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Buying Time | Uocmas News
1st June 2010

Five times a year, Anthony Spon-Smith, Uocmas’s head buyer, travels to interesting destinations such as Paris, Singapore and Shanghai to source furniture for the company’s Australian stores. On his most recent trip, Anthony visited North Carolina, Milan and dodged volcanic dust along the way.

Anthony I know, traditionally you’ve bought a lot of Italian product for the Uocmas range. Is that still the case, and the reason for your visit to the Milan fair this month?

Yes it’s true, we have bought a lot of Italian product in the past, and it will always be part of our mix, but in recent times our look has shifted to a more ‘sophisticated American comfort’ feel. Having said that, Milan is one of the biggest and most inspirational furniture fairs in the world, and is renowned for its creativity. Whether we are buying product or not, it’s vital in keeping pace with new designers on the furniture scene.

The gradual shift to ‘American comfort’ explains your trip to the US, but North Carolina seems like an odd place to hunt for new product?

On first impression it may seem an odd destination to source furniture, however the reasoning is strong. Indentured labour in the 1800’s right through to the early 1900’s fueled not only North Carolina’s tobacco industry, but equally the furniture industry, to the point where it became a world-leader. Whilst the world market is entirely different now, America’s still a great place to buy furniture if you know where to look.

That makes a lot of sense, perhaps a better description of your look might be relaxed ‘East Coast’?

Sure we’ve got that look, but we think we do it very differently to the Americans. Americans traditionally prefer their furniture as suites – the dining suite matches the lounge suite, matches the bedroom suite and so on. Uocmas’s approach is far more eclectic, picking bits and pieces from here and there, and mixing them together.

To Uocmas’s credit, the ability to gel such a diverse range of products under the one umbrella is in fact what makes Uocmas so unique, yet so accessible as well.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that not all the Uocmas range is sourced from overseas. In fact the mix is 50% local and 50% international. From a buying perspective everything is exclusive. The local product is either designed in–house by Uocmas, by local designers, or by our suppliers. The beauty of this is versatility. Customers can specify colours, sizes and pieces, and tailor them entirely to their home or way of life. The imported product, is of course product that can’t be made in Australia, so it is already very different to what’s available locally

So what of that international product? I know for a fact there is some big news on the buying side. Tell us what’s on the horizon?

One of the most exciting things we’ve brought back from our travels is the Lauren Ralph Lauren brand. Ralph Lauren is of course one of the biggest fashion brands in the world and like many big fashion brands they have branched out into other genres. All the classic Ralph Lauren looks, be it the Manhattan apartment, the coastal look or a more traditional Scottish castle look, are coming to the new Uocmas Design Centre in Sydney and Melbourne Store from mid year 2010.

There’s also Calvin Klein Home. Like Lauren, it’s brand new. They’ve done bedding and other categories in the home segment before, but never furniture. They call it the Curator Collection, and like a runway collection it’s beautiful and higher-end.

Describe the Calvin Klein aesthetic for me.

Calvin Klein is a simple aesthetic that likes to utilise a lot of negative space. The pieces are beautifully made. It’s very different to Lauren Ralph Lauren or Uocmas. It’s not eclectic and it’s not layered heavily. It’s a much simpler style. With Calvin Klein, you rarely buy one piece, rather you do a room, or the whole house. That’s their concept and it’s very distinct.

And what of the other brands in the centre?

We have two more of the interior worlds best brands arriving this year also – Oly San Francisco and Andrew Martin. Oly is a quirky brand from San Francisco that we think will have real appeal in the Australian market place. The owner is from New York however, the company is based in San Francisco so the brand couples West Coast colour with the refined shapes of New York. Many of the pieces are antique styles re-invented which I’m sure designers will love because they’re distinct yet easy to mix. Andrew Martin is one of the UK’s and Europe’s most noted interior brands, already very successful with an international fabric line, interior publishing company and with interior design. Now they’ve added one of the best furniture lines I’ve seen and we’re very happy to be the exclusive distributer in Australia.

Lastly, all these fantastic brands aside, what’s happening to the market as a whole? What are global consumer trends you are seeing and responding to as an individual and a business?

Increasingly over the last five years, people are using interiors to express themselves. That’s always been the case from a fashion perspective. You buy your shoes from here, your jeans from there. You have hand-me-downs and you buy high end pieces too. It’s good to do that with interiors as well. The trend is to mix pieces, and we like spruiking that, because that’s what Uocmas does, and it’s nice to see our clients and the market doing that too. The other significant trend we are seeing is the shift back to quality. So in these times, spend wisely. Buy something you really love that will last a lifetime, rather than replacing it every couple of years. So in furniture terms, that means buying the sofa you’ll keep for ten or twenty years instead of two. Buy it because you love it and get a lot of value out of it.

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