British Design just got Deadgood

Creating furniture and interior products with an unmistakably British sense of fun and eccentricity, whilst at the same time supporting British manufacturing and nurturing the next generation of British design talent is something that Elliot Brook and Dan Ziglam are Deadgood at, writes Stacey Sheppard.

British design has been the subject of much debate over recent years with many beginning to question whether it has in fact lost its mojo. Britain’s increasingly complex and diverse national identity has been pinpointed as the reason for this so-called identity crisis on more than one occasion. But not everybody sees the situation in such a negative light and some are using the country’s eclectic identity as a source of inspiration.

Dan Ziglam and Elliot Brook are the founders of UK-based design studio Deadgood, which has made quite a name for itself thanks to its fun, quirky and quintessentially British furniture and interior products. “We see ourselves as a British brand that uses British manufacturers to create products with personality,” says Ziglam.

“In other countries or regions, such as Italy or Scandinavia, it is easy to identify a certain sense of style. Britain, being an island and having such a mix of cultures living here, has developed quite an eclectic identity,” he says.

The pair first met in the university bar whilst studying three dimensional design at Northumbria. Their common ambition to work for themselves was realised six months after their graduation when Ziglam and Brook scribbled a business plan on the back of a beer mat. Their first range of furniture was launched in 2005 and instantly gained industry recognition. Since then, the design entrepreneurs have continued to impress with their burgeoning portfolio.

Part of their success comes down to the partnerships that they have forged with UK-based manufacturers. “The manufacturing is one of the most important parts of the business. As we sub-contract the process, the relationship that we have with those manufacturers has to be really strong,” says Ziglam.

“We could easily go out to China and get our products manufactured there but I don’t think we’d be able to have the same relationship as we do with our British manufacturers. It gives us a lot of flexibility having our manufacturing base over here.” Working so closely with their industry partners allows them to offer added levels of service, such as the various customisation options that are available for their products, from unique button combinations to fabric choices.

“Because our products are made in Britain and our manufacturers allow us to add this level of customisation, it just made sense for us to offer this service,” says Brook. “Of course it would be easier to standardise everything, and customisation does create more work and more administration, but we pride ourselves on being flexible and I think this gives us a USP over some of our competitors.”

In the early days of the business, Ziglam and Brook used a network of independent retailers, including Heal’s and Liberty, to sell their products. However, as the business has developed they have focused more on distributing their products through their own online store.

Brook says: “We have spent so long designing the products and ensuring that they are made well that we want to ensure that the service people receive during the sales process is also up to standard. It is harder to control this when our products are sold through bigger stores. By selling them ourselves we can ensure that our customers are aware of all the services we can offer, including the option to customise our products.”

Since its inception, Deadgood has become increasingly popular with interior designers and architects and the company has experienced impressive growth on the commercial side of the business. “Our success with interior designers and architects is all about how we present ourselves,” explains Ziglam. “We’re actually designers, not salesmen and they really respond to that. They are creative people and they like the fact that we are passionate about what we do and that we are able to talk in detail about the manufacturing techniques. It’s more about the story behind the products that they’re interested in,” he says.

Whilst 50 percent of the products available from Deadgood are designed by Ziglam and Brook themselves, they also bring other designers on board to help expand their offering. Some of the designers currently on their books are Lee Broom, David Irwin, Max Lamb and Jon Burgerman.

Ziglam says: “We obviously want to retain our own in-house style but we also like nurturing new design talent and bringing their expertise and creativity into the mix.” But he insists that the relationships formed with these designers are a partnership. “It’s really more of a collaboration,” he says. “It is a two-way relationship whereby they benefit from our manufacturing expertise and we benefit from what they bring to the table.”

Supporting this new design talent doesn’t just involve employing them though. Ziglam and Brook also give lectures to the students back at their old university. “The university really helped us out in the beginning,” says Ziglam. “We were part of the designers in residence programme, which meant that we could use all the university facilities for a further two years after graduating, so we like to give something back.”

Working with the university in this way also allows the duo to keep an eye on any potential design stars at an early stage. Ziglam says: “We have taken on a designer called Dave Irwin whom we started off lecturing to. After he graduated we maintained our relationship with him and he even shared a studio with us up in Newcastle. We now produce two of his ranges and we think that his designs could be one of our most successful ranges commercially.”

Having just opened a second studio in London and planning to double their range and UK offering in the next 12 to 18 months before taking on the international market, Deadgood certainly doesn’t seem to be suffering at the hands of Britain’s diverse national identity. If anything, it has made them stronger and more determined to succeed.

“For me, it is this determination to reach the top that will see us continue to grow and develop Deadgood into one of the country’s leading design brands within the next five years. I truly believe we are going to make it, after all, we like being Deadgood,” says Brook.