Victorian manufacturer Sussex Taps’ local craft highlights the economic and sustainable benefits of home-grown success.

The family-owned and operated business, which turns 25 next year, has been built upon inherently sustainable values, including local manufacturing, designing long-lasting products and a reuse-and-repurpose outlook on production. The Melbourne-based company owns and operates its own foundry, where brass is melted down and recycled into swarf, which forms the brass rods that eventually become tapware.

This circular system is supported by Sussex’s manufacturing workshop, which recently underwent a multi-million-dollar expansion with plans to implement new technology to further improve its manufacturing capabilities. At the heart of Sussex’s business model is a commitment to retaining the artisanal aspects of its product output, where design and local manufacturing come first.

Creative Director Vanessa Katsanevakis explains that this rubric is fundamental to Sussex’s operation as a sustainable design and manufacturing business and has set the business up to ask broader questions about the life cycle of the products it creates.

“We operate under the mantra that good design is sustainable design,” says Katsanevakis. “To us, that really comes down to asking ourselves three core questions: How is the product designed? How is it produced? And, how will it be used?

“We are lucky because our foundry means we can incorporate waste into our design process and output. It’s a matter of how long the resource can stay in the manufacturing cycle with the least amount of impact. The next step beyond this is making the end-of-life as easy as possible, when the product can be used again for another purpose.

“But equally, we have to ask ourselves – is this design timeless? Will it retain its appeal throughout the years to come? It’s about marrying design outcomes with our values,” she continues.

By reusing the metal scraps created in the manufacturing process, Sussex avoids contributing to Australia’s waste glut which, according to the National Waste Report 2018, comprised over 5.5 million tonnes in metal waste alone.

Over the last five years, Sussex has implemented a number of cost and energy-saving efficiencies, including LED lighting updates which have reduced lighting costs by 50%, saving $12,015 per year. Energy cooling costs at Sussex’s foundry improved metal melting rates by 7% and energy savings of $13,000, or 71 tonnes in carbon emissions. And the recent installation of 100kW solar panels will reduce Sussex’s emissions 30%.

“Values and design outcomes are one thing, but the business of sustainability can be something else altogether. We keep efficiencies high and always look for ways to improve them,” says Katsanevakis.

“Oftentimes, my peers in the industry will ask me about the true economic impact of implementing sustainable initiatives. While there’s no one size fits all, for us our sustainability program is vital to the health of our business.”

Sussex’s foundry is just one element of a richly textured family heritage embedded in the business by its founder (and Vanessa Katsanevakis’ father) Nicolaas van Putten, a Dutch jeweller and watchmaker who diversified into tapware after recognising the similarities in expertise and precision required in both trades. When it came time for Katsanevakis to take the business’ reins in 2011, Sussex was already operating with inherent sustainability, long before the word became lodged in the zeitgeist.

However, with the wake of the Global Financial Crisis spurring most Australian tap manufacturers to take production offshore, Katsanevakis faced an early challenge in her leadership of the company: keep production local or go offshore and compete on price. She chose the former, harnessing the foundry and pivoting the brand to become recognised within a burgeoning sector of the homewares market that sought luxurious products that were locally and sustainably made.

In 2018, Sussex’s director Vanessa Katsanevakis was awarded Young Manufacturer of the Year by the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame. She concludes: “Having a more vertical, integrated supply chain means we are in full control of our materials and our output, allowing us to mitigate our impact and ensure consistency.”