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109 Janina Nieper – transcript

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Interview Transcript

Provided by AI

Catherine Weetman  02:57

Janina, welcome to the circular economy podcast.

Janina Nieper  03:01

Thank you for having me. Yeah, I’m really excited to find out more about phirni phi, which looks very interesting.

Catherine Weetman  03:09

First of all, then what’s the backstory for Furnify? How did it how did this all come about?

Janina Nieper  03:15

Furnify started 2010, or 13 years ago, we started because we were part of a bigger design agency. And we started because we are, we realised we are very much part of the problem. When we design something new, we’re actually throwing out furniture. And then we realised that in the process of designing something new, also quality is thrown out that actually could potentially be easily reused. And that’s where we started.

Catherine Weetman  03:43

So in terms of the work that you do for clients, can you explain a bit about the kinds of projects and the sorts of items that you’re looking to design into into those spaces?

Janina Nieper  03:57

Definitely. So verify works as a networking role. We connect new designs to leftover materials, we do schools, we do offices, any spatial design activity, and then we connect materials that are potentially thrown out to new designs, this is from furniture to will to, for instance, left over most wall to left over carpets. The scope on materials is potentially way wide.

Catherine Weetman  04:30

So anything that could be in a kind of working space or a school education, space, those kinds of things. So clients come to you with a with a problem. And then what happens.

Janina Nieper  04:42

So the government wants you to ask usually with a request, they would like to have a new space. If usually it’s a request a space that fits them, and we try to understand their needs. What is it that is currently currently not fitting them? The next step that we do is we do an inventory what is the materials that are Have what furniture do they already have? What spatial qualities do they already like? And then of course, we try to make a minimum in with the minimum impact and maximum impact on the new environment, saying that we try to change as little as possible to create maximum change for them. So that it is a better for the resources, but also better for the planet, but also, exactly with the needs of the client has.

Catherine Weetman  05:29

So they’re achieving the kind of outcomes that they want, whether that’s changing the way they use the space, or just refreshing some, you know, old items in the space, or maybe even moving into a new space and kind of starting from scratch.

Janina Nieper  05:46

Right? Yep. And we start with the inventory first.

Catherine Weetman  05:51

Yeah, so what are, What are the kind of motivations that clients are coming to you with? Is it more about, you know, “we know you’ve got great design skills Furnify, can you help us achieve this”, or are clients coming along with additional requirements, like, you know, “help me reduce my carbon, or helped me have a healthier interior space for my for the team that’s going to be working in here”.

Janina Nieper  06:23

All of them. So I would say, sometimes, clients have very sustainable ambitions. So they already have a nice space for them, but they like to have some changes that so it fits them better. So they have very specific requests. But usually, we also work in cooperation with design agency doc. And there is also about a new way of working. So sometimes clients really would like to bring better spatial qualities to an office make its way to make it more human, for employees more attractive to also work there. So then we also brought in together with them to make sure that whatever is designed is designed to circulate as possible. So we as Furnify, we really, our mission is to turn every sustainable ambition into real reality, so that we’re able to connect the dots when a new design is there with leftover materials.

Catherine Weetman  07:25


Janina Nieper  07:25

but then also, and also making sure that it doesn’t compromise aesthetics. So if there is a client, who, who would like to have, has aesthetic needs certain aesthetic qualities, we we believe that sustainability doesn’t compromise that.

Catherine Weetman  07:44

Yeah, so you’re meeting the design brief first, but trying to do it as sustainably as possible and reuse everything that you can from within their space. And before we come on to the how of the reuse, you know how you kind of make that happen? In practical terms. I want to just go back to something you said a minute ago, and I can’t remember the exact phrase that you used, but I think it was about making the spaces more human. What would that mean?

