Love your stuff.
"That’s what people say about our products,” says Aaron Lown, BFA Product Design alum and co-founder of BUILT, the award-winning SoHo-based design firm. “So those three words became our company tagline."
The popularity of BUILT's simple yet sophisticated neoprene products—from its first offering, bottle totes, to its latest, iPad sleeves—catapulted the company from a two-man start-up to a 50-employee firm within seven years. "At the beginning, we didn't even have seed money, but we had a simple idea, and we knew how to incorporate manufacturing into the design process." Today BUILT sells products in more than 50 countries and is projecting $32 million in sales for 2010.
"By designing fashionable, functional products that people want to keep and reuse," explains Lown, "we can take a step away from a disposable economy."
A member of Parsons' first graduating class in Product Design, Lown describes the program as having an entrepreneurial focus. "The professors taught craft but also the connection to the retail end—how to manufacture, sell, and talk to a buyer," he recalls.
Product design has always fascinated Lown. He sold handmade objects to local shops when he was very young, and at age 25 exhibited his fiberglass, leather, and aluminum stool at the Museum of Modern Art. Lown designed and built window displays at high-end New York retailer Bergdorf Goodman. He later established the Product Design department at KIDI, Parsons' affiliate school in Japan.
Lown freely discusses his past work for top firms such as Calvin Klein and Kate Spade but remains tight-lipped about what's next for BUILT. "We're developing new materials," he says. "Our latest project is top secret."