The Luxury Channel interviews Nadja Swarovski about the launch of the new Homeware Collection, the work undertaken by the Swarovski Foundation and her message for young people going into business….
You recently launched a new Swarovski homeware collection at Salone del Mobile – what is unique about it?
The unique thing about our Atelier Swarovski Home collection is that we have encouraged designers to mix crystals with other materials. We are currently using a mixture of marble and rose quartz which is cut in Austria with crystal. I believe the combination of the two materials really celebrates each material perfectly. We also use have a unique wave cut, which was first introduced by Zaha Hadid and is now produced by a master craftsman in our factory. We also have another product which uses long crystal strips which are attached by coloured glue, which is very interesting. Every product we do is really experimentation in terms of product development. The response at Salone del Mobile was amazing. In November, we are going to have a big display pop-up shop in Selfridges and we are launching our collection in Lane Crawford and Holt Renfrew stores. It’s important for us to work with international designers who understand their own markets.
What do you look for in designers?
The most important thing is to look at their past work and see if they have an appreciation for crystal. If they don’t, it’s hard for them to create something special and magical. You never know what the piece is going to look like until it is finished, but hopefully we can push their boundaries to create something truly unique. This is the first time we have allowed designers to create their own bespoke cut. For new designers, it means going to Austria, meeting with the product developers, getting an introduction into the archive and getting a glimpse of the manufacturing processes so they can see what the limitations are in creating shapes.
Which designers are you working with at the moment?
Aldo Bakker, and also Asif Khan, who is amazing and created the [Coca Cola Beatbox Pavilion] installation at the Olympic Park. John Pawson is working on something. We also have some emerging talent that we’re working with – Raw Edges and Ron Arad.
What projects is the Swarovski Foundation involved with?
We are launching the new Swarovski Foundation Centre For Learning in the Design Museum which supports two of the pillars that the Foundation supports – education and the environment. Another pillar for the Foundation is wellbeing, with a focus on topics to do with human rights. We are working with the organisation Women For Women, which supports women in foreign environments. We also have the Swarovski Waterschool, which has been active for 15 years – it started in Austria, now it’s active in China, Africa and India, and we have launched in Brazil and in North America. We are working in the Mississippi basin, where there is a lot of flooding. We support the teachers that are supporting the children with their learning, increasing the awareness of water care, and understanding that different locations have different requirements. So, in Africa for instance, it might be a question of hygiene and sanitation. The Waterschool programme has actually become part of our employee engagement programme – they have become so excited about these issues and have become apostles in their own right. Recently, we had an installation of the work of Eric Valli, who is a French photographer who documented the Yangtze River – in particular, the source of the river and the people that live around it, as everything is so beautiful and pure there, and needs protecting and preserving. As we know, you go down the river and it turns into a sceptic tank, where the dolphins and the fish are dying. Fishing communities are really being affected by it. There is so much education to be done, not only in the Far East and South America but also in our own backyard. We are working with the Nature Conservancy which has really good funding, and they can step in at a very high level and talk to countries. They are trying to prevent a dam being built in Chile and they have just come forth with an engineering project that won’t affect the environment. If only this could have happened in parts of the Yangtze River – so much of that area was destroyed, as well as the historic sites they had there. So it’s all about education and knowledge.
Should more luxury companies be held more accountable for their Corporate Social Responsibility policies?
Yes, absolutely. Any company that is commercially-minded should be held accountable and they should budget their funds to ensure the supply chain is clean – I can say that as a private company. It requires an investment but at the end of the day, it comes back. How great it is to feel environmentally clean? It’s a choice between making that extra hundred thousand in profits and having a cleaner environment. That’s my personal philosophy and I can’t hold it against anyone but part of “luxury” is sustainability – the time it takes to make the bespoke pieces, the stitching by one person for hours, the care and consideration. It’s not so much the luxury companies but more the fast fashion companies that are to blame for polluting the environment and who have bad working environments. We are proud of what we have done with our own CSR and have it all documented for everyone to read. We are a member of the UN Global Compact which has 10 principles you have to adhere to in order to stay part of the group. Things have changed. CSR is now more formalised than ever, which is good, and all that dovetails into our message, which is about empowering people. It feels good to know that the product we are using to empower people is also taking into consideration the empowerment of our employees who are creating the product. It goes full circle.
So are consumers now purchasing on the basis of a company’s environmental track record?
Yes they are, absolutely. Take our best seller – we had no idea that our UN bracelet would become so successful, which shows you that the customer likes to choose something that is doing good – not only knowing the story behind the product but also knowing that the product helps raise funds for a good cause. We are hearing more and more that customers are asking about how we produce our products, which is great.
Isn’t it harder for young companies to set aside budgets for CSR?
No, because they are starting from scratch, so they can make sure that the suppliers they use are sustainable, which wasn’t a requirement years ago. A lot of it happens not out of malevolence but more out of ignorance. Again, it’s about education and finding out where you can start to make a positive difference.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Several things stand out. The fact that we have created high quality products at a price level that people can afford and the fact that we have been able to support young talent and give them a chance. Sometimes a little support can have a huge impact. Also, the fact that we have never shied away from associating other design names with ours has worked really well. This cross-pollination with designers has worked across all our mediums, whether its architecture, fashion or jewellery, or even geographically. We are just about to work and support African and Middle Eastern fashion designers, many of whom are women. Hopefully, by supporting their creativity, you will have women who are self-confident who will raise sons who will be more respectful to women in the future.
What is your message to young people going into business?
Find your passion. If you link this to your profession you will have endless energy, which will propel you forward. Your heart and soul needs be involved in what you do. Get educated and become an expert in what you do. Knowledge is power and nobody can take it away from you. Education is freedom – particularly for women.