Janina Nieper  08:13

So this goes into the the work that especially Deda is also doing to really look into what is the new way of working? What can we what, so what do employees look for when they when they would like to work in office space, for instance. So they are we really want to make sure that we offer, for instance, different topologies, that the office that we now have, for instance, doesn’t look like an office, whenever we showcase where we work, we are able to host many different events, you go there for serendipity, you would go to our office and you meet different people you meet, you get inspired by new new people that you meet, but at the same time, the office allows you to seek also the space that you need for certain moments of work. So we have quiet spaces, but we also have spaces for interaction. So that’s something that we also are keen on making sure that it is designed to be fit really the status quo of the needs of the client, depending on what is needed and wanted.

Catherine Weetman  09:28

And I guess these days with hybrid working in different ways that people are trying to connect with their teams, then the challenges around that are even more complex. So tell us about the practicalities. Then, once you’ve come up with the designs and the clients accepted that you’ve then got the challenge of trying to reuse or source, the furniture carpets, maybe the artwork and so on. How does that happen?

Janina Nieper  09:59

Yeah, it’s So Furnify works as a networking position. So we are very happy to now have worked for 13 years, being able to also establish relationships with other suppliers. So whenever we have an established design, we look first, what does the client already have? What do we already have? What is in our network of suppliers, and then we also reach out to them and ask them if we find something similar, if we find something that could potentially also fit the design. And that’s basically how we then source for a project.

Catherine Weetman  10:31

So you’re using what the client already has, but you’re also reusing things that your network of suppliers might have from, you know, leftover from other projects. And then either using that as is, or is a some, you know, refurbishment or fixing or upcycling, what kinds of things might typically happen.

Janina Nieper  10:54

Definitely, so we always, we always clean everything that we reuse. And we also do a technical checkup, making sure that whatever we deliver, can also last for a long time. So we we work. Also, with all our own minds thinking that the higher we go up the ladder, the better. So we refuse, for instance, to use toxic or toxic elements. So for instance, if we refurbish also with textiles, so we try to make sure that those textiles don’t cause harm on the environment, we try to rethink also the processes to really reduce the amount of co2 we have on a remodelling process. And then we use as much as possible or repair if needed, or refurbish, and we go lower than our ladder as possible. So we make sure we really keep the product in the highest value as possible.

Catherine Weetman  11:52

So you really use in this ladder throughout your, your process. And yeah, let I’m gonna put a link to that in in the show notes for people who want to look deeper into that. So Furnify is acting as a single point of contact for clients. And then you following the steps in the ladder process? And what are the kinds of things are you doing to help engage the people who are going to use the building? With the furniture? What, what are the things Have you have you done? That’s different to the kind of you know, you’d have an office refit, here’s a load of new furniture. And, you know, that’s it, end of story.

Janina Nieper  12:32

As Furnify, we do four things, we first we consult, we design, we realise, but we also tell stories. And I think that’s the that’s the thing that we’re also really passionate about, we think that if a project is delivered, the stories that come with a project and come with the furniture also deserves being carried on. So for instance, a furniture piece comes out of a bag or comes out of a studio of a famous artist, then those stories make the product long lasting once we create connection to a product to a product, and we take better care of it. So we believe that those stories are also worth telling, and spreading, because it is a difference. Taking care of your grand master then a chair that we just bought the other day. At a low because retail stores too, I think that there is a difference in the connection that we make to those pieces. And that’s also something that we are passionate about sharing that we can connect a QR code, for instance, of a chair to a story that we tell. And then we created. For instance, for a client that we had – for JetBrains in Munich – , a QR code that will send text to a website where we then we could read of the stories of the products that we delivered.

Catherine Weetman  13:52

So I could go into a building that Furnify had refitted, see a QR code on a piece of furniture that was that was near me, and then use my phone to find out more about the backstory. And I guess, you know, we’re finding out these days, aren’t we that stories are important. You mentioned that people would look after their a chair from their grandmother much more than a, you know, a standard chair that you bought from Ikea or wherever. But I guess it’s not just having that personal emotional connection is it? I know Patagonia in for their American store that that resells WornWear they call it so you’re buying somebody else’s pre used clothing or outdoor gear. But Patagonia score those garments on the basis of the condition and their strapline is something like the scars tell the stories. So even if something’s been mended, you know, say a jacket has been ripped and it’s been meant Did that means that jackets been out and hadn’t had an adventure? And people seem to be quite happy picking up somebody else’s stories? And is, is that what you’re finding as well that, you know, it’s the kind of it’s the, it’s the interest and the human connection, even though that connection isn’t a person that you actually know.

