Michael-George Hemus, Plumen Co-founder and MD (left) / Nicolas Roope, Plumen Co-Founder and CD (right)

Michael-George Hemus, Plumen Co-founder and MD (left) / Nicolas Roope, Plumen Co-Founder and CD (right)

We’re halfway through our crowdfunding campaign and we’ve already raised over 70% of our £500,000 target! You can get involved by visiting our campaign page here.

As Plumen marches towards its bright future, we caught up with our Co-founder and Creative Director, Nik Roope who told us how Plumen made its way in a multi-billion-dollar industry or, as Nik put it: “there was a huge gap staring us in the face, in the shape of a beautiful, efficient light bulb!”.

You had never worked in lighting before, what made you start the business?
We chose lightbulbs simply because we saw a great opportunity. Lighting is the biggest draw on energy after heating or cooling your home so moving people to efficient technology is a very effective way to lower consumption. And yes, you can force that through with government regulation, but why not just make beautiful, inspiring bulbs so people do this through choice? That was the thinking. The other thing about bulbs is we knew it was achievable for us as a start-up. Making a car was beyond our capability and Elon was already onto that idea whilst heating/cooling was in the capable hands of our Nest friends.

What were you doing before Plumen?
We made ‘art phones’, those large retro, curly-wired phones you plugged into your mobile phone and pcs for skipping. We started a global phenomenon but knew right from the beginning that this was a flash in the pan. It did teach us about design, manufacture, distribution etc, so when we started the Plumen project we really knew what we were doing.

Penelope Phone by Hulger

Penelope Phone by Hulger. The Hulger phone idea was a cultural hack, a kind of punk statement that reacted against communication technologies that were miniaturising and complicating at an alarming rate.

Were you daunted by the fact the lighting market was so advanced and competitive?
What we saw in the lighting market was that it wasn’t actually advanced. All the manufacturers were fighting for the middle ground. Technology was advancing as each manufacturer tried to gain the edge in performance, luminosity and lifetime but the design element had been left behind. So, while this industry is a multibillion dollar global business, there was a huge gap staring us in the face in the shape of a beautiful, efficient light bulb.

Where did your first product idea, the 001, come from? How did you design it?
I studied sculpture at art school and worked with abstract forms. Many abstract artists worked with diptychs and triptychs as the repetitions made it easier for the viewer to see patterns and appreciate variations between each part. With the 001, we wanted to create an organic form but one that would be balanced and harmonious in a space. To begin with, we created a number of 3D sketches with pipe cleaners. We looked at two or three strands in repeating, organic forms, wound around each other in different configurations. It worked straight away so most of the work was needed to finesse the form and create balance and beauty from every angle. One thing to point out is that the design isn’t actually symmetrical even though it feels balanced. It took a long time to get this right across 360 degrees.

Plumen 001 Prototype (3 different neons)

Plumen 001 Prototype (3 different neons)

The first prototype, simply entitled Plumen, made in neon tube from a coat hanger 3 D sketch, is in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) permanent design collection.

The first prototype, simply entitled Plumen, made in neon tube from a coat hanger 3 D sketch, is in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) permanent design collection.

Do you think designers have a responsibility to bring sustainable products to market? Is it up to them to change consumers’ behaviour?
It isn’t just the responsibility of designers, it’s everyone’s responsibility. If designers want to eat then they need to answer briefs and they can’t always influence the things clients or bosses want them to do.

But designers can have a key role in changing consumption. Design creates new symbols and icons that help direct and inspire the world. Tesla made a cool, beautiful car to make electric vehicles attractive in a way we’d never seen before. Design works together with technology to create a new, more positive image for the future.

What is the future of the lighting industry, how do you see it changing?
Everything is changing in lighting. From the core technologies (incandescent to CFL to LED) as well as the control systems (from wired switches to wireless, smart control). When everything is in flux, there’s a great opportunity to establish new ideas, formats and behaviours. It’s such an exciting place to be. In 10 years’ time, many of the things we’ll be making won’t be recognisable to today’s eye.

The Plumen 002 Dimmable LED, our first LED bulb launched in 2015.

The Plumen 002 Dimmable LED, our first LED bulb launched in 2015.

You made the decision to crowdfund – why?
We needed investment to successfully launch two new ranges of bulbs this year: a mass market filament LED range and a high end LED bulb. We’re also starting to accelerate the development of our first smart Plumen bulbs. To do so much, you need backing so we decided this was the year to secure investment. Rather than going to a banker, we came to the crowd because we’re a consumer product with a passion that excites a lot of people. To us, it felt so much better to offer a piece of the business to our community, write our own story and become the most powerful advocates we could ever hope for. Brands spend billions on advertising to try and make people care about their brands and products. But someone with Plumen shares will care more about us than any TV ad could ever make them!

What will change for the business if it raises its target investment? How will you spend it?
Even though we’ve got some breath-taking products coming to market this year, they need a lot of help to make sure they’re in as many appropriate stores as possible and we maximise awareness. It means more energy spent across the whole supply chain, managing manufacture on one hand and exciting people about what we’re doing on the other. That all requires a lot of money and resources. We could do it with our own funds but we know that would impose constraints that would stifle what should be game-changing launches. The money raised will make such a difference that the equity we release will be more than compensated for by the value created by the activity the investment affords. It’s a win for everyone.

What does Plumen’s future look like?
Bright ; )