A stool that folds up and doubles as a bag. Candles that look like skateboard wheels. A table that changes height on a whim. These are just some of the winners of Fab’s second crowdsourced design competition—which tasked hundreds of designers with pitching a Shark Tank-like panel of experts at NYC’s ICFF—experts that included Eames Demetrios (grandson of Charles and Ray Eames) and Ben Watson of Herman Miller (a judge in Co.Design’s Innovation By Design competition).
"Many brought their prototypes, and each of them brought a story," explains Fab co-founder and CEO Bradford Shellhammer. "It’s pretty cool to see designers in this setting: Not only must they clearly explain their design, they also have to do a little selling. And when designers turn into salespeople, sometimes magic happens when they perfectly articulate their invention. "
It’s all part of Fab’s greater strategy to become an end-to-end product retailer, producing stylish goods to compete with retail stores like Target and Walmart. If there’s a defining trait of these winners, it might be "quirky" or even "whimsical." One winner is a cute, extremely Japanese animal stool by Takeshi Sawada, while another winner is a playfully artsy clock by Louie Rigano that, rather than featuring traditional hour, minute, and second arms, spins swatches of red, yellow, and blue into a sort of Venn diagram of primary colors.
Of course, this tone is right in line with what Fab is looking for. And in that regard, these design competitions have proven successful for them. For the most part, the products that Fab is discovering aren’t quite solution-oriented enough to become hits on Kickstarter, but there’s a certain clever, or even humorous, angle that makes them tempting impulse purchases or gifts. Indeed, each has a sort of high-brow stocking stuffer appeal—though not always literally. Lauren Reed and Bettie Cott won with the Free Standing Wardrobe intended more to hold the entirety of your clothing than to fit into a large sock.
Yet while Fab plans to run these competitions in London, Milan, and New York every year—maybe even adding Copenhagen, Paris, Stockholm, and Berlin to the list soon—Shellhammer stresses that Fab is constantly crowdsourcing great designs at the trade shows, enlisting new designers into licensing agreements all the time.
"The fact of the matter is this: Fab allows submissions like this to happen every day. I get designers’ emails all the time, and I respond to each one," Shellhammer writes. "But that’s not as fun as being in a room with some famous designers and 200 others pitching their work…you lose something pitching your design online and via email."
But if you are interested in the full-out Shark Tank experience, Fab’s next competition will occur during the London Design Festival on September 19. If you’re interested, you can preregister now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.