Can the iconic Danish design companies survive the sharing economy?

Timeless design, high quality and long life are the key offerings from the world’s best design companies. In my home country, Denmark, this applies to companies like Louis Poulsen, who produce some of the best lighting in the world, Fritz Hansen, who make some of the most desirable pieces of furniture and Royal Copenhagen, producers of the very fine china many of us use at home – alongside our IKEA flatware.

However, despite these three shared qualities, there are also inseparable challenges that these companies face in the sharing economy. Let us take an example: a few years old, a light blue PH5 from Louis Poulsen hangs beautifully over our dining table. We really liked our lamp until Louis Poulsen launched the very same model in brighter colours. Then… “Uhhhhh I must have it!”

This inspired two options: do we want to spend 5,000 – 6,000 DKK on a new lamp, and is there any free space in our home for a new lamp? The very same considerations would be necessary if the example was an Egg-chair from Fritz Hansen or a complete dining set from Royal Copenhagen.

A few years ago, a simple yes or no to both questions would have solved the case – now everything is different due to the arrival of the technology driving the sharing economy, and a generation of young people who no longer want everything for themselves. These young people have gone well beyond the traditional online platforms of sharing photos, videos and inspiration, to the sharing of possessions like homes, cars, tools and even clothing.

Within a short time, they will also establish platforms where you can exchange, rent or borrow furniture, porcelain and other works of desirable product design – thereby giving more people access to luxury at a fraction of the cost.

Moreover, they will have these designer items complete with ‘patina’ – the beautiful evidence of ageing. These days many designer products are much more desirable with the added value of maturity, like the softened leather of a handcrafted chair.

Therefore, the questions is whether the traditional design companies themselves will establish such sharing platforms, or if others will do it for them. If these companies forgo the opportunity, it may prove to be a significant problem. It’s up to these renowned businesses to make the right decision now if they want to grow with the sharing economy.

Photograph: Gunnar Bothner-By.

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