It’s our 6th Issue! We hope you’ve started 2014 in good form, and we’d like to follow suit with this jam-packed issue. If you’re in South-East Asia, its only been a month but ‘two new years’ have past since our last update - and things are only just getting started! This year promises to be a game-changer for us, so do follow us to stay updated.
We’ve also devoted the visual focus of this issue to the observation of materials: leather, microfibre water-resistant fabric, brass, loopwheeled fibre, and the weave of a community. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Meanwhile, if you happen to be passing through Chinatown in Singapore, come visit us at our Not-A-Retail-Shop at People’s Park Complex. In a bid to spice up, or rather, ‘gentrify’ the area, property developers Goldhill have invited the good folks of Edible Gardens to cultivate Asia’s largest urban farm on the rooftop of this historical complex - and we’re proud to be a part of it. The space is a little hard to find (you have to walk to the carpark rooftop), but it’s well worth the trek. We’ll be here till the end of March, so do come down and visit us, we’d love to meet you!
The Makers’ Journal journeys with Voyej on it’s quarterly factory production run in Yogyakarta, armed a mission to find out what it takes to run a fine leather goods brand in this part of the world.
Tell us about yourselves.
Voyej started as a final project back when we were in business school. We are a team of 5 people, 4 of whom majored in Marketing Management. We were given a challenge to build our own business project, and we built this brand from scratch, to the extent of driving over a thousand kilometers from Jakarta to Yogyakarta in our mission to find the perfect production partner. Our web store launched on 11th February 2011 and surprisingly we made our first sale in less than an hour. For some people that’s okay but for college students like us back then, it was amazingly satisfying.
What is the concept behind the brand Voyej?
The significance of “journey” throughout Voyej’s branding is based on the journey that every Voyej customer will experience from using vegetable tanned leather goods. They’ll experience many things such as color evolution, shape forming, break-in period, how far they take their wallets, and how different leather treatments affect the leather characteristic as the leather aficionados say, “the leather gets better with age”.
We took the concept of “journey” and blended it into Voyej’s logo which was inspired by the Great Republic ship, the largest wooden clipper ship ever constructed. There is no instant way to create a brand that has strong character and is easily remembered by everyone, so we took our time to design the logo - 6 months later, with some help from our best friends, we had our signature logo. People loved it and we got compliments from many of our overseas customers. We hope every Voyej customer’s journey is enjoyable and full of fun, just like we live our life every day.
Tell us more about the color evolution process.
The Voyej brand was inspired by the color evolution of vegetable tanned leather. We spent our first year trying to explain to everybody why vegetable tanned leather is different from other types of leathers. Vegetable tanned leather is a raw leather that will develop its patina over time. Patina in this case means that the grain will develop into a more mature color, from Natural (cream-white color) into a dark brown, with some marks of usage. The leather is also affected by sunlight, dirt, fluid, or coloring dye. It will age from time to time and the result of its color evolution will differ depending on usage. With some usage, the leather will evolve into darker tone and the texture will soften. Many dry denim enthusiasts suffer from denim bleed and it makes their wallet covered in dark spots full of indigo residue.
Our “natural” colored leather goods are actually our best selling products, and we believe it’s because the user gets to enjoy the color evolution process to the fullest. This success is probably attributed to our education efforts. Over time, vegetable tanned leather gets shinier and the smell is amazing.
Tell us about your own journey into leather products. Did you come across any difficulties?
One of Voyej’s founders is a dry denim enthusiast and he introduced us to the denim scene in Indonesia back in 2009. He bought an American made leather wallet made from natural vegetable tanned leather and it looked cool, vintage, but was quite pricey. Despite all the good points of that wallet, we disliked its thickness and difficulty of use. Really frustrating for a wallet that cost a couple hundred bucks.
We saw a relation between the evolution of dry denim to the evolution of leather goods and saw that there was an opportunity to build a leather goods brand with good design, material, and functionality in mind. Since we started the project in mid 2010, we’ve travelled to many cities to find local sourcing and production partners, suffered bad experiences with customs agents while importing leather materials, strove to educate people on the color evolution of our leather, and now we’re here, hoping to reach leather aficionados from around the world and all other people who want to learn about vegetable tanned leathers.
Leather crafting is very visceral, it’s all about feel and execution. Are the results as immediate?
Leather crafting is all about skills and art. A good skill doesn’t come cheap and a good art doesn’t come fast. It requires several skills as well as sensitivity, and that takes a lot of time to master. It is not easy to perfect the simple things that make something look ordinary.
Tell us about running a leather goods business. What are your daily routines and challenges?
We sketch new designs and we do research about new products every day. Besides that, we need to keep the business going. There are daily tasks such as preparing orders, stock managing, business administration stuff, and other managerial activities. Since our production partner is located 600 kilometers from our hometown, we visit them every 3 months. It’s refreshing to get away from the crowded Jakarta traffic.
Our challenges mostly come from the production sector. It is hard to keep up with the stock availability and customer and market demands, while facing the reality that handmade and hand stitched leather goods aren’t fast to craft. Other than that, we have to source our cowhide from USA. That has its own set of problems such as foreign exchange fluctuation, supply forecasting, and shipping durations.
Do you guys produce in batches? Roughly how many at each time? How do you determine the quantities, or is there a reason to limit production?
We produce roughly around 300 items per month, from wallets to small accessories such as bracelets. Basically we do demand forecasting based on trends and the previous month’s performance. For some special collections such as Anniversary Collections or the Horween Shell Cordovan short wallet, we do limit our production units to keep the collections exclusive and prestigious.
Any tips for aspiring leather craftsmen?
Leather crafting is an art. And art is appreciable. There are brands out there who just employ design or marketing gimmicks. So, be the good ones and choose your material wisely.
What’s next for Voyej?
Improving design and functionality has been our aim from the beginning. Simple yet stylish leather goods would be next on our list. Everyday objects are interesting. So just wait because soon your everyday things could be made by Voyej. Let your journey start soon. Bon voyage!
This conversation took place one rainy September evening. It was only several years later that I made my way to Laos for the first time. The time in between was used to form many fictitious images of the place in my head, including how watching the sunrise would actually feel like. Laos, back then, was a country I could barely locate in Asia and it seemed very unreal… Like a dream.
The genesis of the project CRAFTED (“because local culture is the global future”) was strongly inspired by my first visit to Laos in 2012. Like many others, I was struck by the natural beauty of the place, the gentleness of its people, but also became infatuated with the effortless sense of local style. The level of sophistication in textile making, basketry, the tasteful combination of colours and textures, were far beyond my expectations. I quickly came to learn that Laos is a rare gem for crafts in Southeast Asia and, in fact, is known to have a level of craftsmanship that is unique in the world. This encouraged me to introduce the work of brilliant “non design” makers within the context of contemporary design and human development. And so CRAFTED was born.
Besides the sheer beauty of the place and the products, Laos also revealed itself to me as vulnerable in this age of globalization. Its local cultural assets are endangered, and some have already disappeared because of a changing society. Of course, all societies have to change, as ways of life are shaped to be improved, but how can people keep their local cultural practices alive and retain their amazing cultural wealth for the future? I believe that Laos’ biggest asset is its culture but the country may be lacking access to creative thinking, an element that could strongly benefit local communities.
Traditions are strongly embedded in Lao everyday life, and it is common sight to see schoolgirls and women wear the Lao skirt on a daily basis. I was once told by a local that there’s a sense of pride in dressing up traditionally. Like a reverence to the past and ancestral roots, each ethnic group often displays its identity through clothing and social rituals.
Beyond the notion of display and cultural belonging, traditional culture could serve another purpose for the next generation of Laotians, as an opportunity for employment and growth. Traditional crafts are experiencing a revival in wealthy countries such as Japan, a place that is increasingly capitalizing on its cultural heritage. Can it experience the same in a country like Laos? How can traditions be revealed as a trigger for development?
The life cycle of a traditionally-made product is far more sustainable than any factory product. From the natural material used to produce it, to the degree of “slow consumption” that privileges quality over quantity. Traditional products also sustain local livelihoods, eco-systems and cultures, leading to a more diverse marketplace as opposed to the daunting ubiquity induced by globalisation.
"Behind each product is a little creative mind and soul…”
Handmade Stories is a project that is inspired by many of the core values mentioned above: local culture, sustainability, education, youth… It is also about how much heart people can invest in order to generate a new experience beyond conventional thinking.
My explorations across Southeast Asia in 2012, led me to Phoundindaeng Youth Center, a not-for-profit education centre for local communities, which was set up by a network of volunteers in 2007. I first became involved as a designer and started developing a low-tech branding system comprising of a set of rubber stamps, while simultaneously reflecting on the notion of branding and design in the context of NPOs. What is the role of a brand in this context?
While collaborating on the design work with the PYC team, I realised that the creation of a logo generated a sense of belonging and ownership among the local team members and youth. A sense of pride developed and subsequently the visual identity worked as a binder between the individuals. They asked me to draw some fish and a river to represent their beloved Nam Song river. I combined those elements with a custom font with irregularities that, to me, seemed to capture youth and playfulness.
Handmade Stories follows the initial identity and the brand. I had the desire to take it a step further, by involving a creative education project from Japan called Atelier Loghouse and initiate a collaboration between local youth and this professional team. Local material was sourced from Khua Din market in Vientiane and a handmade paper facility in Houey Pa Mom in the district of VangVieng.
We intervened at a very small local scale to trigger something, like a spark. And this made me rethink the term innovation as a process that is generated by human encounters. Different people from different places meet, and then, it is an experiment leading to a surprise. None of us could predict what was going to happen.
We had 180 students, ranging approximately from age 7 to 18. All coming from the nearby villages in VangVieng district situated about 180km from the capital city Vientiane. Most of them were familiar with drawing and girls particularly skilled with traditional needle work. The core objective was to generate new experiments so we wanted to challenge their creative mind by giving them complete freedom to explore with different material while also using their existing skills and aesthetic sense that seem naturally so inherent to Lao people.
Behind each product is a little creative mind and soul… The beauty stems from the freedom expressed and the wonderful imperfections that can not be imitated. The outcome feels genuine and real. The youthful dedication was felt as they sat, making and sewing in the dark, long after the sun had disappeared behind the Lao mountain range.
This seed of creativity needs to be nurtured for the long-term sustainability of local life and culture. As it grows, new possibilities can rise and people will increase their ability to shape their future in a meaningful way.
This kind of experience is not something that can be easily acquired in Laos. In a country where basic education still remains a challenge, creative education can only seem like a luxury. And yet, the biggest misunderstanding about creativity is that it is optional or secondary. This project is a modest attempt to introduce creativity as an equal right to all individuals. Because we are all born creative and with plenty of imagination. I want the next generation of Lao people to be able to live in a world of their own making.
The boutique-exhibition Handmade Stories is now open at Kizuki+lim (Raffles Hotel Arcade #03-03/04) for a month-long display of products made in collaboration with Phoudindaeng Youth Center (Laos) and Atelier Loghouse (Japan). Come experience a project about how much heart people can invest to generate positive change and new experiences, and join us on 20 February for a special event. All are welcome, RSVP here.
There has been a recent effort to bridge the economic ties between the Japanese and Singaporean design industries, aimed to encourage cross-border collaboration at various points along the supply chain. For some, the pursuit for quality has come without intervention. The Makers’ Journal speaks to Kage and Kenghow, brothers and founders of new fashion label biro, about making clothes the good old traditional way.
