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Combine tradition and modernity to invigorate local craftsmanship

Damalia is a Creole furniture and decoration publishing company. Publishing in design is like for books: being at the origin of projects, models, tests and bringing together talents to create real objects. His workshop is located in Saint-François, where Kessen and Mattis strive to combine traditional and modern know-how.

Chariot avec des tassots de bois découpés sur fond de végétation
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The first time I spoke with Kessen Poitou, I was impressed by his determination. With great calm, he told me how he went from a career as an engineer to that of a woodworker. It is with great humor that he describes himself thus, because in truth, Kessen is a project leader full of ambition. He set in motion an initiative to revive crafts and the production of raw materials in Guadeloupe.

Strong values ​​at the origin of the project

It was at Café Papier in Jarry that Kessen and I met for the first time. And we were joined by Mattis Esnault, his partner. Quite quickly, I asked them about what had prompted them to start publishing Creole furniture and decoration.

Kessen and Mattis have scoured the islands of Guadeloupe in search of the most talented craftsmen, and the observation is clear: they are very numerous, but lack staff. To be more precise, the working time necessary for the creation causes prices that are not very accessible to the general public in Guadeloupe. Thus, craftsmen often have construction sites on which they spend their (paid) time, rather than creating objects without the certainty of selling them.

“Bakoua, for example, is a fairly labor-intensive material. Weaving a meter of bakoua can take up to 45 minutes of work!”

This highly sought-after skill is time-consuming, and the cost of labor is difficult to reflect in the price of a single item.

The hope of Kessen and Mattis touched my heart: to promote local know-how, using local raw materials and new technologies. They work with wood, ceramics, bakoua, and are thinking about uses for goat skin. (You know, that skin we already talked about during our visit with Claudius Barbin. The one stretched over the Ka to serve as a percussion instrument.)

“When I returned to Guadeloupe, I realized that the majority of furniture sold here was imported. Even though our nature is rich in raw materials and precious woods, such as mahogany and mahogany. Even though our craftsmen have immense know-how in cabinetmaking.”

They are also part of an eco-responsible and social approach. Eco-responsible, for example by recycling off-cuts from their workshop, or by choosing energy-efficient creation processes. Social, because they firmly intend to create jobs and revenue for local authorities. In short, even if they are only 3 on board for the moment (with their new recruit Cyril), Damalia's DNA is resolutely committed!

Engineering & design: complementary skills

It must be said that this shock duo did not exactly have the route to find themselves at the head of a craft business. They met in 2018 in Lyon, when Kessen Poitou was in the middle of building the project. The ambition of Damalia's project, the possibility of having a key role in artistic direction, and Mattis Esnault's affection for the islands of Guadeloupe convinced him to join Kessen. The latter, an engineer by training, is now in charge of production management and relations with other players in the territory - to create locally and boost the economy of Guadeloupe. Mattis, he has all the design & artistic vision of Damalia.

They both have a sincere interest in the world of creation - craftsmanship and design, and this is what gives so much vitality to their project. By combining their expertise, they also succeeded brilliantly in their crowdfunding campaign on KissKissBankBank in 2019. They thus collected the necessary sum to purchase professional equipment, such as a digital milling machine to cut wood with precision.

In my opinion, here is what makes the strength of their project: Kessen and Mattis have integrated their knowledge of engineering and design into the edition of their Creole pieces. They decided to combine traditional know-how with new creative techniques from design and digitization, such as 3D plans and digital machining. All this to gain efficiency in production, and create authentic original pieces.

The creative approach at Damalia

To complete their creative process, the two founders had a brilliant idea: to combine the modern vision of a designer with the traditional know-how of a craftsman for each project. In the case of the Sizéè ti ban, for example, the design comes from Julie Mistoco, Guadeloupean designer. She put her childhood memories into the model of the object, associated with strong images of local tradition, such as story time. And it was Clair Arnoud who worked on the layout and physical creation of Sizéè's first essays. From the outset, therefore, talented designers and local craftsmen work together to bring the pieces of the Damalia collection to life. Their expertise is a valuable asset, as is the presence in Guadeloupe of very high quality materials. Here, the ti ban is designed using mahogany and pear.

Découpes sur bois en usinage numérique

Then comes a layer of technique, to teach the machine to accurately reproduce the gestures of human hands. Sizéè is thus made up of pieces of wood cut by machine by Kessen himself.

Produce beautiful furniture and decorative objects with local materials, respecting the environment, promoting traditional know-how, creating supply chains for raw materials, creating local employment. A stone brought to the development of a dynamic society.


Damalia's works

A concentrate of tradition and modernity


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