Co-founder Stanley Wilson was in a band with twins Alex & Tom Parkinson. Young, skint and noisy. Living in tents in a cold, redundant textile mill.
The original pendant lights were everywhere. Replaced by fluorescent strips but never removed. Stan needed extra cash and knew how to refurb them. Ebay was taking off. FACTORYLUX was born.
Band things improved. London called. Affordable rehearsal space took them east. Hundreds of guerrilla gigs. A record deal. Sharon Osborne wanted them as TV show house band. They declined. Debut single bombed. Band split shortly afterwards.
Stan went to Light Projects, architectural lighting trailblazers. Sat next to Chris Schulkins. Who later would help pivot FACTORYLUX into architectural lighting.
Outside work hours. Stan rebooted the ebay page. Salvage plus designer maker of other useful lighting equipment.
Stan met and fell for co-founder Sophie Gollop. Music industry events manager. Metal Hammer. Classic Rock Awards. Camden Crawl.
FACTORYLUX concept already founded. But the company came into existence with Sophie. Later became expert in the testing and certification of lighting equipment. Only female leading on compliance at board level in UK lighting industry.
Ebay blew up. Stan went full time. Supported by Sophie. Built a website. Expanded product range.
Designed new range of lightbulbs. Master stroke, inspired by Simon Rawlings, David Collins Studio. Found struggling RIGHI factory. They hand-stitched signal bulb filaments at scale for Swiss Railways. Negotiated partnership.
Helped by Josh Van Gelder, fashion photographer. Coined name 'filament lightbulb’. So familiar now. Hard to believe it ever didn’t exist. Went on to sell ± half a million ‘filament lightbulbs’. Tiny shift in language. Might be biggest FACTORYLUX achievement so far.
Memorable launch party. On shop roof below their flat. Unofficial. Shop closed at 5:30pm. Party started shortly after. Dalston had become hot stuff. Jimmy Choo just set up shop. The lighting design crowd showed up in force.
Sales were linked to magazine coverage back then. We were getting it. High profile projects landed. LEVI’s UK flagship store. Our client was ERCO, architectural lighting high-endsters. Sophie went full time.
Sophie became pregnant. Everything was growing. Pallets were being unloaded on the pavement. The neighbours weren’t happy. Working all day and night. Making, packing, invoicing, building websites. Something had to give.
Rallycross legend, Will Gollop is Sophie's dad. 6R4 shed was now empty. They moved in. A beautiful soul called Ryan Lawford became first proper employee. Later he took his own life. Shaped Stan, Sophie and FACTORYLUX forever.
Well timed countryside escape. But calm didn’t last. Brands and designers were relentless.
Martin Scorsese’s team contacted. They’d visited a restaurant project. And read World Of Interiors ‘trend forceast’ by Nathalie Wilson, assistant editor. A productive connection. Almost every shot of HUGO features hundreds of FACTORYLUX lights. Academy Award winner.
We needed a sustainable long term plan. We leased a floor of redundant trouser factory. Yorkshire. Near where Stan grew up. Time to relocate north.
Print and typography always very important to FACTORYLUX. Our stationary and packaging supplier became insolvent. We acquired the company and its assets. Included probably largest collection of Linotype typography machines in the world. Saved from scrap yard. We had plenty of spare room. The two employees became FACTORYLUX employees.
To this day we use the 100 year old machinery to make notebooks. Counter-intuitively, they represent 5% of FACTORYLUX revenue.
Stan's brother-in-law Jonny Steel was recruited. To help run the factory. He purchased a 15% stake in the company. He still owns it. The company grew to 7 employees. Jonny is a science graduate. Jonny later instrumental in establishing our photometry expertise.
We knocked out the walls on one side, glazed over and painted everything else white. Shoreditch style. We borrowed ideas from the Toyota Production System. New priorities. Product safety and 100% compliance to BS EN 60598. Hard won. New systems and software. More efficient workflows. Design and implementation challenges at every turn. We read and learned everything we could.
Our values have always been strong. They gave us a strong sense of purpose. And sanity. Especially when cash was tight. Which was often. We set up an employee co-ownership scheme. Joined the Living Wage Foundation. We wrote serious environmental policies and stuck to them. Swore to never build walls. Manufacturing and office work is still done in a single, open plan workspace. Things are shared here. Regardless of department or seniority.
Ecommerce was expanding at a rate. For FACTORYLUX and the economy in general. Lighting manufacturers were slow to respond. We benefitted.
