“We work to sustain and maintain, not pointlessly grow and develop. Sustainable business is about finding a balance between how much good work you can do well, without chasing profit for its own sake.” Ben Fowler, co-founder and maker, Marque Sussex.
Furniture designer Ben Fowler is at the helm of independent furniture makers Marque Sussex, founded in 2021. With his belief that ‘slow furniture’ is the key to a more sustainable future, he crafts small-batch and beautifully made modern furniture.
Also combining the skills and expertise of likeminded British designer-makers John Weaver and Simon Pengelly, the creative collective Marque Sussex honours ethical, homegrown and locally sourced design. Marque Sussex was born out of parent company Fowler & Co, originally founded by Ben Fowler in 1986, and focuses on environmentally conscious furniture that is made to last.
“Our key aim is to limit tree miles,” Ben exclaimed. “We work with a local sawmill to source locally grown timbers, some from our own county, Sussex. The ash for the first batch of our Orb bed range, for example, came from nearby Petworth – a total of 69 tree miles!” Read on for our full interview to learn more about Ben’s passion for producing well-made heirloom furniture…
How does your business prioritise nature and the environment?
For many years now I have supported a tree planting scheme in Uganda, and I have always used FSC timber and avoided endangered materials. I think the most important thing we can all do is to craft and use things that are made to last, and to be loved. My core goal is the “infinite-use item”, rather than the “single-use item”. Did you know the first product that was designed to be thrown away was the Bic biro? I like to write with a fountain pen myself… it gives more pleasure in every sense.
Why did you decide to pursue the path of sustainable practice when commercially there are so many reasons not to?
In 1978, whilst I was studying at Leeds Polytechnic, my dad gave me a book called ‘Small is Beautiful’ by E. F. Schumacher. Its simple and compelling argument against constant economic growth has stayed with me; the idea that constant growth is unfeasible – nothing can grow forever larger and the same must therefore be true of the economy. We work to sustain and maintain, not pointlessly grow and develop. Sustainable business is about finding a balance between how much good work you can do well, without chasing profit for its own sake.
Which other brands and businesses do you admire most?
David Colwell’s Trannon is a great example of sustainable product design and manufacture. I also admire the Futon Company for selling cheaper products that, although mass produced, still have real character and people keep them. I ride a Moulton bike which I have had, and loved, for a quarter of a century; it encompasses British design and manufacture at its best.
Where is your happy place in nature and how do you encourage your team to embrace the environment?
On any river sculling in a wooden skiff. Needless to say, I force most of my colleagues and friends to row me around too!
What role does design and architecture play in delivering sustainable cities and spaces?
It is central! However, designers and architects really need to engage with people who live in cities to make sure they are designing for the community and not for the designer’s own ego.
Traditionally trade shows have been associated with epic levels of waste so why did you choose to exhibit or align with Planted?
Big trade shows create huge waste as the stands and carpets, for example, are built for just a few days and then struck down and generally thrown away. It’s grotesque! It costs the exhibitor as well as the environment dearly, so it is a lose-lose situation for the environment and the traders. The Planted model clearly makes better sense!
What do you hope your business will gain from being part of Planted Country’s Stourhead event?
Meeting members of the public who care about the environment and sustainability and other like-minded makers, learning what works and what we have got wrong.
What annoys you most when it comes to conversations around the environment?
My own hypocrisy! We all need to recognise that we must change, however none of us are perfect. The problem is complex and to survive humanity needs to design and compromise our way to saving the earth. It is us – the First World Western culture – who must compromise; the Earth and many indigenous communities have already been exploited beyond breaking point.
A big thank you to Ben Fowler for taking part in enki’s Meet the Maker series. Discover more about the handcrafted furniture collections by Marque Sussex online.
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Register now for Planted Country, taking place in Stourhead, Wiltshire, from 30th April to 2nd May 2022.
enki is supporting Planted Country.