A Design Collective Creates Its Own Economy In El Salvador

The Carrot Concept is bringing Salvadorian design to international markets.

The short list of global design destinations includes obvious places, such as Sweden and Italy. Soon, thanks to the efforts of a grassroots movement, the tiny Central American country of El Salvador could make that list as well.


The Carrot Concept launched this year, during New York Design Week, but the project actually began in 2007, when El Salvador ran its first furniture and design exhibition. The show, Contempo, went well. It garnered press and attention for local designers, but, problematically, it presented more one-hit wonders than it did a viable industry. In need of something that could win serious international attention, the designers, architects, and entrepreneurs involved, along with Bernhardt Design (the furniture company based out of North Carolina), placed their bets on a different model: intensive collaboration.

Today, “we are creating an economy around Carrot,” Roberto Dumont–one of the founders–tells Co.Design. The Carrot Concept collaborates with about 30 designers who work at one or two studios. Those studios also employ a handful of people. Dumont estimates that in total, Carrot has created employment for around 300 Salvadorians. Carrot operates its own little design incubator: Graphic designers who have prints and patterns they’ve labored over but no real product to show, partner with Carrot’s multidisciplinary team to turn their ideas into placemats, coasters, aprons, or even teapots.

Dumont identifies a common trend in the collection: outdoors-y stuff. The founders say the weather’s perfect, the people laid back. It’s a way of life, in El Salvador, to hang out on terraces or to stroll around outdoors with woven baskets. While many of the furniture pieces take on modern forms, many nod to traditional Salvadorian weaving techniques. Others use leather straps or handles expertly made by artisans who used to craft horse saddles when there was a market for such trades.

At its core, the Carrot Concept is about resourcefulness and rejuvenation. In any part of the world, old technologies fall by the wayside when newer innovations come along. But in smaller nations, such as El Salvador, becoming obsolete is arguably even more complicated than it is in larger, more industrious locales. Some of Dumont’s own pieces are built from fiberglass, which was used heavily during a time in which McDonald’s and Hardee’s boomed and needed the material for benches and interiors. Now, plastics have made fiberglass manufacturers outmoded.

Apart from the collection launched at Wanted Design, Carrot has around 20 projects in the pipeline and is taking on a more holistic approach to sustainability. The architect Guillermo Altamirano is the group’s “sustainable conscience” and keeps a careful eye out for ways to improve on environmental design–such as converting old paint buckets into pots or improving traditional clay water filtration systems so that homeowners actually want them in their kitchens. Carrot has also partnered with the local company Turbococina, which makes efficient wood-burning stoves that have won NASA’s admiration but which are still not properly designed for home use.

Read more about The Carrot Concept here.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.