After passing a perfectly good pink armchair left in a back lane in Glasgow, Saskia Goeres asked the question 'cant this be recycled?' - after finding out that for a variety of reasons the answer was no, she made it her mission to create sustainable, recyclable, re-coverable furniture. Here is her start-up story.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
I’m the founder of Sofa for Life, a company that designs modular sofas that are sustainable, easily adaptable and fully recyclable. The UK alone sends 1.6 million tonnes of furniture to landfill each year, so I wanted to create modular pieces that can be adapted when moving to a new house or changing colour scheme, reducing the urge to dispose of furniture after a few years.
What did you do before you started this business?
This business idea grew while I was in my fifth year of university, studying for a masters in product design and engineering from the University of Glasgow and Glasgow School of Art. The course was the perfect combination of theory, practice and creativity, and taught me to apply my interest in sustainability and circular economy in a creative way, and Sofa for Life was born.
What inspired you to start up?
I remember walking home from university and seeing a perfectly good pink armchair sitting abandoned on my street. This seemed like such a waste, so I decided to see if it could be recycled.
After some research, I discovered it couldn’t, thanks to fire resistant chemicals in the fabric, and couldn’t be sent to a second-hand shop because it had touched the pavement. There seemed to be only one option – to send the armchair to landfill.
Then I wondered why people would simply leave an armchair on the street. Was it because it didn’t fit in the car so couldn’t easily be moved? Or did it not match the owner’s new wallpaper? Maybe it didn’t fit their new living room. This is where the idea for Sofa for Life came from.
How would you describe your business to your Grandma?
“We build sofas that can be re-covered, remodelled and easily dismantled, meaning you can take your sofa with you when you move, extending its lifespan by decades.”
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I have been fortunate enough to receive support through early-stage idea competitions, including Scottish Institute for Enterprise’s (SIE) SISA competition which provides ongoing advice and support to early-stage businesses. Beside that we have been receiving financial and business support from Business Gateway, Scottish Enterprise, Converge Challenge, Scottish Edge, University of Glasgow and Glasgow School of Art. Scotland has a very strong start-up ecosystem thanks to its relatively small size, and this means you can quickly build lasting connections and ask for advice when you need it.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
I’ve entered and won a number of start-up competitions and have invested prize money back into the business. This was ideal to start a new business as it helped to kick things off, but now I’m looking to raise larger amounts of funding. Crowdfunding platforms are particularly useful for funding as well as for product development – not only can you continue to invest in the business, you also get to know what potential customers are looking for in your product and can adapt accordingly.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Every time we produce a new prototype that looks and works a bit better, it’s a massive feeling of achievement.
A more recent highlight was winning Young Edge and exhibiting at the Circular Economy Hotspot last year where even Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, had a seat on the Sofa for Life.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
I truly believe that sustainability shouldn’t be a luxury product, but currently, the more sustainable solution is usually the more expensive one.
Take furniture for example – if you want to re-cover a sofa that you love, sometimes you’ll be asked to pay more than the value of the sofa for the privilege. This actively discourages many people from making sustainable choices.
Go back a few generations and it was very rare for people to trade in their three-piece suite, and while this was often down to cost, we now live in a throw-away society where there’s very little afterthought concerning the impact waste has on our environment.
A Sofa for Life may not be as cheap as an Ikea-bought sofa, but it is designed to last for decades, rather than a few years. This is our key differentiator.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It forces you to take on a lot of responsibility, be organised and learn fast, which can sometimes be a bit scary but is also really good fun. It can be difficult to see friends graduating, landing stable jobs and going on holidays. But then I remember that I do what I love and that I learn so much on this journey.
Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?
A lot can happen in five years, but I would like to see Sofa for Life as an established business with a loyal customer base and beginning to expand into producing other circular economy products. On a broader note, I would also like to see the public with a better understanding of the circular economy and the benefits of extending the product lifespan.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Network and enjoy the journey. I have made a lot of lasting contacts and friendships through support organisations such as SIE. Scotland has one of the best ecosystems for young entrepreneurs and you’ll meet so many inspiring and interesting people that are open to helping you out in the early stages, from providing expertise and advice, to possible business collaborations.
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