Kasper Egelund, CEO, Vipp
Interview by Laura Piety
Vipp, the Danish company best known for its strong design aesthetic and products including the infamous (and much coveted) metal pedal bin has recently evolved its product offering in the form of its first significant architectural project, the Vipp shelter, a 55m2 fully functioning prefabricated 'home', designed to fit any type of landscape or natural environment.
It's a highly developed product from a company that was originally started in the 1930s out of rather humble beginnings: a little luck and sheer practical necessity: In 1931 a young Holger Neilsen won a car in a lottery, but because he had no driving license, sold the prize and invested in a metal lathe instead. This marked the start of a metal factory, out of which Neilsen would later create a pedal bin for his wife's hair salon. This pedal bin formed the foundation of their company business and now holds a much celebrated place alongside the work of other design luminaries, including Charles and Ray Eames, and Zaha Hadid, at the MOMA in New York.
This primary product evolved into an extended line of kitchen appliances and beyond, namely, the Vipp Shelter. According to CEO, Kasper Egelund, upscaling the classic Vipp accessories and recent kitchen and bathroom modules to a 600 sq ft shelter is about daring to be different and stretching Vipp’s brand beyond expectations.
We interviewed Kasper, and Sofie Christensen Egelund (their Communication & Concept Director) to find out more about building such an iconic design brand, the inspiration behind the Shelter, and how they refuse to buy into a disposable culture.
Vipp is best known for trash bins. After these came a series of kitchen and bathroom modules, and now a fully equipped Vipp shelter. Why a shelter?
You can ask ‘why a shelter’? But the answer is the same to ‘why a suction hook’? It’s the urge to do something better and different than what already exists out there. Yes, a shelter is a different size of investment but the basic philosophy is the same; developing functional tools based on the knowledge of 75 years of steel manufacturing, where functional requirements and material processing define the form. We felt that the market is ready for a modern plug and play getaway, where the only question left to the customer is where to put it.
It is quite unusual for a brand to extend the range like this, what is Vipp’s rationale?
Our design philosophy is the rationale for jumping between traditionally unrelated categories. There is no evident link between trash bins, kitchens and shelters but enter the shelter and the philosophy is omnipresent embodied in every item you see; the coherence in all objects is evident through the use of materials, subtle functional and aesthetic details and a common design language.
Can you describe the concept from a branding perspective?
Basically, we were contemplating how to stage our kitchen, bathroom furniture and accessories in the very best and unexpected way.
When I lived in New York City, I often dreamt of escaping the concrete jungle entangled in traffic chaos. Nature felt very far away. With the inflating urbanization, this need for escapism becomes a more generic need. This is how the idea of the Vipp shelter was born. A small 600 sq ft getaway including all you need right down from small cups and plates to kitchen and bathroom facilities.
Making a shelter is also about daring to do something different. It all started with a single trash bin in 1939, which my grandfather designed and kept producing for more than 50 years, making Vipp a manufacturer of trash bins only. My mother, sister and I challenged this definition when we hired an in-house designer and started developing bathroom and kitchen accessories around 10 years ago. In 2011 we opened up the first Vipp flagship store when launching our kitchen and bathroom furniture. We are continually adding new layers to the portfolio. Some years ago we thought that a kitchen matching the Vipp bin was the furthest we could go, and now we produce complete shelter… Vipp is not about playing safe, but daring to push the limits.
Why chose a prefab shelter instead designing your own?
There are a lot of good architects out there, so you can easily hire one to customize your personal retreat. But this is usually a time consuming process. We saw the benefits of a pre-fabricated shelter allowing the process to be easy, speedy and cost-efficient. Vipp delivers a completely finished, design coherent product where installation is done in a couple of days. The only thing the customer has to think about is where to put it.
What would your grandfather Holger Nielsen’s reaction be if he saw the shelter?
Initially he would be wowed, then a little scared! But as a true craftsman he would head directly for the steel construction and comment on both materials and form. And I’m sure he would love everything about it.
As a company how do you approach such an extensive new project? How and where do you allocate your resources accordingly?
By definition, yes, building a shelter is risky but not as risky as opening up own retail with running costs. If we didn’t succeed with this there would be a huge financial loss, yet the biggest risk would be the loss of our collective self-confidence. With a retail store you are exposed, having to shut the curtains and turn the key would permanently scar Vipp's journey and it would have to go back and focus only on its core products, the bins.
Having a commercial success allows us to execute big ideas. With a long history and an international design icon in the portfolio, taking these new risks are important. We don't want to become a retrospective company that solely focuses on the classics but forgets to be contemporary.
Naturally, a shelter is a more risky investment than a suction hook or a soap dispenser, but compared to the opening of our first retail store (where we jumped from the 10 meter high diving board), we are only '3 meters' from the water with our new shelter.
In a world that has such a disposable product culture, how do you successfully build a brand around things that last a lifetime, and get your customers to believe in the same thing?
You will only find one Vipp product in each category stripped of trends and fashion. You will never see a fall- or winter collection in Vipp. This obligates us to exert ourselves to create the best solution in the category and means many ‘no’s’ before there is a ‘yes’. In this way we believe a Vipp product has both staying power and becomes an investment.
What things inspire the VIPP aesthetic and brand today? Places, people, products, design etc.
Vipp is rooted in the manufacture of industrial objects, so the term Shelter is a typology that allows us to define this modern escape as a product inspired by a large volume object such as a plane, ferry or submarine. Every screw on a plane serves a purpose. It is a true functional tool. Vipp was born out of a need for functional tools in the professional market. Just like Holger Nielsen who made the bin, we consider ourselves as tool builders measuring the quality of our tools on their long-term ability to provide better everyday experiences.
Where do you see the Vipp shelter being installed? Cities? Beaches? Mountains?
The shelter is gently placed on 6 pillars – the only direct touch point with nature. This means that you can practically install the shelter everywhere. However, if you want to be able to use the kitchen and bathroom facilities, electricity and water are required. Right now we dream about a Vipp shelter in the Mojave Desert.
Where do you see VIPP expanding to in the future?
That is a good question. My feeling is that we have only just embarked on our journey, despite the fact that we celebrate our 75th birthday this year. One thing is for sure, we will never add a product if we cannot add extra value compared to what the market already holds.
For more information please visit http://www.vipp.com/en/
All images courtesy of Vipp