It would make a great film: The head of a storied design company walks into a student show, sees a prototype that he likes, and puts it into production. But that is exactly what happened when Heller CEO John Edelman saw to Anna Dawson’s Swell wall catchall at WantedDesign Manhattan (WDM).
Dawson was in her final year of an MFA in Furniture Design at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She had created the curvaceous Swell—which features hooks for hanging coats and hats and cups to hold wallets and keys—to simplify the process of entering and leaving one’s home. RISD featured the prototype in its 2022 Embodied & Imbued exhibit at WDM. But Dawson decided to show a second copy of the prototype that year, at the Look Book section of the fair.
“John approached my display, introduced himself, and expressed how much he loved [Swell],” says Dawson of the encounter. “He told me that he had just purchased Heller and to send him an email after I graduated.”
“When I saw [Swell], it looked like something I had seen before but, at the same time, was seeing for the first time,” says Edelman of the attraction. “It just looked Heller: aesthetically pleasing, designed for a purpose, without ego in the design, and able to go anywhere.”
Dawson was also a draw. “She was sweet and so lovely,” he continues. “She had no idea who we were.”
Little was needed to transform the prototype into a commercial product. Dawson had a digital model of Swell; Heller’s manufacturing engineers simply tweaked it to fit the company’s molding process. They also swapped the prototype’s fiberglass material for recyclable ABS plastic.
The process’ one surprise, says Dawson, was “that it happened so fast!”
Heller debuted Swell at the 2023 ICFF. Available in a choice of five hues, it is stocked globally, including at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Design Store. Heller and Dawson are also collaborating on further projects, including a foray into lighting.
“Swell has the ability to jumpstart Anna’s career, and that’s the most exciting thing that we could do,” says Edelman of the pivotal meeting at ICFF. “In 20 years, I would be so proud for her to say that she got her start at Heller.”