Welcome to the second instalment of ‘ISHKA in Time’, a fascinating collection of stories that reveal the colourful history of ISHKA.
We sat down with ISHKA veteran and furniture buyer, Klaus, to learn about his extraordinary experience working with the company for over 27 years.
Having been established in 1971, ISHKA is a company with a wonderful heritage and history. Where does your story with ISHKA begin?
"My story with ISHKA began a long time ago, back in 1992, when I when I came to Australia from Germany. I worked first in retail, in our early Chapel St store. I then worked in our wholesale department for 2 years, before taking a few months off to travel through Asia with my wife. We travelled from Hong Kong to China, then through to Pakistan via the spectacular Karakoram highway. We then spent time in India and Southeast Asia. After 5 months I returned to ISHKA, where I was then asked to become a buyer."
You did a fair bit of travelling before you became a buyer for ISHKA. Do you feel your travels have influenced any of your product choices?
"In the early years I did only the buying for India, the subcontinent. I was a novice in those years. As time progressed however, our approach to buying evolved away from country specific buying, towards a focus on product ranges. When you put product ranges together, you need to have a more comprehensive concept in mind, if you want a certain look in a given space. So when I was placed in charge of the furniture category, as opposed to working with one particular country, this was a game-changer for me. I was exposed to many countries and places that were new to me; Thailand, Indonesia and Morocco for example. In 2017, we went to South America, specifically to Guatemala and Colombia, where we buy our beautiful oak furniture."
What did you learn most about this shift from country-specific to department-specific buying?
"What I realised over time, is that many influences that feed into a product already come from many countries. Why? Because many of the craftsmen who design and create these pieces have travelled to many places themselves. It all just becomes one big melting pot of ideas. When people travel and gain influences from different cultures, it is hard to say sometimes where particular ideas originate. In India for example, there are some very strong influences from Africa. Many Indonesian products are influenced by African culture too. Just like much of the Colombian furniture is influenced by Portugese craft. Cultures around the world have been influenced by eachother’s ideas for centuries."
Travel photographs taken by Klaus during many of his exciting buying expeditions
With so many incredible furniture pieces to choose from, how do you decide which are right for ISHKA?
"I go with what our customers like. ISHKA customers are very aware of the environmental impacts of furniture production. As such, much of the furniture we buy utilises recycled or sustainable timbers. Mango wood is an excellent example of this, where wood that would otherwise go to waste is collected from non-productive mango trees and transformed into beautiful items of furniture."
Do you have a favourite furniture range at ISHKA?
"I personally love solid wood furniture. I love many of the recycled furniture ranges that feature many carvings and intricacies. I also like old items with a nice patina and history, items that tell a story."
You’ve been with ISHKA for 27 years now. What are some of your favourite memories during this time?
"I’ve travelled so much with ISHKA, so many memories relate to my travel experiences. When you go to new places, there’s always a huge learning curve. For example, when I travelled to Guatemala and saw the crazy markets of Chichicastenango, I expected just a few stalls down a couple of cobblestone alleys. But when I arrived, they had a large party of Mexican musicians making amazingly loud music. As they performed, there were 2 or 3 other music groups performing simultaneously, and there were also church services being held, as well as fireworks in the background! That market visit was an amazing experience. One needed a rest after that to comprehend what has just happened!
My experiences in India were similar to this. I love India, and there is definitely this similar feeling of chaos you experience - lots of things happening at the same time. You’ll find gurus preaching or dancing, whilst there are meditations going on, the crazy traffic, all different kinds of festivals for all the religions. Incense is burning, all these people following their spiritual paths. All senses are being stimluated simultaneously."
Looking to the future, are there any upcoming opportunities for you to experience new cultures, and discover new furniture ranges with ISHKA?
"We already stock a wide range of crafts from Africa, but soon there may be potential to expand this to furniture. There’s potential for us to visit from Central, East and West Africa, exploring places such as Kenya, Tanzania, Mali, Malawi and South Africa."
What have you loved most about your time with ISHKA?
"ISHKA has provided enormous work and travel opportunities for me, especially having come from Germany as a trained engineer all those years ago. I have learned a huge amount, and been handed an amazing opportunity to travel the world. I’m also looking forward to working soon with some new trainee buyers, both to pass on my knowledge, but also to usher in some new ideas and expand our product range."
Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes stories that reveal the wonderful history of ISHKA, coming soon!