Triumph of the Province / Hidden Champions
In the current issue about Germany´s East we offer a small stage to seven projects that are situated far away from prominent creative and design metropolises such as Leipzig and Berlin in Eastern Germany. It is not a representative selection. What all these projects share in common, however, are delight in experimentation and commitment, inventiveness and courage. These examples are trendsetting not only for economically underdeveloped regions, because here the post-industrial and post-growth economy is already quasi a reality. Or as the Kühlhaus Görlitzassociation puts it: Industrial culture is becoming industrial nature. Here you can read the additional interview with Juliane Kröner of Dregeno (cooperative of wood turner).
What is special about Dregeno?
Dregeno is an old-established Seiffen trading cooperative – the cooperative of the woodturners and makers of wooden toys. We trade in wooden art products produced by our around 120 member companies. The spectrum ranges from classic and modern Christmas decorations to room and table decorations, wooden toys, and kits. Our task as a cooperative is the economic promotion of our members. To that end, we maintain the largest depot in the industry, including export logistics, eight specialist shops of our own, showrooms in Seiffen and Atlanta, and online shops for consumers and resellers. Our customers come mostly from Germany, the USA, and Japan. Above all, these customers value our direct contact with the trade, our local authenticity and our reliability.
Why are you looking for young designers, and what design opportunities await new product designers in Seiffen apart from Christmas pyramids and incense smokers?
The wooden handicrafts of the Ore Mountains region comprise an astonishingly enduring product category. We are just now introducing new labels in our shops:“Original since 30, 70, ... 100 years.”Our customers appreciate classics – the old Seiffen originals. On the other hand, an absolutely modern variant of the traditional motives has developed with pioneers like Björn Köhler and Sternkopf. Moreover: There are many wooden art products that have nothing more to do with traditional art of the Ore Mountains any more except that they are painstakingly crafted from wood. Both have established themselves as equals and are selling well.
However, we face an unprecedented demographic shift up here in the Ore Mountains. There are only a few successors and creatives who continue to work in this field. Our marketing organizations are searching for ways to utilise capacity in the future.
Above all, new impulses are needed in areas apart from Christmas products. As I see it, the potential of “beautiful wooden objects” is far from exhausted, especially since drastic events like the demographic shift always offer opportunities. However, hardly anyone has the courage to take over a workshop up here – or is it just that nobody knows?
What does Seiffen have to offer industrial designers? Is there a long-term perspective for them?
I am a designer, and ten years ago in Seiffen, I offered product development courses for the members of the cooperative. Each participant was able to develop his or her product in cooperation with me. Sometimes we also came up with something completely free and new that fitted in with the product line and production capabilities of the respective craftsperson. There are incredibly skilled craftspeople here who optimally implement product developments. However, it is difficult to appeal to new customer segments, develop new designs, use new materials or play with the many possibilities with light when you are focused on a specific product spectrum.
Many craftspeople realise that they need new ideas for their product lines. Here, like anywhere else, people are paid to develop designs. However, partnerships and participating interests in products are also conceivable. Strict contract manufacturing of products which the designer intends to market on their own is also not unknown in Seiffen.
The most appealing model would be if cooperations arose between designers and craftspeople, which could be marketed through our established wooden art sales channels online and in brick-and-mortar shops. However, against the backdrop of the demographic shift, we are now also openly discussing acquisitions of firms. They have even become sensitised to this at the political level, because Saxony just wouldn’t be the same without Christmasland.
What is being done to attract university graduates to Seiffen?
For the summer semester, the cooperative has initiated the first cooperation with Schneeberg, which will take place within the toy sector.For us, this is the first step in getting designers interested in wood and the possibilities of our industry.Whereby the live contact with the craftspeople and workshops will take place in Seiffen.
Personally, I also want to share knowledge about costing, one-off and mass production, quality and buying behaviour, which I found lacking in my course of studies 20 years ago.My dream is to also expand this format to other universities and thus make it a little more experimental.In the long term, I hope that this results in cooperations and friendships that may ultimately lead to acquisitions of firms.
What are your wishes for Dregeno’s future?
Right now, we are investing above all in our digital marketing structures.Many craftspeople are unable to participate in digital commerce because they lack the resources.Today, digital commerce is no longer confined to having your own webshop and a good Google ranking.True to our motto “from the woods to the world”, we want to open up our platform for sustainable products that reflect the “Ore Mountain way of life” and take along these craftspeople and manufacturers.On the other hand, I wish for Ore Mountain woodcraft to live on – with fresh inspiration – but at its core just as original as our local originals here.