Henry Petroski had a fascinating idea that all innovation in history happens not because of necessity but because of frustration and irritation. This is a pretty good theory to explain why DeMoog Design House has made a name for itself so fast – because every single item they’ve designed solves a problem for men.
Behind DeMoog stand Meelika and Lauri, a sweet couple and proud parents of two. We meet in their studio in Veerenni in Tallinn, an area where several designers have found themselves a creative home. Accompanied by Meelika’s home-made sandwiches and piles of leather products, we dive into the world of Estonian design, product innovation, and family business.
Currently, DeMoog is represented in Wuruhi, Estonian design stores, Tallinn and Tartu Kaubamaja, Stockmann, Sangar, Nordica Cloud Store, Tallinn Airport, and has official resellers in the UK, Finland and Lithuania. Besides that, Meelika and Lauri create bespoke business gifts and conduct leather workshops with business collectives. Recently, they’ve even been approached by Burberry.
But as it turns out, DeMoog was not even supposed to be here anymore.
Heritage and timeless values
“It all started from the wish to give a present to Estonia on its 100th birthday. The initial idea was to create a series – a one-time thing just for 2018,” explains Meelika. That was sometime in 2016.
“As it was meant for the 100th birthday, it of course had to be something festive and special. I’m fascinated by classical men’s fashion and I wanted it to carry on the legacy of true gentlemen. Also, there are just so many things created for women! I felt that I couldn’t come up with anything original.
So, the item had to be timeless – which in men’s fashion is naturally connected to suits and ties. It had to be something you can give on to your children, from father to son to grandson. Women inherit a lot from their mothers, such as dresses and jewelry. We’re lucky if men have an old watch to give to their sons,” tells Meelika.
“I liked the idea that you can press your initials or name in leather. It gives it that extra value I was looking for. Me and Lauri both had fallen in love with leather as a material because it lasts forever if you take good care of it.”
“After I stumbled upon the Estonian red salmon skin that is just so unique I knew leather is what we will use,” Meelika explains while handing me piece of red and shiny material that, as it turns out, many people think comes from a dinosaur or a dragon.
“I’m a fan of details and quirky things that tie the whole together yet distinguish us from each other. So, what I came up with was to create something around the tie knot,” remembers Meelika.
But that was just the beginning of it. Creating the final version of the tie knot accessory, now named Nu Windsor, took over half a year and many sleepless nights.
“Coming up with something so simple as to tie the leather around the knot came after trying to attach it to a rubberband, tying leather into the knot… I don’t even remember anymore how we finally came up with the current version,” smiles Meelika.
And that was supposed to be it – until the couple’s friends started telling them what a useful and practical product she’s created. Something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
“Men in our family always wear suits and ties. Nu Windsor solves a very practical problem: fussing around your tie knot. It’s not meant to cover up your non-existing tying skills but it will keep your knot in place for the entire day,” explains Lauri.
“What was unexpected is that it turned out to be a perfect ice breaker item. We hear it from our clients all the time but probably the best example is when my father went to the U.S. last year to give a lecture to 800 people, wearing Nu Windsor. The questions that followed were mainly around the tie knot piece and where he got it from. It’s proved to be your personal business card, also for myself,” laughs Lauri.
So, this is how it began. A little less than two years ago in February 2017, the company was founded and in August the same year, their products were launched on the market.
“We like to say as a joke that DeMoog is like our third child. It’s weird to compare it like this but all the phases like giving birth, adapting, sleepless nights, frustration, taking care are there. It’s been a very intense couple of years,“ Meelika looks back.
“The name “DeMoog” is actually an acronym of our children’s names: our daughter is called Olivia Marii and our son Otto Georg. If you move their initials around a bit, you get MOOG – and add De in front of Moog, you have a European and a very sophisticated name. So, it really is precious to us, like a child.”
“At the same time, we’ve decided from the beginning not the be wedded to the business. When I realized that we should turn Nu Windsor into a bigger business plan, I also saw that Lauri was a bit tired of his previous job. So, I convinced him to quit and come do this with me for at least a couple of years – you know, put in a lot of work and build it into something. You can always go back to another job later,” smiles Meelika.
It’s a bold choice and definitely a chance not every one of us is not ready to take. Yet – neither of them expected to be here, working at their own design house full-time. As it turns out, Lauri studied administrative management in Estonian Business School and worked in vinyl and music export while Meelika studied art therapy and worked at a lights, sound and video company. But here they are, brought together by a common passion.
Finding their niche
After Nu Windsor was ready, it seemed only logical to continue with designing a bowtie. Made fully of leather, Meelika and Lauri explain that these bowties don’t lose their form like the ones from fabric.
Bowties were followed by belts – but of course, these belts have a twist.
“The more time goes on, the more an average person travels by plane. What’s annoying for men is to have to take off their belts at every single security check. You have a suitcase in one hand, your jacket in the other – which one are you going to hold your pants up with if you take your belt off?” asks Meelika.
“We’ve tried our travelbelts at the US, European and Asian airports. There’s just so little metal in it that you don’t have to take it off,” confirms Lauri.
I’m personally very fascinated by the simplicity of their ideas. I continuously ask myself why no one has come up with something so straightforward before – at the same time I really am glad that it’s these two who have.
“Our most recent invention is actually this – a two-sided pocket square made of leather. When you feel like showing off, wear the red salmon skin side, if not, the black side. Or turn it around and instead of a triangle wear the rectangle side.
Hidden on one side, the square also has a small card pocket, so you don’t have to hide your wallet in your jacket or pockets anymore and can pay without taking the card out of the pouch,” shows Meelika.
“Men are very practical and they don’t want to take a single extra step if they don’t have to. So, we try to solve their problems instead of creating more of them.”
Looking into future
Currently, DeMoog is basically Lauri and Meelika, with a few tasks outsourced to two Estonian leather craftsmen if times get busy. What happens when DeMoog grows exponentially?
“We’d still like to keep DeMoog in Estonia. Estonia is known for its craftsmanship and it’s hard, even here, to find high quality leather artists. When you outsource the production to a factory, they will never value the material as much as we do. We source leather from a Swedish farm where all the cattle lives freely on the fields, so our leather is actually a by-product of the food industry. We take very good care to use the entire amount of material we get. Besides, all our products require sowing by hand,” says Meelika.
If all of these items are cut, detailed, sown and polished by hand, it must take a while to finish just one product, I think to myself. Lauri explains that every single item takes around 24 hours to make – that is, with waiting for the bee wax to dry. The actual production of a Nu Windsor is a little less than an hour while a bowtie generally takes 3.5 to 4 hours of an artist’s time.
“When you put it all in perspective – cut, sown, polished and waxed by hand over a rather long period of time, and how long these items can stay in your family, the value really changes,” notes Lauri.
Photographed by: Arttu Karvonen