factory and it represents a big step for the future. And perhaps you’ve been seeing some of our partnerships and collaborations on social media. Please take a visit to draw inspiration from our incredible creation partners!
I’ve recently finished the 3rd edition of an archery textbook I co-authored and publish, Inside the Archer, through sister brand Astra Archery. I share this because my inspirations for creating furniture that enhances your posture stems from my experiences in archery where as a competitor I learned the importance of posture firsthand, and then through writing Inside the Archer I’ve helped tens of thousands of archers around the world learn how correct posture enhances performance. Astra Archery sponsors the USA Olympic Team and my old roommate Brady Ellison is the 2019 World Champion and #1 ranked archer in the world – he is also one of the highlighted archers throughout the book and a beautiful showcase of the technique in action. USA Olympic archery coach Kisik Lee is my esteemed coach and co-author. Astra Archery also produced a product known as the Shot Trainer that functions as a training aid to teach proper posture and release technique through self-correcting biofeedback of the archer’s physics upon loosing the arrow.
I know many of you follow because you’re looking for a proper cycling shoe and I’ve been largely quiet on this front for many months. Have no fear because much work has been going on behind the scenes and I’m confident we’ll have something exciting to announce in the near future.
Please consider what change is possible in your own life with the straightforward decision to incorporate more movement into your every day. The human body was made to move, bend, stretch, and reach. There is no single correct way to move, so try them all. Surround yourself with objects that encourage movement and you’ll live longer with greater mobility. You don’t have to run marathons or spend hours in a musty gym - the real secret is incorporating movement throughout your every day and you’ll reap the benefits!
To the furniture store owners amongst you, please contact me. To the movement influencers, send me a message or find us on social media. To the designers and marketers who feel inspired to share your creativity with the world, I want to help you. And to our customers, the biggest and most whole-hearted THANK YOU. None of this would be possible without all of you.