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Challenging the status quo

Is there any place where you feel more comfortable than on a sofa? It’s where we unwind after a busy workday; where we get comfy under a blanket to binge watch Netflix; or have intimate conversations – and multiple glasses of wine – with our best friends. In short: whether you’re sitting, lying or hanging in the sofa; it’s the place where you can truly be yourself.

So that is why we’ve put Stephanie Duval and Nele Pieters, founders of Belgian sofa brand Journuit, in one of their own designs to ask them everything we always wanted to know about their take on life and the business that resulted from it. Looking around them, Nele and Stephanie saw how their friends were trying to create homes that would reflect their personalities. Looking for the furniture that would enable them to do so, most of them were confronted with two options: a) cheap, but generic or b) exceptional, but overpriced. The status quo in the interior design industry was leaving many people feel dissatisfied and hungry for something different and new.

With their combined backgrounds in marketing and shared entrepreneurial spirit, the duo saw enough potential to go out there and create just that. With Journuit, they challenge the status quo in every imaginable way. By-stepping the conventional retail and distribution channels, they are getting customizable, beautifully designed and highly comfortable sofa’s straight from the manufacturer into the homes of the consumer, who is rewarded with a very affordable price tag. We invited ourselves into Nele’s home in Antwerp to talk to both ladies about their partnership, the struggles and joys of life as entrepreneurs and their goals for the future.

ROOMIN: How and when did you get the idea to start your own sofa company?

Nele: “We already knew we wanted to create a business that would shake things up, do things differently. We just didn’t know right from the start where we would be needed the most. We both have a strong affinity with interior design, so when more and more people in our environment started telling us they couldn’t find the perfect sofa for their homes and lives, we realized this was an opportunity presenting itself to us.”

ROOMIN: You’re both well-educated women, but not in the product development field. Did you design the sofas yourselves, or did someone help you in the process?

Stephanie: “We definitely had help, lots of it! But we did approach the design in a different way. We wanted to cut out the margins that usually go to high-profile designers, so we knew we had to do a lot of the groundwork ourselves. But that actually presented a very good opportunity to really tune in to our target audience’s wishes. We started from their needs and translated them into three different ‘styles’ with moodboards and specific ideas. Then we had help from our manufacturer, who asked their product designer to translate those ideas into technical drawings, and their craftsmen to create prototypes for each stage of the design turning into reality. For each model, we went through more than three or even four different prototypes, to refine each model until it corresponded with what we had in mind and offered the best possible quality and comfort in combination with a nice look and feel.”

Journuit has three basic sofa models. Why did you opt for only three models? And what’s the story behind them?

Nele: “We identified three different types of interior design styles that we found exciting and inspiring to create the perfect sofa for. Our Utilitarian is influenced by industrial design and offers a more ‘active’ comfort, our Cosy Island really is a family sofa meant to lounge the days away, and our Pillow Talk is an elegant, feminine model you can sink away in. We wanted to offer three distinct models, but we wanted to let our customers decide for themselves how they want their favourite sofa to look, so you can adapt them to your personal tastes by selecting the fabrics, colours and details yourself.”

ROOMIN: What’s your favourite? (Or shouldn’t we ask you this question?)

Stephanie: “I can’t decide between the Pillow Talk and the Utilitarian. I love a sofa on legs! We are working on a new model though, and I think it might become my new favourite soon…”

ROOMIN: How do you keep the sofas so affordable while still meeting the high-quality standards?

Nele: “By cutting out everything that, according to us, is not necessary. We don’t hire outside designers, we don’t own flagship stores or showrooms, we don’t calculate margins for interior design architects or retailers… We get the product straight from the manufacturer to the consumer. This way, we don’t have to sacrifice the essentials that make a product great: we can invest in research and development to create the best possible products, and we never save on the quality of our materials.”

ROOMIN: What are the pros and cons of running an online business?

Stephanie: “We don’t think of ourselves as an online business – we simply choose the channels that are easiest for our customers to use, and that have the lowest impact on the prices of our products. We don’t have our own stores, but we do work with other businesses to showcase our sofa’s: because everyone wants to touch, feel and experience a sofa before they buy it. Right now you can discover our three different models in a lunch bar in Vilvoorde and a co-working space in Antwerp, but we are constantly looking for other places to add to our collaborations. And there is Roomin of course! We can hardly wait until the next experience home, where Journuit will surely be present again to showcase our collection.”

“We get the product straight from the manufacturer to the consumer. This way, we don’t have to sacrifice the essentials that make a product great: we can invest in research and development to create the best possible products, and we never save on the quality of our materials.”

ROOMIN: Entrepreneurial life isn’t easy, but what makes it worth your while?

Stephanie: “It is magical to see your own ideas come to life, and even more special to see other people react to them. I don’t think we could live without the freedom it offers, either. If we want to keep challenging the status quo and want to keep surprising the world, we need to be able to get our inspiration from somewhere, and creativity rarely works according to a conventional structure or schedule.” 

ROOMIN: Where would you like Journuit to be in a few years? Dream big!

Nele: “We would love to see a Journuit sofa in every home in Belgium, how is that for dreaming big? Seriously however, every Journuit order is different from the one before – that has been so cool to witness. We love the idea that this one, small company could make a difference to so many people, all the while still allowing them to express their unique individuality.”

Stephanie: “We are currently working on a new sofa model, and will be adding a small line of cushions to our webshop some time this Spring. We definitely want to keep expanding our offer, and we have started getting in orders from abroad, so why limit ourselves to Belgium?”

ROOMIN: What’s your favourite activity to do in a sofa?

Stephanie: “Binge watching The Good Wife, enjoying an aperitif with friends or monkeying around with my daughter.”

Nele: “Our aperitif on friday night, the moment my husband and I have a long talk after a buzzy workweek while my daughter is literally jumping of joy because we are all together.”

ROOMIN: Thanks for your time and good luck, ladies!