Jozefien Forton, founder of Maison Forton
A new revolution is coming if we are to believe Jozefien Forton. A soft revolution that is, and you can take that quite literally. With Maison Forton, the 34-year-old entrepreneur makes minimalist carpets with a subtle color accent and round corners. They should soften our harsh, modern homes. But above all, Forton wants us to make a resolute choice for ecological products. “I am often disappointed in companies that do not take their responsibility in terms of sustainability.”
Jozefien Forton must have iron time management, because she does almost everything alone. Only an intern lends a hand now and then. And yet the 34-year-old from Ghent managed to design her products, visit suppliers and do all the financial calculations in a year’s time while working full-time and being the mother of two small children. She only focused full-time on developing the collection from February onwards and her carpets are already for sale in fourteen stores. “Yes, I have accelerated enormously in the past two years”, she laughs.
Before starting her business, Forton sold carpets in the Benelux, Scandinavia and Southern Europe for seven years. “That happened by chance. I had a feel for interior design, but I really just wanted to sell internationally. At the time I didn’t realize that carpets had become very important to me, but a customer warned me. He said: ‘Watch out, you’ll catch the textile bug and you won’t get rid of it! And he was right.”
Once she had changed jobs and sold floors, the lack of the carpets grew. “Our modern houses are very hard. We use a lot of glass, concrete and marble. That is why we now see a counter-movement towards round and organic shapes. Our homes need softness again. Carpets also stimulate more senses. They are soft when you approach or walk on them, have different colors and textures and they solve the acoustic problem in large spaces.”
Help from the universe
It was written in the stars that Jozefien Forton would one day start her own business. Her grandmother owned a bathroom business, her father designs and produces designer sanitary ware and furniture, and Forton’s boyfriend is also an entrepreneur. But how exactly do you do that: develop and sell your own product? And certainly as a mother with young children who wants financial stability for her family. A trajectory at VOKA lit the fuse and the universe did the rest.
“When we went on holiday to Italy with the family, my friend urged me to quickly look up where the supplier I was interested in was located. What turned out? It was only a half hour drive from our vacation spot! That was clearly a sign from the universe, I do believe in that,” says Forton.
And immediately the ball started rolling. While still working full-time for a publicly traded company, Forton regularly took vacations to travel to suppliers. She made the design herself, with the help of some friends and relatives who share the same sense of design. Together with her father, Forton decided exactly how many degrees the round corners of the carpets should have.
Dare to jump
And then everything was ready: the design, the suppliers and the desire to do business were there. However, making the jump was very frightening, says Forton. “I find it very difficult to take risks. I also notice that as a woman I am not alone in this. Men are often more self-confident about their plans and tend to take risks more easily. I’m still learning that. I have certainly found myself in that area and I still need a push now and then.”
I find it very difficult to take risks. I also notice that as a woman I am not alone in this. Men are often more self-confident about their plans and tend to take risks more easily
But at a certain point the preparation is finished and jumping into the deep end actually becomes a calculated risk. “It’s now or never, I thought. If I didn’t seize that opportunity, I wasn’t going to be ready for it at another time. You end up in a stream, and from then on you only want to move forward.”
80% recycled product
That her gaze is always focused on the future becomes clear when you take a closer look at the Maison Forton website. There are few companies that are so transparent about their production process. The Ghent woman resolutely opts for an ecological product. That obviously makes doing business a lot more difficult. But if her carpets were not made sustainably, it wouldn’t be necessary for her at all.
“If I wanted to produce in India, I could choose from thousands of cheap suppliers and it was possible to offer many more colors,” she says. “I am also constantly contacted from India, but that is absolutely not an option. Not knowing where the wastewater is discharged – in nature for example – I find it difficult,” she says.
The health of our planet and our economy are therefore priorities for Forton. That is why she uses yarn that is composed of old fishing nets, old carpets and pre-consumer waste. An Italian family business that produces in Slovenia makes the yarn and also bleaches it. After that, a company from Limburg will start making the carpets. The finishing is done by hand in the Netherlands.
The result is an 80 percent recycled product that traveled more than ten times less distance than if it were made in India. Moreover, the sustainable entrepreneur can rest assured that everyone in the chain receives a decent wage, and she only produces to order so that there is certainly no overstock.
The entire production process therefore takes place in Europe and that is no coincidence. Forton regrets that Belgium, with its rich textile past, has outsourced everything, that the know-how that once lay with us is now outsourced abroad because profit is put above sustainability and quality.
“As Europeans, we have a responsibility to take on this,” she says. “We all want to maintain our standard of living, but we are increasingly pushing our production to countries that allow things that are not allowed here. This creates enormous dependence on those countries, but above all also has a major impact on our planet. This climate crisis is actually a crisis of responsibility. The citizen looks at the government, and the government at the citizen. But we can all have an impact, everyone bears the responsibility to make different choices.”
As Europeans we have a responsibility. We all want to maintain our standard of living, but we are increasingly pushing our production to countries that allow things that are not allowed here
And who certainly bears that responsibility, according to Forton, are entrepreneurs. They can have much more impact, it sounds. “I am often disappointed in companies that do not take their responsibility in terms of sustainability. They purely opt for profit, but think ahead, our planet and employees are also important, right? I find it reassuring that as an entrepreneur I can have a positive impact on the climate crisis. This is how I take care of the future of my children.”
Her strong focus on the future also translates into an entrepreneurial one. The carpets of the Ghent entrepreneur have only been on sale since August and she is already looking abroad. Soon she also hopes to find suitable stores in France and the Netherlands that will promote her Maison Forton brand.
When I think small, Maison Forton stays small. So I have to encourage myself from time to time to dare to think big
But her biggest plans don’t stop there. Within two years, Forton hopes to be able to give carpets not only a second, but also a third life by being 100 percent circular. She is still conducting that research, but she is already certain that it is possible.
Her biggest challenge right now? Always dare to think big. “When I think small, Maison Forton stays small. So I have to encourage myself from time to time to dare to think big,” says Forton. “And if I can really dream out loud, I see Maison Forton as a European interior brand. Of course still with a focus on sustainability and local production. Now I’m starting with what I know – carpets – but so much more is possible! Time will tell.”