on tour: Kirei USA


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A recent visit and discussion with Kirei USA founder and CEO John Stein about new product development.

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on tour: Kirei USA

  1. 1. kirei USA 1 on tour: Kirei USA During our time in Phoenix AZ for the 2009 Greenbuild Expo we spent some time with Kirei USA Marketing Coordinator Teresa Cooney. Our conversation with her became one of our first in the stories of sustainability series (posted here). Back in January we did a day trip to San Diego for a US Green Building Council San Diego chapter GreenMeet event and were able to spend some time with Kirei USA founder and CEO John Stein at his Solana Beach office. One thing that strikes you right away when arriving is how casual and laid back the entire neighborhood is. Probably in part due to the proximity to the ocean, but Kirei USA is located in an interesting warehouse building on the edge of town filled with artists and other cutting edge businesses. It has a very alternative lifestyle communal vibe to it. Enter the front door at John’s office and you are immediately met with the tools from one of his competing passions - surfing. Immediately to the left is a rack of wet suits and boards ready to be used at a moments notice. In fact, John tells us that it’s not uncommon for he or someone else at the office to go surfing every day. The space is much smaller than we we expect, and we’re told that’s a common reaction. Although Kirei Board has become a very visible player in the sustainable building materials market, it doesn’t require a huge staff to maintain the operation. John and his crew are actually a small team who occupy the mezzanine while a friend who owns an energy audit company uses the ground floor of their warehouse space. The office layout is very casual, with few walls, it’s open, and primarily lit with daylight from a number of well placed skylights. Something we’ve discovered about virtually all the tours and interviews we’ve done is how down to earth and accessible company owners, founders, and product creators have been. And John is no exception. He was an incredibly gracious host giving us a tour of his office first, then a tour of the entire building. He was anxious to introduce us to his neighbors and colleagues - photographer Aaron Chang, Solana Flooring, Shampoo Too, West Edge Gallery, Trios Gallery, and Mabuno Contemporary Furniture. They create incredible furniture from reclaimed and salvaged wood, but we’ll have to talk about them in another post. We’ve used Kirei Board on various projects for more than five years, and I’ve met and talked with John several times, but we’ve never been able to spend any real time together discussing his background, company, and products. In particular, we were most interested in learning about new products, new developments, and future directions. John’s spirit and www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601
  2. 2. kirei USA 2 enthusiasm is completely contagious. It would be difficult to find a young entrepreneur working harder to bring something new to the sustainable building materials arena. Where some might consider it a disadvantage that Kirei USA doesn’t manufacture their own products, but instead, John seems to be liberated by that. His specialty is the ability to understand the commercial potential for unusual bio-based products. He’s constantly on the hunt for yet undiscovered materials or those in early development. In many cases, he sees market potential where others see a failed, or one-off, R&D experiment. He regularly visits university programs and obscure trade shows throughout the world seeking out hidden gems. Institutions cycle through new ideas at an accelerated pace, but often lack the vision to see market potential or how they can be commercialized. That’s where John applies his marketing background and knowledge to explore untapped or future potential. Sometimes it’s the smallest of factors, such as packaging or distribution, that create a huge hurdle for those not familiar with how to bring a product to market. Where some see a barrier to clear, John sees opportunity to capitalize on. It’s a fascinating position to be in. And based on what John showed us, there appears to be an ample supply of new ways to use waste industrial material. He has product currently in development made from waste hemp, other parts of the sorghum plant (Kirei Board is also made from waste sorghum stalk), shredded scrap coconut husk, sunflower, shredded wood veneer waste, and much more. Architects, designers, and other product manufactures are also finding new ways to use or treat his existing products. Some of the newest variations in his line have been co- created with friends and colleagues. I have to say that I think John has one of the best jobs in the world. He and Kirei USA have carved out a considerable niche focused on agricultural fiber board products. No other company I can think of has as many current agri-based product lines, or as many in development. I hope they come to market soon. John and his team are proving the viability of hyper renewable agriculturally composed building products. We wish him luck and thank him for being so gracious with his time. www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601