Have you always been interested in clothes and fashion?
K: Yes, since secondary school!
KH: I remember drawing stuff during my army days. And then back in 2007 we were very into street wear, so we started an online store where we imported street wear from America. We bought and sold brands and as we slowly grew out of the street wear thing, it evolved into biro.
So you were never properly trained in fashion?
K: No, but our mum is a seamstress, so if there’s anything we just ask her!
KH: There are a lot of techniques, a lot of hidden stuff that we can’t learn from books alone.
K: So actually we buy a lot of stuff, a lot of clothes, and from there we take reference. Most of the clothes we buy are not trendy clothes. For myself I have been into denim for a long time, so I have collected like 30 to 40 pairs of denim pieces, and from there you learn and pick up.
KH: Previously I was actually running my own printing company, something I started way back before everything, but I’m not a very businessman kind of person. I just did it because I didn’t want to work for others, so I had to find something to do. But I couldn’t go into fashion straightaway because I had zero experience.
Has realizing your own fashion label from scratch been a tenuous journey so far?
K: Before biro we tried designing street wear. It was more graphic, but after that we realized it didn’t really suit our taste. For biro we tried many different products around the same design, and for the quality and workmanship, we tried a lot of different countries, different makers, different fabrics before we finally went to Japan. We tried everything that was possible. Actually we already knew Japan was the best fit at the start, but to go to Japan directly is a little tough, because everything is so expensive and you need to speak Japanese.
KH: It’s lucky that we came across these particular two factories and they are quite good in English…
K: But still it’s in Japanese English! (Laughs) You can communicate but once the email comes, you go.. what are they talking about? So to make sure things are clear, we usually go down to Japan. It’s the best way, if not sending stuff to and from Japan is just too expensive. We really searched through every single factory, and they were all spread out everywhere - we had to see what they are good at, what they are famous for.
Do you feel all that hard work paid off? How has the response to biro been so far?
KH: In terms of appreciation it has been quite fantastic, but in terms of sales, it’s not exactly what we expected, but I guess this is how it goes, being a new brand and having a higher price point that our local market might find harder to accept.
K: Before we made the price point, we looked at our product to see if it’s worth this price for a consumer. If we feel that it’s possible to sell at this price, we’re comfortable with it. But to me, whatever we do is not pricey. We are not like those huge labels - their production is in such huge units, so their cost is so much lesser than ours. For people who usually buy such quality stuff or who like such traditional methods, I don’t think they will mind, but the thing is I don’t think many people in Singapore know about such things. They go for fast fashion.
Can you explain “quality” in fashion?
K: For me, I think it’s different perspectives. Everyone can say their product is of a high quality, even if you mass produce it in Indonesia, but it’s the depth of it. For us, we go through every detail, from the sewing, the workmanship, to where the fabric comes from, the dyeing method. We also use old machinery. It’s more in-depth. When you tell people they don’t really know what you’re talking about. So you can say anything is premium, but premium on what level?
Biro uses traditional production methods. How does this separate you from the pack?
K: Fast fashion factories use modernized machines so the speed is very fast. I’m not saying there is no quality but there is definitely something missing. We go to Japan because only they have the vintage machinery. Like for this t-shirt (Artisan Patchwork T-shirt from biro’s first collection), only two factories in the world have the machinery to make and produce it. Whatever we are doing, a lot of high end designers are doing it as well, just that they are really up there, so they don’t really need to spread the word. For example, NIKE just did a collaboration with the factory we work with.
How did you begin to design your first collection?
KH: Actually we spent quite a lot of time planning and developing this first collection. We were going through a lot, wanting to work with the right places, the right people, and developing what we could be satisfied with, so it took a good two and a half to three years.
K: We are quite demanding, because even for the Japanese factories, if we are not happy with their work we will just question them, “Why is it like this! Is this a Japanese product?” Because we buy a lot of Japanese products ourselves, so if we see that the ones we bought are of a certain quality, then why is the factory producing otherwise… It’s not like everything made in Japan is automatically good.
What about the theme of your first collection? Is there a story you are trying to tell or a message you’re trying to push through?
KH: It’s about how we want to bring this whole new idea about precision manufacturing to our market here. We had been sourcing for good materials and good workmanship for the past couple of years before we decided to launch, and we had the designs since two to three years ago, but we were doing our samples, wasting a lot of money, going back and forth with a lot of people… Even until now we’re still tweaking. Then finally we decided to release the collection. The main thing about “intervention” is we want to emphasize the exquisiteness of our workmanship, the tailoring, the manufacturing process, where the fabrics come from, the weave, the dye, all these stuff.
Is there a distinct biro look?
KH: We are still doing very straightforward tees and pants, so for now as we focus more on the detailing, the precision, I’d think it’s still very difficult to tell something is a “biro”.
Are there any brands that inspired you along the way?
K: For me it’s Levi’s vintage clothing. I started from collecting most of their jeans. They are not like LV or anything, but when you wear it, over time you will feel very attached to the product. If you wear another pair of jeans you will feel like something is missing. Probably it’s personal, but I like something with a vintage touch to it, and something that focuses more on old cuts and patterns and something that’s comfortable. Sometimes a design is very nice, but when you wear it it’s just for you to look good, but it’s not very comfortable. The fabric used [for Levi’s] is also very good. Until five years ago the products were all made in USA, now it’s maybe Europe.
KH: I come from a more visual background. What inspires me is more of architectural stuff. The things we see everyday on the streets. As compared to clothes, I’m more intrigued by architecture, like buildings, spacing on the road, pavements… somehow they give me inspiration and ideas. It’s like the whole entirety. When you change a little bit of design here, how does the entire thing look like? So it’s like on the streets - if you place a lamp post here, the whole scene changes.
What’s next for biro?
KH: We already have a theme for our second collection and we’ve sent it for production. It’s going to be more monochromatic, although it’s for Spring/Summer!
K: We still want to have the cool factor, because for Spring/Summer people usually dress down or in louder colors. For us we are not really trendy people - I think different personalities choose different clothes - so we won’t choose to wear a loud shirt and walk around. So for us, even for Spring/Summer you still have to look cool or look smart!
KH: Our first season was considered quite grunge-raw, so for the second season we wanted something more clean-cut. We also wanted to expand the collection into a wider range, and we chose black and white because we are new and for a start, black and white stuff is more acceptable to people than louder, more floral stuff. Everyone needs a black top! But of course it won’t be all black and white, there will be dark blue, indigo, but there won’t be any bright colors.
Finally, which part of running your own fashion label do you enjoy most?
K: The process is the most important. Going down to the factory is important for me to know what the factory is doing, what other brands they are manufacturing for, how hardworking they are. Sourcing for buttons or fabrics is also very fun for us. We get to learn a lot of things we didn’t even know about. So we appreciate the whole process. If there’s no process, even if we see the final product, we don’t know what it is. It’s just a design. Once we go through this whole phase of choosing this and that, the whole thing comes out and fits together.
KH: We cannot foresee what’s happening next. It just keeps coming and coming, be it obstacles or some form of feedback from people, so that part of the process is quite interesting.
With a penchant for old objects, Y Studio is an industrial design duo armed with transcending thoughts and a golden touch that breathes new life into all things commonplace. In this little studio situated in an unassuming neighbourhood on Minquan West Road in Taipei, we are surrounded by the zeitgeist of an old soul. We sat for tea, and through the philosophical pair, learn why life is bigger than design.
Hi Yanko and Yi-Hsien, thank you for accommodating our visit in the midst of your studio’s relocation. We were expecting your new studio to be rather quaint but this space and this neighborhood is really slow living at its best!
We love being in an old residential neighborhood like this one, with the gentle bustle of the open market across the street and the daily routines of the old folks. There is something about simple neighborhoods that tend to bring out a heightened sensitivity to the everyday. Be it the weather, the environment, or the vibrant foliage of this tree outside our window, we feel that a keen observation to everyday things and situations is particularly important for the design-thinking process.
It has been less than two years since Y Studio was incorporated, but it seems that you have achieved a fair amount, including a series of collaborations with the VVG group in Taipei. Can you tell us a little more about the partnership?
VVG is an existing stockist of ours and they have been extremely supportive so far. We started off with a small interactive exhibition called “Pen a Letter That Never Reached the Post” in the VVG Thinking store earlier in July this year. This exhibition involved a simple set up with supplies for writing and a bare wall. The intention was to provide an intimate space that encouraged people to revisit their memories with courage, to write down what they had not been able to relate verbally and be liberated through the process of sharing their thoughts on a common wall. We also created black envelopes for the exhibition, which in essence symbolizes an anonymous or cryptic recipient.
What gave you the idea to this ‘experiment’?
This initiative was inspired by a story of a friend, whose free-spirited college years were abruptly interrupted by the obligation to take care of his ailing father — something that fueled resentment and detachment in him. While he was out with friends one night, he received a call from home with news of his father’s passing. Inevitably, he blamed himself for not being there in the final moments. With the departure, he also realized he had left too many things unsaid. Sometimes, only upon the departure of a loved one do you regret not building more fond memories together. As a way to re-connect, he found an old watch amongst his father’s belongings, got it fixed and wore it on a daily basis. He also wrote a late letter addressed to his father for everything he had failed to express.
The first workshop was exactly inspired by the idea of a symbolic object and the weight of our words. Here, the pen itself is such a simple tool, yet such a powerful gesture in itself, one that manages to penetrate and fill the deepest crevices of one’s heart.
What perspective has an experiment as poignant as this given you in your design process?
We are always thinking about the purpose of design. Beyond the aesthetic sensibilities, what can design do for people? For example, the significance of a pen goes beyond that of a singular object. And to us, it did not matter as much if people liked our designs. It mattered more that a pen could go through the warm touch of so many hands, and be used as both a functional, as well as a symbolic tool to revisit a memory.
How about the other workshops that you have conducted? I believe there was a Y Studio x VVG workshop series that involved making your own stationery too?
In line with the theme of “Pen a Letter that Never Reached the Post”, we conducted a craft workshop to teach the public how to make their own glass dip pens. Craft workshops are always engaging. Previously, we conducted a session where we taught a class to make lamps out of a batch of old enamel bowls and plates that the two of us combed up in an old shop. We followed up with a second theme in August, “The Distance to Our Ambitions”, another writing experiment that was held in a mock classroom setting at Good Design Institute.
How closely do these community-based workshops tie in with the design philosophy of Y Studio?
I guess we have always loved sourcing for old, unexpected daily objects and taking them apart to study them. We particularly enjoy taking these everyday necessities of old Taiwan, like ceramic plugs and enamel crockery, and re-modeling them into something functional for the everyday modern life. And we use these ideas as a means to educate and connect with the community.
At the same time, we are particularly curious about the varying perspectives influenced by varying cultural backgrounds. For example, the pen is a universal tool for creating words of different languages. The typography of the Chinese word is much different from that of English or European languages. So different communities look at a writing tool differently, depending on the language they are writing in. We are intrigued by the way writing tools are perceived through different cultural and literary perspectives, and how they are used.
Take us back to the present. We are curious about your upcoming projects or what you are busy with right now.
Most recently, we have just wrapped up a few exhibitions, such as the Taiwan International Cultural and Creative Expo in November. We have also been busy working on some new products, like the limited edition clipboard we have recently released for the year-end.
Working with craftsmen — does it fulfill or complicate the design process?
