Zanat was formally launched as a design brand only in 2015 and it has come a long way since. Zanat’s roots, however, are to be found much earlier in history. It started more than a century ago when Gano the great grandfather of Zanat’s founders, Orhan and Adem Niksic, stumbled upon what once was a primitive hand-carving technique that originated from a small village close to our hometown of Konjic, just south of Sarajevo on the Neretva River. Gano learned the carving technique from some pioneer woodcarver-entrepreneurs who (thanks to visionary educational support of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s regime that ruled Bosnia at the time) perfected the village technique beyond recognition and teamed up with already established furniture producers in Sarajevo, such as Buttazoni-Venturini, who exhibited hand-carved furniture pieces at fairs and exhibitions in Milan, Paris (Millennium exhibition of 1900), Vienna.
Gano passed his skills down to his sons Salih, Meho, Adem and Asim. Salih opened the first woodcarving business in the Niksic family in 1919 and trained his younger brothers. Adem, the most entrepreneurial of all, took over the company in 1927 and built a reputable export business. Others soon followed his example, and in the peacetime between the two World Wars, several fine furniture workshops were opened in Konjic, producing hand-carved furniture and decorative objects in local hardwoods. With this legacy as our foundation, our family has been designing and building heirloom-quality hand-carved furniture for more than four generations.
On December 6, 2017, the Konjic woodcarving technique perfected and preserved to a large extent by our family was officially inscribed onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. The quality and uniqueness of traditional hand-carved furniture from Konjic has garnered global acclaim; several pieces produced by our ancestors are kept in the Ethnography Museum in Belgrade and the National Museum in Sarajevo and few pieces are under state protection as part of Bosnia’s national cultural heritage. The unique woodcarving and furniture style developed in Konjic defines Bosnian traditional furniture and interior design.
We can proudly say that our company belongs to the category of European family-owned enterprises that through generations of uncompromising quality and innovation have become symbols of a city and its traditions. But the road to success was not without challenges. World War II and the subsequent advent of socialism in Yugoslavia forced our grandfather and virtually all the woodcarvers in Konjic to close their businesses. And although it was nearly impossible to run a private business during the early years of socialism, Adem’s sons Mukerem and Besim reopened the business in 1950s and kept it alive. Then came the end of socialism and instead of greater freedom a series of wars broke out that tore Yugoslavia and Bosnia apart.
From the moment the idea for Zanat first slipped into conversation over strong Bosnian coffees and a cool breeze off the Adriatic, the concept for the company has been much more than quality furniture design and production. We imagined a firm that took the same attention to detail that goes into making the perfect joint, and applied it to all aspects of the business in service of improving not only our customers’ homes but also their world. We call this practice Universal Sustainability, because we want the effect of every significant action that we as a business to be sustainable. In other words, we’d like to see “Corporate Social Responsibility” taken to the next level.
The Human Element
We believe that what we do will be “universally” sustainable if the effects of our actions on our entire ecosystem—including humans and their communities, be they local or global—serve as improvements to that ecosystem in both the short and long-term. With that in mind, we ask ourselves not only what effect our actions will have on the physical environment, but also on other forces and systems that affect the quality of life for individual people and communities. We want our actions to contribute to and facilitate sustainable socioeconomic development.
At Zanat, we practice what we preach in part by creating jobs for craftsman and university graduates, offering continuous training to all employees, and paying better-than-average living wages. By training our staff for greater opportunities, and paying our workers what they’re worth—not simply what we could get away with—we ensure that we not only have the best craftsmen and women creating our products, but that our entire community benefits as well. Our “living” wages don’t force workers to scrape by. They allow families to invest in themselves, putting children in school and books on shelves, fixing up homes and purchasing useful technology, and ensuring access to healthcare. We are also committed to serve as a marketing and knowledge-transfer platform for smaller craftsman and producers with outstanding products and business ethics, but who don’t have access to capital or knowhow to export; by doing this we will be correcting well-established market and government failures. All of these benefits guarantee that with each person we employ—directly or indirectly--the region as a whole improves its prospects. And in a region only two decades removed from a brutal war, combating a nearly 30 percent unemployment rate with jobs that can support whole families means a more secure world overall.
What’s more, our unique hand-carving techniques are undoubtedly a defining characteristic of our local Bosnian community’s cultural heritage—the recent nomination of this craft for the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List testifies to its importance—and through our efforts to integrate these techniques into modern design we are not only able to create better jobs, we are helping preserve the community’s traditions and promoting a design trend that puts human welfare center stage.
Direct Impact on the Environment
Of course, any effort to support the communities we live in must be grounded in a commitment to minimize direct impact on the physical environment that supports us all. Universal Sustainability in this regard means several concrete things:
- Responsible Sourcing
o We get our wood from Bosnian forests, which are renowned as some of the most well-managed in the world. The government is so protective of its natural resources that several hardwood species are protected by laws making it illegal to export unfinished products.
o Our cherry and walnut lumber comes exclusively from retired orchard trees, which are replaced by farmers as needed.
o Finishes and upholstery products are sourced from some of Europe’s top companies, all of which adhere to strict EU standards on chemical production, storage, and transfer.
- Long Product Life Cycle
o Our products are made to be of heirloom quality and hopefully passed on from generation to generation. This drastically longer life cycle compared to some other furniture products and the fact that they are primarily made of a natural, recyclable and biodegradable material, wood, substantially reduces the environmental impact.
- Energy Efficiency
o Our factory is heated exclusively with excess wood and—due to thoughtful construction—requires no cooling in the summer months. We use energy efficient machinery and transportation solutions whenever possible.
- Zero Wood Waste
o All excess shavings and pieces cut too small to be made into useful products are put to use heating our factory during the winter.
- Carbon Neutrality
o While due to reasons indicated above our carbon footprint is quite low, our goal is to offset any inefficiencies with investments inside and outside the company to become completely carbon neutral as soon as possible.
Leading by Example
We are not naïve so much to think that our company alone can change the world, but we are optimistic enough to believe that if we can prove that the way we do business works—that it is sustainable—others will see the potential and follow our lead and change the way they do business. In the end, Universal Sustainability is a simple concept: look into the most basic aspects of your business and ensure that you are proud of their impact on the company, the customer, and the world. We are proud of what we do at Zanat, and we have confidence that we can inspire others to do the same.