DENFAIR is a place where people come together to connect with each other over a common love of original and authentic design. It is a place where we can appreciate innovations in the industry and support those who are changing the way we think about design. The importance of facilitating these human connections is at the core of furniture company, Manapan, whose name means just that – Come Together.
Manapan is the first of its kind in the furniture business and Mark White, founder of Manapan Furniture, can attribute this to his desire to “give back”. After many successful years operating a commercial cabinetry business, Ramvek, Mark felt it was time for him to do something for others. Now, just two years since making the decision to embark on this project, Manapan is its own success story, with sustainable achievements in economic, social and environmental actions.
Mark describes Manapan’s overall intention by stating “the goal is to create employment in Arnhem land, that’s what we are all about, but the bi-product of this is, we are building beautiful furniture.”
Manapan is owned by ALPA, an indigenous not for profit organisation, and operated by Yolngu, an indigenous community that lives in Arnhem Land, on the north eastern corner of the Northern Territory. Just off the mainland is the island community of Milingimbi where the Manapan workshop is located. Yolngu have strong traditions and a long industrious history; they were trading with the Macassan and Chinese for over 500 years before Europeans settled in Australia. However, despite a rich historic economy, lack of commercial opportunity in current climates has created a high demand for employment in the Millingimbi community; a situation Manapan plans to reverse.
Robert Crisfield is Manapan’s Master Craftsman and spends most of his time in the workshop with a team of Yolngu trainees teaching them the fine skills of furniture making. Robert’s passion and devotion to his craft is transferred into the work of his crew who are quickly becoming experts in the trade in their own right. All of the Manapan furniture is produced by the core team of employees who come to work every day to develop their skills and with that a new sense of purpose and pride in the wonderful furniture they are producing. By forming a positive and ongoing relationship with Aboriginal Elder, Keith Lapulung, Mark is able to make sure everything is running as it should be to coincide with the culture of the community. Mark observes “the connectivity between the two cultures has flourished because we have something really in common.”
When Mark was gathering his ‘family of designers’ in Melbourne and Sydney, he was conscious of continuing the effort to diversify the group as much as possible. Mark discovered Alexsandra Pontonio at DENFAIR listed as an up and coming young designer, and approached her to get involved with Manapan. Alexsandra states “this has been a remarkable opportunity to be a part of something so unique and meaningful.” The Manapan Furniture collection is designed to have significance to The Arnhem Land and its traditions. The timber used in building Manapan’s furniture is locally sourced in Arnhem Land which gives each piece a strong sense of origin because of its connection to site.
2018 is the first year Manapan will be exhibiting at DENFAIR in Melbourne. It is an incredible opportunity to present the work they have been doing to the design community by reaching such a large audience. The products showing at the DENFAIR Melbourne have been mastered to perfection since the original collection was released. The result is beautifully sculptured modern furniture with allusion to indigenous references and historic Australian design, never before seen on an industry level. To enhance their story behind Manapan, images from the workshop will be displayed alongside, to convey the journey each piece has taken.
To build a lasting business, it is important to build lasting relationships. The Three Pillars of Sustainability (World Summit, 2005) are environmental, social and economic, and it is vital that all these areas are addressed in balance. By encompassing this concept in its entirety, Manapan proves there is business longevity and benefit to all who encounter it. Mark explains, “lots of people want to connect, they just don’t know how.” Manapan is enhancing the lives of so many people by giving communities the chance to come together in ways that will build relationships for many years to come.