More often than not, as designers, we feel that we are working as one with our craftsmen as part of the whole design process. With that said, we have also been lucky to meet masters who are really committed to their crafts. For example, the best craftsman we have ever had the chance to work with spent a few nights laboring quietly over the mechanism of a mechanical brass pencil prototype. The design involved a very precise execution, but he had never once complained about the difficulties, nor rejected our business because it was not worth his time. We took the leap of faith with him because we were not even sure ourselves if it would work, but nevertheless, he made it work. Working with craftsmen like him definitely makes the process fulfilling and encouraging.
Looking back at how far you have come, what were the anxieties that you have faced and how did you overcome them?
Yi-Hsien: We will be lying if we say we were never nervous at any point. But whenever one of us gets anxious or frustrated, we keep the other in check, always reminding each other to keep calm and keep going.
As for myself, I have always had an interest for industrial design, much to my parents’ objection because they wanted me to follow an academic path. I entered engineering school like a responsible son, but secretly enrolled myself into another Industrial Design coursework upon graduating from my engineering degree. I was much older than my classmates by then. As such, I was always anxious about getting things right, and rather hard on myself, I must say, because there was always a persistent fear of falling behind.
Allow me to tell a story. We had the opportunity to meet the great Japanese master, Masayuki Kurokawa, who imparted a wonderful analogy to us. It was a lesson on growth, success and patience, which everyone can take away from. He said getting to success is like climbing a mountain and not being able to see the end in sight, or not knowing when you will reach the peak. Even if you make it to the top after all the hard work, you may find the view disappointing. But perhaps, while you are waiting at the peak, a black bird may approach. If you are willing to take the leap of faith, you will grab onto its claws, letting it take you away in flight.
If you have given up because the end was not in sight, or not what you have idealized, you will miss the opportunity to fly. And even if you have seized the opportunity, you may slip and let go of the bird’s claws, falling. So we should not see success as a final point for all our hard work, but as a combination of factors and a constant process of reaching, aiming, seizing, failing and getting back up again.
On the topic of success, do you have something envisioned for your studio or Taiwan’s design scene in Taiwan in the next five years?
We have been very blessed with opportunities since we started our studio. Grace from VVG has been most helpful; we had the chance to take our products overseas; and at the end of the day, we are just grateful that people love and appreciate our products. Looking back, I think we are lucky to have started our brand at this time, because the local market is just beginning to understand the kind of product design we do. We had a senior who tried to start a similar studio concept ten years ago, but the studio folded because it was not the right time.
I guess our main hope for Y Studio will be to see the sales of our products take off overseas. As for our aspirations for the local industry, we hope the local support for independent product designers grow from strength to strength. Ultimately, we want to be able to continue doing what what we love, continue to challenge the purpose of design, yet still take things in stride as they come.
Do you have any non-design-related hobbies that have carried you through your design process?
Yanko: (pointing to a desirable collection of vintage film cameras) Photography and cameras! While designing our Re-born lamp series, we had to take apart some cameras, and often find so much to learn about their internal mechanisms. Most surprisingly, we discovered a Japanese name inscribed on the interior shell of a camera. We found out that it’s the name of the very craftsman who had assembled the camera. It says so much about the pride he takes in his work, for it is a heavy responsibility to have a user know exactly who made their camera.
Yi-Hsien: (leading us to his Gundam models collection) Building Gundam models is a hobby that really helps me feel like a child again and takes me away from the practicalities of life. I’m not thinking about how well the business will do, whether we will survive, or how people will see our designs. And I believe this is an important break in the process — to take a step back sometimes and through distance, be re-inspired to design. When you are too focused about success, there is a tendency to clam up.
By the way, on an unrelated note, we saw a lovely pack stray cats on the ground floor of this building. Do you play with them much?
Yi-Hsien: I make a point to play with my own cats only, or domesticated cats. I don’t advocate being friendly with stray cats because you are domesticating them in some way, which in turn encourages them to let down their guards with people. And you never know when these cats may meet someone with ill intentions.
An adventure is about exploring with new eyes and free spirits. Begin your journey with just a pair of TIMO trunks and a curious mind. TIMO first burst onto the scene in 2009; since then it has received nothing short of enthusiastic approval from the likes of Wallpaper*, Monocle, and Asia’s own Bryan Boy. We brave the Bangkok traffic to visit founder and creative director Pow Foongfaungchaveng, who embodies much of TIMO’s adorned and preppy sensibilities.
Tell us about a day in the life of Timo.
Bon vivant and adventure-loving, TIMO rises rather late and he goes surfing and he normally has huge late lunch before embarking on his vintage wooden kayak to explore new islands, I think.
Having said that, TIMO doesn’t really exist. TIMO was invented as a character to introduce the TIMO swim trunks. As you see, in this season 2014, TIMO goes “Under Water” to introduce the “Panicked Fish” collection.
Was it always beachwear for you?
It just came naturally. Thailand, where there are great beaches, deserves good swim trunks. It all makes sense.
You were educated abroad. Why did you return to Thailand?
There are more opportunities in Asia, especially if you were to start a business in the creative-commodity industry. It is much easier to design and produce at more competitive cost. Asia runs no shortage of talents and to start producing a new product is much easier here.
"To turn passion into business wasn’t taught in design school"
Thailand is known for it’s mass production. What’s changed, and how do you see the consumer economy moving in the region?
I think Thailand, or Bangkok to be precise, is fast becoming known as a city of “new, good experimental design at affordable price”. A lot of people come to Bangkok, to shop and explore on new local designers, which are often amazing. As I said, we have no shortage of talents. Combining that with our manufacturing facilities here makes Thailand a good creative hub.
What inspires Timo?
Fun. TIMO takes fun seriously.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process?
When designing new TIMO prints, we always try to capture the spirit of something fun, an adventure or a journey into our prints. A TIMO design should also at once have a timeless quality, or carry some vibe that is classic enough about it. Our designs should not date quickly like fast fashion.
In what ways was it important that you do everything yourself, from designing right down to overseeing the manufacturing?
To start off a brand, it’s easier to do everything yourself, from design to production to communication, in order to get it right. Between you and me, don’t tell anyone, it is cheaper to do it yourself.
But it will come the time when the brand gets to the scale that you cant oversee everything. And I think for designers like us, it is the real challenge, I mean, to turn ‘passion’ into ‘business’ wasn’t taught in design school.
What made you work with Haystakt?
HAYSTAKT speaks for modern voice and I think so does TIMO.
Tell us about the upcoming TIMO x HAYSTAKT trunks.
We are exploring on design at this stage. It will be explosive. Wait and see.
What’s next for TIMO?
We are exploring into a total TIMO beach experience. I don’t know, ideas pop in and out all the time. I might want do a TIMO cabana bar at TJB next summer.
What is your favorite weekend beach?
Yaonoi Island, Phuket. It feels very Robinson Crusoe-meets-Wes-Anderson.
Messymsxi first burst onto the local art scene in 2010 with her inaugural solo show “Ten Years Of Work For Every Minute On Stage”, featuring a series of quirky, poignant paintings about the secret pains behind a team of nymph-like gymnasts. Since then she has grown to become one of Singapore’s best-known artists, earning numerous awards for her sensitive, playful and sometimes heart-rending illustration work.
When did you realise that you like to draw?
My dad was a Chinese painter, so when I was young he would let us play around with his paint brushes. He used to have a very big table in the dining room where he’d paint and as kids we were always very curious. Whatever that he chucked aside we would pick up and start painting, so that was like my hobby. Most of the time when I went out with my dad - like to the Emporium or something - I’d quickly go to the books corner and anyhow pick out coloring books. I remember spending all my time just coloring. I never watched television so now when my friends ask me about cartoons I watched while I was young, I can’t really strike a conversation with them!
But I’m sure you never imagined you’d one day become a full-time illustrator.
I never knew! When I wrote compositions I’d just write that my ambition is to be an artist, but it was bullshit because I really didn’t have an ambition. Even if my ambition was to be an artist I didn’t know how to be one. I just wrote it because it was something I knew was possible because my dad was an artist.
When I was in secondary school I didn’t do very well. When I got back my results, I could only go to a neighbourhood JC. I did my first 3 months at Serangoon Junior College, but it was so boring. My friend then asked me, since I like to draw, why not go to the design school at Temasek Polytechnic? She recommended me to go into the Visual Communications course, where I did graphic design. In my second and third year I majored in illustration, but after I graduated I didn’t know the tools to be an illustrator. I was very new, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know anyone who was an illustrator, so I just joined the company I previously did an internship with. I did quite well when I graduated so they didn’t mind taking me back.
I hated it. I think if I went to another company and my job scope was different I wouldn’t have disliked it as much. There also wasn’t any potential to grow so I quit my job. I decided to pursue illustration and further my studies. I talked to my parents about going to local university; my dad said I should continue working, and if I was really talented I wouldn’t need a degree. That was very heartbreaking. Then I talked to my mum. She said they didn’t really save up for my education. My brother studied medicine, so most of their savings went to his education. So I just told my mum, don’t worry, my God will provide!
Eventually you still went on to earn a degree in illustration. How did you manage to do that?
I did the most rebellious thing ever - I just went to apply to Central Saint Martins in London, without their consensus, without any money, without knowing what was going to happen.
Why did you decide to go back to school? Why not just start doing freelance work, like most of the other illustrators out there?
I think there was a lot I needed to learn. At that time I was very young and not ready. After I quit my job it was like the only option - I knew I didn’t want to do graphic design, so if I wanted to do something else, I should just go all the way. I think you have that kind of spirit when you’re very young - you’re very daring and very brave.
So I got accepted! I then got awarded a DesignSingapore scholarship. When I went to the UK, the exchange rate was really high, so I had to be very frugal. I really learnt how to save. The first month was quite fun because I was still exploring the place, but after that I got homesick and everything started to kick in. But that was the only way I could learn how to be really strong. A lot of my energy or my work now feeds from my experiences in London.
When did you come back to Singapore to pursue your art?
In 2009 I came back for awhile to prepare for my exhibition, then I went back to London. I was trying to look for work there but during that year it was the economic downturn, so it was very hard for anybody to hire or represent me.
So you didn’t actually want to come back?
I was half-hearted. I was very homesick after 3 years and I knew (coming back) would be better for me mentally. There (in London) I was so drained living alone and handling everything by myself. On the other hand, I really loved the culture and the whole energy about London, so I knew that was the place that really inspires me. I went back to London last year for 2 months, I loved it! I brought my work there - the good thing about being an illustrator is that a lot of the time you can communicate with your clients through email, they don’t really need to meet you. So working and living in London - that is the ideal situation.
Now that you have been through the traditional route, do you think it’s important for illustrators to get a formal education?
I don’t think it’s very important, because I know a lot of illustrators who don’t have degrees but their works are very good. There are many types of illustrators - some can draw really well; some illustrators are very artistic so clients look for them for their style. I don’t think I fall into that category of having a very strong style or of being super good at drawing, but when I was in school, I had to write a lot of essays to explain my work. We went to lots of context classes, so writing and learning how to talk about my work helped me create narratives in my work. So I think what sets me apart is that through my skills in illustrating I tell stories and explore issues worth sharing.
To put things in perspective and to ask a lot of questions - that was not something I understood before I studied (in university). Before that I just liked to tell quirky stories, things that I’m interested in, but I didn’t know what was the main reason for all these, I didn’t understand the bigger picture. Maybe I’m not that intelligent, so I needed the education. It opened my eyes.
