Some people are most proud of their creations, some are most proud of their wealth. Security can come from either. A creative person can invent a way out of a bad situation, a wealthy person can buy their way out.
Sometime in 1982 or ‘83, a very successful, well known NYC futon specialty retailer asked William Brouwer to design a new futon frame. What he came up with was truly great. It won design awards. It was built by Brouwer with love and respect for the wood, himself, the retailer and the end user.
It did not take too long before another NYC futon specialty retailer took the frame to Brazil to be knocked off. It did not take too long for William Brouwer to go out of business. The end user then had one choice. A poor quality reproduction of what was a truly great piece of functional furniture. The industry lost a very valuable innovator.
The solution would seem to be patents. I can tell you from my own experience designing a mechanism for one of the aforementioned NYC futon specialty retailers, (I won’t say which one), the whole patent thing is not only affordable only to the wealthy “Creative Imitators”, but somehow distracts from the process of creating something that you hope many will like. Creating or inventing is something you do that is somehow linked with a kind of sharing. Protecting that creation is not compatible with sharing.
It’s strange. When I attended the last Futon Expo in Phoenix, a couple of old time exhibitors would tell my friend Line that she was with the guy who started the whole thing with his version of the convertible bi-fold futon. Although I was proud of the size of the industry that I was credited with having done so much to boost, I could not help but wonder what was wrong with me. Why was I probably the least financially successful exhibitor at this futon show? Anyway, that’s one take.
Mechanisms are not everything. Futon furniture is the first furniture that was designed ready to assemble as well as dual purpose. Mechanisms deal with the dual purpose end of the product. The really fun part of designing futon stuff is fitting it into boxes. I had more fun getting my wall-hugger futon frame into a box small enough for U.P.S. That’s the sharing part. That’s the part that allows the product to get to the retailers who really enjoy the business of selling truly unique stuff. Those are the retailers who are having fun. They, however, are not the retailers who can afford to buy 200 futon frames at a time. So getting the frames into a small box is as much fun as inventing a mechanism that the end user will be able to convert effortlessly. The good part of dealing with retailers who are having fun is that they are more fun to deal with. It’s not the way to get rich, but life is short.
Soul. Futon furniture has soul. Futons are a true value. Futons are comfortable, healthy, and beautiful. We are lucky to be able to design and make things out of wood than allow that wood to enjoy a kind of reincarnation. Even though the tree is cut down, it continues to live.
As long as we replant another tree, we will always have more wood. Unfortunately, some of the people whose security comes only from wealth are less concerned about these things. We all know that most of the knock-offs come from countries where the need for immediate financial rewards is more important than the continuity of the forests. Although these knock-offs create employment for thousands of people who would otherwise go hungry, I think it is unfortunate that those workers are paid so little.
But were they not paid so little, they would be of little interest to the importers. If the importers were out of the picture, the consumers would probably benefit from more innovation because more innovators would be encouraged to keep doing what they do. But then, I suppose, the workers at those offshore factories would go hungry again. What would be good is if the people of those countries were allowed to express themselves as freely as we do here in America. Then they, too would become innovators. Then we would import stuff because it was good, not because it was cheap. Then those workers would probably earn more money per hour. But then the factory owners and the importers would probably have to really start contributing and be creative also.
My friend Richard Zafft, who owns Fly By Night Futons in Northampton, MA, told me last weekend that mechanisms were more important on mid range futon frames than on high end ones. The reason being that the people who could afford the high end futons normally use them as beds only a few times a year. The people who need to use the futon frames as beds as well as sofas everyday usually do so because of lack of funds. It made sense to me. I had never thought of it that way. It makes it even more fun when you realize that the stuff you come up with is for the people who really need value for their money. THE RICH DON’T NEED MECHANISMS. THE INNOVATORS DON’T GET RICH. Make sense to you?
The opinions expressed in each of the preceding essays are those of the authors only.-Editor