Finally, we can say it to you all: we will rethink the House Raccoon atelier entirely in the coming months and leave our current social atelier. "What?!" I hear you thinking? Yes, we know. It seems very out of the blue, but a lot has happened behind the scenes the past months/weeks. Now that the busy holiday period is over, it seems like the right moment to share everything. We are quite nervous to tell you all because our social atelier is a big part of our brand (and lives even), but we really hope you understand our decision after reading our blog. It's going to be wordy, but there's a hell of a lot to tell! Ready, set, go!
Why are you leaving the social atelier?
Certainly not for its wonderful people. Unfortunately, after two years of hard work from both social workplace Mivas and us, we have to realize that we are growing too fast. Therefore, our production process is becoming too complicated for a social workplace. Right from the start, we knew that creating a creative atelier with people who usually only do one-sided work would be a challenge. A challenge in business language means investing. And we both did that: Mivas and House Raccoon invested quite a lot of time and money.
However, most social workplaces specialize in making only a few products many, many times (for example, 1000 times). Simultaneously, an atelier brand like ours wants to create many different products but in small batches. We also want to grow more towards customization and art. These are all things that are not possible in a social workplace, unfortunately. Finally, we want our atelier to be a place where people can come and go for visits/workshops/atelier tours/etc… That was not possible at all at Mivas because, to be able to employ over 800 people with a disability every day, they need lots and lots of structure.
Together, we decided that building our own atelier was a better option for House Raccoon in the long term. BUT, and we can't stress that enough, we are so incredibly thankful for our journey at Mivas. We learned so much from them and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's only thanks to them that House Raccoon has been able to grow that big and that fast in only three years.
Atelier at Mivas: first moments - Jan 2019
Our appearance on TV supercharged everything. Before TV, we grew around 75% each year; in 2020 that became 150%. That's a lot. Work in the atelier became increasingly challenging because there simply was no place left to put people or stuff. Efficiency plummeted, and pressure on the framework staff rose. Mivas and House Raccoon once again were ready to tackle the issue, but then the financial directors of Mivas showed us the cold hard truth. Mivas couldn't cover the House Raccoon atelier costs, and our prices would have to increase x1,75 to cover everything. We simply can't do that. That would mean every product would become 1,75 times more expensive.
What will happen to the team at Mivas?
We talked everything through with them. We are super thankful we could work with these fantastic people. They are such a joy to work with! Nathan worked closely with them in the atelier for about a year, and many became friends. He cried (and I cried when I saw Nathan crying) when he learned we would have to say goodbye to our current team, so the last weeks certainly were a very heavy period for us. We will continue to work with them for the time being, however! Once our atelier at Mivas closes, the people who worked there will most likely return to their old jobs at Mivas. The cost of employing them with us full time in our own atelier would simply be too high (we don't have the specialized support system they have at Mivas), but we made clear they are very welcome to come flex job with us in the weekends if they would ever want so.
Is it impossible to do creative work in a social atelier?
We don't believe it is. But every project is different, as is every social atelier. Mivas specializes in repacking food products and has one supervisor per 10 to 15 people. A lower ratio would be better for complex atelier work, but that's very expensive if your whole organization isn't focused on that. There are social ateliers creating bikes, parts of cars, and clothes, so it's certainly possible to do creative or complex work. We just think that once you add variability to the recipe, it becomes a whole lot harder, and you might have to look outside of the context of social workplaces. For example, when you want to make precisely one complex bike model. A social workplace might be the perfect solution. But if you're going to offer that same bike with many customizations to your customers (what we have been doing, except not with bikes), you might be better off making that bike in a traditional bike atelier. Once everything goes smooth, you can still add one or more people with a disability to the mix or hire a social workplace for invariable parts.
Where will the new atelier be?
That's the big question. We don't have a new location yet, and we would love to ask for your help! The ideal space would be an isolated (we need a constant temperature) loft-style space between 100 and max 250 square meters in an old factory. That's our ideal location, but many other types of places might do. As long as it has something authentic, we're happy. The location needs to be accessible by a pallet of at least 300kg, so that means an elevator if it's not on the ground floor. If it's a central location where we could organize workshops or create an in-atelier shop, that's a plus, but it's certainly no requirement.
We are still unsure if we want the atelier to be in Gent or Antwerp, so any location in one of these cities should be okay. If you have any good arguments why we should do or not pick our atelier in Gent or Antwerp, you are also very welcome to let them know!
Who will work in the new atelier?
The goal is to move by March and at the latest June. We will initially install and operate the atelier with our current team (Nathan, Anneleen, Clémence, and interns). Depending on Covid-19, we plan to hire 1 or 2 full-time atelier employees by August/September to be ready for the busy end of year period. We might open up some internship positions too. We will post on social media when we are ready to grow our team, so be sure to keep an eye on our newsletter/social media if you would be interested. We will be searching for full-time craftspeople, comparable with a full-time potter in a ceramics atelier. Make no mistake: being a full-time potter is very demanding, but if it's something for you, it's the most rewarding job out there!
What about your social goal of making the world a better place?
Our goals stay the same. We want to positively impact the lives of as many people as possible with House Raccoon. And while we don't like saying goodbye to our current atelier, we believe we can make an even more significant impact in the future to even more people.
We want to engage in a full range of social projects. For example, starting from February, B-stock products will be used free of charge by non-profit organization 'Cdienst' to create a pleasant and minimalistic living environment in the social housing circuit. We also would love to work together with refugees, special schools, etc. If you have a social project yourself or know something, please let us know so that we can continue having a social impact on the world! We will create a new page on our website listing all our social projects, so be sure to keep an eye on that page too. We will share it as soon as it's ready!
Thank you all so much for reading this through! If it weren't for you, House Raccoon would never exist. We are so grateful we can do such a fantastic job every day. And we will of course do our utter best to keep creating beautiful products in a sustainable, social & joyful way.
Lots of love,
Anneleen & Nathan (& Oscar meow)