On Creative Play and Always Improving With Barter Design Co-Founder, Kenneth Torrance

Built on the concept of connection – with materials, the environment and each other – Sunshine Coast-based brand, Barter Design Co. Ltd., has been working with a wide range of BC makers to produce their line of conscientious furniture and home accessories since 2014.

On the heels of the opening of their Vancouver flagship retail location this past June, we caught up with co-founder Kenneth Torrance, to discuss the new shop, the local creative community, and his new-found sense of focus, among other things…

“The lens of Barter has lacked focus over the years because I believed exploration was needed. I am not great at business, I am just trying to create something that I am excited to keep feeding into.”

First of all, tell me about your new Vancouver concept store. Why the Fraserhood neighbourhood? And why now?

BARTER VANCOUVER has finally opened because we are realizing the power of sitting with customers around the physical materials and products that showcase our processes and abilities. This space also gives us the ability to create prototypes or concepts that we can let the general public respond to or comment on before the next stage of design. This space gives the community of makers and buyers a place to connect. This is why we at times call it our “connection center”.

The location was serendipitous from spending time within the AVIARY. The location is great because as it makes you feel like you are part of a neighbourhood type community. Where people are moving slower and are able to calmly walk bye. We have a pile of clay blocks that we make that we leave outside the front door at all times, and every day we see children and people building something from them.

In the end, I hope that this space can inspire people to play. Obviously playing creatively is Barter’s favourite thing to do.

As time passes and Barter grows, how do you keep grounded and connected with the local maker community?

Barter and our founding philosophy is based upon a concept of localization. We will always be connected to the place we create from. The materials and the craftspeople. Without that, Barter is no longer Barter. If we one day grow beyond BC, we will then be learning about new materials in new regions.

Barter speaks a lot about community, but the main artery that feeds our inspiration is local natural materials.

What – or who – was your last ‘find’ that excited and/or inspired you, and why?

Recently we have connected to an incredible maker on the Sunshine Coast using looms from the 18th century. Her business is called Macgee Cloth. Her blankets are selling in Barter Vancouver, and we hope that one day we can get to play with Pam to develop a material for Barter within her systems and processes. Having fabric that is locally woven is definitely dreamy and inspiring…

In your experience/opinion, how has the idea of community changed since Covid hit? What faults in this community has the pandemic revealed and what, if anything, of value has come out of it?

Since Covid, nothing has really changed within our maker community and our goals. The piece that is changing, is the fact that the buyer community that exists seems to be growing for “local connection”. People want, now more than ever, to understand where the things they place in their homes are coming from. I think this global pandemic is helping our communities wake up to the fact that our earth is changing, and that we need to actually think about survival… The things that we live with, the things that we put into our bodies, and the things that nourish us that can do good beyond our own personal needs. Nature teaches us this, but I think in the last few decades, our society is wanting to know more. “CONNECTION”.

How do you foresee Barter Design shaping up over the next 6 months to a year? What are you most looking forward to?

Over the last 7 years for Barter there has been immense amounts of material and process exploration. With all the things that we have developed over the years, we finally feel like it’s time to give all of them the proper time in the sun. The word of the moment for our business is “FOCUS”.

The lens of Barter has lacked focus over the years because I believed exploration was needed. I am not great at business, I am just trying to create something that I am excited to keep feeding into. Barter definitely has a new chapter coming and Barter is now building a team with an internal focus to do everything better.

Something a mentor of mine said to me was, for the rest of your life, keep trying to improve the product rather than constantly reinventing. This is what we are gonna do.

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