Talking to Sebastian and Brogan Cox, Furniture Makers

A Life Well Lived

As part of our journey to redefine Wealth we are exploring what “A Life Well Lived” means: interviewing artists, entrepreneurs, explorers, and change-makers as they share their stories and ask “what is my life well lived?” Here we talk to Sebastian and Brogan Cox, the team behind their eponymous furniture and design studio, Sebastian Cox Ltd., about their business and what living well means to them.

“Our business designs and makes things with British wood.” Says Sebastian. “I started the business back in 2010 and had begun looking into how, in the UK, around 90% of the wood that we use is imported. I thought it was a really interesting point around which to start a business.”

“I met Brogan in 2013, and she joined the business full-time a couple of years after, and since then it’s really accelerated. We now make furniture for brands, private clients and we also sell internationally. We’re based in South East London and we have a jolly nice time making things with British wood.”

“My background is in fashion and brand management – I love marketing,” says Brogan, “which is how I first came to help Seb with the business. It was really fun and really interesting for me because I was able to help Seb better articulate all of his enthusiasm and passion – everything that was in his head, in a slightly more strategic way.”

“I studied furniture design and making,” says Seb, “and then ended up falling in love with the academic assessment of sustainability. Then I started thinking about relating it back to my time spent living in the countryside, coppicing woodland. So my background sort of came together with my training and here we are.”

On Work

“I showed my MA work so-far, at London Design Festival in 2011, and there were these three or four Parisian women, all speaking French, pulling my products around and they seemed to really like them. I was terrified, but they ended up placing an order for 24 pieces.” recalls Seb.

“Our business designs and m“At that time I was still a student, I didn’t have a workshop, I still hadn’t even finished my Master’s, but I just couldn’t say no to the order. I found a way to do it in the university workshop in the end, basically bribed the technician to let me do it, and then that was it, I was in business. So there wasn’t really a leap, I didn’t really have a choice! I had to take the order and then all of a sudden I was busy.”

On Being an Entrepreneur

“All three of my parents run their own businesses; my Dad, my Mum and my Stepdad.”

“I have always wanted to run my own business.” says Seb. “All three of my parents run their own businesses; my Dad, my Mum and my Stepdad all run small businesses. They’re hard grafting, imaginative people and I think before I even knew what the business was going to be, I used to tell people I was going to have my own business.”
“My parents are quite similar, they’ve always run their own businesses, but it never really appealed to me.” says Brogan. “I remember my Dad saying to me once – it must have been when I was choosing A Levels, or university of something – but i remember being really shocked – because he turned to me in the kitchen and said “You’re completely unemployable Brogan. You’re made to have your own business, I don’t know why you don’t just do it” and that felt like a really surprising thing to say at the time, but now it makes perfect sense.”

On Milestones

“I remember really clearly when you received the email from Heal’s,” explains Brogan, “to participate in Heal’s Discovers, that was a really defining moment. That, and the invitation to participate in the wish list and design and make something for Sir Terence Conran. That moment felt enormous.”

“When you’re a student you form these sort of role models,” says Seb, “brands and businesses that you really like the look of, and then when they then get in touch with you, that’s an amazing feeling. Even small things, like Morris & Co just getting in touch to say “We really like what you do, would you like to come and meet us and get to know us?”. As a student I used to read William Morris, so little things like that make the hard graft of running a business really worthwhile. I think recognition from people you admire is probably the nicest gift to receive.”

On Success

“Challenge the perception that capitalism or business equals unhappy workers and destroying the planet.”

“When I was in the very early stages of my business, I was trying to describe how I wanted it to be to a friend, and they said “it sounds like you’re in it for a living, not a killing” and I thought that was a really nice way of putting it. I want to pay the staff well and fairly, I want them to be really happy when they come into work, and I want the product that comes out of our workshop at the end of it to reflect that happiness, and I think it does. The work that comes out of here has a warmth and a love in it. So success for me would be something which is all of those qualities coming out in the work as a result of running a place that people want to come to work in.”
“I would also consider it a real success to re-frame the notion that business is opposite to sustainability and happy workforce. I love challenging that notion and I would consider it a great success of this business, when I retire for example, if it has made everyone who has worked here happy; has made money and generated money for the economy, and produced sustainable furniture. I would say the greatest success could be that it might inspire other businesses to do the same. To challenge the perception that capitalism or business equals unhappy workers and destroying the planet.”

On Advice

“The only way you can get a business off the ground is to just put in the time.” says Seb. “There’s no kind of magic formula, or quick fix, you just have to work the 50, 60, 70 hours a week or whatever it takes. However once you have done all of that heavy lifting, you can continue to do that – to run it as a lifestyle business, or you can also then go through that transition of it not just being a lifestyle, not just a part of who you are, but actually ask what is the value of this business, what is it as a separate entity to me?”

“In the last couple of years we’ve been starting to think about it a little more like that – as a separate entity – and how can we get it so that it runs without us having to be at the centre, the core of it. So we can have a holiday for example, and it’s a joy to come back to. And that’s been a real objective of ours over the last couple of years, because I don’t want to be a slave to my own business frankly. And I think it’s perfectly achievable, you’ve got to just trust the people around you, and we have some amazing people here.”

On Living Well

“Recognition from people you admire is probably the nicest gift to receive.”
“A little holiday, where you have to wear a sun hat, get to eat seafood by the sea, with a nice glass of wine. Bingo.” says Brogan. And Seb agrees. “I think it’s all about travel and experiences, which can be a challenge with running a business, but that’s what I’m describing in terms of being able to take a step back slightly from the day-to-day, because it can hold you back from some of the really good stuff in life. Such as going to see how other cultures exist, and you know; drinking their wine eating their food.”

You can find out more about Sebastian and Brogan Cox by visiting their website, or by following their journeys on Instagram; @sebcoxltd and @broganjane