Until recently, the world of design and its representation were closely linked by a temporal relationship of consequentiality; the realization of the object preceded the production stage of the images related to it, and its representation was a guarantee of real existence in the physical world we inhabited. For some time now everything has changed and we have arrived at the point where the representation of objects, and in a broader sense of the surrounding reality, is not really a guarantee of their existence. I like to think that Danish homeware brand Akua was born out of an opposite urge of preservation and survival, a sort of search for hyper-reality that, starting with objects, ends with the idea of their representation. It is Fall 2022 when Josefine and Annika start their tableware brand; glass glasses, jugs, and vases made of glass 1,500 kilometers away from where they live. Such is the distance that divides them from Murano, where their collections are developed and made by the glassmakers of the place. If the stated purpose is to create “Glassware as poetic objects” (this is how they define their objects) it is necessary to go where objects are still made with certain handcrafted and semi-crafted processes, where imperfection is welcomed, the material extends even beyond the surface, and where the value of the object is not just measured in the time it takes to make it. Only a year after the launch of the first collection Akua has already created a very wide array of objects, an intense and prolific body of work that can only spring from an urgent and real need, such as the innate instinct to stay afloat or balanced. So like the need to tell stories.
Tommaso Caldera: Would you tell us about your personal and professional backgrounds to get started?
Josefine Arthur: I’m Josefine Arthur, entrepreneur. I’m Founder and former Managing Director of Butter Agency and Forest Communication.
Annika Zobel Agerled: I’m Annika Zobel Agerled, former Fashion Director for Costume Magazine.
TC: When did you meet and how did you come up with the idea for Akua?
AZA: We randomly met at a house party in Vesterbro back in 2010 and we’ve been friends ever since. We started working in the same industry a few years after meeting, and our professional paths began to cross. In 2022, I came to Josefine with an idea and that idea turned into Akua Objects soon afterwards.
TC: You already have an extensive collection after just one year!
JA: We actually founded the company in October 2022, but it was over a year before we released any work. It’s an extensive collection, but the quantities aren’t necessarily huge. It is very fulfilling to work with a product that is made by hand and blown by mouth, as there are no minimum order quantities.
TC: I imagine the idea for Akua was already on your mind during lockdown. Did that time change anything in your relation to everyday objects and your idea of what a brand of everyday objects should be?
AZA: The idea of designing glass has been on my mind for many years, the pandemic included. Lockdown meant more time spent at home and gathering friends and family around a table. This period confirmed what I was thinking, which was that glassware, mostly in terms of objects and drinking glasses, was starting to play a more prominent role in many people’s lives. So, while it didn’t change my personal relation to objects, I do believe it changed other people’s relations. Everyday objects started to play a more significant role in society, creating greater opportunity for Akua Objects to exist.
TC: It is always challenging for a new brand to evolve into the next phase after the initial launch. Do you have a clear idea in mind or do you prefer to evolve slowly based on feedback from clients and distributors?
JA: We try to balance the two paths. We have a clear plan, but we have been very aware from the beginning that our strategy could and should change depending on what we feel is right. We want to grow organically and that means working in the present. Let’s say that we have a clear business strategy, but the tactics we use to reach our goals might change along the way.
TC: Akua already has a strong brand language and identity, did you work hard to define that before launching the first collection?
JA: Yes, we did. As a stylist and fashion director, Annika has a strong eye, and I
worked in brand identity and communication for more than a decade so our skills are very complementary. Annika focuses mainly on the visuals and I work on the storytelling.
TC: How important is it to outline a strong brand identity in the contemporary panorama?
JA: I would say it is essential.
TC: Why glass?
AZA: My dad is an antique dealer and he always used to bring me home a present from his
business trips. I was amazed by glass so I started collecting it. To start with, it was mostly glass animals, but as I got older my collection expanded to include different objects. So, glass has always played a central—and partly nostalgic—part in my life and now my dream to work with glass has been realised with Akua Objects.
TC: Sustainability in Product Design is a hot topic right now. Glass is quite an eternal material, preserving its aesthetics and function over decades. Do you believe that making high-quality and well-made objects is the only way to be sustainable in design?
JA: There are many ways to adopt a sustainable approach in design and working with well-made objects is only one of them. Glass is an eternal material made from natural resources and can be recycled, which is a good starting point. But we also try to work in small batches and keep our based in Europe – Italy and the Czech Republic, the former Bohemian region, to be precise. Our producers typically have 10-15% waste, which might be pieces with air bubbles, for instance. We accept and pay for all of that, embracing the human touch of a handmade, mouth-blown glass piece. These are just a few things that we do to be sustainable but if you start a company in 2023, we believe you are obliged to make sustainability an essential part of your company ethos.
TC: The Akua aesthetic is far removed from what the international audience would define as ‘Scandinavian style’. Was this a deliberate choice or is it just a reflection of your personal taste?
AZA: It is our personal taste. It was a matter of preference as opposed to a strategic choice.
TC: What made you decide to produce your collections in Italy? Despite our glass-working heritage, it must be complicated for a new brand to handle development with foreign suppliers.
AZA: We decided it was the right place for Akua Objects because of its important heritage and master glass blowers. When people hear ‘Murano’, they think of exclusive, handcrafted glass and that is what we wish to stand for. Europe’s two glass metropoles have always been Murano and the former Bohemia and that is why we wanted our production to be based there.
TC: What is your relationship with artisans and suppliers? How do you develop products with them? How easy is it to combine your approach and workflow with them?
JA: That depends on the artisan and/or supplier. The communist era left some scars in the Czech Republic and some studios have lost their artistic integrity. Other than that, the design process is quite straightforward and we send design sketches that become samples. In Italy, the master artisan we work with has strong opinions and the approach can feel more mutual.
TC: Are you thinking of adding any other materials to the collection?
AZA: We will be introducing a new product range that we have been working on for a while next year. It is not made of glass, but it still falls under tableware and objects.
TC: There is a sort of magical connection between people and objects that you can handle. Your current catalogue only includes tableware and small objects. Is this a product range you’d like to increase in the future?
AZA: Yes, the range will grow. We will soon be launching a lamp and a chandelier – both made by glass masters in Murano.
TC: On your website, you talk about objects as traces of our lives. Some designers think that objects need to be ‘silent’ in terms of aesthetics and language to play this role in our lives. Looking at your collection, I can easily guess your opinion, but I’d like to hear it from you.
JA: We want to create objects that will play a part in the lives of several generations, objects which will be woven into a family’s storyline. The Danish writer and storyteller H.C. Andersen was masterful at writing stories with an everyday object as the main character. He gave them a voice through words, while we try to let them ‘speak’ through design. So no, we don’t want them to be silent.
TC: The theme of this issue is “reality vs representation”. All your campaigns and styling are extremely realistic, far from any possible artificial representation. Is this approach to creating images a sort of antidote to this contemporary trend?
AZA: I think we like physicality, in our communication as well as in our objects. We like warmth, earthy tones and tactility, which I guess are all some form of opposition to the artificial.
TC: How important is it for a brand like Akua to give clients the chance to handle and touch your objects?
JA: Since we state that we view glassware as poetic objects that walk the line between function and feelings and that every object tells a story, handling and touching the objects is vital. Physicality is the thread that holds it all together, I suppose.
TC: As an Italian, I believe that: “no bad things can happen around a table”. Do you agree?
AZA & JA: We could not agree more.