Full Grown’s technology seems both anti-mass manufacturing and anti-consumption, but is this method for furniture production realistically a solution? Now, these chairs are pricey, like $12,500 pricey, which makes them inaccessible to those who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars on a single chair, i.e. pretty much everyone. There is no mention on their site of any plans to reduce pricing, or any mention of pricing at all without an inquiry, which smells elitist in it of itself. While these beautiful pieces are meant to be heirlooms for centuries, we cannot deny that wealth is disproportionately held from BIPOC, making this ‘ultra-sustainable’ choice more like ultra-unavailable and ultra-inequitable. These are intersectional factors that I include in my sustainability, and why I could not give Full Grown a higher rating. When I stumbled upon Full Grown, I had a child-like amazement, which is something the company deserves to be proud of. Yet, the amazement was just that, child-like, short-lived, because even as a full-time employed college student, I could never afford to own one of these pieces– it’s simply not sustainable. While I had a lot of positives to say about their actual production process, we have to ask about the implications: is Full Grown just a luxury novelty for the wealthy or this technology is actually scalable? Are they promoting a deeper ecological connection or gatekeeping it? How can we acculturate some of their methodologies without their elitism?
According to their FAQ, Full Grown employs ‘as many natural, permaculture, and organic methods’ (vague) to grow their (willow, oak, ash, and sycamore) trees as they can. An example of this is that they do not grow monoculture plantations of trees, meaning their tree species are biodiverse. Their trees do not have a specified lifetime to then be chopped down and don’t leave an uncared-for and cleared area that brings problems such as desertification (google opportunity if this term is unfamiliar!). Comparatively, mass production typically involves trucking timber away, drying it in energy-intensive kilns, cutting it into smaller pieces, and then putting them back together in a way that comes loose over time (we all have that one chair with the wobbly leg).
Full Grown uses a recycled plastic frame, which is not ideal. However, they do reuse them as much as possible and are “moving on to different means of chair construction” (a bit vague, again). They also claim to recycle everything they can and reuse “even the tiniest bits of wire, string, and plastic,” which continues to give me the vibe that they’re searching to say ‘all the right things’ to signal sustainability.
To run their whole ‘Furniture Field’ for a year, they use the same energy as eight 60W lights, burning for 8 hours a day, for a year. They estimate on their own site that they use about 25% of the energy needed to produce a conventional wooden chair, which is independently unproven. They also compost and use this to nourish their trees, have a composting toilet, and just got electricity through solar power.
Have you ever heard of watermelons being grown in a square shape? If not, you should totally look that up, but Full Grown has seriously taken that concept of shaping nature to a whole new level. Each chair at Full Grown is slowly grown around a custom plastic frame, which notably seems anti-nature. After the tree begins to form into shape, they ‘graft’ the branches together, which is a horticulture technique that means the branches are joined in a way that forces them to grow together. After 6-9 years, ‘nature’ has done its work with quite a heavy hand from Full Grown, and the chair is a solid piece. It is then harvested off the tree and dried for a year. Once dried, the outer edges are sanded down for a geometric finish that a traditional chair has.
Humans have been grafting trees for thousands of years, and this enterprise is taking advantage of this ancient knowledge. It is important to also note that similar furniture molding practices have been done by Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese, so although it may seem like their technology is revolutionary, is it really a return to ancestral roots? I am unsure of any direct appropriation, but it was noteworthy to mention these origins of Full Grown’s preceding techniques, something not mentioned by them on their site at all.
Additionally, it might sound wasteful that this company seems to be growing trees just to cut them down, but that isn’t what concerns me the most about them. For comparison, it typically takes 50 years before a tree is worth cutting down for the production of a mass-produced chair, where tons of fossil fuels are thrown into the production mix. When Full Grown cuts down a tree, new branches and shoots grow back and it continues to have a life, but the caveat is that their enterprise needs an ever-expanding field to keep growing new trees.
The dual heads of Full Grown are Alive and Gavin Munro, a heterosexual white couple, who have spent the last 13 years studying Tree Shaping and Botanical Craftsmanship and currently run their Furniture Farm in Derbyshire, UK. As a boy, Gavin noticed a bonsai that had the distinct appearance of a tree, an image that sowed the first seed of Full Grown. A few years later, Gavin himself was held in a metal frame while a bone graft healed to straighten his spine. Many years later, he was privileged enough to have an apprenticeship to a cabinet-maker, where he began making driftwood furniture. This stitching together of pieces was the final seed to plant Full Grown, a project he and his wife have been pursuing since 2006. It seems from their website that they are the only team members, doing all the organization and profiting from their small forest alone. While it may seem that the processes used to produce Full Grown are replicable anywhere by anyone, this process is very time-consuming, tedious, and requires the economic standing to purchase large plots of land. Perhaps this is the justification for the furnitures’ price points.