Entretien avec Vincent Quesada, fondateur de TIPTOE

Interview with Vincent Quesada, founder of TIPTOE

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blue striped striped shirt When it comes to tackling the laborious work of decorating a house or apartment, we must not hide our faces: most of us run for a walk in the industrial departments of this famous Swedish furniture giant. A habit that TIPTOE, a small company of twenty employees - all the same! - installed a chair leg in Paris and a table leg in Chamonix would like to upset. With a strong argument: durable and recyclable collections. A way of doing things which, quite obviously, was enough to arouse our curiosity at Hast. Meeting with the co-founder of TIPTOE, Vincent Quesada.

TIPTOE is a company that promotes what we today call “eco-design”. Broadly speaking, how does this model differ from mainstream brands that sell furniture?

The difference between the two models is not automatically obvious because you have to be a bit of an expert to understand the particularities of a piece of furniture. Let's say that for the majority of "consumer" brands, it is above all a question of producing as cheaply as possible. When we start from this principle, few issues are really taken into account. Roughly speaking: the origin of raw materials is not monitored, labor is poorly paid and design effort is neglected. In many cases, consumer brands choose their furniture “off the shelf” from gigantic factories in Asia, modifying a few details here and there to adapt it to their market, without any real design effort. To produce a chair for fifty euros, this is the only way to do it. Conversely, the eco-design approach (or eco-design) involves placing sustainability at the heart of design methods. A product must last over time, it must be easily repairable but also easily recyclable when the time comes. At TIPTOE, we think about the construction and deconstruction of our products. Everything is done to ensure that each product is as durable as possible. Generally speaking, a classic sofa is very difficult to recycle because it is made of a multitude of composite materials: at the end of its life, it is crushed, burned or buried underground.

The choice of materials is therefore an essential element of your equation…

For each product, there must be few materials, few different components, and everything must therefore be recyclable. Last year, for example, we released a recycled plastic chair whose back and seat were produced from industrial production scraps. We collect plastic waste which we transform into granules before injecting them into a mold to create a useful, beautiful and durable object over time. Using the same material, the tops of some of our tables are made from recovered yogurt pots to be melted, pressed and transformed into a material ready for cutting which has the appearance of marbled terrazzo. Before releasing a product like that, we had to work for a year with a certain number of partners to ensure that the material could withstand heat, that it was not brittle and also that it was aesthetically pleasing, because it obviously counts when purchasing. An object may be as durable as possible, but if it is not beautiful and desirable, no one will want it.

Wood is arguably the most important material in furniture. It is found almost everywhere. Obviously, there are a whole bunch of ethical issues on this subject. How do you ensure the origin of your wood and how do you work it?

Depending on the object we are going to produce, we do not necessarily use the same wood. For our stools we use solid wood - mainly beech and oak. These are strips of raw wood that are not mixed with anything else. They are cut, glued together and then machined. If we want to give the wood a certain shape, we will rather use what we call plywood. These are very thin slices of wood that are glued together with water-based solvents and then bent. In terms of supply, we only use virgin wood which comes from sustainably managed European forests with the PEFC or FSC label. These certifications are not yet perfect but they go a long way to ensuring that the wood comes from forests managed in such a way that the trees can regenerate easily and where regrowth is assured. Traditional brands often buy wood that comes from the other side of the world, from India or Indonesia for example, where there is little traceability and deforestation problems are recurrent. We also use recycled wood. In these cases, it is wood that comes from destroyed buildings where we recover beams, sections of floor, everything that the structures contain wood. Generally speaking, we avoid working with chipboard: a pile of wood waste condensed with often harmful solvents and which tends to deteriorate quickly.

What about steel, too, which you use in particular to develop your table legs?

Steel is the most recycled material in the world. In Europe, it is estimated that 80% of the steel in circulation has already been recycled at least once. Steel is infinitely recyclable. With each recycling cycle, it does not lose any mechanical properties whereas plastic can only be recycled a few times with the current state of technology. For our part, we use steel sheets which are laser cut, folded and painted before being fired in an oven so that the paint attaches to them. This is what we call powder-coated steel, which guarantees a very long lifespan for the object, preventing it from rusting, for example. My partner's family owns a factory that has been working with steel for several generations near Chamonix. More precisely, the family know-how is called bar turning. It is a way of working with metal which developed in Haute-Savoie from the 18th century and which allowed farmers to find additional income by supplying parts to the neighboring Swiss watchmaking industry. The family factory is one of our primary suppliers and produces all of our mechanical parts, screws and assembly elements.

Like Hast, you also pay close attention to the packaging of your products in order to reduce the environmental cost of your activities…

We mainly use cardboard to package our products and we ensure that it is made from at least 80% recycled paper. It's a requirement but it's not difficult to find. This has nothing to do with food where packaging must meet extremely specific quality standards so as not to spoil the food. We are also trying to reduce the quantity of single-use packaging. We are working to no longer put our assembly tools in plastic bags that we then throw away in a hurry. You need to create a paper pocket, or a place in the cardboard where they can be attached.

What projects are most important to you today?

We continue to develop our product range beyond our first object, the clamp table leg. It is an object whose first variations date from the 70s and which had mainly been designed for the very high end until then. The TIPTOE table leg is an object that gives ideas. It allows you to create a table with a wide variety of tops. There are examples of people who used old barn doors, others who used parquet boards. This forces you to look for things that already exist. In a few weeks, we will release a sofa whose cushion foam is entirely recycled: it comes from mattresses which are chopped into small flakes, and these are then disinfected and recondensed. Everything is also removable, which means that every element, from the foam to the steel of the structure, can be recycled. Above all, we want to do useful things, we don't want to fall into what is ornamental and make only decorative objects. In the long term, if we develop on a very large scale, for example in Asia and the United States, our philosophy is that we will have to ensure that we produce our collections in these territories instead of importing them from Europe. But we are not there yet !

You work with factories, and men and women who still wear overalls, with tools in their pockets. But for your part, as a business leader, are you wearing the suit?

Before TIPTOE, I worked for three years in an investment bank. I wore a suit and tie every day. I had enough of it. Today, I'm in t-shirts and shirts most of the time, even when I have to meet with our investors. The costume is finished. Even for weddings, I don't wear one.