Folk Ark is very pleased to welcome our first brand listing out of Panama, offering a thoughtful range of home and kitchen ware that makes the most of local Panamanian and Colombian craft traditions while revering the simple perfection of natural materials.
Founder Carolina Arango studied industrial design and worked in Europe before returning to her native Panama with the dream of applying her skills and experience to her country's traditional resources in a manner that favours form, function and environmental and social impact equally. Here she tells us a bit more about her path to starting Trasto, the highs and lows of running a small artisan brand and her hopes for the future. Thanks Carolina for joining Folk Ark and for this insight!
What led you to start Trasto?
I've loved art and design since I was very young. When I was about 13, I found out from my aunt that there was a career dedicated to designing objects and products. So from that age on, I knew I wanted to study industrial design and eventually build my own business.
Can you describe the process of connecting with artisans and developing product?
I had an idea of the line of products that I wanted to launch and as I started finding the artisans, we started working together on the design, on what actually could or could not be done depending on the material and tools available — always giving priority to local materials and to preserving techniques.
What were the greatest challenges in starting out?
As an industrial designer, the first BIG challenge was deciding how, where and most importantly why I was going to design and manufacture the products that I would design. I had a sea of possibilities, but it was really important for me to invest my time in products that I knew would contribute to a better world — products in equilibrium with the capacity of planet earth.
Developing products with a social and economical balance, products for a better tomorrow, was my biggest challenge and is my greatest satisfaction. If all designers work on this design requirement, humanity will reach a new level of civilization.
How do you maintain your connection with your artisan partners, and what is their involvement in ongoing product development?
We have established designs for Trasto and when we need inventory or we have an order from a client, we get in touch by phone or WhatsApp. For established designs, we work on achieving better and better quality with each new order; I work with the best artisans, people that are passionate about their art and value the ongoing process of mastering a craft. We work together in the attention to detail.
For new product designs, getting together and working with our hands on the design is crucial for both sides — design and manufacturing — to understand and develop a product. Design masters form and manufacturing masters the material.
What do you find are some of the most exciting, challenging and satisfying aspects of running an artisan brand?
The most exciting part is that you are in close contact with nature. You witness first hand how we (as humans) can transform with our own hands the natural resources that earth has to offer. It’s beautiful to see all the things we can create and humbling to realize our vulnerability to nature. Thus, the most challenging aspect is to not overstep nature and to develop products at affordable prices.
How do you see Trasto, and how would you like your customers to experience your brand?
Although we produce some of our products the way it’s been done for centuries, we also value greatly the advances of the industrial and technological revolutions. Trasto is on a path of merging art, cultural identity and technology into self-sustaining product design proposals.
As the name suggests (trasto: a worn out or old product), we want to bring back the value of products that last a lifetime. It does not matter how old your product is, its material and design are valuable. This is why it is important sometimes to go back to the beginning and rescue old knowledge. It does not mean we are not advancing forward.
Therefore, I would love for people to view and experience Trasto as the kind of design that will help us reach a higher civilization — like that described as Type 1 by Michio Kaku.
What are your hopes for the future of Trasto?
I’m hoping to introduce new lines for living room, bedroom, garden and home office. And, looking forward to working in new regions with other cultures.
What are your thoughts on the growing interest in artisan and ethical brands?
I think it's fantastic! The most important thing to understand is that this "trend" can be a very powerful tool to help us be more concious of our role on this planet. To understand that it is not just the product that must be sustainable, but that we have to be sustainable as a civilization. And that that sustainability has a cultural aspect that contributes to the identity of the people of our planet. Not just robots working for mass production, but the democratization of manufacturing. Like Mahatma Gandhi said: "not mass production, but production by the masses."