Everyone knows Emeco—if you don't think you do, I promise you, you do. This incredibly iconic brand chairs are built in an awesome and understated factory in Hanover, Pennsylvania.
So they are a really interesting company. Started in the 1940s and originally furnishing the messes US navy, in the late 90s/early 2000s Emeco started collaborating with designers like Starck. Sustainability is in the DNA of the company—recycled aluminum was used since the beginning and Emeco goes to great lengths to uses local and sustainable materials throughout their products. They even made the 111 with Coke, out of 111 used plastic bottles.
This is the first real factory tour that I've been on—and this was a super intense one as I actually got to work on some of the pieces themselves at different parts of the process. I don't have a huge amount of experience welding (I actually managed to weld the torch and the metal to the metal bench...), or much with metal in general so it was pretty overwhelming to be working on a $500 chair which would go out into the real world. This feeling was actually super interesting and I want to think about it and write on it some more in the future.
The workshop itself is very interesting. Everyone who works here is local, incredibly humble and incredibly proud—as they should be. They work with the designers to realize their ideas and blueprints—taking the sketches and making them real and reproducible, a massively impressive skill in itself. Still mostly non-automated (in fact only one part of the process is computerized in any way), the workshop is able to produce between 100-150 chairs a day. The medium age is 28—where a lot of new Emeco employees (new being a relative term when compared to the many 30 years plus employees they have also) are taking training from backgrounds like automotive work, and being brought up to speed on metal craft.
It was amazing to see the level of craft applied in this handmade process. Nearly every piece that comes through this shop gets touched by every 31 people on the floor, and often more than once. Here's a ridiculous hypothetical (but why not), I asked how long it might take to produce one single chair in the workshop, and the answer: around 3 days (this takes into account anodization, oven processing overnight, etc). 3 days to make a chair that will last forever and which is worked on by over thirty people. This is where I start to see a great argument for the cost of original furniture—craft, quality and responsibility. If only every person could come and do this tour, talk to the people making the products and see the process...