Editor's Note: Othr is a winner of Inc.'s 2017 Design Awards, our annual recognition of entrepreneurs using design to build great companies, in the "Most Entrepreneurial Design Studio" category.
Last March, Othr debuted three new products--a porcelain cream dispenser, a trivet, and a bowl set. At first glance, the minimalist housewares don't look particularly revolutionary. But the New York City-based firm creating them is doing something radical: using 3-D printing to transform the way products are conceived, manufactured, and purchased.
Four years ago, designers Joe Doucet, Evan Clabots, and Dean Di Simone got talking about the environmental impact of stuff. All three had dedicated their lives to creating objects, and all were concerned about their ecological footprint. Around that time, Doucet, who holds more than 50 patents, ordered a 3-D-printed prototype of a steel fork. It was an expensive, unimpressive item, but as he started researching 3-D printing, he realized that one day its cost would drop and its quality would improve. Says Doucet of his urgency to start Othr: "I suspected someone else would do this if we didn't, and would likely get it wrong."
The result is a new kind of industrial design studio that creates products by collaborating with designers around the world, unveiling those designs every two weeks on its website, and producing them--with a 3-D printer--only after someone makes a purchase. This means the company can rapidly prototype new designs without creating any waste. "We allow the customer to validate if this is something they want to take up space in our world," says CEO Doucet. "If an object is valuable enough for someone to want it, then it's manufactured. If not, it's information in the digital ether."
To develop a new product, Othr's team scouts designers and studios in places as far flung as Japan and Norway. Designers must pitch a product that is functional and has unique artistic merit--like its $65 Loup Fruit Bowl, a paperclip-shaped porcelain fruit holder by Saif Faisal, an industrial designer from Bangalore.
A single version is then 3-D printed, photographed, and promoted on Othr's online catalog and email list. Instead of following the typical product-development cycle--a new line once or twice a year--Othr has rolled out some 200 products since its launch in May 2016. Once a customer orders a piece, it's made on-demand with one of the company's five 3-D manufacturing partners, each of which specializes in different materials, like porcelain,
steel, and bronze. If nobody ever orders a product, it's simply never produced.
While it's only one year into the experiment, the company has had 50 percent month-over-month growth since its launch. Doucet says it's not surprising that its steeply priced items are primarily purchased by design aficionados. "As the prices become more accessible, we'll broaden our audience," says Doucet. "One day, we'd love to put the most amazing designs out there at a price you'd get at Target."
Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately described Joe Doucet and Dean Di Simone as a former BMW designer and bike designer, respectively.