By Marie Kulik, Manager of Exhibitor Business Development
This week Marie caught up with Chris Hotell of ALEX Bottles to discuss sustainability and how it works in the world of housewares and high design.
Marie: What is the inspiration behind the design and functionality of your products?
CH: Reusable water bottles are an amazing and necessary alternative to the toxic single serving plastic water bottles that are overwhelming our landfills and polluting our waterways. The issue is that the current reusable bottles are hard to clean and become full of bacteria causing them to smell, and eventually thrown away. We created the ALEX Bottle (ALEX = Always Live Extraordinarily) with our patent pending Clean Seam Technology (CST) which allows ALEX to unscrew at the middle for easy cleaning in the dishwasher or by hand.
CST also allows you to compact ALEX to half its size when empty by inverting the bottom half and nesting it inside the top. The threads actually work in reverse so it screws together when compacted, making a perfect bottle for traveling or for storing in your cupboard at home. Customization was really important too, so ALEX’s design allows you to mix and match our two sizes, 20oz and 32oz, to make a middle 26oz size in your own individualized colorways.
We not only wanted a bottle that we felt was functionally smarter, but we wanted to rethink aesthetics in this space as well. We really wanted to give ALEX a unique and iconic design that called attention to its differentiating features. We worked with an amazing industrial design team called Anvil Studios out of Seattle who helped us achieve that beyond our wildest dreams. Working with them was great and we’re so excited about how it turned out. As a result ALEX has won a 2011 Red Dot design award, a 2011 Housewares Design award and a 2010 Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Award. We’re really honored and grateful.
Marie: What makes housewares design “great”?
CH: Obviously this is very subjective and not being a “designer” myself, I can say what I love as a consumer, and that’s when a brand is able to take a commodity product and breathe life into it. I always love brands like Simple Human, and Dyson because I feel like they not only advance a products functionally, they also take it to another level aesthetically. That’s great design to me. Advancing the functionality while simultaneously pushing the limits of design by paying attention to the details.
Sustainability is also something that I really look for in a design. I think Herman Miller does an amazing job of making beautiful products while never taking their eye off of their impact on the planet. Method Home is another example of a company that redefined an old industry with a combination of sustainable products and awesome design.
Marie: How much does cost influence design?
CH: I really love the details of a product. The small things you notice when you really check out a product, and it seems like when cost is your primary focus or when cost becomes an issue, the special little details tend to be the first things get cut. So in that way, I think cost can influence design. That’s not to say that you can’t have amazing design at a great price, I just know that it can be a balancing act and sometimes you have to make compromises. You can get so attached to a certain design that those can be the most painful decisions too.
Marie: What does your company offer the Home + Housewares Industry?
CH:If you look at the water bottle space you will see it’s pretty saturated. There are a lot of companies making water bottles that have been doing it for a long time and a lot who are jumping in because it’s become a booming opportunity. I think what we offer the industry is a fresh and innovative perspective on where this space can go. We aren’t just adding a new print to an old form, we’re trying to rethink the product category to make it more functional for the end user while at the same time taking a commodity product and making it a fashionable accessory. I think we’re bringing design to a space that has very little product differentiation for quite some time.
CH: Being a part of Discover Design was a huge honor for us. There was a lot of buzz around this section of the show and a lot of activity happening there which gave us some amazing exposure to buyers and distributors we wouldn’t have had otherwise. I think it’s nice to be a part of such a big show and never feel lost in the mix. Discover Design does a great job of putting the spotlight on new companies.
Marie: How much does the use or function of a product play into the design of it? Do your products follow a similar design throughout the line or does the influence differ from piece to piece?
CH:The functionality of the ALEX Bottle was one of the biggest drivers in the design or our product. Our design team, Anvil Studios, had a list of functional requirements that we wanted to bring together with an iconic design. Since our CST differentiates in our space, they really had to find a way to highlight this feature in a cool way, but not make it a distraction or feel disjointed from the rest of the product. We spent a lot of time with them looking at design iterations. Simply slapping our functionality on a standard water bottle form so we could go to market faster wasn’t ever an option. We wouldn’t feel the same passion for our product that we do now, nor would it have received the same attention.
Marie: How did the Discover Design help to expand your brand?
CH: I think Discover Design will help us expand our brand because you’re around so many other amazing brands you can’t help but be inspired. Also, we spent the entire show talking to people about our product that really helped us get amazing feedback. Being in the trenches and talking to people about your product not only helps you learn how to properly sell and market your brand but it also exposes you to new opportunities for next generation products. We left IHA with a big list of future products we would like to pursue.
See what other design leaders had to say to us by checking out the entire Inside Discover Design series!