Scaler Interview: Materia
Field of work: Employment & Sustainable Consumer Goods
We had the pleasure of interviewing the Co-founder and CEO of Materia, Cristian Branea.
What is Materia?
MATERIA is a furniture and interior design and manufacturing company established by a collective of young entrepreneurs and creatives that share a passion for wood and sustainable design. We strive to create pieces that balance functionality and form with material richness and rigorous handcrafted details. Our products are characterized by a simplicity that merges a clean, minimalist aesthetic with the organic, natural, ‘flawed’ features of old wood. We primarily work with old solid reclaimed oak, sourced from demolished houses and barns in Transylvanian villages, a raw material that displays a strong character and history. Other rich materials, such as copper, brass, steel and marble, compliment this wood. Apart from the genuine materials, MATERIA aims to bring back the value in human craft, in products and designs that are personal, expressive, and that bear the artisan fingerprints.
MATERIA is a social enterprise, therefore we intend to grow our business and the community in which we operate in a sustainable way by promoting a way of doing business that is empowering to the individual and caring towards the environment.
What is the story behind its creation?
MATERIA is one of those classic entrepreneurial stories: the main character decides to leave their current job to start his own small business around one of his hobbies or passions that has been neglected for so long. He comes up with an idea, turns to a few close friends and persuades them to get on board. This is my story too. I have a professional background in Academia and the non-profit sector (I was working as a project manager in a large social marketing organization), but I was contemplating for some time the idea of having my own creative business, something that has to do with design and architecture. The defining moment happened when I saw an advert for the largest social enterprise competition in Romania organized by OMV Petrom. For this social enterprise competition, OMV Petrom selected a number of rural communities in which they have operations, and were looking to seed business that could generate jobs and value for these communities. I teamed up with my two partners Alex Ayaan (with a background in marketing and a passion for photography), and Andrei Petran (with a lot of experience in corporate sales and an entrepreneur in his own right), and we submitted our business idea. As soon as we were selected among the semi-finalists, we started a process of building a feasibility study, market research and business plan, process coordinated by NESsT Romania, an organization that acts as a catalyst for social economy in the emerging market economies. When the detailed business plan was completed, we pitched our idea in front of a jury panel led by Mariana Gheorghe, CEO of OMV-Petrom Romania, and we finally won a prize of 32.000 Euros and one-year incubation as part of NESsT Romania portfolio of social enterprises. We founded our company in March 2014, and in September we launched our brand, MATERIA, and our first products during BIFE-SIM, the international furniture fair in Bucharest.
What are the social and environmental impacts of Materia?
The social and environmental impact is at the core of our business. We operate in an ethnically mixed, less-developed rural area in Romania, with very few job opportunities, where a high proportion of the population live on social support. We aim to create jobs for under-privileged groups such as Roma minority, low education youth and long term unemployed. We also offer training so that the people we work with become more employable in the future. Our manufacturing process relies heavily on handcrafts, therefore, the more we are able to expand our business, the more new jobs we will be able to create.
Our products are also very environmental conscious. Most of our products are manufactured from old, reclaimed wood. Most people discard this material or simply use it as firewood, we however are able to give it a second life and turn it into contemporary, elegant furniture pieces that will make a powerful statement in any interior. The finishes we used are also ecologicical, home friendly and reminiscent of woodworking tradition around the world: from the Scandinavian soap finish to the Japanese technique of charring the wood.
I think the slow living concept is at the core of our design philosophy, a conscious design and product that goes against the mass consumerism. Our products are reduced to their basic function and the raw materials. In this way, they seem timeless, the craftsmanship and the character of material make them personal.
Where can we buy your products?
At the moment it is best to contact us directly, either for placing an order for one of our products, or for requesting a bespoke, custom-made project. We are currently working on developing our website and online store, and to set up all the logistic aspects of online commerce, such as ordering, online secure payments, transportation and delivery. Between 18-24 January, MATERIA will exhibit at the International Interiors Fair IMM Koln, our first participation in an international furniture fair abroad. We hope this will mark our first step in scaling up our business and exporting our products.
How is your project financed?
Currently our business is 100% self-sustainable. We have no debt, and the sale revenues are paying all the running costs. We even manage to invest some of the revenues into developing new products, marketing and promotion activities, however not to the extent we would like to. We need additional funding to scale up. We are currently working on a project proposal with a budget of 200.000 Euros, project financed through the EU funds for Rural Development (non-refundable, de minimis aid to companies) in order to scale up and streamline the production process. However, we are also looking to secure an additional 100.000 Euros from a private investor in exchange for equity, in order to develop our product portfolio and boost sales to consumer (B2C).
What do you want to achieve by being part of the Scaling Program?
The scaling model we envision for our business relies on exporting our products, mostly in countries such UK, Germany, Austria, Sweden and theNetherlands. Romania is well known as an important producer and exporter of solid wood furniture, and we would like to become part of this tradition. We believe Impact Hub Scaling Program not only open opportunities for the internationalization of our brand, but will also provide us with the industry specific knowledge of how international trade works
A random fact about Materia that everybody should know:
A random, probably funny, surely geeky fact about MATERIA is that we name our products in Elvish, the language of the enlightened immortal mythical creatures that lived in the mighty forests of Middle Earth: the Elves. The Elvish language, with its various dialects has been constructed by J.R.R. Tolkien at the beginning of XX Century. For example, the black products that have been manufactured from reclaimed oak and finished by charring are called FAUG, an Elvish word meaning wood smoke.