Janina Nieper  15:23

Definitely, I was also just thinking that it’s this Japanese way of repairing objects that I think fits very well this idea where you actually leave the scar and maybe even highlight it with a colour. And I think that’s also something that this metaphor I really, really like, is that actually we can also share them as a new set of standard of beauty. That a scar, or repairing things is nothing that – is something that also is beautiful. And that’s a story in itself. I really

Catherine Weetman  15:57

Yeah, I think you’re right and that’s certainly starting to become a trend in clothing, isn’t it? And I’m going to put a link in the show notes to a book from I can remember the person’s surname Collingwood-Norris I can’t remember her first name at the moment. But yeah, she did. She did a beautiful book on visible creative mending. So really making things beautiful, by using embroidery and other and other techniques. And I know she does online courses as well. So people can really get to grips with that. And your rights, you know, it’s a long standing, you know, very historic Japanese culture, isn’t it this kind of celebrating that you’ve taken extra care to keep something in use and that you’re celebrating the mending itself? So what kind of benefits our clients experiencing? You know, what, what feedback do you get about the kind of the surprising aspects of how this has worked for them.

Janina Nieper  17:03

User you claimed that was a very proud to share the statistics that we deliver together with a project. So for instance, we did a project in the Netherlands for Dura Vermeer, and 50% of the essential pieces, we were able to reuse of existing offices. And then 44%, for instance, came from a network of Second Life items and only 6% We, we needed to source new but honest, high sustainable standards. And that’s something that’s usually clients, I was very proud to share, that they are their mission and values aligns also with what they’re doing. So if they are sustainable company, then they also would like to do the remodelling as sustainably as possible. And that’s where we come in unable to connect the dots very well.

Catherine Weetman  17:55

So you’re really able to help clients, you know, walk the talk, not just have these targets, but explain how they’re embedding it into all sorts of aspects of the way they they do business. And even even going back to the 1990s when I worked at Kellogg’s in Manchester, so it was at the UK Head Office, and it was a relatively new building. But we would joke amongst ourselves that you could tell when somebody’s from head office in America Battle Creek, it was called. When somebody was coming over from Battle Creek, that you know, the reception area would be touched up with paint, and the lifts would be super clean and so on. And, you know, it, we felt embarrassed about how high spec, the office was compared to the factory. And it didn’t, you know, it was a nice place to work. But you still kind of had this guilt that it was a bit ostentatious. And we, you know, this is so this is going back to the 1990s. But even then our nickname for it was Trump Towers. Well, yeah, maybe we were ahead of our time! So yeah. So, you need it in the in the you know, the last 10 years or so and building Furnify’s  business and design agency offer. What have you struggled with and what surprised you?

Janina Nieper  19:25

I think something that we struggled with as Furnify is competing with tax the tax laws. So for instance, what we currently experienced, and we also experienced over the 10 years is that raw materials are not taxed. Why it’s labour is meaning that a refurbishing process can sometimes then lead to higher prices in the end than actually buying something in a more cost labour in a lower cost labour country that doesn’t produce new so that’s something that we have been struggling with If that too, we, because we at Furnify, we really looking at the project cost and we really want to be competitive with something new because we believe sustainability shouldn’t also be shouldn’t cost necessarily more. But this also means that we also have to take a whole project costs into account, that sometimes it can be that the refurbishing of a very single product can sometimes really cost more than actually buying it new but then from from Asia, or etc. But these are things that we are currently that’s the status quo of the current tax regulations, meaning that a publishing process where local labour is involved, we pay taxes on the labour, which, of course then adds up comparing it to not text version materials.

