by Heather Stewart Feldman
Italian company Wood’d makes tech accessories and other objects from wood and leather, seamlessly blending modern aesthetics and processes with artisan woodworking skills and techniques. Determined to contribute to the future of their family’s business—but in their own way—brothers Stefano and Andrea Aschieri (23 and 27 years old, respectively) proposed introducing their own product line to a company originally founded on toothpick production, which would continue to develop their family's chosen medium with items that both fashion and tech enthusiasts could appreciate.
The Aschieri brothers design and manufacture all Wood'd products in the same factory as the family business, which their grandfather started in the '60s. Along with three other people, Andrea oversees design, production and sales, while Stefano manages all areas associated with web, communication and social media. CH had the opportunity to visit the studio and workshop in Arconate (Milan), and speak with Andrea about Wood’d's past, present and future.
Tell us a bit about this factory and its significance for your family.
Our grandfather founded the company back in the '60s and for about 20 years they specialized in the production of toothpicks. In the '80s they started to diversify their manufacturing and began producing other items made of wood (cutting boards, paper towel holders, carts, mannequins, etc.) and today they still produce wooden household goods.
We joined the company in late 2011, after having come up with the idea for Wood'd. We knew coming in that our approach to the new business needed to be to get familiar with the production aspects. We focused on learning as much as we could about the characteristics of the material and the different ways it could be applied or transformed. We started out using the existing machinery in the factory, but now we’ve amplified our production and have brought in some new machinery—finding a way to make classic woodworking techniques and new technologies coexist.
What all does the Wood’d line consist of?
This was an aspect of our business that took about two years to define. Our products are now considered fashion accessories—in terms of taste and because of the design aesthetic that we have. Plus, we work on collections that we put out in January/February and June/July, just like fashion companies.
What does wood as a material represent for you both?
We grew up around wood. It’s always been present in our family and for us it represents a certain level of "know-how"—an idea of being able to create something concrete from a simple material. We like wood because it’s a living material that never repeats itself. It ages, changes over time and bears the marks of all that it suffers.
Where do you find inspiration for your new designs?
As for what is purely aesthetic, we look at what’s happening in fashion. In general, all that is contemporary; from art to culture and the world of the web. However, for production we are always interested in trying out new technology and thinking about how different functions can be applied to our products, from laser-cutting techniques to printing technologies.
We like to combine technology and craftsmanship, both in products and in production. The iPhone skins (our first products) and covers are just that. We want our products to respect the other design product they are going to be applied to and we studied this aspect, not wanting to change the aesthetic value of the other objects (like the iPhone), but just some aspects of them, such as tactile feel. Ideas for our new products always start from the challenge of wanting to find new applications for this classic material. We’ve sewn it to create the pockets for clutches and combined it with tweed to make hats.
Regarding the graphics for the products, do you collaborate with external designers?
For now, all of our graphics are designed internally. We do, however, have several ongoing external collaborations enabling us to study the production of some new articles. An example of one of these is the docking station, which was designed in collaboration with Sintesi, a trio of young Milanese designers. There’s also the hats we’ve made with Carlotta Sadino, an emerging hat-designer. We think it’s essential to collaborate and cooperate with other young realities.
What is the difference between a handmade and an industrial product—and where do your products fit in?
Our products are exactly halfway between industrial and artisanal. To keep up with the demands of the market we need to follow production on an industrial scale, but many of the production steps have to be done by hand—like the assembly of the docking stations, the application of wood to other surfaces, sanding and the painting of some products.
Can you tell us a little about the production process?
All production is done internally—from the preparation of the timber to the packaging of the products. The production phase is a combination of classic woodworking techniques (planing, contouring, milling) and innovative techniques such as laser-cutting. Every product undergoes several stages of production that are done by hand.
What kind of wood is used to manufacture your products?
We use various types and species of lumber. We started out using scraps from production in the factory, but today we source our materials and we can get a few smaller items made out of scraps from our own production. The peculiarity of wood is that each piece is unique. Not only will no two pieces be the same, but it also changes over time, depending on the contact it's had with light or with skin, the grain will stand out more and more as time goes by. For the manufacturing of our small leather goods combined with wood, we recover scraps from some of industrial districts that make leather bags and shoes.
What does being a Made in Italy brand mean for you?
For us, it’s essential that production remain in Italy. On one hand because we’ve created a network of collaborators here that we couldn’t survive without. On the other, because “Made in Italy” is an element so ingrained in the Italian culture and we feel proud to be part of it. The image that this has in the world is truly incomparable.
Visit the Wood'd website to view and purchase products; iPhone covers start at €25.
Product images courtesy of Wood'd, studio photos by Heather Stewart Feldman