David Adjaye & Standseven team up to help a community in Sierra Leone.

Design for Good

By Anna Carnick

We love the stories attached to design objects: the blood and sweat and joy of the makers, as well as the time-honored or innovative materials and processes used to create them. When one understands the motivation and talent behind a piece, that design becomes valuable on a whole new level.

In rare instances, though, we come across an object that is not only beautifully imagined and executed all unto itself, but also part of a larger, human-motivated project cohesively aimed at the benefit of a specific community in a very real way. And the decision to spend money on a particular item—out of the gazillion options we’re exposed to as consumers—is made so much easier when it’s entrenched in a community-minded venture with real human value, the scope and intention of which are just as optimistic, generously conceived, and well-designed as the object itself.

One new brand, London’s ethically mindful Standseven, is out to do just that. In addition to offering a selection of stringently sourced homewares and jewelry, the company commissions noted designers, artists, and architects to create its own line of limited edition products, the proceeds of which are dedicated to making a positive, measurable social impact through education, employment opportunities, and distribution of healthcare resources in areas that really need them. According to Ikena Carreira, who cofounded the company with Tamaryn White, “We see ourselves as a bridge between high-end design and off-the-grid communities.”

For its debut collaboration, which, along with the brand, launched at last fall’s London Design Festival, Standseven joined forces with renowned architect David Adjaye on the aptly named Stool 7, a minimalistic, midnight blue design made of zinc-plated, recycled steel. Describing the rationale behind his number-seven-shaped design, Adjaye explains, “I have always been interested in the idea of the body in space, and the stool is an expression of this. It is designed to reduce seating to a minimal and simplified form. I wanted to create a seat out of a structural tension—reducing the stool to two legs gives it a geometry that is elegant while creating a visual balancing trick.”

But, of course, this stool is more than just an exceptionally pretty, responsibly made object; in coordination with Shine on Sierra Leone—one of Standseven’s key NGO collaborators, with whom Carreira has worked personally on the ground for the past few years—proceeds of the stool also initially paid for a year of education for a child at Muddy Lotus, a primary school in Sierra Leone’s Kono district (run by SOSL) that serves approximately 400 students and is presently ranked third out of 736 schools in the country.

However, in light of the Ebola outbreak in western Africa—as of this writing, the World Health Organization reports that over 10,000 people have died in the current Ebola outbreak, including 3,691 in Sierra Leone—Standseven pivoted its efforts (again in coordination with SOSL) so that each stool’s sale now pays for one Ebola response kit for a family of five in the Kono district, as well as training and salary of a SOSL-managed Community Health Worker who can provide education and support. Each kit is designed to help families during the standard 21-day quarantine, and includes not only the protective gear that allows loved ones to treat their infected family members without becoming ill themselves, but also supplies and sustenance to support the family throughout its quarantine.

Portrait of David Adjaye Photo © Ed Reeve; courtesy of Standseven
For his part, Adjaye, who is also the architect behind the much-anticipated Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, says, “It is very exciting to be involved with Standseven. . . The combination of pushing high quality design, a philanthropic ideal, and a global conscience is highly motivating. It is an approach that is very connected to my own practice.”

Asked to describe how Standseven chose Mr. Adjaye for its premier project, Carreira explains that the collaboration was quite organic. “When I first began talking about starting what has become Standseven, when it was just an idea in my heart. . .  David had the magnanimity of offering me a free workspace in his stunning London offices. Almost two years later, Standseven launched from that office. I wanted to honor this enormous contribution by launching with one of his designs. It also worked out well because he is one of the premier architects of his generation, certainly the reference for Africans, and I am adamant that at Standseven we collaborate with people who uphold the highest standards of integrity in [not just] their work, but also, as the people they are in the world. Mr. Adjaye exemplifies all of this. Once we began talking, it only made sense that the collaboration feed back into a project in Africa.”

Carreira goes on, “Having a piece in your home by the architect that has done some of the most significant and daring constructions of this decade; that’s just so cool, isn’t it? Plus, you get to help a family in Sierra Leone.” What more could one ask?

Presently, 23 of Stool 7’s initial run of 40 are still available. Once these are gone, Standseven plans to produce other limited-edition runs in new colors, all of which will benefit Kono’s community, with (as long as necessary) Ebola response kits and, ultimately, education for children in the area. And Stool 7 is just one of Standseven’s exceptional projects: The brand has already worked with artists like Naoko Watanabe on Jewels for Water, a collection of jewelry pieces that pay for water filters for communities in Angola (via Waves For Water); its next project, set to debut later this spring, will feature the work of noted Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. For Standseven and its collaborators, it’s clear that design’s ability to problem solve—on multiple levels—is key to a brighter future. As Carreira says, “We believe design can change the world.”

  • Text by

    • Anna Carnick

      Anna Carnick

      Anna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.