By Fi Campos
I just love interviewing the team at Little Folks, mainly because every time I speak to them I learn something new and exciting about children’s furniture design! This month I’ve discovered that whilst they design the most gorgeous looking and practical beds and furniture, they’re also the absolute experts in wood. - Not only the best woods to use but making sure it comes from sustainable sources. Of course I should have known really, quality beds need quality materials and a very keen eye.
Little Folks super-sourcing manager, Saso, is based in Slovenia. He monitors everything down to the most minute detail to ensure that the final products are always made using the proper materials and to the highest quality standards, in order to make sure each product is made in the same way and to the same exacting specification. Which in turn reassures us of the performance and safety of the product we are buying. I really wanted to get under the skin of how Little Folks Furniture manages to get such superior product quality, so I spent a little time with Saso to find out more about his role in the business ...
FC: Saso, what’s the first step you take when you’re looking for a new supplier for a Little Folks Furniture design?
SL: When looking for a supplier of furniture we usually look at where we can find a source of sustainable timber. For example for beech or oak furniture, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia are countries with plenty of sustainable forests. Slightly nerdy fact here but this region has some of the oldest “managed forests” on record and going back several centuries.
In recent years the majority of these forests have been FSC certified which decreases considerably any concerns of illegally logged timber. Forest area is actually growing under this management – a stark contrast to areas of South America and the Far East.
When it comes to wood supply for our furniture, Sustainability and Legally logged timber are two factors that are top priorities for us.
FC: How do you ensure that the final furniture pieces are created from the sustainable wood that you source?
SL: I’m not joking when I say that logs have their own number tag so they can be identified individually. Once or twice a year I perform a detailed traceability study where I follow the log that arrives into the factory. I check the invoice and the source of the log, and then follow it through production into the final product.
FC: So how long does the process take from obtaining the log to creating the final furniture?
SL: We plan production from very early on, meaning that just to get logs ready for making something in the factory (what we call machining) could take up to 6 months depending on the size of the sections required. Wood is a live material with quite a lot of moisture in it. You have to take that moisture out and down to a very specific level in a process called kilning. This is a really important control point – because if you do not dry the wood properly it will “move” and crack even when it is part of a product. Bigger sections of log require air drying before final kilning.
FC: How do you ensure that your highest quality standards are met in the factories?
SL: The drying process is carefully measured and recorded and only when it is properly dry is it released to the factory.
Once the wooden components arrive into the factory, I get actively involved in the training of wood selection, (ie what is acceptable and what isn’t). Different products require different quality attributes in the components, so it’s not a ‘one size fits all approach. I frequently produce a reference gallery of wooden attributes in order to help factory workers with the selection of components. If you’re using a softwood like pine there are lots of knot defects in the wood – in fact so many that some may have to be left in. A knot is a structurally weak and will also be a problem to paint. One of the reasons why we don’t use a lot of softwoods in our products!
FC: Lots of the Little Folks Furniture is self assembly. What are the steps you take in order to ensure that the customer is able to easily assemble their product?
SL: This goes back to making sure the product is made in the same way and to the same specification every time. It is about the factory having the right machinery and the right control processes – and quite a lot of my time is spent making sure those processes are in place and used. For example we make special jigs (a device that holds and guides the wood) which assists the operator in regular Quality Control Checks. Jigs are great for ensuring parts are the same every single time. These factories are our partners after-all and so this investment is good for everybody involved.
FC: Is there anything that you need to do differently if the product is brand new to the workshop?
SL: For brand new products we go through a process called “productionisation” – turning a specification on paper into a series of processes in a factory. I’m involved at every stage – and hopefully providing some useful advice as we have been in manufacturing ourselves for a very long time. We will produce a “sealing sample” – the first off the production line if you like – and that will be examined from top to bottom to check everything is working properly and it goes together perfectly before the button is pressed to full scale production.
FC: And what about any safety requirements?
SL: When dealing with product safety for high sleepers and bunk beds, it is important to make sure not only that the product perfectly fits together but also that certain gaps on side rails or ladders are within required tolerances. We design these requirements into our products and then measure the finished product in the factory to make sure the requirements are met.
We will also take product and bash it around it in our very own test house – which is why we are so confident about our designs and the beautiful woods they are made from. Underneath the paint the wood is there to perform and for a long time! Not many consumers (and sadly not many retailers) really know about these safety standards, but we take them very seriously because we want to ensure top quality beds for their children to sleep in.
FC: Are there any final checks before the product goes to the customer?
SL: Once product quality has been signed off, and the furniture is packed and ready to be shipped, I then inspect and assemble a number of products, check for all critical dimensions and the quality one last time. This ensures that I’m confident that the product will pass our stringent quality control and that the customer will love it.
FC: Are you always able to source and produce product to a specific design?
SL: A huge part of my role is to ensure that the product produced not only meets the customer and designer expectations, but is also commercially viable for the factory to produce. I spend a lot of time liaising with the factory and design teams to ensure that we create the ideal solution for everyone involved. This often involves sourcing new materials for the factory.
Wow, what a process! I’m sure you’ll agree about the level of expertise and work that goes in to ensuring Little Folks products meet their top quality and safety standards. It’s been really interesting learning just how much detail goes in to the sourcing of Little Folks product, and has certainly made me think about the important factors of sustainability and safety in children’s furniture.