We stuck to core products. Focused on options, colourways, variants. Hundreds of colours and textures became available. This proved to be a misstep. Creatives who want to do manufacturing should learn Pareto first. The inventory database outgrew our ecommerce architecture. We migrated to Magento, the open source software. Later in this story, Magento is leveraged on factorylux.com to redefine the space between specifier and manufacturer.
We launched ‘CUSTOM LIGHTING’. Next-day bespoke lighting. Literally millions of combinations. A hacked Magento interface. Perfectly matched to our engaged and responsive workforce. Our manufacturing capability.
Custom lighting orders placed before 11AM are generally manufactured and shipped the same day. We blurred the lines between physical product and service. It was a seminal moment. We'd developed a simple, useful product that was relatively inexpensive for us to deliver but very expensive for our competitors to copy. Evolving this approach would later take us to a new business level.
We developed another floor of the factory. This time we knocked out the walls on three sides. Natural Light In Architecture is a FACTORYLUX passion, #NLIA. The views are incredible.
We’d built a unique manufacturing capability and a hunger for more. Both demanded economies of scale. But our growth trajectory stalled. Relentless competition pushed FACTORYLUX to the brink. Our list of brand and IP missteps was long. We traded under eleven different identities. Avoided applying our brand to our products. Never registered our design work. We were basically R&Ding for Tom, Dick and Sally. The grind and cost overhead was all ours.
We'd also declined more or less every reseller enquiry. We didn’t know why we did this. It just somehow didn’t feel right. On reflection this created even more competition. In turn it also forced us to work harder. To explore and unlock our actual potential. Andy Dunn, from Bonobos, had not yet defined DNVB. But that is what we had become. A Digitally Native Vertical Brand. Ecommerce monopolies had helped get us started. Google for us. Amazon, Facebook for others. But we had to look elsewhere for long term security.
We discovered Xicato Inc. A very different Californian tech company. Via Sharon & Martin at Light Collective. Beautifully engineered LED engines. Configurability, photometry, certifications and rocksteady warranties. Compatible Values. Ambitious. We hired Chris Schulkins. The best. We pivoted FACTORYLUX into architectural lighting with a simple, beautiful proposition: Why specify decorative and architectural lighting when a single FACTORYLUX light will do the work of both?
The architectural lighting world valued our values. A natural fit. By comparison to ecom, it's a race-to-the-top. The sales and support levels required to win market share are very high. Goniophotometers are costly and complicated. Product safety, testing and compliance requirements are an onerous grind. Attracting and retaining the right talent to make it all hang together is essential. Lighting specifiers don’t suffer fools.
UK lighting specifier connections are mostly London based. We needed to connect with them. We looked at business units. Showrooms. Shops. Offices. Lock ups. Anywhere. Somewhere. Everything was priced out of our reach. Peak property market. Instead we designed and built a very special van. A Ducato Multijet on a lowered ALKO motor home chassis. A vehicle of great beauty. And functionality. With a roof terrace. Small kitchen. Large drinks fridge. Workbench. A creative space with serious style and comfort. On wheels and fully mobile.
The concept was of its time. And a fraction of bricks and mortar cost. Steve Patton, of Brick Lane's Truman Brewery agreed to host us for a year in a secure compound, bang opposite Cafe 1001. A fortunate outcome. We ran hundreds of workshops, parties and events. Drove to Berlin twice. Scotland twice. Amsterdam. Cities. Beaches. Parks. Car parks. Anywhere. Everywhere. After eighteen months, most people had heard the name FACTORYLUX, at least second hand.
We’d won the attention of specifiers. Early adopters included us on BLOK, BXR, Warner Bros and other progressive design schemes. But our business plan required more breadth. We needed to win more trust of more specifiers.
You feel it. Within seconds of arrival at our factory. Our unique manufacturing capability is plain to see. And sense. Nearly a decade of doing the right thing is visible everywhere. But how to get people to our factory in the middle of nowhere?.
We designed a new kind of factory visit that is focussed the countryside around us. Not just the factory. We're surrounded by the South Pennines. Wuthering Heights country. It’s epic scenery was chosen as a stage host for Tour de France.
Visitors are invited to swap the city for the hills. Our air quality is fantastic. Views and food to match. Exercise. Nature. Elements. Socialising. Jonny’s magical mystery midnight goniophotometer workshop. Visitors stay overnight in sleep pods. Inside our factory. With freedom to roam and explore. Transparency is important to us. It’s a factory visit like no other.
That’s where we’re at. Our next big challenge is North America. It's underway. Watch this space.