Interior design with a purpose
Words by Suzanna Knight
Photos by Valentina Vos
In 2014, industrial designers Daniel Sutjahjo and Joost van Uden came up with an idea to create plant-rich environments in every office, living room, hospital, or school in town, based on the conviction that plants can drastically improve quality of life. How? By designing products that allow for the easy integration of plants in any indoor environment. Fast forward two years, and you’ll find them running a successful, internationally acclaimed design studio that strives to uphold their initial, noble goal with every new product they develop. We talked to the two founders about how Pikaplant became the international phenomenon it is today.
What made you decide to start Pikaplant?
Daniel: Joost and I started a design studio after we graduated from TU Delft as industrial designers. After about four years, we realised we weren’t creatively satisfied with what we were doing, and had to ask ourselves: what do we want to do? The answer was simple: we want to create sustainable, green products that really make a difference in people’s lives and improve their overall wellbeing. Plants can do that- but they can also be hard to take care of, especially combined with the busy lives most city folk lead. So we decided to find a solution to that problem.
We want to create green products that really make a difference in people’s lives.
How do your products solve this problem?
Daniel: Take Jar, our second product, for example. It’s a plant in a jar that doesn’t require watering – perfect if you’re too busy or too lazy to water your plants but still want some green in your living room. But the idea for Jar was meant to solve a different issue. Studies have shown that plants and flowers can have a positive effect on patients in hospital, yet patients in an intensive care unit aren’t allowed to keep them. Understandably so – there’s the risk of infection, and you can’t expect hospital staff to spend their valuable working hours watering plants. The Jar is hermetically sealed (so there’s no risk of infection), it doesn’t require watering, and still adds that sense of nature to a hospital room. The product has since evolved into an interior design object, but it was born out of this idea that plants can heal. We donated about one hundred of them to a military rehabilitation centre.
Pikaplant has become an incredibly successful business in just two years. Did you have any idea this would happen when you launched your first product?
Daniel: We launched our first product, a vertical garden with its own irrigation system called One in 2014. We paid for the prototype out of our own pockets, and launched it at this tiny local designers’ market in Amsterdam, called the Local Goods Market. We were a bit out of place, surrounded by artisanal sausage makers and t-shirt designers, but still got three orders and so many positive reactions. That’s when we knew the product had potential, but we’re still amazed at everything that’s happened since.
Can you tell us a bit about how you went from that little market to where you are now?
Daniel: When we had just started selling One, Cool Hunting wrote a story about us, which garnered a huge amount of international exposure. We went to Salone del Mobile in 2015, where the press mentioned us as green innovators in the same breath as IKEA and Hermès. We were clearly at the right place at the right time and addressed a global issue in a way that resonated with people. It’s this primal need to be around nature and one that we’ve only just started to rediscover. So the demand was there, orders kept coming in, and we grew from a studio with 2 founders to a company that now employs 20 people.
We seem to have addressed the primal need to be around nature.
How did you handle that kind of rapid growth?
Daniel: We’re lucky to have a fairly large network of talented people, and to be based in Amsterdam, where there’s such a vibrant, supportive community. Suddenly there were orders from all over the world, but we knew people who spoke French, Spanish, German, and Italian who could help us out. It’s still incredibly hard work- this is a first for all of us, so it’s a lot of trial and error. Growth comes with a lot of challenges: How do we accommodate orders from countries around the world? How do we meet our clients’ demands? How do we upscale production? How do we make time to create more products? The fact that we’re designers helps, though. We were taught to think creatively, to find alternative ways to fix things. Creative thinking is crucial when you have to solve problems every single day.
What were your biggest challenges these past two years?
Daniel: We’re still right in the middle of them to be honest. We are learning how to deal with a growing a business, more staff, more stock, more clients. It’s all very new to us and every day we deal with different challenges. In addition, as a result of more people getting to know our brand and our products, one of the big things we’ve had to deal with recently was an exact duplicate of one of our products appearing on the market. There are a lot of similar products out there, and that’s great, but this one was a clear copycat. The process of having them take it off the shelves definitely aged me a couple of years, but I see it as a compliment now.
What do you expect your biggest challenge to be for next year?
Daniel: We started a Kickstarter campaign for Tableau – a small, automatic plant watering tray that works without any electricity. But we’ve hit a few bumps in the road with the material, causing delays. One of the parts that controls the wet-dry cycle didn’t work properly, so we had to develop it ourselves, which takes time. And we thought we found the perfect supplier for the glass jar, but when we were ready to start production six months later, they had gone bankrupt and disappeared. You can definitely attribute part of it to our own inexperience – we need to step up our game with managing supply chains. It’s a steep learning curve, and we learn something new every day.
Joost: Another challenge is to create space to start developing new products – we’re designers, we have hundreds of ideas floating in our heads for new ways to expand the brand, and to make sure Pikaplant stays true to what we originally set out to do: to make sure everyone has the ability to enjoy the benefits of plants and flowers indoors. We hope to be able to create many more products that help to achieve this goal!