FRIENDS TOMER ROTH AND LIOR YAMIN have wanted to work together since meeting at the age of 19 in the Israeli Army. Their creative backgrounds in Industrial Design and Media Communications respectively, and a shared passion to do something worthwhile, has resulted in the two opening a unique industrial design shop in Tel Aviv.

Located in the old town of Jaffa, among all the old furniture stores and cafes is Asufa — a store that contrasts its surrounds with all new designed goods. As we chat, multiple friends and acquaintances pop their heads in for a quick hello.

Asufa means ‘collection’ or ‘bundle’ in Hebrew. As the shop’s name implies, Asufa, offers a group of uniquely designed products by, local industrial design talent. Items include everything from small accessories through to handmade furniture.

Seeing the shop space, Tomer and Lior knew it would be perfect for their concept. 

T: We loved the space here and decided to take it.

L: We liked the idea of having this place and renewing it. We came up with this idea for the design shop, for the designer; to sell really unique design stuff that can’t be found in any other shop.

When interviewed, Asufa had only been open for three months and things have come a long way from when they first signed the lease.*

T: Today when you look at the shop from when it first opened, we think, how did we do it? How we had the nerve to open!

T: We renovated the place ourselves. It took six months. Then we started to talk to designers. First the ones we knew. Then some of those recommended.

L: On opening, we had half of the products than what we have now.

In establishing Asufa, Lior and Tomer deal directly with their group of over 80, mostly young, designers. 

L: The designers needed a lot of faith in us before because there was no shop. Now they see the shop is real, it’s easier. They come to us, instead of us chasing after them.

T: We’re developing with the shop. For starters, we asked designers to just bring something but now we are asking for better quality. We can be more picky. Over time it will be better.

T: We started with very young designers, two to three years out of school. Now, we are also working with more experienced ones — people that already have quite a high standard — and we can learn from them.

L: And it’s not something bad for the designer. They also want to improve their work. This is how things should be.

L: The bin is a good example, actually. This guy is a young designer. He sold them at his final year exhibition. Every year there is an exhibition and they have a shop and sell there. And because this is not a student shop, we told him, you can’t have small faults in the product. We need a final piece with fine detail. And we need some sort of branding. So, he goes home to work on it and brings back the finished product. This is an example of what we are doing here. We are not changing their design but just making it perfect to sell.

L: Some of the work was originally created for exhibitions and fairs Some of these things were never in a shop before or never meant to be in a shop.

[Tomer points to a wire animal head piece.]

T: For example, this guy made the heads for a design exhibition. There have been no other fairs since then, so he stopped making them. Except for us. And now, he also makes these two-dimensional pieces for us.

As the industrial designers are varied and unique, so are the pieces they create. Lior and Tomer explain their products appeal to a wide audience although establishing a customer following takes patience.

L: We have two major groups of products. One is the small products, where you can come, see and buy without thinking too much. The other is the larger, more expensive things, that you really like, but you need to think about it.

T: I think that the public that we want to attract, there’s a problem reaching them. It will take time. It’s happening, it’s started but it takes time. As not everyone off the street can buy our products.

L: But you know, even people who don’t have a lot of money come into the store and buy. They may say it’s the most expensive thing they have ever had, but they say “I have to buy this piece because it’s a one off.”

After a successful opening, Lior and Tomer are making Asufa a success.

L: We really worked hard for this. I think the most rewarding thing was seeing how many people came.

T: Many designers came as well as many people from the field of design.

Parting wisdom …

T: You have to start. Doesn’t matter what you do, what the plan is, you have to start. We learn every day!

L: We jumped into the water and just started swimming.

*Since we visited, Tomer and Lior expanded into next door, and opened their online shop here. You can also see Lior's home in the slanted mansion paper here.

Interview: Siobhan Frost
Words: Rochelle Ranson