Alki... a meeting of two men and two worlds. Selected excerpts from a conversation between Peio Uhalde, Alki's Managing Director, and Jean Louis Iratzoki, Alki's Artistic Director.
Why was the Alki Cooperative created?
Alki was born in 1981 in Itsasu, because to live here, in our country, we needed to work here. And just like that, a group of five friends founded a small chair factory that we named Alki, which means "chair" in Basque. We chose the cooperative model because it allowed for a democratic style of management, where one worker equals one vote. We wanted a system that was centered on people, not exclusively in seeking a profit. We knew that this way of working had already been successfully implemented in other parts of the Basque Country. For example, I had already had 3 years of experience in a cooperative within the Mondragon Group.
In 2005, the company began to change direction. Why? And how so?
Until that time we worked in the traditional furniture sector. Around the mid-90's, various European currencies (Spain, Portugal and Italy) suffered sharp devaluations that pushed the main distributors of classic furniture in France to seek supplies in those countries, as they were much more economical. We were able to keep ourselves afloat like this for about 10 years, but began to see that the market continued to deteriorate rapidly, so we knew that we had to take action. So, around 2005, I contacted Jean Louis Iratzoki and asked him to propose some ways to turn our product range around.
Jean Louis Iratzoki:
When I met with Peio at Alki's workshop, I could tell that there was a real knowledge of woodwork, a cohesive team and leader that had decided to do whatever it took. As we got know each other and the project went on we realized that what we really needed to do was redirect Alki's know- how to a market that appreciated it...
... And just like that, the Emea collection was born and started a new story for us. A real rebirth...
Can design really reinvent a Company? Isn't this a bit superficial and distant from the values of Alki?
Jean Louis Iratzoki:
Design is a process that allows us to reach an objective or a solution; they design plans, business strategies, identities, objects... so design is by no means a superficial thing. Far from the clichés used by some in the media, it's a real way to transform businesses, provided it comes from their core values. It's a complex exercise that goes far beyond simply drawing a chair or a table. It involves all the areas of the structure, placing design at the center of the strategy. And that's possible for us in Alki thanks to the close collaboration of a multidisciplinary team.
How are lasting products conceived?
Jean Louis Iratzoki:
The market is full of products that people get rid of quickly, either for lack of quality or simply, because of their extravagance, they get tired of them... Therefore, as an industrial designer, I'm especially interested in the emotional relationship that we, as people, develop with certain objects: "Why do we like something?" and "Why do we keep only some objects?"... The search for this affection is a constant in my work. For me it is paramount to conceive of objects with which one can live daily, which means they have appear discrete, normal... And of course they should be well made with great care taken in the details and selection of materials...
The environment, sustainable development... What do theses words mean to Alki? How are they expressed?
Alki is located in a rural setting among green mountains. Many people here are the children of farmer's... that's why sustainable development is a concept that really worries us. Through Alki we try to do everything in our power, such as prioritizing the use of natural materials: oak, virgin wool and natural fibers. The quality of the products is another key consideration, thus ensuring a lifetime of use. It's also important to collaborate with other workshops located within 100 km, whose skills complement our own.
In your opinion, how does one cope with the current crisis?
Markets evolve, transform, and crises are and will continue to part of the process. Alki has witnesses a market crisis about every 10 years. The last one began long before 2008 ... But, the difficulties have taught us that we must constantly be vigilant and always build a path consistent with our values. So much so, that this process is now part of our daily work routine, imagining a better future for ourselves and working toward that every day.
How do you picture the future for Alki?
Our main concern is passing down a collective heritage and a strong company to future generations. We've never been guided by the pursuit of short term profits. We needed 30 years to find our own way, so that our project would be a global and robust one. Alki was born through and is rooted in its values. The cooperative will continue to participate actively and dynamically in the development of our surrounding area. And we hope to share our project with our customers with the same passion that we live it ourselves since they were the ones who opened for us the doors to the world.