For a company that’s become known over the past decade for its ethically responsible products and its work with indigenous artisan communities, it’s surprising to learn that Artecnica’s first product was made from a relatively noxious material like resin. A small, egg-like alarm whose ovoid shape magnified its face, the Dada clock was designed by Tahmineh Javanbahkt, who co-founded the company in 1987 with her husband, the architect Enrico Bressan. “In the beginning, we started out doing mostly architecture,” Javanbahkt told me one day earlier this winter when I visited her home in Los Angeles. “We did Gianni Versace’s office and store; we would do set design for companies like Sebastian. In some of the buildings, we would do panels or dividers in resin, and eventually we made the Dada clock, which is what successfully started us in product design. But now we make it in glass!”
Javanbahkt needn’t worry about backpedaling; Artecnica cemented its reputation as one of the most socially minded companies around years ago, not long after she and Bressan opened the brand up to working with outside designers. In 2002 the company founded Design With Conscience, a program that paired talents like Tord Boontje, Hella Jongerius, the Campana Brothers, and Stephen Burks with small, in-need artisan collectives in Guatemala, Peru, Vietnam, and South Africa. The Campanas made a seat from wicker and recycled bicycle tires, Boontje his famous Transglass vessels from discarded beer and wine bottles. “Our aim is to have a product that really is different from what’s out there,” says Javanbahkt. “It sounds cliché, but there really is so much stuff. When the company was younger, it would be like, ‘Ooh, I love this shape, let’s do it!’ Now it’s like, do we need this? Once it’s discarded, how will it affect the earth? We try in our own way to make a positive impact.”
Of course, Design With Conscience is only a part of the company; over the years Artecnica has made everything from chandeliers in copper foil to greeting cards in laser-cut paper. And though some projects have emerged fully realized from the designers’ studios, more often than not, they’re the result of a long collaboration with Bressan and Javanbahkt, whose mixed lineage as a couple (she emigrated from Iran at age 17; he hails from Italy) gives them a distinctly global sensibility. We recently caught up with Javanbahkt to find out a bit more about the influences that have shaped her and the brand.