D3CO: balancing more comfort with less consumption

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Flatpack might be functional, but furniture can be so much more. D3CO is an innovative Italian company with eco-credentials, traceable materials, and inspired creatives at its core, including founder Christine Sintermann.

Luxury furniture is exactly that: something not everybody has access to, so I wanted to get straight to the crux of the matter and ask Tine Sintermann why she felt there was a need to create something other than cost-effective flatpack pieces. Her answer surprises me and begins an in-depth conversation about long-term sustainability and quality of life, two topics that are at the epicentre of D3CO itself.

She starts by revealing: “Housing and furniture, in general, is one of the basic human requirements. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it falls into the ‘safety’ category, just one step above the physiological needs of the body. As such, it needs to be satisfied. The basic level is just to get that bed, that seat, and be happy to be able to afford one that is clean and comfortable. And in that sense, who could fault somebody in need of a mattress, if disposable furniture is all they can afford, and if they can easily pick it up because the packaging is so practical they can take it home immediately and mount it themselves?”

It raises an interesting debate about need versus want but most telling is the way that Sintermann clearly has no snobbery underpinning her ownership of a designer furniture company. It’s a beautiful and revealing character trait that adds extra weight to what it is she’s trying to do with D3CO.

She goes on to address that undeniable nature of humans, with our want for beautiful things, often with little to no regard for the wider cost: “In most European cultures, furniture does not only cover a basic need, but can also be an important means of self-expression and status. With very chic and cheap furniture produced en masse and with no regard for durability, the whole sector is shifting more and more towards fast consumption, just like the fashion sector before it.”

She continues: “This is fraught with problems — a mountain of plastic waste (30 to 40 kg of petrol-based plastic foam in a standard sofa), socially questionable production methods, huge carbon emissions for moving everything between continents and last but not least, a lot of chemicals in the products themselves because they’re cheaper.”

Refusing to sit back and watch

vegan furnitureSintermann might not be the only professional who has a keen awareness of the environmentally troubling practices within furniture production, but she is one of a distinct minority actively seeking to make a change. She makes it clear that she believes now is the time to ask questions about fast consumption, driving difficult conversations for the good of the planet, as well as the individuals buying potentially harmful items.

“We should be considering the safety aspect and asking: ‘I have the money, do I go for furniture that preserves my health and is toxin-free? Do I go for furniture that is extremely long-lived and/or can be recycled and does not endanger the equilibrium of the planet?’” she explains. “The response seems obvious, but with few good choices and whole industries bent on making us consume evermore, it is a difficult path.”

Well, it was a difficult path, but thanks to Sintermann, there is an alternative and that’s D3CO. Even if sumptuous design, astute morality and enviable ethics aren’t enough to peel you away from everyday cheap furniture producers, the story of how D3CO came about just might, because it is a family affair.

“The idea for D3CO was born when I was pregnant with our first kid, Rafael. He is nine now, so it’s a while ago, but I remember us sitting in our tiny Milano kitchen, pouring over designs for furniture,” recalls Sintermann. “My husband wanted to launch his own furniture brand and was looking into different designs and categories. He was tired of always seeing the same things and had started contacting a couple of young and wild designers he knew from university.”

She continues: “A German photographer friend of mine was also at the table and she threw in the idea of doing something biological. And there it was. The idea clicked immediately with us. And we had the workshop, the experience and fathers and grandfathers behind us, who still knew how furniture was made before petrol-based foam came into the equation.

“It took a lot of research, a lot of un-leaning and a lot of new technology to come up with modern sofas that, at their core, are made in the old way and totally biodegradable. But then, nothing that is really worth it ever comes easily, does it?”

If you’re not thinking how incredible this sounds, I don’t know what will impress you. When I first looked at the beautiful sofas that D3CO produce, I had no idea they were built on the foundations of multigenerational familial knowledge and craftsmanship, as well as a desperate desire to lead the way in doing more for future generations. Once you know that love and stewardship are woven into every piece, you can appreciate the importance of what is being attempted and the stunning results.

Catering to the vegan market

d3coI should reveal here that no, not every D3CO upholstery option is vegan, but sustainability has to start somewhere, and with so many incredible leather and wool alternatives being created now, there seems little doubt that the team will be able to make great use of them in the future, as long as their production methodologies align ethically.

There are already plenty of options for plant-based shoppers to choose from though, because D3CO is not a high-end company that seeks to freeze out a large ethical demographic because of old-fashioned notions of leather being the best material for quality. The company embraces every community of consumers and knows that big change can only happen when everybody is included.

Speaking about the vegan sofa options, Sintermann says: “Nearly all our models are available in vegan versions. In fact, we have a retailer in Germany who only buys these, because they have a mostly vegan clientele.”

