A Nice Soft Throw is Not Enough

Bjarne Hansen, the director of Danish design-brand Menu, wants to do so much more than just stuff new things into people’s homes. At the NorthModern design convention the company presented a new series of Cashmere throws from a development project in Nepal.

Translated by Nicholas Frickelton from original article by Mette Nexmand at bobedre.dk(link)

It is not enough that things are pretty, and that people like buying pretty things. It also has to feel right. Bjarne Hansen, the director of the successful Danish design-brand Menu, meticulously folds a silky soft throw before returning it to a box. Then, he picks it up again and repeats this little séance. It is clear he has a connection to the textile; something special that goes beyond the need for selling a product.

Now we are standing in Menu’s exhibition area at the NorthModern design convention. Lined up in front of us is a row of snow-white boxes filled with cashmere throws and scarves, all in balanced, grey nuances.

“This is about our brand’s attitude,” says Bjarne Hansen. “It’s about how we are. A few years back I took a break to figure out what I wanted to achieve with the company. I needed our activities to have a purpose on a higher level. After an extended trip I contacted Danida to hear where they thought where we as company could make the biggest difference. They immediately pointed us at Nepal,” says the director.

Bjarne Hansen explains how many Nepalese girls and young women are lured into prostitution, get sent off to India, and eventually end up as sex-slaves. Nepalese girls as young as 12 years old are exposed to the most awful things, only to be rejected by their families if they return. This fate is avoidable if the girls are given an early start with productive work, letting them provide for themselves and possibly even their parents in the poor villages surrounding the metropolis of Katmandu.

Menu’s cashmere series of products are made by girls in precisely this situation. The series arrives on the market in October, but the wonderful products may already be sold out by then. This collection is completely unique and has already produced a lot of interest.

Bjarne Hansen has been collaborating with Danida for several years on this development project in Katmandu. At its core, the project is essentially about getting women and girls started with work in design that not only will sell, but has meaning. Cashmere wool is prevalent in the region, and the girls can weave. Boom! An idea was born.

nepal table meeting

Pictured above: Menu’s dispatched Danish and Swedish designers meet with their local partners in Nepal.

bjarne hansen portrait

Bjarne Hansen, Director of Menu, initiated the development project with support from Danida. Last year he was awarded BO BEDRE’S and BoligMagasinet’s “Fire Soul Award” at the 2014 Designawards.

Hand-weaved luxury for us – and a new life for hundreds of girls in Nepal.

At this very moment, hundreds of Nepalese girls are in the process of weaving for Menu’s new collection. It takes a week to weave one throw, for a final price of approx. $650. In comparison, luxury throws of the same quality from say, Burberry, cost well over $1000. This also a serious matter. Bjarne Hansen isn’t interested in the profit margin here – he wants to get the Nepalese girls weaving and producing something we can buy and feel good about – not just because of the baby-soft materials, but because it is charitable.

The same collection also features a line of beautiful boxes made in a factory just outside Katmandu. There is nothing ethnic or home-grown about the design. The line looks like any other tasteful, Scandinavian design, and this falls completely in line with Bjarne Hansen’s intentions. He has involved numerous designers, i.e. Norm Architects, in the project in order to verify quality, and it shows on the final product.

A small footnote: the project and collection naturally has a mascot, a little teddy bear made of wool. Bjarne Hansen sighs a little, and talks about the work process involved in making the teddy bears in a Nepalese factory.

“They just aren’t used to working in this way, so we have posters with instructions plastered all over the place. Otherwise we end up with teddy bears with crooked legs and disproportionate ears…”

nepal blue textiles

lady with red

weaving station