High Point hopes to make it big in small-batch design

HP TextileArtist rendering of the soon-to-be refurbished High Point textile plant that will be a home to independent furniture designers. (Photo courtesy Plant Seven)

For years High Point has earned a reputation for offering unique fashion and design twice a year through its furniture market. Now the city is hoping to create another lasting impression, that of a city that’s home to small-scale, independent design production.

City officials are hoping a new downtown cooperative furniture effort will lure young, innovative furniture makers to a cooperative workspace that was once a textile plant.

“Plant Seven” opened in October just before market in a 90-year-old, 100,000-square foot building four blocks east of the Commerce and Design Building.

The building was formerly the Adams-Millis hosiery factory and, later, a furniture event space known as Union Square, but now it’s been turned into a furniture design studio.

The High Point business development group HP365 is responsible for the new space.  HP365 is a non-profit established by Business High Point-Chamber of Commerce and some members of the business community.

Furniture retailers who routinely visit High Point for its twice-a-year markets might understand how  Plant Seven is both a philosophical and strategic shift in thinking for a city whose economy is centered on mass production of furniture. Tim Branscome, Plant Seven’s founder and CEO, said there’s a need for a bigger, year-round furniture presence in Hight Point. “There’s a lot of frustration around here that twice a year it’s like New York City and the other 50 weeks there’s nothing,” Branscome told Architectual Digest. “That leads to a lot of young flight.”

To combat that, Branscome, a veteran of International Market Centers (owner of many of High Point’s showrooms) and World Market Center (host of the Las Vegas furniture market), set out to find a solution. In 2016, Branscome and Cisco Brothers put together the Mill Collective, a show of smaller companies in the company’s newly renovated mill headquarters. The success of that venture led Branscome to explore ways in which he could extend the collaborative spirit of the Mill Collective year-round.

“We realized that there are all these companies out there that need to collaborate, and they don’t know how,” he said. “They can make a great finish on a beautiful chair, but they have no place where they can connect, can come together. They’re going from project to project and they don’t have time to develop their business. So, taking all this into account, we realized there was a need for a sort of year-round space where people could come during the off season, so we could support all these activities happening between market.”

In phases rolling out over the next year, Plant Seven will eventually comprise coworking and event spaces, a photography studio, a 3D printing lab (“it will operate like Kinkos,” explained Branscome), a materials library, podcast rooms, a restaurant and café, and lodging. “You can design your product, make your product, photograph your project, show your project, and then learn about design,” all in one place, Branscome quipped.

Those people, as Branscome envisions it, are High Point locals as well as young designers across the country. He cited one Brooklyn-based creative as an example of a prime candidate. “There’s this very talented young designer who got a great gig doing some work for Prada,” he explained. “All of a sudden they ask him to make 700 boxes. He had no idea what to do! So, we want him to know he can hop on a plane, come to North Carolina, and find people here that can make his boxes. He doesn’t have to go to China — we’re an hour away. This small-batch stuff really should be done here. We shouldn’t have to go to Asia.”

In that way, Plant Seven becomes a sort of regenerative ecosystem, feeding into the North Carolina economy. “People tend to think the furniture industry went off to Asia, but if you think of the ecosystem around the industry — marketing, design, production, logistics, IT — there’s an enormous infrastructure here that is alive and well, it’s just not branded and it doesn’t raise its flag during market,” Branscome said.