It was in the early ‘90s, when Tanja and Freddie made up one half of a 4-person micro business that made hand-crafted, wooden puzzles and brainteasers. They were 3D and, once put together, looked really beautiful.
One of us had a garage behind his house which we had turned into a workshop where we would saw, drill, cut and sand all day long, whistling while we worked.
We sold the fruits of our labor directly to the public at markets and craft fairs. During the Holiday season you could also find us in busy shopping malls, selling our wares.
We kept on adding more and more puzzles & brainteasers to our assortment until we reached the point where they had become so damn complicated that you needed a PhD in mathematics to solve them.
We had obviously taken this thing as far as it could go and were in need of a new challenges.
But what next?
We’re coming to a plot twist here, so pay attention.
While on vacation in Amsterdam, Freddie discovered an entirely new type of flower vase: a flat, transparent plastic bag you could stick to a window with suction cups, and fill with water and flowers. The simplicity of the concept blew his mind.
He brought a couple of these “Window Vases” back with him to Canada, and when he showed them to his partners in crime, they all smelled an opportunity!
It proved to be a historic moment that changed everything. Not only did we import a few boxes of Window Vases, we also decided to enter the wholesale market with them. “Go big or go home”, was the idea.
So off we went to our first B2B trade show ever: the Vancouver Gift Show. We also brought our puzzles and brainteasers, of course – because why not? But on the back wall of our booth we had hung up a cheap Ikea mirror with three Window Vases stuck on it filled with pink and yellow tulips.
And guess what? – The Window Vases were a smash hit! Store owners were lining up to place orders! We were sold out in a day and had to quickly import many more boxes full of them.
After that, we had to drop our puzzle making. There was no more time for it. Our wholesale business was really taking off. Within three years, we had an office, a warehouse, 12 people on the payroll, and were exhibiting at every major trade show in the US and Canada.
We had also added more and more other products to our line and were offering a wide variety of small, decorative items for home and office. We even came up with something we never had before, a company name: Made By Humans.
But little did we know that our luck would run out and that dark times were lying ahead.
In Part Deux we’ll tell you what happened and how we managed to overcome a crisis that nearly did us in.
If you enjoyed reading our story thus far, you’re probably dying to read the final chapter.
So let’s fast forward to 2013 – or as we call it, our “Annum Catastrophalis” – because by then things had taken a serious turn for the worse.
In that year we lost two members of our original Gang of Four.
First M. who met the love of his life while he was away on a charity mission to the Philippines, distributing sick beds to hospitals that couldn’t afford them.
"She’s trans, absolutely wonderful and sings in a nightclub”, he told us over the phone. “I’m deeply in love so I think I’m just going to stay here.”
“SAY WHAT?” – we screamed. “Have you completely lost your mind?”
“No”, he said. “I’m really happy and you only live once.”
And that was that. We never saw him again.
Eventually, the two of them got married, adopted a baby, and are living happily ever after in Manilla.
The other person who is no longer with us is C. whom we tragically lost to cancer. It all happened so fast. One day he was skiing in Whistler and three months later he passed away. We still miss his charismatic personality, his drive and inspiration, not to mention his wicked sense of humor.
None of this could have happened at a worse time!
We had had such a fabulous run since the day we started. But then, after about 15 years of prosperity, sales figures began dropping significantly. We were in serious trouble and were desperately looking for ways to save our business and get back on track again.
You can just imagine how much we missed brainstorming about these problems with our two best friends and partners in crime. But it was what it was. We – that is to say, Tanja and Freddie – were on their own.
What we eventually did was radically change the way we had been doing business. What we always had been doing was put together product lines that consisted entirely of “off the shelf” items. That is to say, existing products.
The disadvantage of purchasing ready-made products is that other companies can buy them too. And this had been happening more and more. We would discover far too often that way too many of our competitors were selling the same products as us.
The only way to avoid this, we figured, is to design our own products. It would guarantee the uniqueness and exclusivity of our collection.
So that’s when we decided to start working with a bunch of young, fresh-out-of-art-school designers and morph Made By Humans from a distribution company into a design company. We even changed our name a bit. Going forward, we would be “Made By Humans 2.0 Designs”.
And it’s been sooo much fun ever since! It’s really rewarding to use your own imagination and create your own products. We’ve always had a thing for décor accents that make bold, colorful statements. And now we were finally able to follow our own passion.
The inspiration for our designs usually comes from modern art movements such as Pop Art or from individual artists such as Jeff Koons, Ugo Rondinone or Camille Walala, to name but a few. We’re also big fans of what the Memphis Group did in architecture & design in the early 80’s. But sometimes the inspiration comes from much less sophisticated sources, to be honest, such as the random stuff we pick up at yard sales or the Sally Ann.
P.S. Fun fact: we still carry, after twenty years, the product that started it all: the Window Vase!
Thanks for reading all the way to the end!