Balzac to the Future
Under the skin of one of SCP's most iconic products
Sometime in mid-2008, while the fallout from the global financial crisis dominated the media, SCP company founder, Sheridan Coakley, decided it was time to phase out chemically treated fire-retardant foams from the core range of SCP upholstery. It may have seemed like an odd decision at the time. This would be an expensive, time-consuming and labour intensive change to the way SCP were making upholstery. It would also likely result in a cost increase to the consumer, but Sheridan was determined to initiate the change and his rationale then was quite simple: “Foams themselves are petro-chemical based, require a lot of energy to make, and have become more expensive in recent years. They are not sustainable.” The company brought in the expertise of Anne Marie Black, a well-known expert and lecturer on upholstery techniques. Her role was to assist them in making the products in more traditional ways, using sustainable materials. This process not only involved retraining all of the factory staff, but also took a lot of trial and error with substitute materials such as horsehair, rubberised coconut fibre and various different wools. It also required the patience of learning how to remake products that had already been mastered.
The purpose of the whole exercise was not about adhering to a fashion for the sustainable, but rather because Sheridan felt that a responsible manufacturer should actually act responsibly. That meant nurturing skills, especially tried and tested craft-based skills that had remained unchanged for many generations. It also meant more material research and development. Sheridan foresaw a marketplace where manufacturers would be duty-bound to reveal their production methods, with measures like carbon units coming into play. This may not have become a reality just yet, but the modern consumer is undoubtedly better informed and expects a level of transparency about the provenance of products that was unheard of even a decade ago. Consumers are still swayed by aesthetics, function and feel, but they also like to know exactly how things are made.