24 July 2024, 17:16
By Furniture News Jun 28, 2024

When Christina met Kevin – Cófra's grand designs

Christina Byrne, the founder and MD of design-led furniture importer Cófra, discuss the company’s design prowess, Kevin McCloud’s endorsement, exhibiting at Manchester Furniture Show, and why Ukraine remains a valuable manufacturing partner …

What is Cófra?

Cófra (pronounced co-fra), Gaeilge for ‘cabinet’, is an Irish company which has emerged based on over 10 years’ experience in the UK and Irish cabinet industry. Having witnessed the demand for more premium collections and a more varied range of styles, Cófra specialises in opening up new avenues in supplying retailers from Europe. Our objective is to make beautiful, design-led collections more accessible and commercial to the UK and Irish market.

Where might our readers have seen you before?

We launched our brand at January Furniture Show this year, so there’s no doubt that there will be many retailers learning about us here for the first time. We were thrilled that our Bua extending table, by furniture designer Vasyl Koshil, helped see us shortlisted in the Design Innovation category of The Furniture Awards during the show. Such early recognition from industry experts confirms the talents of our trading partners and demonstrates the potential gains we offer retailers within the UK and Irish market.

What else has kept you busy this year?

Following our launch, our top priority was to visit our partnering factories so we can attest to their facilities and opportunities for expansion. Since then, we’ve been working hard to build brand awareness and conduct as much market research as possible with end-consumers. We want to ensure we tailor our product selection and offer retailers first-hand assurances in their demand.

As part of that, we exhibited at Grand Designs Live in May, which hosted over 120,000 visitors over the course of nine days in London’s ExCel.

What response did you experience there?

The general public love our collections, and all of our products enjoy a lot of attention no matter where they go. It’s clear we offer something new and exciting to the end-consumer.

We were delighted to have our pieces selected by Simone Gordon, co-founder of Owl Design, to furnish the Grand House installation. Having the opportunity to share centre stage with many outstanding suppliers who contributed to the 900m2 build was a privilege, and during the course of the exhibition we were spotted by Grand Designs’ host, Kevin McCloud.

We explained to him the great efforts our partners in Ukraine undertook to enhance the house, as they managed to produce and ship pieces within two weeks’ notice. Kevin was truly in awe, and very supportive. We were honoured to receive his public endorsement at Grand Designs’ main stage, where he highlighted the importance of supporting Ukraine. His opinion was acknowledged with rounds of applause from the audience, and from there we definitely witnessed an increased interest in our brand.

What does your furniture offer comprise?

We offer premium oak designs, proudly sourced from Mebus and Tivoli, who are situated in the western region of Ukraine, near Lviv. Both are steered by furniture designers, and they work hand in hand to ensure impeccable quality and craftsmanship across a range of beautiful cabinetry, tables and chairs.

Mebus is a cabinet supplier specialising in veneer, with the ability to create a wide range of styles including round, ribbed, herringbone and CNC designs. A special mention must be made to them for the great lengths that they went to in supporting us in our partnership during exhibitions and our factory visit – we both enjoy a shared vision for the future. Mebus continue to exceed expectations with each collection they design, and their capabilities know no bounds.

Bua dining

Tivoli create beautiful chairs in many styles and in a range of shapes, including fabric options. Their Calm chair, designed by Julia Kononenko, was recognised with two awards last year, the DNA Paris Design Award, and European Product Design Award for 2023.

Are UK buyers wary of buying Ukrainian furniture right now?

Many retailers are surprised that furniture can still be produced in Ukraine, given the circumstances. Anyone who sees our range agrees that we have a fantastic product – though some tend to remain cautious, assuming difficulties in logistics and continuity of supply. This is understandable, and it’s one of the reasons we made the decision to visit our partnering factories in March. Not only did we have the opportunity to see the amazing facilities and state-of-the-art machinery at both Mebus and Tivoli, but we also witnessed how life in the area continues across all sectors and industries.

As you can imagine, getting to Ukraine did not come with the ease that we’re fortunate enough to be accustomed to. Crossing the border involves additional checks, and incurs shipping delays similar to those currently experienced in the Far East trade. Despite that, imports from Ukraine to the UK last year amounted to £571m, and this figure is set to rise in 2024. If you look closely across other industries and well-known, everyday UK brands, you’ll uncover many who source from Ukraine.

Discover what's next for Cófra in July's Furniture News.


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