I think this sense of “context” - of having a strong story at the core - really comes through when I look at your first solo exhibition “Ten Years Of Work For Every Minute On Stage”.
At first it was very shallow, I just wanted to draw gymnasts and contortionists. I had been on this subject for a long time, so I thought, okay this time I should finish and make a series out of them. I started working and after spending like one month trying to think about what this exhibition is going to be about, I got very fearful because I realised there’s nothing I’m communicating, there’s no real meaning, just pictures. I thought, what’s so good about this series of work? I felt very disappointed. I decided to chuck everything away.
One day I woke up and I was very sad, I felt like a failure, then I suddenly thought, oh why don’t I do a series on failure? I thought I should illustrate the gymnasts in the gym, practising day in day out; I felt it was exactly what I was doing. I was in my room, day in day out, drawing, so I found the connection and it was a lot easier after that. Because there was context! And meaning. Instead of making them look glamorous on stage, I added girls falling down. I wanted to show the harshness.
Do you see yourself working in the same medium all your life?
No. I don’t like to stick to something, I like to be open and experimental. I don’t really want to do just 2D drawings. For example, I can apply my skill of illustration to clothes and people can wear or carry them, and it can tell a story or express their personality. I wouldn’t want to be just an illustrator.
Whenever I’m not doing anything creative I will take a step back and I will look at what’s on my plate and compare the number of creative things and non-creative things I’m doing. I’d go back to square one, and ask myself, what do I want to communicate? I’d start asking questions that I was being asked when I was a student. When I was a student, that was the point when I was most inspired.
What are you currently busy with?
Now I’m trying to prepare for my second show. It’s very hard for me to put together something because I’m afraid that it won’t speak to people. I’ve been thinking about drugs, and that’s something that’s quite hard for people to relate to. I was watching about Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, these are celebrities who passed away because of drugs. It’s a waste of life.
I don’t think I’m a very dark person but I’m very attracted to stories like pollution, third world children, Africa, eating disorders. These are subjects I read about a lot on the newspapers when I was in the UK, because they always have this green section where they talk about pollution, and this celebrities section where they talk about eating disorders, and they alway show Lindsay Lohan on the front cover. These were the things I started researching on - I just felt very drawn to them. When I was in Temasek Polytechnic I did a project on how a girl started to waste materials because she had this experimental spirit, so she started cutting all the fabrics and wasted everything. That was actually a story that was parallel to Easter Island, which used to be a very lush island with a lot of trees, but people didn’t know how to use the resources properly. This resulted in cannibalism because they had nothing else to eat. Easter Island is empty now and has become merely a touristy area. These are very interesting subjects that I am very drawn to.
Lastly, do you have a personal artistic hero?
Yes, it’s Louise Bourgeois. She built her career in America. Her story is very sad. When she was very young, her father had an affair with her English tuition teacher. All along she thought her teacher liked her very much and therefore gave her a lot of attention. But along the way she found out that maybe she’s not the reason why the teacher was there; she was there to have an affair with her father. Her father was always very mean, so all her work, from when she was a young artist until she was old, revolved around her dad and her experiences with him. She’s also very experimental - she uses all sorts of materials - iron, marbles - and she uses materials in the context of the subject she’s talking about very accurately.
All her life she had insomnia so she’d write down things she was thinking about. A lot of her writings were very dark. She was very traumatized by her father. Everything she did was about her father and her anger and how she couldn’t forgive him. I think it’s really very sad. Somehow she just couldn’t let go, but maybe that’s the beautiful part of her work.
As we wrap up the year (and your gift orders, thank you all you fantastic people!), it’s only right that the spirit of gifting doesn’t stop at gifts, or occasions, for that matter. In fact, it might just be the signal of things more meaningful.
We’ve planned this issue to take you through your Christmas cheer and New Years’ tidings, a little gift from us to you. As you wind-down the year’s accounts and take that well-deserved breather, check out our 5 Tips to Being A Good Host this holiday season. We’re also delighted to bring you a christmas exclusive in collaboration with our friends The MeatMen, who do no less than to teach you how to make the perfect locally infused Christmas dish - in all it’s high-definition video glory.
Lastly, a splendid new year’s tale from our friends in Jakarta, about one brand’s search for the perfect blue, their new collection designed for gardening, and reflections on sowing seeds for a new landscape.
We hope you enjoy the issue, and we can’t wait for the surprises we have in store for you for the upcoming year. It’s going to be a year of many firsts, and as always, we’re so glad to have you with us. On behalf of all of us at Haystakt, have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy, Happy New Year.
Color is a thing we sometimes take for granted. For our friends Direz, Osi, and Dana, it’s a fully fledged business, a way to sustain old-time craft, and a constant source of inspiration. At the forefront of a fast-growing local menswear scene, Bluesville does no less than to highlight the often overlooked intricacies of an industry. Nestled away from the bustling streets of Jakarta, we understand why their peaceful workshop is a sanctuary where one can reflect upon the history of color, hone the art of dye, and be reminded about the importance of going to great lengths to do something simple.
In the fast world of fashion, shapes and prints are often the highlights, but the ethos that drives Bluesville is one that is slow, observant, and focused on technique. Who’s behind the brand, and tell us, what was the spark?
First of all, thank you. We started with Direz and Osi at first, throwing ideas back and forth with an interest to make indigo related products. That was back in early 2011. Later on, still in 2011, we met with Dana (Direz’s friend from high school), whom at the time of their meeting had already been exploring techniques related to indigo dyeing. The three of us came together and chatted, and it organically evolved to a decision to build a brand with a focus on indigo as the main inspiration.
We started really small, with minimum knowledge and minimum budget. What kept us going was pure passion and our interest in natural indigo. The initial experiments led to our first product, which was a natural indigo dyed t-shirt made through collaboration with the biggest denim community in Indonesia, Darahkubiru. On the first run we produced a mere 20 t-shirts and it was sold out in minutes! That really excited us. I think that was also the turning point for us to give Bluesville a go and make it bigger.
Tell us about color.
We’ve always been into history, and color has a deep history that surrounds it, especially blue. Back in ancient civilizations, colors in clothing were obtained through natural means, predominantly from plants and their parts. The colors were obtained from natural dye extracted directly from leaves, roots and sometimes insects. The process of extracting was all done naturally by hand, the same could be said with the process of dyeing garments.
Talking about natural blue, this particular color holds sacred meaning to several civilizations around the world. Mainly it is because blue was the hardest to extract, and the source of blue is rare and expensive. The first known source for the color blue was Lapis Lazuli, a mineral often found in Central Asia. Legends said that blue colors extracted from lapis lazuli date back to the Mesopotamian civilization and were used for buildings, clothes, jewelry, and the ingredients for Cleopatra’s eye shadow.
"The color blue.. and it’s relation to people remains as one of our main inspirations.."
Later on, blue was extracted from plants and the only plants that can produce blue is Indigofera Tinctoria, mainly produced in India and South East Asia. In fact, Indonesia, and especially Java, was one of the main indigo plantations during the VOC (Dutch East india Company) reign in the area during the 15th century. As a rare and expensive commodity, Indigo from Asia was often transported to Europe.
Blue and indigo are also often associated with mysticism and spiritual matters. This is because the process of natural indigo dyeing is a challenge to manage. Until today, people in Japan still pray each time they plant a new indigo seed. People in Toba, Indonesia, would be accompanied with witch doctors chanting prayers to block the evil spirit that can affect the indigo vats.
The history and spiritual relation about the color blue was what led us to exploring more about indigo, and it’s relation to people remains as one of our main inspirations.
You hold onto traditional techniques while designing for a modern audience.
Since our inception we’ve focused on applying traditional techniques in producing garments, holding to 3 of Indonesia’s traditional garment techniques including natural dyeing, traditional hand weaving, and handwritten batik. These techniques were mastered by our ancestors, and we hope to preserve these techniques for the future and make them sustainable.
Nowadays, most people who practice these techniques still refer to more traditional approaches in terms of design. The world knows batik, but mainly for it’s motifs and patterns, mostly from hundreds of years ago. So we try to expose more about what lies beneath the motifs, going back to the fundamentals of batik, and it’s resist dye waxing technique.
We try to think progressively when designing, and we feel that these traditional techniques shouldn’t just be revived or preserved but be pushed into more modern and relevant uses. By being relevant we can apply batik techniques to a more modern approach in terms of motif designs, for example making polka dots motifs using batik techniques, or an all-over-paisley. We do try to think of what is relevant today in clothing, and combine it with what our traditional techniques are capable of making. That way we still preserve the year old technique but in a way also pushing them to the next level.
Indonesia used to be a center for international manufacturing export due to it’s low costs, though in recent years this has shifted towards a local creative economy. Is there a domestic market?
Indeed. I think it’s because the young and productive population is the majority at the moment in Indonesia, and the Internet has been a factor for them to grasp information quickly and thoroughly.
People are becoming more interested in obtaining local products in recent years and there are many catalysts to this movement. One example is the growing community of young urban people in online forums like darahkubiru which have been promoting local brands since 4 years ago. There are also annual market events that expose local brands to a wider audience, and also the government supported ”Aku Cinta Indonesia” (I love Indonesian local products) movement which encourages people to buy more local products instead of Internationally branded ones.
We think that it’s headed in the right direction with people becoming more appreciative towards higher quality goods produced by their locals. We do believe that Indonesia will start becoming one of the creative centers of Asia in the coming years.
With a creative boom, how do you see brands differentiating in the future?
Brands would have to strengthen their identity because each year, many new brands would rise and would take parts from the pie. If a brand holds strongly to their values and identity, that brand would stand a better chance of surviving and sustaining.
Your products are not cheap, but this is a result of irreplaceable handmade techniques. Is it a challenge convincing consumers of the value in your articles?
Of course it’s a challenge and we do love challenges. The first thing we do in convincing people is to make not just a great product but also an honest product. Through visuals, we show our customers the laborious process required to create high-quality products, and we only say what we’ve really done behind the scenes. It is important to imbue our brand value and process in some way to each product, that’s why we give customers honest and detailed explanations every time we release a new collection.
What are some of the interesting things you have done in light of Bluesville’s spirit of experimentation?
We’re always looking to improve our basics and fundamentals. Natural dyeing is not rocket science but it requires science, patience and passion. We’ve sourced the best indigo from all parts of Indonesia and we’re always strengthening our knowledge from the natural dyeing experts on how to improve things. Recently we’re more into shibori and tie-dyeing technique because it brings us back to where we started, and experimenting and seeing the result after is really satisfying. We’re recently trying to achieve a better solution to dye leather. We’ve done this before but to no avail. It’s a challenge but I think we can make a great indigo dyed leather in the future.
What are some of the things you consider when coming up with a new collection?
Usually each new collection will start with a base theme and from that theme we incorporate the blue color and our base value. Just like the brand name, we always start with blue as the main inspiration. Later on we think about what clothing is relevant to the theme, what motifs would accompany the theme, what fabrics should be made and sourced for the collection and so on. We try to look for fabrics or kinds of shirts we haven’t done before, but we always look back in retrospect, and think about what can be improved from our last collection. It’s important to innovate and still keep the basic value of our brand.
"The first thing we do in convincing people is to make not just a great product but also an honest product."
Tell us about the concept behind your upcoming collection.
Our FW13 collection is be based on gardens. We’re aiming to make clothes that fit well in the garden, be it just strolling around in your backyards or in your daily gardening chore.
What’s your ideal weekend in the city?
