Founded by Indonesian designer Singgih S. Kartono, Magno Design is an inspiration not only for the stunning items that they create but also the positive impact they have on their village and local environment.
During my final years at university, I was troubled by a very big question: “Where should I go and what should I do after I graduate?” Should I work as an in-house designer, for a design office, somewhere in the city or should I go back to my village Kandangan in Central Java And set up a business?
After I graduated, I did not go straight back to Kandangan to start a business, but eventually, I did. I returned and started a business without any precise financial calculations or preparations. The lack of planning was actually a blessing. If I had been prepared in detail, Magno would not have been born.
The community’s concern about the slowing down and deterioration of Kandangan’s village life has prompted me to use my knowledge, skills and experience to strengthen this village with the output of my business. I am thankful that my knowledge in ‘product design’ has proven to be a successful ‘weapon of survival’ that enables me to endure and grow in Kandangan.
Due to the lack of money and the long distance between the university and Kandangan, I was only able to visit twice a year. The long periods of time between each visit enabled me to clearly observe the changes in my home village.
At first glance, these changes were seen as ‘progress’. But when I looked more closely I concluded that it was only the ‘surface’ which experienced change. The basic structure of the village did not undergo any changes; moreover, some were actually deteriorating.
In the agricultural sector for example, traditional farming has always been the economic backbone for the majority of villagers. It took the worst hit. Whatever the government did within this sector, it was never for the further development and enhancement of traditional farming. The government constantly came up with ‘modern and instant’ ways of agriculture and farming, which were unsuitable for the community. These included intensified farming, man made fertilizer promotions, GMO seeds that were imported and the government funded loan scheme for farmers. In the end, the government ‘efforts’ did not pay off. Furthermore, these efforts actually did severe damage to existing farming methods as well as village and community life.
Having lost their farms, many were forced to find jobs in the city or to stay in the village with only the bare minimum for survival or to find new sources of income around the village. The latter activities usually ended up exploiting the forest and nature.
Craft is an alternative economic activity that has the potential to be developed and to grow in villages. It has characteristics that are suitable for villages’ living conditions and growth prospects. These characteristics are that it is labor intensive, requires low technology and investment and abundance of local material input.
I consider wood as a balance material. In wood I can find strength, but yet weakness, advantages but also limits, and roughness as well as softness. Compared to synthetic material, I can feel that wood is a material with soul inside. Wood is a kind of material that its beauty comes from its history. How it grows is an amazing process, recording each year in its age lines. It records good & bad times. The beautiful texture and grain actually tells a story of its life. Wood is a kind of perfect material, perfect because of its imperfectness. Its characters teach us about life, balance and limits.
With the quality of highly skilled craftsmen, it is possible to sell products with a good price and achieve market stability. Hence we can draw a conclusion that this way of designing produces low ratio of material usages and high labor capacity. To produce high quality products requires extra manpower and energy. The result of this activity can also include the worker’s positive psychological growth towards achieving professionalism at work. Nevertheless, using fewer materials is not enough.
As a wood consumer, I feel morally responsible towards replacing the woods that I have used. This will ensure that all manufacturing activities that I conduct will not destroy nature. I do this by replanting every single tree that I use. The amount of wood replanted and selected is based on our yearly wood consumption, suitable age for wood to be grown and cut, and the requirement of land per tree. We estimated that for the 40 people we could employ, we could have replanted one to two hectares of land with our selected wood.
Currently, Kandangan has almost no forest land. The population is about 4.000 people. If we are to employ the whole population of Kandangan, we will abolish unemployment but most importantly, for every person we employ, we will generate more wood through our forest regeneration programs.
With regards to the forest regeneration, on the top of preparing our own tree seed, we are also in collaboration with Gunung Sumbing (Mountain Sumbing) junior high school. We work together with the school to create a practical curriculum within the field of environmental generation. Four months ago, the students from this school helped us to plant seeds. Currently, these seeds have grown into 1.000 young trees that are ready to be replanted. We are planning to have these trees replanted around the school area. The students want to have schools that are surrounded by trees. All of these activities are funded through a part of our sales income.
Singgih S. Kartono, Founder of Magno Designs