Catherine Weetman  20:52

Yeah. And that seems a bit ridiculous on two fronts, doesn’t it that, you know, we need labour, we need jobs. And yet we’re we’re taxing them out of existence. And also that we know, often in low cost countries that the labour is exploitive. And so we’re kind of offshoring not very good jobs. And I guess also, there’s the design aspect isn’t, isn’t there that if these pieces of furniture and so on, were designed with refurbishment in mind, then the whole process would be a lot more cost effective? You know, whereas in in all sorts of products, things are made cheaper by using, you know, glues and bonding instead of fixings that can be undone. So, if you are going to if you were talking to another business that wanted to go more circular, what would your top tip or lesson learned be? What would you tell them to do? First,

Janina Nieper  21:56

I think what we really learned is, it really makes a difference when you’re able to show what you’re doing. So making it really tangible. So we bind since two years ago, we created DB 55, which is the office that we work in together with a community of, of companies. And there we really made this a reality, we really reuse as much as possible, we reused for instance, old train flow of trains in the Netherlands made it into a new pattern. For our note, now existing floor, on the third floor of our office, we used building blocks, we used furniture, we would we used as much material as possible and legally allowed. Because for the steel construction, for instance, we weren’t yet. And it’s, it’s it’s really inspiring to just showcase what we, what we what we’re trying to tell. So if we make the tangible clients, when they walk into our office, they really see what we’re talking about. And then then for them, it’s more understandable, also the journey that we’re taking them on. But sometimes not everything is as certain as possible because of the procurement process. But things will turn out beautiful nonetheless, because we we have a vision in mind, and we know where we’re heading. So I think that’s something that we really learned, it makes a big difference to clients when they see what we can accomplish working in the way that we work.

Catherine Weetman  23:29

Yeah, that sounds like that sounds interesting, because I guess it’s not as if clients can kind of look through a catalogue. And so, you know, I want one of these chairs, I want one of these tables, you know, I want the the bathrooms to look like this, that it’s much more of a kind of description of what sort of style they would like and and then your design expertise in making that work for their, their teams and the aims of the business and so on, but constrained by what’s available out there and how you can make it all come together in a way that that, you know, looks coherent.

Janina Nieper  24:06

Definitely. I think one tip could also to be to start a local community and network. So they, I, for instance, I founded the Circular Economy Club in Amsterdam, which is now a community of like minded people, and we host drinks every months, where we connect over drinks, and we meet at circular companies. And that way you create a network of people, you also invite collaboration. And it’s also the first step to to understand how are other businesses doing it to be inspired, and to also foster community because I think communities are the source of change and collaboration is very much needed for the circular economy. So the two of them are very much achieved by joining local networks and initiatives that work on the same mission.

Catherine Weetman  24:58

That’s a great point and I think there are more and more things like this popping up around the world. And certainly the, you know, circular economy club has been going for for years. And, yes, it’s very active in in some cities. So we can include a link to that in in the show notes. And then if people are living in Amsterdam or or popping nearby, they can maybe come along to one of the meetings. Definitely. And you need it is that do you have a favourite Circular Economy example? Or is it somebody you’d like to recommend as a future guest for the podcast?

Janina Nieper  25:35

Definitely. to frame the picture, I’m based in Amsterdam, and so Furnify, is based in Amsterdam. And in Amsterdam, there are many inspiring companies who are working on the same mission. I really like the work that if Eva Gladek is doing with Metabolic, but also Bas van Abel, with Fairphone. Going out on a mission for Fairphone. And then joining this campaign into a business, it’s really inspiring to see.

