Modern Hand

Visionary companies like 3Form create cutting edge product by involving traditional craftspeople from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. 3Form's Jill Canales tells the story.

3form, a design company launched in 2001, grew from the overnight success of its Varia line. Varia is made by encapsulating materials in resin panels containing 40 percent post-industrial recycled content. The resulting aesthetic is awe-inspiring: organic elements suspended in translucent material are both raw and extremely refined. The method and the material create the opportunity to transform handcrafted materials into modern design masterpieces – and to enrich modern design with the soul and substance of handcraft. Our customers have shown us that this juxtaposition is highly desirable in contemporary design circles.
Soon after 3form launched its first collection, Ray Wenzel, then Design Director, began to search the globe for unusual, undiscovered materials to encapsulate. He was excited by the opportunity to utilize handcrafted products – to achieve the exciting contrast between technology and tradition. In his global search for these unique gems, a Colombian woven sisal product caught Ray’s eye.
After being formally connected by ATA to a production group, Ray learned the compelling story of how sisal crafts were born. Colombia’s sisal industry supplied coffee companies with woven sacks to package the beans. But once the coffee companies had switched to polypropylene, their business disappeared. Hard times ensued and, resourcefully, sisal farmers and weavers switched to the creation of handcrafted products. Ray worked with ATA and the community to translate their work into a panel design for 3form. 
3form’s “Full Circle” approach to design, where the product development process is held to high environmental and social standards, began with artisans like the sisal weavers. Our company was compelled by the opportunity to help their communities, and delighted by our ability to create new markets for their products. Additionally, we have discovered that we can amplify the positive social impact by sharing the artisans’ stories with our clients. We can raise awareness about the needs and struggles of distant villages. When their products are purchased and installed in residences or businesses, the interiors hold a powerful daily reminder of the shrinking size of our world and of what we can do to improve it.
There are definitely some challenges in working with artisans in third world countries. We have
become accustomed to fast-paced material development processes. Most artisan groups lack communications technology, infrastructure, access to raw materials, and processes for quick, even reasonable, time frames for iterations.
But in terms of design, working with artisan groups opens up a whole new world of possibilities. We often start with knowledge of a group’s capabilities and resources. We then pair this with thematic design directions we have identified in the US. This process narrows the selection of designs, and often leads to a transformation of traditional craft designs into a more contemporary aesthetic. Our collaborations have created success for all concerned and we are looking forward to more.

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