I introduce to you the first product conceived, designed and hand my by Luckiest Fish in Johannesburg,South Africa. Featuring a genuine Nguni leather saddle seat with meranti legs and khaki canvas carry satchel. A mouth full and ready to fly off our shelves. This was such an amazing journey from start to finish, and one I will certainly repeat many times in the near future of Luckiest Fish.
The History of Tripod Chairs
In the history books, a tripod chair is referred to as a stool. That’s right, a word I think should solely be reserved for medical practitioners and scientists. Which is why for this post, I’ll swap stool with chair or tripod chair.
According to the internet, tripod chairs have been around since we had moved on from rocks as resting places. Wikipedia says that an English theatrical designer, author and collector, Percy MacQuoid (1852 – 1925) claimed that an ancient colony called the Byzantium, many hundreds BC ago introduced the tripod chair, in what is now modern-day Istanbul.
In ancient times the tripod was celebrated in symbolic and religious rites used as altars and even sacrificial basins. Most well known in Greek mythology as the chair of the Pythian priestess, when she read the oracles to the god Apollo.
Africa also featured in my research. A continent said to have had many nations with a history of tripod chairs, of which the most well known recorded example was the Golden Chair of Ashanti (Ghana). As with most 18th and 19th-century African stories, the British tried to colonise the Ashanti people, who vehemently fought back their attempted conquerors. The English even tried to steal the Golden Chair "for the queen", but never succeeded. I combed through a fair amount of history books and articles about this specific Golden Chair, but it’s still not 100% clear on its whereabouts today.
Why a tripod chair for our first product?
As Joburgers do, we regularly flee the rat race and take any possible opportunity for some nature time. This includes camping, fishing, kayaking or just having a braai in the velt. For these grab and dash impromptu adventures, we keep packing to a minimum and is why the small mass-produced tripod chairs were the most practical. Unfortunately, my chair was not meant to be pasted on to future generations and soon developed a tear in one corner. Slightly irritated with its demise and the fact that legs were still in good nick, an idea started to form.
What if I had a beautiful and hardy seat, irrespective of the legs? The seed, or should I say the seat, was now firmly planted in my mind. Because I always take everything too far, canvas or material would not be good enough for my seat, it had to be double stitched and double-sided leather, for maximum strength. If in the unfortunate event that something had to happen with the tripod’s legs, I could merely replace them, because the seat would be nearly indestructible.
I was determined to make something practical, beautiful and lasting. I pictured the chair being used by an artist finishing his masterpiece in a loft studio in Braamfontein. I imagined three friends sitting on them around a fire in Elands Bay, having a beer after surfing all day. A wing shooter, scanning the skies for those elusive rock pigeons.
I had made up my mind, this would be the first Luckiest Fish handmade product.
Getting my hands dirty
The vision was clear and I got to work. Produce the first prototype in order to test all the design strengths, features and flaws. I needed tools, equipment, material and enough spares for multiple attempts, and quickly learned that one visit to Builders’ Warehouse wouldn’t do the trick. Which is why I proceeded to spend a small fortune as I systematically visited every hardware and building supplies store in the greater West Rand.
Certain that I had all the materials and tools for the job, it was time to get my hands dirty. Then the unthinkable happened…procrastination. Why was I hesitating to get started? Perhaps the fact that I had no real wood and leather working skills to talk off. I had to get this right. My solution, YouTube, and I went deep. All I could watch on DIY Leather Craft, Wood Working for Dummies, everything.
Getting organized before attempting such projects is also a good idea and a quick way to lose a week of your life. Stocked, tooled and skilled the first chair was starting to take shape. All done between the living room table and mini-workshop, aka the laundry room. I made sure that the prototype would be as close to my original idea of beauty, strength and usefulness.
For its simplicity and size, this chair had surprisingly many challenges to overcome. Again, pure hard hardheadedness, grit and stubbornness got the job done. It took roughly one month from designing, sourcing raw materials and parts to completing fabrication. The first prototype was now complete and I was satisfied. I put my little monster creation through its paces, finding any weak points and revisiting the design and components. Fast forward two months and another two prototypes were made, of which number 3 was perfect!
The last part of the product development cycle was lining up material suppliers for the first five chairs and who was capable of larger future orders. Tricky, but not impossible. The search took me to all the gritty corners of Randburg, Selby and the East Rand. Litres and litres of diesel, an oil leak and blown out tire later and my supply chain was in place.
The first Five Chairs
With exception to the nuts, bolts and paint, every component of the chair is fabricated and crafted from raw materials and components sourced in and around Gauteng. Just like Woolworth lamb, you could say, organic! Only the best for our little 3-legged beasts and proud sons of mine.
Our first 5 chairs are in stock and ready to be sold. Remember, our chairs might not be made from gold, but you will love them as if they were. Shipping in South Africa is free!
Nguni cattle: South Africa's indigenous Nguni cattle, long the mainstay of traditional Zulu culture, are possibly the most beautiful cattle in the world.
Meranti wood: Also known as Shorea Acuminata from the Dipterocarpaceae family