When a French tech hardware startup set about figuring out how to build electronics sustainably, they discovered some key lessons: Sustainability is about more than using specific materials or practices as a company. It’s about deepening human connections all along the supply chain, as proven by Joué and its team of makers in the south of France.
After a wildly successful first music product (the Lemur instrument used by artists like Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, and Björk) the designer behind the Joué modular MIDI instrument decided his next project needed to take a very different approach.
For Joué, they turned away from plastic and focused on what they could find near their base in Bordeaux. They wound up using regionally sourced wood and high-precision electronics from a nearby family firm. As they built relationships with their suppliers and manufacturers, they realized how human-centric values and trust supported their goal of sustainability, while boosting product quality. (The company has seen zero customer returns for manufacturing defects.)
“For the last 10 years, we were involved in a lot of big-name tech projects in the consumer tech industry. These were designed in one part of the planet, then files were sent to people on the other side of the planet who were supposed to build it. This was a problem for me,” relates Pascal Joguet, co-founder of Joué. “You don’t know the people you’re working with. You don’t know how they live, who they are. It was first and foremost a human relation problem. So we tried to make hardware with local people, who were willing to take the time to see what we wanted to do at the core, and for us to understand how they work.”
The base of every Joué instrument, Joguet and his co-founder Arnaud Rousset decided, should be wood, for aesthetic and practical reasons. To make the bases, the duo had to figure out what woods would work and who could produce them efficiently and well.
Rousset first went on a quest to figure out what woods might have the right properties. He discovered that beech grown in the northeastern parts of France was ideal in its properties: strong, durable, and beautiful. Then they had to find someone who agreed to work it. After months of searching, “I contacted a company cold,” recalls Arnaud. “I did a presentation on our project. The guy understood what we wanted to do. He wanted to do a sustainable product but had never done it before. We sourced the wood and he agreed to use this type of wood because he believed in the project.” To achieve sustainability, they needed a strong human connection, one built-in person.
These connections evolve and grow, and can take a company ever closer to its sustainability goals.
As Joué enters new markets in North America, the company plans to take a similar approach, creating relationships with suppliers and manufacturers in the U.S. to craft instruments close to where their new fans are, from regional materials.
“It’s about having a vision and trying to build it. You can’t do it perfectly from the first; you go step by step and you keep to your plan and find the right people on the road,” reflects Joguet. “But you can only find solutions if you talk with people, not just about profit and costs–though that’s important, too–but about your values, what you want to put into your product and what you want to give.”