The TH Interview: Stephane Barbeau from Vessel

Stephane Barbeau along with Duane Smith founded Vessel in 2000 with love and determination to bring their own designs straight to the end user. Now, 5 years later, Vessel continues to foster new ideas into refined products with their philosophy in tact. Their product lines have grown and distribution has gone world wide. Many of their products (Cutting Tray, Squat, Workplace Dish Set, Candela,and Toro Tissue Ring) have been covered here on Treehugger.

Stephane Barbeau recently took some time out for a TH interview.TH: Could you give us a brief history of Vessel?

Stephane: Duane Smith and I started Vessel in 2000 as a way for us to begin to market our own ideas to manufacturers. We quickly realized that the most fulfillment would come from us making things ourselves, so we took the leap and began selling our own products - they hit store shelves in May 2002.

We're both product designers.

TH: What is your design philosophy?

Stephane: Well, our tagline is "from our heads to your hands" and it says a lot about the authenticity and innovation we bring to all of our products. Plus, on a more practical level, we're careful not to design anything that we wouldn't use ourselves, or anything that creates more problems than it solves.

TH: What did you want to be, when you were growing up?

Stephane: An artist.

TH: Have you grown up yet?

Stephane: I've realized it's more of a continuum than a sudden achievement, so I guess I never will grow up. I do think that I've accomplished a lot of the things that I fantasized about when I was younger, so that's a comforting thing to realize.

TH: Can you describe the major turning points in your life?

Stephane: Design school was the first big one, and then after that I tend to operate in 3-year cycles. Moved from Ottawa to boson, renovated a house, got a dog, changed jobs again, opened my own company (on the verge of another turning point now)

TH: How have you negotiated between a design aesthetic and your environmental goals?

Stephane: The biggest thing for me is to keep appearances simple, and that way people are less likely to tire of an object quickly, so they'll keep it around for longer.

TH: What are your major environmental concerns with design, production, and distribution?

Stephane: In general people are consuming TOO MUCH. It's a conflict for us because we're producing even more for them to consume. I think via good design people's distorted sense of value and priorities can be shifted to fill their lives with less 'stuff', but still hold onto objects of strong functional and emotional value.

TH:Your popular Candela line has grown. How has the design evolved? How have you addressed larger issues of sustainability through its design?

Stephane: We're constantly refining the electrical design and materials of the product to make it more robust. Plus, some new features include replaceable batteries and bulbs, so in theory, someone could keep the product for MANY years. Everything is recyclable, and we accept back defects/returns to recycle through agencies.

Using Candela is actually safer, less polluting and less expensive than candles.

TH: Who are your heroes?

Stephane: I really like how Terence Conran has built an empire around lifestyle and the idea of surrounding yourself with beauty - all what he does are very social: retail, product, restaurant. I've never met him, but his level of achievement is something I aspire to. I also have a bunch of authors like Douglas Coupland, Margaret Atwood, who I think capture trends, ideas and life lessons via their fiction that is very inspiring, even on a day-to-day level with my tasks at hand.

TH: What advice could you give to aspiring designers?

Stephane: Designers make good entrepreneurs. We probably wouldn't have been able to build our business to the size it is without design training; the problem-solving methods in design can be applied to many facets of business.

Thank you Stephane.

Vessels products can be viewed and purchased through their online store.::Vessel