Visiting our workshop to catch inspiration in the morning, then strolling around the outskirts of busy Jakarta. Also some great food for dinner, be it fancy or hawkers.
Any places we should check out?
If you like fishing, you should check some fishing ponds around BSD, they’ve got monster fish including Arapaima. If you’re into Japanese food and ambience, Sakana in Mid Plaza and the Little Tokyo in Melawai is a go to place.
Recently awarded Design of the Year at The President*s Design Awards, the Singapore Icons project is a set of porcelain wares created through a collaboration between five Singaporean designers and the Japanese label KIHARA. At the center of this project is design entrepreneur Edwin Low (also co-founder of boutique retail store Supermama), who has made it his personal mission to build a bridge between Singapore and Japan, through which disparate ideas about design and craft can be exchanged freely between the two nations.
Congratulations on your win of the “President*s Design Award” for the Singapore Icons project! It must have been a fabulous ride for you so far.
There are 15 awards and 6 of them are to Designers of the Year, 9 are Designs of the Year. One other winner of “Design of the Year” is Gardens By the Bay, so we’re competing with all these people! Whereas I’m just doing porcelain pieces! So this is amazing. I feel that one reason it won is because the images tug at the hearts of people. For a long time Singaporeans have been looking for a certain identity and this project kind of brings things together. I feel that we’re obviously more than the Merlion. For us to really find our identity, maybe it’s about knowing the people around us, and seeing how other people respond to us. This collaboration with the Japanese side has told me a lot about who I am.
Did you imagine the project would achieve this amount of success?
We started the Singapore Icons project earlier this year. I think because of Supermama, I understand that sometimes very good design doesn’t sell, very good craft doesn’t sell, even very good craft plus very good design doesn’t sell, so it’s all a balancing game. You know the HDB set? The designer (Chang Shian Wei) did it in less than one hour. Before that it was another design. He spent so much time on it but I looked at it and I knew it couldn’t sell. It was a permutation of the Singapore Flag. When I curate the Singapore Icons project, I need to be very sure of my role. I cannot be a designer - I must be a curator, a businessman. Is the design nice? Yes, but I know it just won’t sell. Why? Actually there’s no reason, I just know that it won’t sell. Just a feeling. When I first saw the HDB, I knew that it’d sell for sure. I think also the HDB set kind of opened up the whole thing.
The Singapore Icons project was made possible only through your collaboration with some very expert Japanese makers. Can you tell us more about that experience?
It’s very difficult to get into the Japanese craft industry. I recently just came back from a trip to Japan where I met up with a metal polisher who is in his 70s. It wasn’t easy for me to get to talk to him. He ignored me at first and didn’t care about me. I had to wait there until he sensed that I showed genuine interest. That was when he finally invited me into the small room behind and made tea for me and talked to me. He has been polishing metal for 50 years. He said, I can polish metal forever, for the rest of my life, what about you? That shook me up. It was a very good conversation. Just amazing.
What else did he teach you?
Metal polishing itself has many different streams, which changed my concept of craft totally. When we think about craft we usually relate craft to handmade, but when the Japanese metal polisher talks about craft, he’s talking about your entire soul. Craft requires you to see and feel what you make. In even just metal polishing there are many ways to do it - his friend only did one style for 20 over years, so the moment the industry shifted, he was wiped out. That dawned upon me that craft is not doing something over and over again senselessly, it is more an accumulation of knowledge in the particular field that you’re in. If I can replace you by a machine, to me that is not craft anymore. That is just human automation. Craft is like life-long learning, where you keep learning and learning. He was telling me that he’s still learning and discovering new ways to polish intricate, hidden parts, and that brings life to him. As society moves, the types of objects that come to him changes, and he moves, so craft is actually alive. This shows me his attitude, which made me realize why it’s so difficult to work with the Japanese in the first place. You need to speak the same language - not Japanese, but to speak with the heart. They need to know that when you’re doing things, it’s not for money, but that you’re really interested. They can sense that. So if you don’t get past that, then bye bye. You’ll never get to work with them.
On the previous trip, I met with a craftsman who used to be a photojournalist, but his wife was the only child and she inherited a metal foundry. So for him he had to consider whether to take up the foundry or continue his passion. He realized that he was responsible for the foundry, and so he put aside his passion and built it up. Next year it will be 100 years old. Before the trip my passion ruled the world, then I realized - it’s not just about passion, but also responsibility, people, life.
"If I can replace you by a machine.. that is just human automation. Craft is like life-long learning.."
How did you eventually convince these Japanese craftsmen to consider working with you?
It never dawned upon me that the Japanese craft facilities would want to work with me, because I’d previously tried for 2 or 3 years and I really couldn’t get in. I know some of my friends who went in, and they produced one glass for $700. That’s not a collaboration.
Then last year I met Kihara twice in Singapore - I still remember it was on a Friday and a Saturday. That was before Supermama was launched at 8Q. I was at Orchard Cineleisure where Kihara had a little show there, I was there with my daughter. Japanese products are very distinct, so when I saw them I went in for a look. The price was half of what I usually sell. I was so jealous. Then I asked one of them (who is now my Japanese partner) - How come so cheap? You must be joking. He said it’s because they’re the direct makers. They don’t go through anyone else. We exchanged name cards and the very next day I was setting up Supermama at 8Q, and it was at that moment when they walked past the store, without any arrangement. We chatted and they told me they never sold one cup in Orchard, so I said, instead of shipping back and incurring more costs, why not put the goods at my store and let me sell them during my launch? So they left them with me and that day we sold a lot. They were shocked because they had been in Singapore for a few days and they hadn’t sold anything, not even one cup.
That was when I knew that they were very open already, so I took the opportunity to tell them that I have always wanted to do Singapore products with a strong local kick to it, and they said yes, so that’s how the Singapore Icons project started. When we look at all of these coincidences, it’s really very divine, it’s crazy. It was just so random.
Will your future projects under Democratic Society continue to build on this focus about our Singaporean identity?
Yes, they will be Singapore-focused, but this time round I’m going to build up a design team as well. I’m also a lecturer, so I’m going to see if there’s a way to identify some very good students and then get them to produce a range together. Of course I’m still going to have the usual show with 5 designers, but even though I feel that designers are good, I feel like the life of Singaporeans should be told not just by designers. I have this crazy idea that for one of the collections I can get 5 celebrity chefs to do the design, or 5 housewives, 5 grandparents, 5 kids. It will go in that direction.
Now that you have begun to establish relationships with these Japanese makers, do you, as a design educator, intend to bring some of their knowledge back to Singapore?
I have about 4 or 5 Japanese craft facilities who’re open for me to use their branding or name. I can start a design craft school and use their name; if I collect fees I can produce my students’ prototypes with them, but I don’t know if Singapore is ripe for such things yet. You know Singapore is still all about academics, but I’m contemplating starting a programme where I have backup support of all these craft facilities. I’m a design educator by training already, so for those who really want to produce things they can come to me, and I can connect them. Part of the school fees will go to prototyping their products, and imagine when they graduate, they will already have a completed product! So this is something I’m toying with.
I know you were also leading a Design Entrepreneurship programme at City College. Will your recent experiences change the way you run the programme?
For City College we are actually going to do something different. Previously we positioned it as a two-year programme, but I’m going to rest for awhile, and when it starts again in August (next year) it will take on a different form. It’s not going to be an institution kind of school, but more like an apprenticeship. The students will be attached to someone, and actual lessons and discussions may happen in a cafe. We’re still planning. I believe that if you really want to transform minds or build a culture, schools are the best way. There’s no better option. When students come to school, they come to learn, so their minds are very open.
What’s next for you?
I thought of creating a publication next year, half Japanese half English, it’s going to be free and will focus on children, culture and craft. We are still trying to look for sponsors. It’s going to be a little like The U Press, but not so atas [high-class]. If you look at Japanese magazines, they have a very interesting way of doing it. Sometimes you think it’s very cheesy, but it’s not! I don’t know how to describe it. I want to make this publication very easy for people, so not only designers can appreciate it. I want to focus on the imaginative ability of children, when their mind is still unclouded - What are their thoughts? What can you learn and pick up from their drawings and the way they speak? We might even have writings about children and one page that they can tear out. The magazine will also be about how craft, and the element of our senses, works together with our society. I’m also trying to make this a little more touristy, because I want more Japanese to come to Singapore, and more Singaporeans to go to Japan. I’m also hoping to cover one craft facility every issue, so we can start with Kihara, the landscape in Arita, their porcelain-making, their craftsmen.
I will be going to Ambiente, a trade show in Germany next year. What I’m going to sell is not the products (of Democratic Society) but the approach. I want the traders to come in and design with Kihara or design with me. Why? Because I feel that long gone are the days when we create one product and shove it down the throats of other people. That doesn’t work anymore. Every country has their own culture and beliefs, if their designers can wake up and design something contextually relevant to the people around them, I think that will open up that sort of market. I don’t want them to buy the HDB plates, because HDB doesn’t mean a single thing to them. But I want them to see that HDB means a lot to Singaporeans, so is there anything that means a lot to them? Can that be placed on a plate?
I remember you said that you started Supermama because you wanted to take a step back and relook at life. Is what you’re doing these days still about that?
Two months back, during my previous trip to Tokyo, I suddenly felt cramps on my chest. After awhile it went off, but when I came back to Singapore I went to see a specialist. When I went to receive my report, the doctor actually made a mistake. He thought he saw something. Then I was thinking, “Siao liao” [“crazy already”]. I was there sitting with my wife. It was the longest five minutes in my life. So what happened was that he had flipped the scan wrongly. I was okay! But in that five minutes I actually came to terms with my life. If I’m going to die, what regrets do I have? I came down to only two - I cannot see my children grow up, I cannot hold my wife’s hand forever. That’s all. I’m happy with the rest, I can go already. I can’t see my kids grow up, I cannot be with my wife forever - there’s no solution for that, so I think I’m happy. Imagine if everybody can have that five minutes!
"it’s not just about passion, but also responsibility, people, life.."
I think the beauty of things is that you need to balance. I’m so busy but I can just stop everything and go and play with my kids. It’s when you know your priorities and you give to where it matters most. Life in itself is design, and that’s really nice!
The MeatMen make recipes easy. To be honest, they also make us hungry - it’s not often we see our local fare in such mouthwatering, high-definition goodness. But to call The MeatMen a bunch of video savvy cooks just simply won’t cut it - because they do so much more than that. Think about the number of times they’ve saved last minute parties, late night dinners, and brought some home-cooking excitement to your weekends on this little island. That’s why we’ve teamed up with them to bring you this Christmas exclusive. And before you run out to grab those ingredients, here’s our short chat with the guys behind the lens. Introducing JJ, KYD, and Chris, and the Roasted Lamb with Saffron Rice.
Who’s behind The MeatMen, and how did you guys get started?
Well the few of us always have had an obsession with food of sorts, but it all started with JJ’s obsession to record the whole process of food creation through the lens by using videos. Before we knew it, we came up with the name The MeatMen… because we LOVE meat!
How do you choose which dishes to feature?
For starts, we’re the MEATMEN, so we’re exclusively meat-focused and meat-centric now. We also hope to capture easy-to-make recipes, that can be made by anyone from home. That’s our fundamental criteria.
You guys have quite a distinct style or can we say formula. Was it a concerted effort or vision?
It’s both actually. It’s a vision for us to create high-quality recipe videos, so that laymen can follow and emulate the process. But at the same time, we’re constantly trying to up our game to push our quality to a higher level each day.
