Iris Hantverk is a Swedish brand known for its unique brushes and for a special history behind.
Everything has started in 1870 in a small manufactory in Stockholm. From the beginning on every single brush has been made by visually impaired craftsmen. So the philosophy and the story of the company is already shown in its name: Iris refers to the eye and Hantverk means craftsmanship.
The brush binding manufacturing is based at Sandsborgsvägen, Enskede. There you can find 6 visually impaired craftsmen from different cultures, who make brushes using the old Swedish traditional techniques. All in all Iris Hatverk has 17 employees, also working with visually impaired craftsmen in Estonia (a country which has historically a strong connection to the visual impairments movement, like in Sweden).
Since August 2012, Sara Edhäll and Richard Sparrenhök run the company. Their vision is to revive the traditional brush binding profession and make functional products with good design combined with the quality of natural materials and the craftsmen’s solid technique.
First time I saw Iris Hantverk brushes was in Finland. I immediately fell in love with their design and quality. Since then we are bringing home the brushes from each vacation in Sweden, Denmark or Finland. So no wonder that I was curious to know more about the brushes and the company behind. I am very honored and happy to introduce you the story of Iris Hantverk and to welcome the owners here today. Thank you Sara, thank you Richard for being here.
Photo credit: @Iris Hantwerk ~ Sara Edhäll and Richard Sparrenhök, owners
Photo credit: @Iris Hantwerk ~ Brushes in the making
Sara is 46 years old and has a master’s degree in economics. Sara is responsible for purchasing and for Iris Hantverk’ s two stores. She is married and have a wondeful daughter who is 11 years old. Her family makes her smile every day. Her hobby is running, so sport is something she really loves, except of skydiving, because she afraid of height. On a hot summers evening you can find Sara walking through Djurgården.
Her favorite country to spend a vacation is actually Sweden, mostly her husband’s family farm at Singö, where they spend their summer holidays with her husband’s mom and 3 sisters with families. The most important thing is not a special country, but the fact of having vacation. Because Sara likes to see new places. This is why she doesn’t usually travel to the same place twice. She has so many favorite designers, but Sara admires mostly those designers who designs objects which can stand the test of time. These designers are commendable. Her favorite piece of furniture are dining table chairs Model 77 designed by Niels Otto Møller in the 60’s, which they bought on a road trip in Skåne about 15 years ago and manage to fit all of them in their car. And as we all know, this could be kind of big adventure:-) Sara doesn´t have a favorite band or song. She generally likes pop, rock and classical music. Here she is sharing 6 songs from her playlist with us:
First Aid Kit – My Silver lining
Acid House kings – This heart is a stone
Blue October – Chameleon Boy
Jose Gonzalez – Heartbeats
Rob Thomas – All that I am
Deat cab for a cutie – What Sarah said
Richard is 51 years old and has a high school education. Richard is managing director and head of production, responsible for purchase of brush materials. He is married since 29 year, they have a cool 27 year old son. As a hobby we love to take walks, watching sport (especially football). Punk music and hard rock is what he mostly have on his playlist. A good joke or when someone is kind to someone else can make him smile and feel happy. His work and being with friends is what he loves most. An absolutely no go for Richard is racism. His favorite place in his city is ”Södermalm”, a district of Stockholm city. This is where you can find him during a break or his spare time. When it comes to the decision in which country he would like to spend his vacation, there is no special favourite, because Richard likes to visit a lot of countries. But still there is an important criteria: he prefers sunny countries. And when it comes to a favourite design or designer, then Richard will mention for sure Lovisa Wattman, who created nice pieces for Iris Hantwerk. Last, but not least – if you search Richard in a cozy corner, you will find him on his beloved piece of furniture, his sofa.
Can you please tell us more about the story of Iris Hantverk? Dear Sara, you and Richard worked at the company long time before becoming the owners. How did you experience the company and the tradition behind?
