Created in 2006, Design My World sells unusual and contemporary home accessories by international and homegrown designers. Sara Walker talks to founder Dean Hart about colour, style and how to keep ahead in the design world.
SW: You stock some unusual and niche brands, most of which are new to me. How did the idea for the website come about?
DH: It’s an interesting story. I joined a company called Dutch By Design as a director in 2005. The company was dedicated to selling just Dutch design online. It was a small, growing company with some great product some of which I sell on Design My World today. About a year after joining I realised that our customer base was basically looking for great contemporary design so why limit them with just Dutch design, so the idea of Design My World was to offer products from all other parts of the world to our growing customer base and build it slowly on the back of the larger company. Interestingly out of the two companies Design My World is the one still going today.
SW: What’s your personal background, what were you doing before you set up Design My World?
DH: I moved to London from Johannesburg in 1998 where I had been producing music for the film and TV industry since 1994. I came to London to pursue music as a songwriter and producer focusing on pop music. I did relatively well and was signed to Universal Publishing working with many well- known acts and writers which led to a few big records in South East Asia and Europe. On the back of that I created a small music publishing company called Afrikan Cowboy Publishing which I built up working closely with European, South African and South East Asian music companies.
I believe though that in life we should try a few different careers and when the opportunity arose with Dutch By Design, I decided to make a change and move into e-commerce. It was something I did not know at all but had a good feeling about. I had been in the business of music for a long time so had many skills that I could bring into the business of e-commerce. I took the chance. I also love anything to do with art and design, so it was also a passionate decision.
SW: Gosh, that was quite a change of direction! The company has now been going for 12 years though, so it was obviously a good decision. What do you attribute your success to? What changes have you made since you first started?
DH: 2006 was just the beginning of the e-commerce revolution. The pace of progress within technology was and still is very fast. Being a small player at that time was always going to be difficult when your competition was the high street stores spending millions on new online platforms. So, to stay relevant was to be clever with unique features on the website, finding amazing products that the big retailers found difficult to get or seemed to not know about yet, offer personal customer service and having a very good press network.
To survive as a small e-commerce company, you must be agile and willing to change tack very quickly. E-commerce business models must change in line with the technology. We have been able to make those fast and intuitive moves to now have a business that retails via more than one channel and does not hold huge amounts of stock.
SW: How do you decide what to stock?
There is an enormous amount of product out there. Being in the industry over many years gives you an innate understanding of what product might sell more units than others. It’s difficult to explain how this occurs but it’s a kind of gut instinct when seeing the item and the actual design, practicality and price of the item.
I generally must like the item I am selling. If I was running a massive general furniture store, then it would not matter so much but the products that I choose I need to love and needs to fit into the brand’s contemporary style. It also means that I don’t get bored of the products because I have passion about the design from the outset.
We are in a great position having close ties with some of the most iconic design houses in the world and many new and up and coming designers who send info about new products constantly. I attend many trade shows where new design is abundant.
We have recently acquired exclusivity on a Portuguese furniture design called the BICAChair and table range. These are 1950’s designer chairs and tables mainly for the hospitality industry which have been brought up to date with a new manufacturing process. We are also working on a Wall Art range for 2019 which will be exclusive to Design My World under the brand name Hershgold.
SW: How would you describe your personal style?
DH: My personal style is contemporary, I like clean lines, glass and concrete. I come back to the fact that I believe design should be practical but beautiful, although I do also like a mix of styles for example Victorian mixed with contemporary. This does not mean that I don’t appreciate other design like Art Deco jewellery, detailed Arts and Craft Wallpaper, Bauhaus posters or paintings by old masters. I think that most design styles can sit alongside and complement each in an interior setting if done with care.
SW: What’s next for the future?
DH: As we all know Brexit is a key issue that all business will have to deal with. We have already had hikes in product prices from the EU and expect more due to the uncertainty. As a small business it might be easier to move quickly, respond to changes and survive compared to the high street companies. We will have to be very open to change. I am always positive though with regard to design and young designers. There are always amazing, talented people creating fantastic design that can only bring a large smile to our faces.
We intend to carry on and grow, add more practical contemporary products, work with more designers and hopefully add to our exclusive ranges.
To find out more about Design My World or browse the product range, visit www.designmyworld.net.
Main image shows the best-selling London Brick vase, £33.95.1