She goes on to explain: “The only two materials in our products that are not vegan, are leather and feathers. The first is only used for upholstery and can be easily substituted with pure cotton or linen. To be quite honest, we sell very few variations in leather anyway, so few, in fact, that we are considering removing them as options altogether. Feathers are a bit more difficult, because they are very hard to replace, if you insist — like we do — on biodegradability.”

Feathers are used to replace the cheaper plastic and petrol-based foams that prevent throwaway furniture pieces from degrading naturally. D3CO has a mandate in place that all furniture must, if left outside, fully break down naturally, with perhaps only a few metal bolts and feet being left, both of which can be repurposed and recycled.

This has created some difficulties in terms of replacing feathers in cushions, but Sintermann is not giving up. As she said, nothing worth doing is ever easy and a challenge is just an opportunity to find a better way to go about things. “In our vegan sofas, we replace feathers with thicker latex pieces and pressed cotton layers, which results in a slightly firmer feel,” she tells me. “We are actively looking for a natural vegan alternative to feathers to fill the cushions on our standard models, but up until now, the alternatives we researched are quite brittle. This may be okay in a jacket, but if you sit on a sofa every day, these fibres tend to break down and poke you in your…”

Though many of us might joke that we would take an occasional sofa prick over environmental damage, it is, of course, understandable that the search for a viable feather alternative continues.

Transforming consumer habits

vegan housingNow we come to the real issue: consumers. We all need and want certain items but have become too desensitised to the pitfalls of cheap and mass-produced items that even Black Friday deals that include dresses for 0.08p fail to raise buyers’ eyebrows. In fact, they create an online panic with thousands trying to secure a bargain with zero consideration for how the pieces have been made, by who and what they could do to our health.

Sintermann remains optimistic that buying habits and motivations can be adapted, though, through education and, if all else fails, the promise of long-term savings: “I think once past the basic need of shelter, there should be a safety consideration that is environmental and social, ideally before style and beauty. But let’s not kid ourselves: if something is ugly, nobody would like to have it in their homes, right?”

She adds that there is hope: “Luckily, there are more and more alternatives to plastic-based fast products manufactured in questionable circumstances.”

To change, we need to understand what is at risk. Sintermann asks: “Ever unwrapped a piece of furniture and thought that it smelled of chemicals? It was most likely filled with them and even after you cannot perceive the smell anymore, your furniture will still emit noxious fumes into your home, year in, year out. The scent of wood, linen and orange oil is quite different.”

Furniture that makes our homes smell better? That’s not a hard sell, but re-educating people into seeing a sofa as a lifetime purchase? That’s where the real difficulty lies. How can consumers who are used to simply discarding a two or three-year-old sofa, be encouraged to spend significantly more on something that will outlive them?

Sintermann acknowledges this is tricky but reveals her own thoughts on disposable culture: “I think that furniture belongs in the ‘forever’ category. My grandparents had a bed they got as a wedding present and they passed away in it, in their old age. Now, that bed is in my brother’s home, and why not? It is beautiful and was built to last. It will probably be handed down to his kids too.”

She notes how this feeds into the ethos of her company: “At D3CO, we aim to make that kind of furniture. Beautiful inside and out, and made to last for generations. Made to be repaired, re-upholstered and cherished, not dumped during the next house move. I think that ethical products in the home give a sense of peace and continuity, and that has its own beauty.”

This is furniture designed to make memories on, to be fought over by younger family members who all want a turn with it in their homes. I don’t remember the last time an IKEA sofa was bequeathed. Just saying.

Part of something bigger

eco-friendly sofaIs D3CO the only company in the world to be actively trying to change consumer habits with ecology in mind? No. It probably isn’t even the only one in wonderful Italy, but Sintermann knows this and welcomes being included in a larger community of creative and compassionate organisations. She knows that to instigate real education and appreciation for our environment, we all have to work as small facets of a larger cohesive whole.

And she voices her appreciation for the sustainability movement beautifully: “There are many movements right now that are on the way towards a sustainable and ethical future. They are the people who unite and don’t divide; the people who project themselves into the future and think about the consequences of their existence, in terms of impact and who develop fresh ideas on how we should live together.”

She goes on to invoke immense personal pride in those of us at The Vegan Review by concluding: “I am very thankful for this interview, because your platform is an amplifier of this sustainable and ethical energy. It is important to tell tales of change to encourage each and every one of us to do what we do, with positivity and energy. Thank you.”

No, thank you. From us, the planet and the multitude of vegan bottoms that cannot wait to sit on your beautiful, ethical creations.

Amy Buxton
Amy is a committed ethical vegan, raising a next generation compassionate human with her husband and their beloved dog, Boo. A freelance writer with a background in PR, she decided to use the COVID lockdown period to refocus her client base and has come to The Vegan Review as a senior writer and editor, before moving into her external content director role. "What we should be doing is working at the job of life itself" is Amy's mantra, courtesy of Tom from The Good Life.