The Road from Bali
By Tom Lassiter
It’s a long way from Bali to Casual Market Chicago, especially when routed through Australia. But that’s the path IndoSoul took.
Casual Market 2016 was IndoSoul’s third appearance at The Mart, where an expansive temporary space on the seventh floor was filled with eye-catching, contemporary furniture.
With styles ranging from near-transitional to fashion-forward, IndoSoul showed a striking variety of products for a company that is still a newcomer to the North American market.
The line included powder-coated aluminum frames and furniture constructed of plastic lumber. A number of groups used varying degrees of teak, sometimes as accents and sometimes as major components. One striking group featured a metal frame with an unusual rope-like weave on the sides and back, where it helped support deep cushions. More about this group, called Crown, later.
IndoSoul didn’t make a huge splash at its first Casual Market three years ago, and the first casual furniture designs it offered are no longer in the line, says Steve Anderson, the company’s Australian director, or CEO.
He founded the company in 2009, when he found inspiration on a tropical beach. He had been surfing in Bali, Indonesia, where he said the relaxed lifestyle gave him an idea: beanbag seating made for outdoor use.
“I did it as a side project, and it just really took off,” he said. “Yeah, outdoor beanbags.” The products were made in Indonesia and imported to Australia.
Anderson, who had a background in sales and marketing and owned a finance company, realized he was on to something as he began to learn more about casual furniture tastes and product availability in Australia.
“Everything I saw was the same in every shop,” he said. “There was a really big gap in the market for a modern, contemporary look.”
Anderson’s research told him interest in contemporary décor was growing in Australia, which like the U.S. market lags behind European trends. To Anderson’s mind, “there was nothing like what was available in Europe.”
Furthermore, he said, many European designs “do not work in Australia, or the USA, because they are a little bit too ‘out there.’” The more modest scale of European furniture can also be an issue. “The sizing is all wrong,” he said.
“We saw an opportunity and decided to focus on that particular style that was missing in the market,” he said. “We sat down with our factory (in China) and our designers and had things made that suited the Australian market.”
Those designs, he said, also are right for the North American market.
Anderson launched his company with proceeds from the sale of his Australian finance company. He’s entirely self-taught in the furniture business, which he said naturally follows a lifelong interest in beautiful homes and architecture.
IndoSoul’s offerings appear to be in line with current design trends, yet with a distinctive touch. Most of IndoSoul’s designs fit into the genre described as mixed media. It’s not unusual for IndoSoul groups to feature two and sometimes three materials used in combination.
“I’ve always liked including natural products, like teak, to bring out the accents of the product, which really makes the furniture pop,” he said.
One innovation that might escape all but the most keen-eyed buyer is a thin strip of metal that lies atop the arm of a chair. The strip is almost invisible, especially when painted black on black. Though it seems counterintuitive, the purpose of the additional metal strip is to make the chair arm feel cooler when in full sun.
The strip, Anderson said, is heat-treated aluminum applied to the frame in a process he won’t divulge.
“I can’t give my secret away,” he said, “but the process of how we actually apply it to the frame keeps it cool.”
IndoSoul USA’s current lineup offers more than 30 groups. They include loungers, tall bistro sets, deep seating on aluminum frames, and mod-looking resin wicker with stainless arms.
Crown, a collection with dining and deep seating components, gets its distinctive look from the thick webbing that laces around the sides and backs of the seating. From a distance it appears to be fabric, but that’s just the covering of spun polyester.
The polyester sleeve conceals a length of molded or extruded neoprene, the strong yet flexible material used for wetsuits. The neoprene has an oval profile, thicker in the middle and tapering to the sides. It’s a very tactile combination, yielding a bit to a firm squeeze but impossible to fully compress.
Neoprene, says Anderson the surfer, “never wears out. The spun polyester gives it a very classy finish.” It’s a look, he said, “that no one else is doing.”
IndoSoul still offers outdoor beanbags in six designs as well as a line of LED outdoor lamps powered by rechargeable batteries. The lamps are available in spherical and cube-like configurations. The ball-like spheres float and are depicted in marketing materials as a small flotilla, adrift in a swimming pool.
Industry veteran Mike Friedrichsen is vice president of Sales and Marketing for IndoSoul USA. Twenty-four of the 33 groups in the IndoSoul lineup are new, he said. “That was a huge undertaking for us,” he noted.
Response at the Casual Market “make it easy to pinpoint” which groups will be top sellers in 2017, he said. St. Lucia, in bronze, “is going to be our No. 1.” The collection already is IndoSoul’s leading seller in other markets, though in white.
Friedrichsen said other groups garnering interest in Chicago were Geneva, Nomad, Greenwich (executed in teak and Textilene), and “all the stainless.”
Anderson characterizes the line as “a medium- to high-end product. You’re getting value,” he said, “but you’re also getting a nice, designer look.”
IndoSoul is headquartered in Melbourne, with U.S. offices and warehouse in La Verne, California. The company is looking into setting up an East Coast warehouse, Anderson said.
So why does an Australian company, marketing furniture made in China, have a name that suggests Indonesia?
“Because,” Anderson said, “I was sitting on a beach in Bali, Indonesia, and came up with the idea of outdoor beanbags.”
IndoSoul’s logo, he said, was inspired by the Sanskrit symbol Aum (or Om), a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in Indian Dharmic religions.
“The Om symbol represents relaxation and chilling out,” Anderson said. “You know, taking it easy and peaceful.”
IndoSoul, born on a beach in Bali. That alone generates a peaceful, easy feeling, doesn’t it?