From beanbag to global brand, at Fatboy they design products with a smile

Creative director Pauline Barendregt looks at the color samples for a new design.Image Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant

Visitors to the head office of design brand Fatboy in Den Bosch can immediately settle in, the beanbag designed by the Finn Jutta Setälä in the late 1990s. The beanbag still invites you to hang out, sit or lie down casually. ‘A brilliant design’, says Pauline Barendregt, creative director of Fatboy. ‘It’s incredibly smart and simple, and we’ve also kept the iconic red label. It is the strength of our brand.’

CEO Petra Vos (49) and Barendregt (52) are happy to explain why Setälä called his creation ‘Fatboy’. When the Finn made the beanbag, he happened to listen to a CD by the British musician Norman Cook, who introduced the ‘big beat’ as ‘Fatboy Slim’ – a combination of techno, rock and rhythm-and-blues. It’s not her music, says Vos, laughing. “I’d rather listen to Sky Radio.”

The good life

The simplicity of the brand has remained, says Vos. ‘In all our products you can see how Setälä has designed the beanbag. Barendregt: ‘Our principle is bold design, you can draw a Fatboy design with a colored pencil. We combine ingenuity and quality.’

‘A smile to life’ is the motto of Fatboy. ‘We don’t take ourselves too seriously in the design world, we are fairly unconventional’, says Barendregt. Humor is never far away from the designers. Vos smiles and points to a ‘Fatboy’ rabbit. But what about those blocks? ‘We also bring three rabbit droppings with us.’

Fatboy is so much more than the beanbag, emphasizes Vos. ‘It is still there, in many more colors and variants than in the early days of the company. We certainly don’t want to get rid of it. The beanbag is an iconic product, but still accounts for twenty percent of our turnover. It’s a shame when people think: Fatboy is a beanbag and hammock. Fatboy is also table, sofa, lamp; we have a much larger range.’

Fatboy’s products support the good life, says Barendregt, during the tour of the showroom. Barendregt is the creative brain, does she see a classic oil lamp in Sweden? Then she and her team develop the ‘Flamtastique’, a large oil lamp for the garden. ‘Runs on bio-ethanol and the base is made of recycled plastic.’

CEO Petra Vos leaning on the Fatboy lounge rabbit.  Image Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant

CEO Petra Vos leaning on the Fatboy lounge rabbit.Image Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant

At Fatboy they design with a smile. The theme for this fall is ‘mastering the art of hanging out’, with a nod to the collection. And so the new armchair is called the ‘Bon Baron’. As Vos told before Elsevier: ‘Life could use some color.’ With an accessible design. ‘Unpretentious and accessible to a large group of people.’

Global brand

The corona crisis was a strong breeze for Fatboy, during the first lockdowns in 2020 many people were forced to look for more comfort at home. Barendregt: ‘We made a conscious effort to innovate, we also had everything in-house to make your home more pleasant. Nice tailwind, but the sails were already hoisted.’

Fatboy was already prominent online, the company has no stores of its own. ‘We did not have to adjust our business model due to the closure of the stores,’ says Vos. “And we helped our customers by shipping products directly to their consumers because their stores were closed.”

How did the beanbag become a global brand, which is already sold in 65 countries? With his last cents, the Brabant entrepreneur Alex Bergman bought the patent in 2002, he was allowed to sell the Finnish beanbag worldwide and expanded Fatboy into a lifestyle brand. Thanks to an agreement with Mojo Concerts, Bergman also helped several pop singers to get a beanbag. ‘We cherish his legacy’, says Vos. “Alex was the driver.”

Bergman sold Fatboy to the Belgian investment fund Vendis Capital in 2017, after which Petra Vos, who took office in 2018, found consultant Pauline Barendregt the ideal partner to give the company a new impulse. ‘We complement each other’, says Vos. And Barendregt: ‘Half a word is enough for us.’ Vos: ‘We sometimes have to slow down each other when developing new ideas.’

Barendregt is inspired by the legendary French fashion designer Coco Chanel. ‘She was the first woman to make men’s clothing and comfortable fashion accessible to women as well. She placed recognizable things in a different context, that thought is also applicable to Fatboy.’

Own Fatboy shop as a museum

In August, Fatboy was sold to the pan-European investment company Alpha Private Equity. At the parent company, Fatboy is linked to the Italian Calligaris Group, which already included four chains and specializes in design furniture. It fits in with the development of Fatboy, which now realizes an annual turnover of 55 million euros, says Vos.

She had to get used to board meetings with Italians, who suddenly had to speak English. ‘There is definitely a cultural difference.’

But the female CEO has noticed nothing of Italian machismo. Vos: ‘Mutual respect dominates. We are still in the honeymoon, Calligaris is curious about us. The Italians do almost everything offline, with classic furniture stores. We can certainly strengthen each other in the field of sustainability by purchasing sustainable materials together.’

The dream is to have our own Fatboy store in 2024 as a ‘museum’ to present the entire range. But the Dutch sobriety will continue to be leading at Fatboy after the second takeover, says Vos. Indirectly, Fatboy Slim predicted the expansion back in 1998 with his album You’ve come a long way baby. And I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat from 2009 was more topical than ever in the sale of Fatboy this year. Barendregt, laughing: ‘Self-fulfilling prophecy, Fatboy Slim had foreseen it all.’

Profile: Fatboy (Den Bosch)

Founded: 2002

Annual turnover: 55 million euros

Number of employees: 100

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