Design & Innovation Networking Event


The eThekwini Furniture Cluster (EFC), in partnership with the African Institute of Interior Design Professions (IID) and Weylandts, hosted a Design & Innovation Networking event at Weylandts Showroom, Umhlanga on 13 June 2019. The Event aimed at inspiring furniture sector participants to innovate and create strategic connections with other value-chain stakeholders. The event hosted over 100 attendees, from raw material suppliers through to manufacturers, interior designers, retailers, and public institutions.

The evening was introduced by the event’s hosts and was followed by informative presentations from the eThekwini Furniture Cluster on the importance of industry collaboration, as well as a guest speaker presentation by Professor Justin Barnes on digital disruption within the South African furniture value chain. Following the presentations, spot prizes sponsored by Redesign Interiors, Top Carpets, Green Haus, Olala Interiors, Weylandts, IID and EFC, were awarded to lucky event attendees. These included designer scatter cushion covers, carpets, standing vases, canapé boards, and free membership to the EFC and IID.

The event had three key take-aways:

1. Industry collaboration is required for the local furniture sector to grow

The KZN furniture sector is disjointed with most companies acting in isolation, and many operating with outdated processes. Since the 2000’s many furniture businesses have closed due to their inability to compete against cheaper imports on both price and quality specifications. This has resulted in a reduction in employment from over 50 000 jobs to +-25 000 jobs across SA, and is only going to get worse unless manufacturers update their processes and work collectively to compete against the threat of imports rather than compete against each other for a “smaller piece of the pie”.

The biggest challenge is for firms to tackle sector stresses alone. The only way to revive the sector and assist manufacturers to catch up to the 4th industrial revolution is to act collectively with the entire furniture value chain. This is best coordinated through the clustering mechanism which does this by:

  • Identifying critical skills and developmental gaps in industry by talking to industry.
  • Scoping what is required to address gaps in collaboration with industry.
  • Applying cluster efficiencies and cost effectiveness to the solution.
  • Continuing the cycle.

2. We don’t know what explicit impacts Industry 4.0 will have on the furniture sector, but we need to get ready for disruptors

Industry 4.0 is the trend of automation and data exchange we are seeing today in various applications of technologies. This includes innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, 3D printing, cloud computing and many more. The impacts of 4th industrial revolution on the local furniture sector are difficult to quantify. What we do know is that most furniture businesses in KZN are not ready for major disruption, with many operating with legacy issues in the form of outdated processes and lack of/old machinery. For firms to continue to compete against foreign markets, there is a great need for investment in new technologies in conjunction with a strong business process foundation. In a world continuing to become data driven, the first step needed would be for firms to start measuring key performance indicators and using this data to assist in making strategic business decisions.

3. Businesses will need to decarbonise in order to exist in the long term

The future of business is “green”. According to the IPCC, the world needs to take major steps to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and become net-zero by 2050 in order mitigate the severe impacts of climate change. The implications of climate change are devastating not only to the environment but to people and economies, which is forcing governments to draft and implement legislation which supports decarbonisation. This will have consequences on how we manufacture, and what we purchase. For business to continue operating into the next 10 years, it will need to align itself with climate change mitigating measures and legislation. Furthermore, customer buying will increase its demand for sustainable products, thus rendering business which does not adapt obsolete.

Where to from here?

After a promising start to the year, the EFC is looking forward to making more of an impact on the local furniture sector. We are planning to continue our industry engagements with stakeholders to fully understand, and address industry needs. Some initiatives our members can look out for include:

  1. Export readiness research undertaken by the cluster.
  2. SME business evaluations
  3. Business skills workshop
  4. EFC annual general meeting (AGM)
  5. Production planning workshops
  6. Lean management workshops
  7. local & International benchmarking
  8. Furniture industry seminar
  9. Decorex 2020