Alex Alorda, second generation vice president of KETTAL, tells us the ideals behind the outdoor furniture design company that he has been running for 20 years, driven by deeply rooted family values.
Top Image: Alex Alorda
KETTAL had a playful and rather unorthodox promotion strategy in the early days, ranging from giving out animals to customers who bought furniture, to releasing KETTAL beach balls from an airplane to beach-goers. Can you tell us the rationale behind that?
We are talking about 45 years ago. In Spain then, my father was producing furniture for the beach [Kettal was not a design company at that point, it was a furniture company]. Instead of regular marketing, we threw balls along the beach from a small plane. The balls were blue with the logo in red and white so it was really shouting, and we were selling furniture for the beach. So people were sitting on the chairs and getting the balls.
He did this for two or three years, and later, the animals. Why animals? We are a family company. At home, we loved animals. We used to have ducks, chickens, so everything that you have at home, you think it could be good. It worked in those days.
Did this way of being bold and different translate to the company and its DNA, and the way it approaches the design of its products?
Maybe in the case of being different, yes. When I talk to customers and dealers, I say, ‘listen, we feel like the salmon. We swim from bottom to the top’ – a metaphor for trying to do things that people don’t do. We try to go over the top, take care of the details, do things based on innovation and [use] new materials that people have not developed.
Design today is not only about things that are nice, or hiring a great designer. It is also about innovation. Today, it is not enough to have a good designer or a good product. You have to put in some good technology and differentiation.
Look at this carpet done by Patricia Urquiola [KETTAL Vieques, pictured below]. This carpet is completely outdoor. You can throw it into the swimming pool if you want. This carpet took me four years to develop. We had to build an old machine because this is not done by hand. We had to buy a very old machinery and reinstall it.
When you touch the material, it is three-dimensional. It is very difficult to do that with PVC. What is important is that there is zero maintenance, it is completely for the outdoors, super comfortable and we have seven different colours.
Given the competitive industry, how does the company differentiate itself?
By the product. Once you have a good product, it is the best marketing you can have. We invest a lot in trying to have the best product, not only based on looks and feeling, but trying to be the best [with regards to] innovation and new materials.
Is there one more example that you can show us on innovation?
This sofa [KETTAL Bitta, pictured below] has seven stainless steel bars that you do not see. We are the only ones who do 360 [degrees] rope. Inside, we put a nylon band, but the feeling is one. We produce everything [in our own factory]. Everything is made in house, even the cushions.
This tabletop [KETTAL Life, pictured below] is made of aluminium and honeycomb so it’s ultra light but super resistant.
What is important is that we don’t go to the market and buy what is in the market. We always think of what is different, what nobody explores.
Can you describe the way you go about collaborating with the designers?
In the end, we are a family company. I always say that this company was founded by my father, it is not my company, and I am working for my kids. I work on things that create long term values, so for me, it is the about the DNA of values to bring to the family – respect, hard work and a long term vision of things. What is important is to try and see design from a long term vision. We design one collection that stays long in the market. For this, I have to develop very strong and innovative pieces. It is easy to be indoors and lasts lifetime, but to be outdoors and to be long term, it is more difficult.
We try to have commissions with technology and innovation that allows our furniture to be even longer term than the regular things in the market. This is an important condition, which links to the designers. I don’t want to work with all the designers. I just want to work with designers who share the same vision of things and design. Some companies do a good job on ‘wow’ designs. We are not good at that. We create long term designs that may be future classics.
Who are some of the designers that you have had the longest relationships with?
Patricia Urquiola. It goes ten years. The first collection by Urquiola, Mia has been a 10 years collection. She gave us a new language and way of doing things. Before that, we were focused on a certain outdoor language, and she broke everything. She made us all understand that outdoor could be different. [A breakthrough for Kettal in terms of design language].I always tell her that she is my godmother. She introduced me to this world.
Then came the others of course, Rodolfo Dordoni, Jasper Morrison and Helen Jongerius. This year we will be introducing a Bouroullec collection in Milan – Dordoni new system for sofas, our first fabric collection designed by Doshi Levien.
KETTAL has been doing this for almost 50 years. How has the market changed over the years and how has KETTAL kept its competitive edge? What opportunities do you see for the company going forward?
I think that two things are happening now in outdoor furniture. First of all, a lot of people try lower budget items first but are starting to learn to invest in products that last longer, which is good for us. That means I need to convince the hotel owner, ‘Please don’t think in the short term. What is going to happen in five years? Its part of educating them.’ People are more open to test and try higher end [products] now.
Number two, people are open to experimenting with colours and fabrics. Since we bring things that are fresh, we don’t bring the typical fibre. We see it in hotels that people want warm and natural materials. They don’t want fakes, they want real stone and real rope. They also want personalisation, which we can do, because we can do everything in Europe. There is no full collection of the same material. What we like is the eclectic version of furniture. We see that people not willing to go with just one material for anything, but they try to mix and match with materials and colours.
Where are your biggest markets? What is the market like for KETTAL here in Singapore and the Southeast Asia region?
Europe is an important market. US and Middle East are growing quite well, and now, we are looking towards the Asia market, which has been a difficult market. We are working with Urquiola on Oasis in Singapore.
What have you learnt from your father?
Consistency and common sense. Don’t worry, don’t look at the others and stay cool.