Need to Know

Good Design Has a Scarcity Problem—Gantri Is Using 3D-Printing to Solve It

Industry titans have long held a status quo of unattainable pricing and incremental progress towards sustainability, but Gantri is breaking the mold.

Gantri founder Ian Yang. Credit (all images): Gantri.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that addressing problems of scarcity and sustainability is one of Gantri founder Ian Yang’s top priorities. When asked what Gantri does, the founder, whose background in economics undoubtedly influences his answer: “Gantri reduces the cost and complexities of developing and selling designs.” Really, the company gives independent lighting designers a platform to showcase their work without incurring the burdens of production. After all, precious few people enter the design industry looking to split hairs over factory minimums, or to spend hours calculating import and export taxes.

Yang’s approach to tackling scarcity and cost-prohibitiveness has a ripple effect on environmental impact. By using 3D printers to make items to order, Gantri avoids the costly and environmentally unfriendly process of discounting and disposing of surplus. A network of printing centers reduces the distance products travel to reach buyers—and the consumption of fossil fuels used in the shipping pipeline. The real kicker, though, is that amid all the level-headed practicality, Gantri’s lighting is fun. PROWL Studio, Carlos Jimenez, Karim Rashid, Kickie Chudikova, and more independent collaborators create contemporary pieces in styles ranging from architectural to amorphous, and perhaps even a little alien.

Below, Yang lays out how he’s revolutionized his corner of the industry.

The Baltra floor lamp.

Why did you focus on applying 3-D printing to lighting? That combination is uncommon.

Design is a high-mix, low-volume business because it’s incredibly personal. We all have different tastes and different homes, so we need a wide variety of products. The problem is that making small-batch products is expensive. Industrial manufacturing is optimized for making a lot of the same thing. Raw materials are more expensive when volume is low; unit cost quickly goes up when we spread tooling and product development costs over a small volume base. This is why good design is often so pricey.

3D printing changes this calculus. It’s simple, flexible, and scalable. It’s capable of producing different geometries at relatively low costs. Lighting is the perfect showcase of how 3D printing can help solve this fundamental problem. Lighting is normally hard to develop, expensive to make, and has the potential for endless form variations. With 3D printing, we’re able to introduce a lot of different lighting designs at relatively accessible prices.

The notion of divesting scarcity from premium design seems to be intrinsic to Gantri’s mission. Tell me about what that means to you.

Fundamentally, we’re here to create new opportunities for designers. There are too few manufacturers and projects for the amount of design talent we see in the world. Many designers who want to participate in the market can’t. Our goal isn’t to replace the luxury or consumer segments, but to provide a new path for these designers.

The Gallery table lamp.

What do you look for in a contributing designer? 

We’re still in the early stages in developing and scaling our platform and we need to be selective about who we can support. In general, we look for craft, story, and ambition. Starting with craft, we look for designers who have done great work in lighting or adjacent fields in the past. If they have a great gasp of materials, CAD, and 3D printing, that’s even better.

“Story” is the designer’s unique perspective. When we introduce a new product, we always want to bring something fresh to the market. So we love getting to know designers at the cross-section of multiple influences and helping them tell their stories.

With “ambition,” we look for collaborators who want to build their brand or career. Maybe they want to earn extra income, or maybe they strive to win some big awards. Working with smart, driven people makes the product better.

Left: Chris Granneberg's Analog lamp. Right: Bradley L Bowers' Cerra lamp.

3D printing isn’t inherently better for the environment. How do you approach sustainability, particularly minimizing waste?

Sustainability has been core to our mission from day one. Producing products on-demand minimizes landfill waste from unsold inventory. Five years ago, we invested in plant-based, biodegradable materials called Gantri Plant Polymers. They are fully biodegradable and more durable than traditional Polylactic Acid-based 3D printing materials. We’re working to replace remaining non-plant-based materials with bio-based alternatives. We’re continuously improving our production process to reduce and recycle waste. It’s our responsibility to drive towards a better future.

Which collection do you find the most interesting?

Two collections stand out. We don’t do a lot of biomorphic designs but the Cerra collection by New Orleans designer Bradley L Bowers is just stunning. The Analog Collection by Los Angeles–based designer Chris Granneberg is almost the exact opposite of Cerra in that it has this colorful, Lego-inspired look that’s super fun and geometric.

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