In 2012 Socialdepartementet withdraw the aid disbursed for depot activities for visually impaired craftsmen that had been the main revenue for that function since the 1950s which accounted for at that time half of the company’s turnover. This changed the company objectives and business perspectives from the ground which made the incentive for the previous owner to pursue further reduced. In order to give more time to adapt the company received funding from Synskadades Stiftelse and Kronprinsessan Margaretas Arbetsnämnd för synskadade in a three-year project. The former CEO tried to find solutions and worked really hard to keep the business running without the founding. During those years parts of the business was out for sale and the future for the craftsmen was uncertain. At that time I (Sara) was purchaser and head of our stores. I knew that part of the business very well. During the summer vacation 2012 it came to a point where a quick decision was needed – me and a college then said why don´t we buy the company and keep it intact in order to save the craftsmen’s jobs.
Struggling for profitability Iris Hantverk’s owner decided in august 2012 to sell the company to us – both having worked for many years in the company and its management. So not knowing anything about acquisitions I spent my holiday making budgets and calculations. Talking back and forth with the bank given them tons of information and figures showing how we could be able to run this company successful – we was finally granted a loan that made it possible to acquire Iris Hantverk. All that was possible, because we believed and trusted in our knowledge of the business. We both took a personal financial risk, but the belief in the company and all the hard work everyone had put in up to that point in order to save the company made it worth taking.
The driving force behind the decision to buy the company was that for many years we had participated in our previous CEO’s hard work to try to restructure the business so that it would be profitable without the state subsidy. We saw a risk in that all this would have been in vain and the craftsmen risked losing their jobs. Having worked at the company in so many years we couldn´t stand by and see over a 100 years of history go down the drain.
We both experience that cultural heritage is something that embodies the company, but the work itself is what have motivated us to stay: it has always been fun and challenging. During the years we have had a really good colleagues and friends at work not least our former CEO.
What is the philosophy behind the company?
The business drives from the brushes made by visually impaired craftsmen. Keywords for the brand is strong, solid and honest. These terms shall be ensured at all levels. Solid for us, among other things, means that our products are manufactured in a manner that is environmentally and socially sustainable. We have a responsibility towards everyone who contributes to making Iris Hantverk into a successful business. Therefore, we see it as our responsibility to work closely with suppliers and business partners and to encourage all our business partners is a social and environmental standards that are sustainable. We base our requirements mainly on internationally agreed standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and applicable ILO Conventions, as well as national legislation.
The actual brush production has a natural low environmental impact, since they are made by hand in natural materials also all the wood we use are FSC-certificate Swedish hardwood.
How would you describe Iris Hantwerk in only 3 words?
Our products are – functional, universal, genuine.
How do you create a new product?
The design has naturally developed over the years, but it has always focused on functional design and carefully selected natural materials. Our designs strives to be pleasing to the eyes and as the same time be very tactile. All brushes are specially designed to sit well in your hand, with bristles suitable for their particular area of use.
We work with independent designers, but during the years we have established a good relationship with a few that we work on a regular basis with. Most of our designers we have worked with for over 10 years they have a good knowledge of the restraints the brush binding technique has on the design. For example a machine made brush could have almost any shape but since there are holes in the brush the shape must allow those to be drilled. You also need to think about the placement of the holes so it looks good on the back of the handle. When you make a brush by hand the craftsmen need to follow a certain path around the brush. Because of this complexity the design process is easier with those designers with whom we have worked for a long time. But we do invite new designers as well, sometimes the designers comes to us with an idea and in other cases we have been recommended to work with a specific designer and then have asked them if they are interested.
We have a product development team that sits down a couple of times a year discussing the existing products, what are missing in the assortment and what should be removed.
Which of Iris Hantverk products you don’t want to miss in your own home?
Sara – I love the curved dish brushes in dark and light fiber. It´s ideal to have two, the light one I use for plates and glasses so it stays fresh and the dark one for gleaning greasy pans. The bent head really helps getting in to glasses and the soft bristles makes contact with the entire surface. The residues don´t stick to it and it don´t get colored for example by tomato sauce which I hate because it immediately feels limp. If they gets to greasy I just put them in boiled water and washing-up liquid for a couple of minutes and the will be as good as new.
Each brush is unique in its design! Thanks to the high quality you can use them all for ages! This is true for all bath accessories as well!
Surround you with beauty in everyday life! Because you worth it! And because it makes life even more beautiful.
Thank you Sara & Richard for letting us to a look behind the scenes and learn more about Iris Hantverk!
Greeting to your whole team from France,
In collaboration with Iris Hantverk