What’s the process like?
Well, normally we try to follow where our tummies bring us… but the truth is that we have a list of various awesome recipes that we want to bring to the people on the internet. We’ll choose the dish, simplify, modify, or combine recipes, and after rounds of trials do we actually shoot the process on film.
The trials must be fun, and filling too. What are your tools?
So far we’ve shot all our videos on an entry level DSLR together with a simple 50mm prime lens, nothing too complicated.
What’s the plan for The MeatMen?
2013 has been a year whereby we’ve worked through our birthing growth and balancing The MeatMen with our day jobs and life. We do hope to do more this coming year though, with better quality recipes and consistent posts, so stay tuned!
And we must ask, what are your favourite foods?
We all have different preferences. JJ loves duck rice, KYD is the king of chicken rice, and Chris loves carrot cake (yes it does not contain meat in it).
Here’s the video recipe for your enjoyment, in all it’s glorious 2 minutes - try not to drool!
To print the recipe & shopping list: Visit the second part of this article on The MeatMen’s website here.
To Cook: Mount your ipad on your kitchen counter, and play video on loop.
How do we define utility? In this age of counter-consumerism, we might find ourselves asking the question of whether we really need something before we purchase it. What’s great about this movement is that we often find inspiring and well-thought out products to improve our daily living. An accordion notebook to ensure you don’t run out of writing space, waterproof bags for the South-East Asian monsoon season, or swim trunks engineered for fun in the sun.
But speaking about inspiring, does utility necessarily mean function over form? For the creative professional, does it not include objects that inspire output, a feeling, or emotion? While it’s good practice to shop wisely, we’d like to venture that while some things don’t necessarily re-invent the wheel, they sure add that bit to making our lives better.
In The Utilitarian Issue, we kickoff with coverage from the Goodcraft show, and an exclusive interview with James of Neighbourgoods on crafting an apron of form and function. On the other side of the continent (Tokyo to be exact), we chat with Mike from Postalco about designing for daily life, and check out his very own invention - the wheel printer. And just when we thought inventions were rare in this day and age, we get behind the machine with homegrown 3D printer manufacturers romscraj, and learn how they designed a 3D printer for the local economy. Edmund and Kai, from The Bureau, shed light on the Singapore design scene. And lastly to round up the issue we’ve put together a pop-up shop of perfect holiday gifts, titled 22 things you don’t need, but must have.
When Postalco first burst onto the scene, it was aptly described as a label that was only a few years old but seems to have always existed. Of course, we know that this doesn’t come without hard work, but in Postalco’s case extends beyond mere branding. You’ll understand this when you look at their products and their investigative exhibitions, but even more so when you talk to Mike himself. 13 years down the road, he’s at the helm of the company, keeping it small and controlled, still taking the time to research and push the boundaries with his inventions in the field of craft - it’s no wonder his approach strikes us as that of an urban explorer cum history buff, a day-to-day problem solver.
What were you doing before Postalco? What made you want to start your own company?
I was doing product design and was the design director for Jack Spade. It was at the very start of Jack Spade so I was able to build it up from scratch with Andy Spade. It was great to see it take shape from the sand like that.
I started Postalco with my wife Yuri - she did the graphic design and I did the product design. There are so many things that are available but among all the products for sale it is hard to find exactly what you are looking for. There were everyday objects that I wanted to use myself and hoped that other people might also be interested.
You started out with stationery, but now have an expanded repertoire. When you design a product, is it about function?
I used to keep a few rolls of fabric in my apartment in Brooklyn. They always seemed to be in the way. But when the fabric was cut and made into a bag it was so useful and not in the way at all. It still surprises me to see a sheet of fabric or leather be transformed into something to be used in daily life. I am fascinated by the transformation of material.
I’ve sometimes wondered how you look at products, say if you’re walking along a row of shops or in a mall. Do you look at something and feel there is room for improvement, like an itch to be scratched?
I guess I am not a big shopper. When I do go I am overwhelmed by all the variations of each product that there is. After seeing many products I don’t feel like making anything. When I buy something I feel like it is a leap of faith- I never know whether I will use it nearly every day or if it will end up at the back of the drawer. I have to trust the person who is responsible for the object.
We love your work in the field of design research. Is there a method to your research?
I try to cast my net as wide as possible. I have seen so many apparently unrelated things circle around to be essential later on. Studying the way that fishes mouth work in nature mechanically was probably the biggest influence in the construction of the Wheel Printing machine I built. When I was looking at fishes mouths I had no idea it was related to any other project, but the fish mouth mechanisms are just fascinating: complicated and simple at the same time. With research I like to start ridiculously wide since I can always trim back later.
When was the last time your hammer broke? It is a challenge to get new objects to work as well as a hammer does.
I’ve seen some of your models and drawings, and of course the wheel printer. Is working with your hands an important part of your process?
Humans are physical beings in the 3 dimensional world. Our hands are the way we understand what our eyes are seeing. While making products how can I leave out these two hands? Naturally our eyes are dominant, they work from a distance, but the hands understand things on a much more personal level.
How long has it been now? How have things changed from when you first started?
Postalco began 13 years ago. That was the year 2000. It’s difficult to distinguish between personal changes and changes in the world. More and more I feel like I want things around me to keep for the rest of my life - less and less disposability. It is really satisfying to fix a broken wooden chair we’ve used for years than to buy a new one.
Long term objects mean more of a culture of repairing and also choosing objects that naturally age well.
There has been a renewed interest in craft globally. How do you see the modern relationship between the designer and the craftsman evolving?
A big part of what I think about is finding a way to apply traditional crafts to everyday things we use. In some cases if a new applications aren’t found for traditional skills, that knowledge will disappear.
Postalco Library is the company’s publication branch. What was it about Keizo Kitajima’s series that interests you?
Postalco Library is a platform for us to share ideas that we find inspiring.
A friend who runs a book publisher called Little Big Man showed me the Keizo Kitajima’s USSR 1991 images and I couldn’t forget them. Keizo Kitajima really sees photography as an act of questioning and exploring. For me that really came through in the photos he took on his travels through the USSR just as it was about to collapse.
A big part of what I think about is finding a way to apply traditional crafts to everyday things we use. In some cases if a new applications aren’t found for traditional skills, that knowledge will disappear.
What role does history play in the world of Postalco?
History gives perspective on where we are right now. History is also story-telling. There are layers of history built into traditional objects. Take an ordinary hammer: It is interesting to hear or guess about the generations of craftsmen and workers who contributed to the shapes and materials used in a hammer. All the people who improved the hammer over time is what makes it work so well. When was the last time your hammer broke? The way the wooden handle flares out at the end to keep it from slipping or the exact shape of the hammer head is all perfect. It is a challenge to get new objects to work as well as a hammer does.
What are your future plans for Postalco?
To keep asking questions!
You were formerly based in Brooklyn, what aspects of the city made you settle in Japan?
The food in Japan— Also the living network of craftsmen is what makes it such a great place to make things.
What’s your perfect weekend in Tokyo?
Anywere near the ocean, any time of the year!
If you happen to be in Tokyo, visit the Postalco shop in Shibuya.
The Bureau popped up in the Singapore design scene some years ago with their MOE Chair Series, an original line of self-manufactured chairs that pay tribute to the wooden chairs once used in local schools before they were phased out to plastic-moulded ones. But The Bureau, made up now of partners Edmund Seet and Kai Yeo, are of course more than just chair-makers. Housed (or caged, literally) in a wonderfully raw space in Tiong Bahru, the studio produces multi-disciplinary solutions for their clients, daring to veer off into multiple trajectory lines: branding, book design, interior design, retailing - you name it, they’ve done it. We talk to them about growing up, and the landscape of the Singapore design industry.
Let’s go all the way back to the beginning.
E: We started [the studio] about 4 years ago. I was coming back from Bangkok and Kai was just finishing up with another friend of ours - they had decided to close their company and part ways. And Yasser was just coming back from Yale, where he was on a scholarship from DesignSingapore. Prior to that the three of us did some work together under the name of GraphicTaskForce. That was 10 years ago. It was for fun, more for exploring and just doing creative work.
Most designers start from working for other design studios, did you guys do that?
E: Yes! I was with FutureBrand, Kai was with Asylum for a long time, Yasser was with MTV and Discovery. We all worked for different studios. GraphicTaskForce existed just for fun, so at first we didn’t think much about it. We were just like, let’s do something and see what happens! It was quite fun doing different types of work. That went on for quite awhile - we were just hanging out and having coffee! It wasn’t like, oh we’re gonna do something great! We were just exploring outside of our regular jobs.
In 2009, I was coming back from Bangkok and Yasser was back from his studies, so we thought we might as well give it a shot. I mean there’s no right time right? So based on our past working relationship, we thought we might give it a try.
What’s the distinction between The Bureau and BALLS? Do you identify yourself more as The Bureau now?
The business has always been registered as The Bureau. We identify ourselves as The Bureau now, as i think we all need to grow up sometime. ha ha. BALLS is the short form for the full name of the studio, which was designed as a tongue in cheek name. Rather irreverent, we thought it would be more fun for you to discover the short form on your own after reading the full name.
The Bureau feels like it has a hand in many different pies. You do design work for clients, you have been commissioned to make furniture, you even have a little space where you sell some of your furniture..
K: I think this year we’re actually trying to focus. Last year was pretty exciting because we had a lot of different projects going on. Besides the chairs, we did a couple of interior design projects and that also grew into something. Like the furniture that you see here. Both of them were for restaurant jobs. This table was produced for a gastrobar in Bukit Timah called Outpost 903.
E: I think when we started the studio we wanted to try different types of design work, because as you know, designers are a dime a dozen. So when the opportunity came, we gave it a shot. I think the opportunity to help the client translate the brand into not only 2D but 3D form, to take it into a spatial thing, I think that’s important. So we didn’t only do the identity, we also thought about how to translate some of the ideas into the interior design.
So you mentioned about wanting to focus this year. What do you mean by that?
E: We have been trying to simplify. We started dabbling in furniture, interior design, retailing, but this year we want to use the opportunity to regroup and refocus on the core of the business. Anything else that comes along is a bonus. That’s why I think it’s more about decluttering.
K: After we took part in the fair organized by SFIC (Singapore Furniture Industries Council), we got our client to look at what we saw at the fair. They liked them so we took the furniture in and used them as furnishings for the cafe. We also decided that since we have this [studio] space, why not bring in some extra pieces to sell? That’s how we went into selling some of the furniture in the office here. Some pieces we picked up from here and there, and then we give them a new lease of life. You see this [letterpress] machine here. I had been looking for it for a couple of years, then I found it through some letterpress blog. That’s how we got into letterpress. I have done some work here and there, for our client’s menu, some wedding cards for friends. It came to a certain point when we thought, it’s damn exciting, but we want to refocus on our design work. All these other hobbies will have to wait.
So what would you think is the main working philosophy of The Bureau as a whole?
E: Alot of the work we do for our clients is pretty much about telling their stories. The work can only come about if we form a strong relationship with them, so that they understand where we come from. They know the brand best, but in terms of presentation and approach, it’s up to us to tell them, hey maybe you should try something different.
And we usually tend not to blemish the work. Kai used this analogy before - for example, if you prepare a dish, if it doesn’t need additional salt or seasoning, let’s not add to it. We just want to keep it quite pure. I think there’s a certain rawness to our work.
This rawness also seems to translate into your current studio space.
