Biel Huguet: “You can create and shape a brand but there is no storytelling without a good product”

"A product is nothing more than the tangible confirmation of values and a way of understanding activity and life"

We caught up with Biel Huguet, Managing Director of the Huguet Mallorca hydraulic tile and cement tile factory. He is mainly responsible for having positioned the company at an international level, having earned a relevant place in its own right as an ally of architects and designers. Huguet is a benchmark in the world of design and contemporary architecture, constantly innovating aesthetically and technically. Its professionalism, passion, know-how and vision of the future as a producer of hydraulic tiles and terrazzo have attracted the attention of renowned creatives such as Herzog & de Meuron, Sybilla, Lievore, Pinós, Barozzi Veiga, Elías Torres, Lluís Clotet, Alfredo Häberli, David Chipperfield, Jørn Utzon and the Pentagram agency, among others.

Huguet has been able to build a differential value proposition based on clear pillars and concepts, generating an internal culture and positioning the firm as a benchmark for innovation, design and excellence in the sector. A brand with its own name that has been clear about the need to link itself to the public with which it shares interests and concerns, not pretending to be a brand for all audiences. They are the demonstration that a product is nothing more than the tangible confirmation of values and a way of understanding activity and life. Pura marca that awakens our interest and with whom we want to go deeper into the creation process, also entering the path of internationalisation of a family brand.

What is Huguet and how would you define yourselves as a brand? What is it that makes you different and unique?

We are a company that manufactures building materials with an idea of beauty and values behind them: material, handmade, unique, authentic, personalised, that age well, that have a story behind them, the human scale, the texture, the chromatic range. We try to create complicity based on this idea of beauty and these values by humbly contributing what we have, which is a craft developed with love for architecture, design, a way of understanding the world and life.

"We are interested in values, an idea of beauty and openness to people who understand the world in the same way as we do"

When we think of you, we see creativity and the questioning of the limits between industrialised craftsman and artist. We are very struck by the way you understand and work with it. To what extent has it helped you and have you internally generated that culture to cross the line by making innovation the lever that integrates these two visions?

We are a unique company, in the sense that what defines us as a company is innovation. We are restless and with a keen interest in many different subjects, with a constant desire to go further, to evolve.

Evolving and innovating is necessary for many reasons. Innovation is inherent to the company and inherent to me personally, having been at the helm of the business for the last few years. We do not “make tiles”, we are not purely entrepreneurs in the strictest sense. We are interested in values, an idea of beauty and openness to people who understand the world in the same way as we do, with whom there is a natural complicity.

At the same time, we have a very honest singularity which is our Majorcan and Mediterranean character, and this essence is our contribution to the world. Everyone brings what they have and we, being very local, bring that to the brands and people who appreciate it. This connects with people in New York or Seoul who like this concept.

We also bring a trade: we like to manufacture and we know how to do it. This is something that at first should be very simple and banal, but in the western world it is not because the crafts, the architecture and these values have been lost. Production is standard in a very industrialised context, so something as simple as having a trade allows us to go further. This singularity allows us to generate synergies and affinities with people who value the same things as we do all over the world, based on our reality, which is that we are a small factory in a village in Mallorca.

"We are open-minded and initially give full room for creativity to our collaborators, trying to make their idea viable"

What is the process of collaboration with external artists like, how do you understand it?

We collaborate with greater or lesser intensity depending on affinity. Because of our ability to manage it, this process is not open to everyone, so we prioritise the people with whom we have the greatest affinity.

As for the creation process, in principle, when a piece is proposed to us, we say yes, then if certain limitations arise, we see how we can resolve it. We are open and initially we give our collaborators full room for creativity, trying to make their idea viable and, if not, looking for a middle ground. We have a receptive and positive attitude towards their ideas.

I meet with architects and explain to them what we do and the process in detail, with the aim that when they arrive at their studio it will inspire them and, from there, something really special can come out of it.

"At Huguet we don't sell a tile but a story"

Craftsmanship is a model of personalised and manual production that breaks with the immediacy, obsolescence and expiration of today’s world. We would like to know if you consider that Huguet’s production questions this model of voracious consumption in favour of durability, quality and sensitivity. Your pieces are timeless.

In the face of globalisation, standardisation and depersonalisation of production, for me the values I mentioned earlier are a matter of human scale. The work that has a hand behind it in the face of this widespread model is in itself a way of understanding this Mediterraneanness, producing a product that ages well.

And it is this that has aroused the interest, for example, of Pentagram, who, having access to whatever they want, altruistically contacted us to collaborate with us, feeling attracted by the shared values that unite us. It was our discourse of authenticity that pushed them to ask for a collaboration with us. At Huguet we don’t sell a tile, we sell a story. These values are necessary. And in turn the appeal, the collaborators are attracted to associate themselves with our discourse of authenticity.