Catherine Weetman  26:08

Yeah, I’d love to interview for phone. And people can’t see this on the on the podcast, because it’s not visual. But I’ve just waved my new but not new Fairphone 3 at Janina. So I had a Fairphone 2 and I was, you know, pretty gutted a couple of months ago, when Fairphone decided that they were no longer going to be able to support the Android software updates that obviously keep it secure. Though they’d managed seven years, which was longer than their commitment to five years. And so I reluctantly thought, well, I’m going to have to upgrade. And I decided the best way to do that was not not the latest Fairphone, which is Fairphone 4, but to go for a Fairphone 3+ I wanted, with the better camera. But could I find a refurbished one that wasn’t at a ridiculous price? No, I couldn’t. And so in the end, what I did was bought a Fairphone. Three, and then ordered the camera lens from Fairphone. To upgrade it myself, along with a a new and better better cover. So I’m kind of feeling you know that I’ve got something that’s not not quite as good as keeping the Fairphone two going. But it’s you know, it takes a box. So I I’d love to interview either either for Metabolic or somebody from Fairphone. That would be great. Thank you. And Janina, if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing to help create a better world? What would that be and why?

Janina Nieper  27:44

Think for me, one of the main things is also equating a vision. So the vision that I really, really like is the vision of Kate Raworth of the Dougnut Economics, to really create this that to really get also politicians behind a vision for a better tomorrow that we don’t just do last but that we do laws in relation to a vision. So the vision that Kate Raworth, for instance, paints, is a vision of staying within planetary boundaries. So we have nine planetary boundaries, and also the vision of a social justice society. So the doughnut of the outer ring of the planetary boundary and the inner rings of the social foundations of a society. And that’s something that I am I this will be my magic wand that we will all understand this vision and being able to collectively work towards it. That would be something that I would find really beautiful.

Catherine Weetman  28:41

Yeah, I love that. Thank you. Yeah, Nina. And I’m a big fan of the brilliant work that Kate Raworth and the Doughnut Economics Lab are doing. And I know that Amsterdam as a city is working on it’s circular economy and Doughnut strategies. And you know, I think there’s a there’s a really good fit there. And maybe I’ll find a link to that and put that in the show notes as well. So thank you that that would be truly game changing, wouldn’t it if if all politicians worldwide got on board with that? And is there anything you’d like to add before we let people know how they can find out more about you and Furnify?

Janina Nieper  29:21

I think in general with the circular economy, what makes me so enthusiastic and passionate about it is that I do think that we can all be a part of it. Usually, if we are in a private home or in a business that actually the businesses who are very much part of the problem in causing much of the problems that we have right now can actually be the heart of the solutions that we can actually turn the economy around from the inside out and that’s something that I find super intriguing and also super inspiring that everyone can be the next, a next circular pioneer in the field that they are working in, and it’s something that I personally think is very inspiring to be part of, in general.

Catherine Weetman  30:11

Yes, thank you. And I think it is empowering. And I certainly find that every time I do something, you know, like that Fairphone story, even though it was a bit of effort, I feel so much better about having that. And every time I look at the phone, it gives me a little buzz that, you know, I did something that was better than just buying a new product off the shelf. And, you know, I’ve even managed to upgrade it myself. And that kind of makes me then take much more care of it. And be proud of my own my own little role in in reducing a bit, a bit of a footprint there. So you need how can people find out more and get in touch with you, and finally, fire team.

Janina Nieper  30:56

So we have a website called Furnify dot nl. So it’s F u r n i f, because we’re based in Amsterdam, and you’re very happy to reach out to us also via Instagram or LinkedIn, we are active on both platforms of our website. And if you’re in the Netherlands, or if you’re looking for a new office design or a new special design, we’d like to do that in a circular sustainable manner, then we definitely keen to help.

Catherine Weetman  31:31

Awesome, thank you. And if, if and when I’m in Amsterdam, I’ll certainly come and have a look at the the space that you’re working in. It sounds great. So you Nina, thank you very much. It’s been fascinating to hear how Furnify is bringing design stories and co creation together to help clients make better choices about their workspaces. Thank you very much.

Janina Nieper  31:53

Thank you for having us.

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