Alameda Business Focus: CompoClay
By Heather Lyn Wood
CompoClay is a new business, but the vision behind it has been a long time in the making. By the time the decor and building supply store opened on Santa Clara Avenue last November, a team of engineers and designers had been working on the company’s product for seven years.
At first glance, a visit to the store reveals an attractive retail space offering home and garden items you might find in any upscale boutique: wooden candle holders, stone Buddha statues, garden urns, mirrors, picture frames and porcelain architectural moldings. But take a closer look, said Operations Assistant Alex Kahn, and you will see what makes CompoClay special.
The limestone statues and wooden mantels aren’t made of limestone or wood, and there’s no real porcelain either. Each product, though differing significantly in form and finish, is instead made of CompoClay: an ecologically sustainable medium comprised of minerals, sea salt, water, sand, recycled coal combustion products, and natural fibers.
The company wants this new material, which is made without the use of heat or hazardous chemicals, to replace what it believes are substandard materials commonly found in homes and commercial settings. They have filed for patents not only on their existing products, but the process by which they are made.
Kahn explained in an interview that business has been good since the store opened, and the company will open a new store in San Francisco’s Financial District today. (The new showroom and retail center will take the space at Post and Montgomery Streets formerly occupied by Versace.) But Kahn emphasized that the company’s retail sales are just one part of its long-term plan. While the company and its in-house designers work constantly to fashion a rapidly expanding retail line, the company’s main operation is to manufacture green products for larger distributors.
The company’s mission goes far beyond selling a few garden ornaments on Santa Clara Avenue. Rather, it aims to “offer superior products, viable green alternatives, and educational support to enrich the quality of life and our planet for a sustainable future.” In practical terms, the company wants the world to know that there is a better, safer way to make many of the products with which we share our living spaces.
Kahn explained that most home decor products are made of materials like gypsum, engineered woods, rigid polyurethane foam, and resins, which he says involve high carbon dioxide emissions, unsustainable sourcing, impaired quality, and poor durability.
“We want to replace the harmful products on the market,” he said. “We tell companies that we will help them make better interior and outdoor products, and we will help them brand themselves as green companies, because that is very important to some businesses.”
CompoClay’s versatility as a medium – it can mimic numerous natural materials with 200 different finishes – makes it attractive to a wide range of artists and manufacturers. Best of all, Kahn explained, it is “green” from start to finish. The raw materials are harvested and developed without deforestation, without mining, and with minimal energy, and the final products are safe for human use.
CompoClay as a company originated in Hong Kong, where its initial investors are located. In 2007, it received the Hong Kong Business Environment Council’s Eco-Products Award, recognizing the innovation of its sustainable raw material with high performance and a wide range of applications. While the company’s funding base and parent company still reside in Hong Kong, its marketing, design and sales headquarters are now in the U.S.
When the company decided to launch its product in the United States, Chief Executive Officer Andy Choi recommended Alameda. Choi, Kahn and three other full-time employees man desks in the back of the Santa Clara store, networking with customers and businesses interested in using CompoClay to green their products. It is obvious that the small team has big goals for the product they believe could “redesign the world.”
“We chose to have our base here because we wanted the community support. We want to be dedicated and connected to a community, and we want to share with the community,” Choi, who grew up on the Island, explained. “I knew that Alameda was a place where social responsibility and word-of-mouth matters.”
CompoClay is at 2536 Santa Clara Avenue (between Everett and Broadway). Store hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.