Our portfolio has been built with many collaborators with whom we share values, some better known and others more anonymous, all of them important to build our brand discourse that is now spread all over the world. Without sounding pretentious, it is not that we have sought out these collaborations, but rather that they have flowed naturally and sparked the interest of creatives who fit with these same values.

There used to be many small factories and producers here, but they have been disappearing, leaving room only for large supermarkets. We have a good time doing what we do and at Huguet we want to promote this production model.

"We are very Mallorcan but also very much of the world"

Are we turning these values and identity into a bubble around the world of luxury and turning what belongs to everyone into something exclusive for only a few?

It’s complicated, because there are many nuances. I always say that we are culturally elitist, not economically. There are people who value our product and others who prioritise a plastic or more depersonalised pieces, they don’t understand our work. That’s why I say we are culturally elitist. Although it is clear that there is a very important economic discourse behind it, as everything is very much conditioned by money. Therefore, everything that is manual is not economical, it may not be expensive but it is not cheap. Hence the need to seek and find formulas to reach the people we are intellectually interested in, trying not to be elitist in the sense of creating a product of and for the rich.

We try to be efficient, we look for ways to be efficient. Obviously, in terms of sticking to a strictly Mallorcan territory, this is not enough, which leads us and pushes us to go out to Europe. At Huguet we are very Mallorcan but also very much of the world. Here we do not have enough critical mass to consume our product.

Therefore, the last thing we have done has been to expand a factory in Morocco in search of labour that is scarce here, we have resorted to Moroccans living here, our employees and collaborators, who enable us to produce in their villages and offer more product at a more accessible price for a less economically high profile. In this way we are solving a reality and a problem. To continue innovating we need to sell and if the people here cannot afford it, we look for mixed formulas that allow us to reach the people who appreciate and value our product. It is a complex issue, with many nuances, which requires important reflection.

"The only thing you can sell is what you really are, something solid"

While you have partly answered the question throughout the interview, we would like to elaborate on how you have pushed for international expansion and entry into new markets.

There is an issue that I mentioned before, and that is the issue of authenticity. In this sense I see a bit of a façade or a false attitude towards craftsmanship. A brand can be created and modelled, but there is no storytelling without a good product. You can communicate it better or worse, but the only thing you can sell is what you really are, something solid.

In the world of crafts and local products, it is also necessary to be professional and ambitious, in the sense that it is not enough to have a product that is hundreds of years old. We want to continue contributing. The current generation of Huguet is very fortunate to have a legacy, but on the other hand, we also have a higher level of training than our predecessors had and the possibility of being open to the world more easily, and this is something that we also have to take advantage of.

To answer your question, I always speak of three stages in Huguet’s recent history: recovering the tradition; bringing it up to date both aesthetically and technically; and finally, opening it up to the world, sharing it and enriching it.

We have avoided living off the rents of the past and have moved away from conformism, with a healthy ambition. We want to make the best tiles and tables in the world. As an objective, we want to make an interesting, valuable product, or at least try to do so. I think you have to be ambitious and if we have this centenary legacy it is easier than starting from scratch and inventing something. Even so, to work at the level of Pentagram and other collaborators, you have to have vocation and ambition, not just the legacy, because they demand professionalism and seriousness.

Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?

It’s a subject I talk about a lot, I started in 95-96. I came back from studying technical architecture in London and my idea was to do traditional architecture for a local market. Through a lot of inputs this initial vision has led me to make contemporary architecture for a global market.

We have done much more than I imagined when I returned to Mallorca, so I don’t know what will happen in the 20 years of work I have left. What I do know is that architecture and design will continue to evolve and go further, and for that they will need industrialised craftsmen like us, with craft and the ability to help.

We will keep our eyes and ears open as we continue to research materials and add new products to our portfolio. What I do know is that the intellectual elite we connect with will continue to evolve and innovate, upholding the same values we stand for and that we will continue to be needed.

Highly personal

A place in the world to get lost. Tuscany, Australia or Japan.

A writer/artist/musician…Tarantino and Radiohead, it’s hard for me to find a single person but I’m interested in their visual and musical universes.

Your favourite food or drink. Cream cakes.

The best moment of the day. I really enjoy everything, what I do, so it depends on the moment. Everything is one, work, factory, family, Mallorca, for me everything is united, it is part of my life. Any time is a good time, I am satisfied.

Someone I admire. I like a lot of people, but I’m not a mythomaniac.

Photography: Juan Gavilán

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