E: What attracted us to the space was the rawness of it. We did up everything, but if you realize we left the wall unpainted, we didn’t patch up the walls, the peeling paint. There was a certain characteristic - a certain honesty - that we liked, so we kept them as they were, but we built upon them and kept the rawness as the canvas.
Tell us more about the MOE Chair Series.
E: We had in mind that we wanted to create the chairs, but we had no plans for them yet, in terms of marketing. With the [limited] space that we have, we were also not ready to sink a lot of money into them. And there’s a minimum order with manufacturers. But the prototype was in our office for close to 2 years. We did 2 rounds of prototyping. We didn’t have the know-how to get them produced, so we were hunting for suppliers and when the [restaurant] project came along, we went into it.
You have done so many different things, but you don’t seem to draw a line between the different activities.
E: To us there’s no clear line between what we do. If you really want to do something, just do it! What’s stopping you? There’s really no difference between the different facets of design. Because design is actually a form of consultancy. People buy your time because you help them translate certain things into a point of view. That point of view could be a book, a brand, a product.
Of course, arguably, for a lot of people, for logistical purposes, they are different, We agree, because the considerations are different, but you don’t want to be judged as a business based on technicality. You want to be judged based on, oh we want to hire you because you have a point of view that we’re interested in, that we can use to push the thing further. I think that’s important. Rather than, oh you do very nice brochures, I want you to help me make a brochure!
So what‘s it like working in Singapore?
K: Definitely very exciting and more competitive now. The world of design has evolved.
But while it’s more competitive, the design studios in Singapore seem to be very supportive of each other.
K: I don’t know, maybe because most of us were friends first. When I started with Asylum, Chris was my senior. Larry was my colleague there. Maybe that explains why. We knew each other from years ago.
So are there any local designers you really like or admire?
E: I like different studios for different reasons. Larry carved a good niche for himself in a very niche market. And his work has a certain signature. I look for signature in a work. I think he has that. Chris, don’t say lah - that’s a given! He has been able to turn it into a formidable creative force. That’s very admirable. Even Hanson - he only does very art-based or architectural kind of work, but he stuck to his gun and has gotten somewhere.
What plans do you have for the studio in general?
K: Make more money!
E: And for it to be self-running. The studio doesn’t need to be big, but it needs to be more self-sufficient. The team is pretty young, so they still require a bit of hand-holding. We don’t want to grow too big, but we want everyone to be comfortable. I think once you become too big, you become beholden to the project. If we do get more work, I’d rather we pay designers more money. Designers are one of the more misunderstood professions. The value of design has grown, but the value of the designer hasn’t. So if we can make more money, I’d rather we pay everyone more.
Finally, what do you do on your free time? Are you guys workaholics?
K: The furniture-making and letterpress are something very dear to Kai. As for me, I play tennis. For some of the work, you don’t have a choice, because you have to make sure you put in the amount of work before you see the results, but think it’s important to pull yourself away for perspective.
Founded in 2011, Romscraj is the pioneering 3D printer manufacturer in Singapore. Formed from the words “from scratch”, the homegrown brand’s mission is to continually innovate. Kiam Peng and Chee Hoe have a background in engineering and spent several years working in a corporate setting before striking it off on their own. We speak to them about the challenges of designing and producing a 3D printer for the local economy.
How did you start making 3D printers?
We were part of the open source hardware community. Then one day the community went very quiet, no one was talking. It’s usually quite busy and active so this was quite strange and it went quiet for awhile. So I did some research and look around and realized everyone had moved on to 3D printing. That’s when we started on it, and we got hooked.
How has the response been? The 3D printing crowd is always there, and they are an enthusiastic bunch. But these people mostly come from other parts of the world. From what we’ve found, Singapore is not ready for the DIY culture, neither is Asia. We once held a workshop and from our point of view it was a disaster - we watched as our customers became more interested in the 3D modelling and actual printing, but not so much in the assembling of the printer itself.
You started out offering assembly kits, and this garnered you quite a large following with the local 3D printing community. We started out making and selling printer assembly kits derived off of the RepRap project, thinking it would be fun to assemble your own printer, since our target audience would have that DIY mentality. You literally use another 3D printer to print out your parts for your next printer - it’s functionality at it’s core. But we soon realized the local consumer wasn’t ready for that. So the Portabee Go was born because it fulfilled that consumer need.
Do you see that culture changing locally? I think we need to encourage DIY from the ground level. It’s about attitude and education, not a top-down approach. In a way that’s also why we will still maintain 2 arms - 1 is the more DIY side (reprap derivatives), and 1 is the more “consumer-level” side.
So tell us about the Portabee Go. We had this concept that if you looked slightly into the future, you could liken a 3D printer to a photograph printer. You take a photo of something and you can instantly print it. So we’re innovating by taking 3D printers by making them portable.
Are we Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Do we want to change the world? No.. we just want to prove that small sustainable businesses can be built locally too.
Portabee Go was privately launched in September, and publicly launched in October. We are accepting pre-orders now, with shipment expected to take place around December.
What’s a day like in the life of a 3D printer manufacturer?
Kiam Peng works mainly on product development, and Chee Hoe handles the business side, though nowadays we find our time increasingly taken up by meetings, and are forced to prioritize.
You mentioned that you had plans to manufacture in China? Yes, currently everything is self-assembled in our space in Yishun, but we are planning to shift manufacturing to China to keep the transportation costs low, as 70-80% of our parts come from there. In the industry it’s important that we are providing value for our customers, and one way is to remain competitive with our prices.
What’s next for Romscraj? Uptake of our product is key, as our goal is to build a sustainable business. People ask us, are we Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Do we want to change the world? No.. we just want to prove that small sustainable businesses can be built locally too. Plus local companies will stay here. They will hire people here.
It’s holiday season here at HAYSTAKT - Unwrap major smiles with this selection of unique gifts that’ll fit almost every personality, budget, and stocking size! From fashion and fun to art, home accents, and more, here are our wish list-topping picks for friends and family that will be sure to light up your gift exchanges.
1. Boya Lamp by The Workshop Gallery Just$400from HAYSTAKT
A Lenga wood base made by a craftsman in Argentina; grey tinted shade by Poshinger, a family of glass artisans in Germany; and individually stitched filament bulbs made by Righi Switzerland for 100 years.. You get the point. You’d never have imagined your living room without it.
Yes, we saw it coming: themed Christmas parties which demand that you turn up in Christmas colours, so here’s an actually good-looking option. Going to the next party? Flip it round when no one’s looking, yes, it’s double sided!
Did we say swim trunks? It’s not holiday season on this side of the equator without a luxurious pair of perfectly cut swim trunks. Designed and made in Thailand, TIMO Trunks are constructed from fine dry-fast microfibre fabric that is water-repellent and absorbs less water, making every swim stroke lighter and more enjoyable. Splash on as their engineered air outlets at the back allow air to escape as you jump in the water.
Don’t let the heavy downpour or snow dampen your mood. These bags have been tastefully designed to keep the rain away. We love the grey and yellow combination - nothing like a layer of sunshine to brighten the grey.
As we gear up for the Holiday Season, one might expect to be spend more time in the studio, workshop, or kitchen. That’s why we were so delighted to learn of the Goodcraft apron, brought to us through a collaboration from the folks behind neighbourgoods and FIN. Launched on 1st November, the limited-edition apron was conceived as a timely reminder of the importance of craftsmanship - it’s carefully considered construction leaves us inspired just looking at the details. And if every craftsman deserves a good apron, every apron deserves a good show.
Neighbourgoods, we love the name. How did the name and brand come about?
We primarily began as a graphic design studio (ampulets). Over the years, we found ourselves drawn to making things. So we decided to spin off a brand that focused on making things, not just by ourselves, but on a neutral ground that allowed us to collaborate with others.
I remember the name came about quite easily. We wanted a name that would remind us that good and beautiful things, people, or places are not far away. If we would just slow down, open our eyes and look around us, we will find them. The name also captures something we promise to try to do - work with other makers and creatives in Singapore.
The show was put together as a reminder of the importance of craftsmanship. What is the importance of craftsmanship to you?
In an industrialized world, everything is mass manufactured. In fact, in this “industrialized” and globalized world, we often don’t know who made it, where, or how. Craftsmanship is important to us because it is a return to the one maker - the identity, intent and skill of the individual.
Does this necessarily correlate to being made by hand?
I think it’s regressive to insist that everything should be made entirely by hand by one individual. We can’t turn back the clock and ignore the presence of machines and tools and multiple suppliers. So for us, the concept of craftsmanship is about 3 qualities: - a dedication to understanding, working with, and transforming the material you have chosen to use - the connections between a pair of skilled hands, a sharp mind, and a warm heart, i.e. good ol’ passion - a process and outcome from which you can tell the maker’s personality and attitude to life.
At the core of Neighbourgoods is collaborating with other creatives. How did that come about?
We’ve always been inspired by the Justice League! Or Avengers! It is a paradox that no superhero is perfect or self-sufficient, however invincible or all-powerful they appear. Not that creatives are superheroes… but the idea of collaboration is to make the best of each other’s different strengths and shortcomings. So that we can all do something we love and in the process, hopefully, make something good.
I’ve had some practice since. Neighbourgoods' first project “Goodbyetime” is a modest collaboration between my wife and I. Always start with those closest to you! And the next project “Good Sweat” was with 4 other creatives I've always admired, where we also got great support from SunnyHills and Supermama for the event and retail. We all decided to donate the profit from this to a charitable organisation.
I’d say it also comes from a somewhat naive desire to prove that competition and calculation are not the only ways to “profit” in life. Sometimes, by losing some, you gain things that are more precious - a better creative product, friendship and trust, more peace, more joy.
How was it like working with Fahmy from FIN?
I’ve always admired Fahmy’s work, his taste and sense of aesthetics. So working with him was very natural and only a matter of time. I learnt a lot about fabrics, construction, and fashion from him. It was always a mix of good fun and fairly intense discussions.
As always, it’s a challenge trying to secure the right materials at the right price, and finding the right people, all in Singapore. And this is where we both brought our own skill sets, resources, and networks together to make it happen.
Can you share a little bit about the design process and concept behind the apron?
Fahmy and I first discussed the overall aesthetics that we were aiming for, and from that, we went about identifying the fabrics we would use. There was a little trial and error. Our 1st prototype we junked completely as it missed the mark of the look we wanted to create. We wanted an apron that both men and women would feel good wearing - something that would take to rough use, but still elegant.
We knew instantly that the apron had to have London tan leather - a material identified with a certain toughness that befits a workshop. The leather went into the neckstrap and waist straps, but also a chest pocket. This is the piece closest to the wearer’s heart, and we wanted to convey a sense of security, a pocket for the important things. It is shaped to hold pens, tools, a tasting spoon, or a pair of glasses.
There are 2 large pockets in the front that are firm yet flexible enough for you to easily place or retrieve a notebook, a rag, paintbrushes…an apple. We liked how the raw Japanese denim of the pockets is in gentle contrast with the classic striped Wabash; it’s not a fight, but a conversation.
We wanted a fabric that was strong and durable for the main body of the apron, hence the 12oz Wabash. But unlike a fabric like raw duck canvas, the Wabash would not be too heavy such that it would inhibit movement, and would not be rough to the hands. At the underside of the apron is a special silkscreened message to the wearer.
Craftsmanship is important to us because it is a return to the one maker - the identity, intent and skill of the individual.
