It is a cold day in the end of February, when I get in the car to go and meet the designer behind the brand Havsglas Sverige. Maria Meissner Berg lives with her family just outside of Ystad on the south coast of Sweden, and she just had a smash hit with her new product, the hanging vase called The Catch.
She moved to this area with her husband about 12 years ago, and instantly became fascinated by the ocean, the long beaches and the pieces of glass she found there. “I grew up in Småland, a bit north of here where there is a lot of forest. I completely fell in love with the open spaces and the ocean when we first came here, and we quickly decided to move here” she tells us. “On our walks on the beach I found these small pieces of sea glass, made all smooth and beautiful by the ocean. I started to collect them back then but it was only a few years ago that I started to create my jewellery based on them”.
Maria does not have the usual background as a designer. She studied archeology for a couple of years and worked as a teacher up until five years ago. “I loved teaching and working with the kids, but as a teacher I didn’t have any control over my own situation and working conditions. It drove me crazy and finally I just quit my job.
At the time, I was on maternaty leave with my youngest boy, and I didn’t have a proper plan for what I wanted to do, but I knew that if I didn’t take the leap then, I would never do it”. With no role models in the business world, her view of a business owner was a yuppie man in a suit, but she started to create her own jobs that suited her needs and interests. “I’ve been working a lot in museums, as a guide and especially with groups of children visiting the museums. As it has been quite small museums, I’ve also worked in the stores and been responsible for building new exhibitions. I really like it, but now I think it is time to focus more on my design business.”
Havsglas (sea glass in Swedish) is now her main focus, and it is important for her to only work with sea glass found by her, on the beaches from southern Sweden and with no other treatment than a good rinse after she picks it. When picking the glass she is also cleaning the beach from trash from the ocean, and she is supporting the World Wildlife Foundation and their project for cleaner oceans. “The ocean and the traditional fishermen that lives from the ocean is the foundation of my brand” she explains. “Even though not all of my products are picked from the sea, they still have a connection. Like the hanging vase, that is tied by hand in the same way as old fishermen used to tie nets and floats.”
The hanging vase was a smash hit at this years Formex fair, and Maria hasn’t really gotten over the shock yet. “I was really not prepared for all the attention! It was my second year at Formex, but the first time in the Young Designers area and I added the vase just a few days before we went to the fair.” Already during the first day, a lot of journalists, trendsetters and bloggers gave her a lot of attention and praise, and she had so many orders that she is know tying vases more or less around the clock. “I’m doing it all myself, and by hand. It is very important to me to keep doing that, both to ensure the quality but also to keep my indepence. After all, that is why I started my business, to be in charge of my own time and being able to make all decisions on my own.”
After her recent success, she is very restricted on where her products are on sale. “I’ve been saying no to many different kinds of stores, both retail and online. I’m really picky, but I love being part of Nordic Design Collective! It is a great setting for my products but it also gives me a network of other designers and business owners that I can ask questions and share my experiences with” Maria explains.
She is not only tying hanging vases at the moment, but also working on follow up products. The first one is a wall decoration made from smaller pieces of sea glass. “This is such an exciting time for me and my business! I have no idea where this is going to take me, but I look forward to finding out” she says with a big smile. And so are we! I’m convinced that Maria will continue to develop her business and come up with more great products connected to the ocean. After all, when having an “office at the beach” there is no end to the inspiration.
Check out Havsglas Sverige at Nordic Design Collective.
This interview was first published in our online magazine Nordic Living (issue 15-03). Text and photo: Maria Richardsson