Fresh off the Q&A boat: an interview with Jesse Johnson, the Co-Founder and CEO of Q Collection Junior. We couldn’t be more excited about the addition of their eco-friendly baby furniture to our site. Their products are made from locally sourced materials, with non-toxic, low VOC water based paints and stains, and formaldehyde-free glues (not to mention design savvy and beautiful). Enjoy!
Please tell us a bit about the path that led you into founding Q Collection. What was the turning point that lead to Q Collection Junior?
Back in 1999, Anthony and I (the co-founders) were looking around for home furnishings for my apartment in lower Manhattan. Anthony was an interior designer and I was immersed in the world of environmental management. We asked ourselves if we could find items that had the quality and design Anthony was used to working with while also having the sustainable features I sought. We failed to find anything already in existence. If we wanted truly green things, we had to give up on quality and design. If we wanted quality and design, we had to give up on sustainability. That planted the seed. What about all the folks, like us, who want both – high quality and fresh design with the healthiest, most environmentally friendly materials?
We made some prototypes and opened a temporary showroom in 2003. There was far less understanding and awareness around sustainability and green design than there is today. Many (including some fairly high profile folks) thought we were naive to try to marry these two areas…home furnishings design & sustainability. We felt strongly at the time, and feel even more strongly today, that it was naive not to. Knowing what we know now, we would close our doors before we put a product on the market that isn’t the healthiest, most sustainable product possible. It is the only way we know how to design.
As far as the transition into Q Collection Junior: When you design with human health and the environment at the core of your business, you quickly start to see the world around you differently. The children’s market, more than any other, was screaming for Q Collection Junior. These were the few things we knew:
o Indoor air quality is 3x worse than outdoor air quality.
o Infants and children are most vulnerable to toxic substances in the home. (www.qcollectionjunior.com for more information)
o Our children’s generation is facing an unprecedented rise in chronic disease and illness such as cancer, autism, asthma, birth defects, ADD / ADHD, and learning and developmental disabilities. The scientific community has linked many of these outcomes to unregulated toxic chemicals that surround us in our homes.
Meanwhile, everywhere we looked were furnishings loaded with chemicals that have no business being in your home let alone within feet of children. So, with the same lens we used to create Q Collection, we set out to create Q Collection Junior: combine design and quality construction with the healthiest, most environmentally-friendly materials available. We created something very special and it is particularly rewarding that it benefits kids.
As you suggest, one of the areas of greatest focus for us is superior indoor air quality. In fact, we have the first (and only) cribs in the world certified by Greenguard for superior indoor air quality. We are incredibly proud of this. It was an arduous, trial-and-error process but remained a priority.
What makes our design process different is that sustainability is a focus from day one. We aren’t taking existing designs and materials and substituting in a few different materials here and there. Our process is holistic.
With the constraints of designing for superior indoor air quality, we had a vastly narrowed universe of materials to work with. For every one material we researched and approved there were probably 15 that didn’t make it. How does this affect our vision? I think our product line speaks for itself…fresh design and impeccable hand-crafted quality coupled with the healthiest, most environmentally-friendly materials available. The reality is that we thrive at designing with sustainability constraints and those constraints reinforce our unique vision.
The pricing for your pieces is really quite reasonable considering where the materials come from, where they are made, and what the final product offers the consumer. How important a role does affordability play in your designs?
Affordability was a key goal when we set out to design Q Collection Junior. We knew we couldn’t lose sight of this. But there were certainly challenges. For example, all of our furniture is hand-crafted in the USA. We had environmental and health concerns in producing overseas. Had we done so, our prices could have been lower but that tradeoff wasn’t worth it to us. In addition, our materials are the healthiest on the market and cost more than what other folks are using. All of that said, what good is designing the healthiest, most environmentally-friendly line of children’s furniture and bedding if it is out of reach for most folks?
You are considered the “Environmental Specialist” in your team, correct? With your experience and insight, where do you see the sustainable movement going next not only with regards to the design world but beyond?
That is correct that I am our specialist but everyone on our team is equally passionate about our commitment to this. That is no small question…but the simple reality is that the days of designing and living without considering human health and the environment are numbered. We no longer have that luxury. Our grandchildren will look at how we set our priorities and designed the things in our life with bewilderment. “What were they thinking! Or, were they even thinking at all!?”
Just around the corner is a day when with EVERY product comes on the market it will go without saying that it is made from 100% non-toxic, recycled materials, renewable energy and can be completely disassembled and recycled itself.
Any eco pet peeves?
Companies that brag about how they are “going green” when all they have done is pumped up the marketing and changed one or two things. It is happening too frequently right now.
Reeve has been product testing since his first weeks though I don’t think he knows it. He loves the Stella stackable cubes, opening and closing the doors, the bright colors. He also adores his crib (the original prototype for the Solare crib). When we first put him in it he ran around the edges, played with the salamander discs and reached up along the arch.
As for criticism, he is not a fan of having his diaper changed while lying down. He is pushing hard for us to create something where he can stand during all of this.
How about yourself? What is your favorite Q Collection Junior piece?
My favorite piece is the Solare crib. I love its clean lines and hand-crafted quality. We have one ourselves and I have given a few to our closest friends. I think it will quickly become a signature piece in the collection.
After all this talk, I almost forgot to ask: Why the name Q Collection? What does it stand for or what does it mean?
Q Collection derived from Quercus, the latin word for oak. We felt that a tree was a very appropriate symbol for quality, sustainability, beauty, etc. Quercus was always a word I loved from my grad school days. We shorted it to Q Collection as it is easier, more memorable, etc.
In terms of upcoming designs, we intend to grow with our first customers. As they outgrow their cribs and bedding, we will have toddler beds and toddler bedding waiting for them.
I enjoy wood paneled station wagons, German food and senior citizens (I am 80 years old at heart). Nearly every weekend I am taking photos at other people's weddings and I have a blog of my own (but I don't update it often enough). I love to paint, sew and knit. Check out my DP Staff profile on Hatch.