Barter Design Co. aims to foster B.C. creativity

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      From the vessel that carries our early-morning milk and cereal to the all-important object that houses popcorn and snacks for friendly get-togethers and impromptu Netflix marathons, the modest bowl serves many purposes in—and out of—the kitchen.

      At Barter Design Co., it also signifies community: a site of convergence where relationships can be forged and skills may be learned and exchanged in harmony.

      “This idea of gathering is really what the symbol of Barter is,” explains the company’s founder, Kenny Torrance, on the line from Roberts Creek.

      “By gathering as a community—coming together with shared knowledge—we’re gonna be able to move forward with a much more sustainable, community-impactful system that can make living better for all of us.”

      The concept of community is so central to Barter’s philosophy that its physical embodiment—a collection of handcrafted terra cotta and earthenware sharing bowls (from $24)—occupies an entire section on the business’s website.

      Kenny Torrance

      But as Torrance explains, it’s just one part of the B.C.–born startup, which sees the communication-design grad, and former creative director at a South Granville home-and-décor boutique, essentially acting as a barter among a group of gifted makers.

      “I’m connecting with people who are basically acting as my teachers to teach me about their methods within their craft,” he explains, “and then…the barter is me bringing that market knowledge, some design sensibilities, and the marketing to collaborate and develop products that I know will do well in the market.”

      As a trained stone-carver, Torrance also understands how difficult it can be to make a living from one’s craft.

      It’s this struggle that drives him to work exclusively with B.C. artisans—Timothy Dyck, a 26-year-old blacksmith from Abbotsford, for example, or Catherine MacLeod, his artistically inclined neighbour on the Sunshine Coast—showcasing their skill sets in items such as cylindrical cedar-and-concrete planters (from $500), blackened beeswax candles (from $40), and edgy, spun-steel tableware (from $200).

      Torrance has also collaborated with Sunshine Coast–based ceramist Cam Schultz, Langley-based woodcutter Art Paul, and, also in Langley, Roger Landry, who cuts the concrete found in Barter’s organic planters and furnishings.

      Kenny Torrance

      He also has plans to develop objects with Vancouver-based designers Mira Campbell and Kathy Hama­gami of Lloyd Clothing, Surrey’s Lock & Mortice Build Co., and local lighting designer Matthew McCormick.

      “The more people that we can connect with…the more that people are gonna start thinking, ‘Well, what’s in my backyard? Who’s the undiscovered maker within our neighbourhood that we can connect with?’ ” notes Torrance.

      In just two years, Barter’s products have made their way onto the shelves of various discerning shops in B.C., including Provide Home (1805 Fir Street), Nineteen Ten Home Boutique (4366 Main Street), and Litchfield (38 Water Street) in Vancouver.

      And though Torrance is now fielding interest from retailers from as far away as New York and Los Angeles, he hasn’t lost sight of his objective one bit.

      “In order to create a good product, it’s never about one person—it’s never about one hotshot designer,” he says. “It takes a community, basically, to raise a product.”

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.