The metal parts are brass rivets and eyelets - to complement the London tan. Nothing too showy like gold or too contrasting like steel. Aesthetically we wanted some variation in the texture and material of each of the Apron’s parts, but we ultimately wanted to create a sense of harmony.
There are 2 parts to the Goodcraft show. Also on display will be customized aprons from 8 ‘craftsmen’, reflecting his or her identity, craft and personality. How did you go about selecting the creatives to work with for the show?
Fahmy and I each came up with our list of names and narrowed it to 4 on each of our lists. They all encapsulate the qualities of craftsmanship in their work and attitude. They are definitely folks we both admired. We also did want to have a range of different crafts and backgrounds - from folks who work with type, fabric, fashion, paint, leather, tattoo ink!
How do you think craft has infused into other creative disciplines?
Even if you were an illustrator who worked primarily on the computer, your most basic and fundamental skill is in drawing and the ability for the hand to command the pen on paper. So the idea of physically making something is common to many creative disciplines.
And the attitudes and demands of a craftsman are all qualities that are worthy of anyone in a creative discipline. It is not just about having a random idea, a sudden spark of inspiration, or some sense of whimsy. Often, creativity is misunderstood as these. Instead, we all know that all creative disciplines demand much practice, hard work, failure, humility to learn, a certain pride to not give up, and a desire to do something that is true to yourself. There are no short cuts.
What can we expect from the Goodcraft show?
Expect 8 unique aprons that will give you an insight into the work, aesthetics and personality of 8 creatives in Singapore. And of course check out the limited edition FIN x Neighbourgoods Goodcraft Apron as well.
We’ve always been big fans of people who take a hands-on or do-it-yourself approach to spearhead initiatives or to simply get things done. But here’s the story of a man who brings ‘taking matters into our own hands’ to a whole new level.
For the past 40 years, Bruno has been running a family restaurant Ai Pioppi, near the city of Treviso, northen Italy. He’s also build an entire amusement park that now engulfs the surroundings of the restaurant turning it into an amusement park of sorts - by hand.
"A branch falls, a leaf floats down, a bird flies by, a stone rolls. And I say to myself, ‘Maybe I can use this movement.’ That’s how my ideas are born."
Recounting his first experience of learning to weld back in the 1960s, Bruno’s passion got bigger and bigger - just like his man-made magical world, forested in the middle of nowhere.
Freunde von Freuden is an international interview magazine that produces honest portrayals of people from diverse creative and cultural backgrounds. They continue to be one of our sources of inspiration for The Makers’ Journal, and we couldn’t be more proud to be working together. Read our first collaborative portrait, featuring PHUNK studio, here.
FvF Workplace Portrait from Singapore: PHUNK Collective
Alvin Tan, Jackson Tan, Melvin Chee, and William Chan are four friends who make up the art and design collective: PHUNK. With their main aim being to work with others and have fun in order to produce creative outcomes that challenge interdisciplinary boundaries, they represent a new creative generation of the Singapore based creatives.
Collaborations include diverse projects such as Japanese pop artist, Keiichi Tanaami, and luxury carpet producer, Tai Ping.
Take a tour through their gallery and studio and find out about their creative journey of self discovery that began playing pinball machines, reading comics and starting a band together in the recent FvF Workplaces here.
When we started the journal, one of our ambitions was always to piece together a field guide for the modern maker. So for this issue of Making in the City, we had to pack our gear and hit to the streets, navigating the urban jungles to present to you the makerspaces within the skycraper city of Singapore.
For the uninitiated, a makerspace is a place that provides public-access to a variety of facilities and tools for making. Such spaces usually focus on some parts of the making spectrum, ranging from a variety of craft areas such as woodworking, machining, welding, ceramics, sewing, and CNC fabrication, to technical machinery such as laser cutters, 3d printers, to name a few. Often the tools and people available for cross-discipline work within the same space is the magnetic attractor to everyone involved.
We also came up with a base of metrics of what contributes to a good makerspace. The ease of public-use ranks highly on our list, followed closely with readily available supplies and tools, as well as a well-considered environment that lends to a collaborative spirit. Transportation access, Wifi, electricity, and ventilation, are also important considerations for the health and well-being of the modern maker, with waiting-time and amenities also thrown in the mix although weighted accordingly as nice-to-haves.
Note: This resource was compiled to make it easier for those in this city looking for a makerspace to complete that project you’ve cast aside for too long, budding makers, or the next big thing. Know of a new makerspace, or a fab lab we missed out? Contact us or ping us in the comments below.
Located at Singapore’s Silicon Valley, otherwise known as Blk 71, Silicon Straits is a co-working space outfitted with a fab lab. Although the fab-lab is limited in size and still under construction, the rest of the space is nicely designed, and the modular furniture allows the space to transform into an event area as well. James is a micro-manager of his space, so you know you’ll be well taken care of. He’s also a hacker and is about to program the entire space management into his own app. We also love their custom-made envelope lockers and back-friendly tilting chairs for the laptop user.
Members only, but day passes or alternative arrangements can easily be discussed with James.
Tools: Big machines (Form One 3D printer, 100W laser from GoldenSign, and other tools), but one is restricted to an aircon-only environment, so expect the output to be more tech-driven rather than sweatshop.
Supplies: 3D-printing related material, more to come as the lab gets more fully fleshed out.
Amenities: Access to coworking space, pantry, meeting rooms, 5 min walk to nearest train station.
Dan was trained as an architect and is the proud owner of a couple of conceptual co-working spaces all over the island - Blk 71, Joo Chiat, Orchard, and now his latest venture resides in Geylang. Mettle Work offers office space, storage space, and convenient access to wood and metal working equipment for the “makers, artists, and craftsmen”. We love the fact that Dan’s friend Tim, who’s a carpenter by trade built the interiors himself. The place is situated above a metal factory, so materials are fairly accessible, though we’re not sure if metal rods are ready for mass-adoption just yet. Air-con / non-aircon rooms available.
Only members get to use facilities, no adhoc usage due to safety concerns.
$800/mth for 1 unit, around 25 units on the floor. Contract period of 1 year (negotiable).
Tools: Heavy tools for working with wood and metal (saws, drills, welders, etc.).
Supplies: Wood, Metal.
Amenities: hockey pitch, massage room, pitch stage, conference room, goods elevator, pantry, lockers, storage space. 10 min walk to nearest train station.
Expected to be up and running around mid October.
Sustainable Living Lab
Located in Bottle Tree Park, we get a sense of quaint peace as we walk into Sustainable Living Lab. Touted as the Makerspace ‘for the soul’, the community here lends to an eco-slant. The custom carpenters from Designed were kind enough to give us a tour of the area. Though the workshop area is medium-sized and can get crowded at times, it’s very well equipped and ventilated. Membership is required, and the currency here is voluntary work to develop trust and give back to the community spirit. On weekends they have maker gatherings and start and end each day with a true ‘kampung spirit’ styled reflections.
Only volunteers/members get to use facilities due to safety and shared maintenance concerns.
Costs: Profit-sharing basis.
Tools: Laser, CNC, line-saw, table saw, wide-array of tools
Supplies: Wood, especially bamboo. There’s also a scrapyard round the corner.
Amenities: Garden, Living room, 10 min walk to nearest train station.
Housed in Bussorah Street, Hackerspace is a ”club for geeks” that anyone in the Singapore tech community should be familiar with. Hacking culture is very prevalent in this place: look out for their door proximity sensor, remote-controlled webcam, and meticulously-documented toilet. Mostly a co-working space for tech-oriented enthusiasts that frequently hosts events related to information technology (e.g. web development and Bitcoin) and DIY electronics as well.
Members gain full 24/7 to use Hackerspace.sg as a work space. Events/workshops hosted at Hackerspace.sg are sometimes open to the public.
Basic membership costs $128 per month.
Tools: Standard Office Equipment, Wifi, Monitor+Keyboard, 3D Printer, Laser Cutter.
Supplies: Bring your own supplies.
Amenities: Kitchen, Monitor+Keyboard stations, Quiet Zone. Surrounded by a wide array of middle-eastern restaurants open into the night. 10 min walk to nearest train station.
Unfortunately it seems like the city’s strict urban planning and liability regulations still force many makerspaces to be restricted to a member’s only spaces, unlike Techshops (TechShop is America’s 1st Nationwide Open-Access Public workshop) in the States, where makerspaces work more like gym memberships (who wouldn’t want to spin a ceramic bowl in the city after work?). The bright side is that we’re pretty sure this will change in the near future, with other players like Homefix, Star Color laser services, and Simplifi3d setting up spaces. Simplifi3d, a new shop in Bras Basah offers 3D printing services, and also houses our friends 3dMatters. Even the government’s starting to take notice, and we hear that the National Library is looking at creating a makerspace for the public.
Meanwhile, for those looking to build a makerspace - here’s a simple guide which talks about Designing Creative Environments, safe, well equipped with tools and supplies, open and accessible system, long-term care and useage. If you do go ahead with it, be sure to contact us, we’d love to get involved.
Note: This resource was compiled with the intention of making it easier for those in this city looking for a makerspace to complete that project you’ve cast aside for too long, or the next big thing. Know of a new makerspace, or a fab lab we missed out? Contact us or ping us in the comments below.
Known for constantly pushing the boundaries, PHUNK is a veteran of the local creative scene in Singapore. Our friends from Freunde von Freunden paid them a visit at their studio in Joo Chiat, where they talk about their humble beginnings, and how the warehouse fire of 2011 was a force that reinvented their creative directions and perspectives.
Comprised of Alvin Tan (b. 1974), Melvin Chee (b. 1974), Jackson Tan (b. 1974) and William Chan (b. 1973), the contemporary art and design collective has been hailed as “The Champion of Singapore’s Graphic Scene” (Creative Review, UK), “Asia’s hottest agency” (Computer Arts, UK) and “iconic representatives of the new wave of young Asian creators” (Get it Louder, China).
This portrait is the first of our ongoing collaboration with Freunde von Freunden, an international interview magazine that portrays people of diverse creative and cultural backgrounds in their homes and within their daily working environments. Read the full interview on their site here.
21 Ingredients, organized and hosted by the Foundry Store, is part of a series of exhibitions themed ‘A Story in the Making’. The exhibition aims to bring the process of making to consumers through the metaphor of baking and good humour, detailing the complexities of making something seemingly simple. We take a sneak peek at their contemporary studio-gallery on Seah Street, located aside Raffles Hotel.
Akin to baking, the ceramic maker needs to first decide on the ingredients to be used. To do this, he needs to distinguish the ‘flavours’ of every ingredient and understand how best to combine them to produce an exceptional, yet distinctive character.
For the Clown Noses, he selects 21 different ingredients, all in measured proportions and harmonizes each element to ensure the quality and consistency produced batch after batch.
Often taken for granted, the showcase highlights the many decisions made at various stages of making. Foundry hopes this exhibit would encourage people to probe deeper and as a result develop a better appreciation of how things are made.
As always, you can be sure that the guys at Foundry know how to make things look good. We especially like how the Clown Noses look great clustered together, bringing some humour to any atmosphere.
"Take an Everyday Object and throw in some Humour. Stir well and leave to simmer for a couple of hours. Sprinkle some Colors. Serve."
Foundry is a Singapore furniture label that brings together individuals from around the globe who share a similar philosophy towards design. 21 Ingredients will be held at the Foundry Store (3 Seah Street) throughout the month of October. The exhibition is open to public.
Follow Foundry on HAYSTAKT. Clown Noses is a series of simple and playful ceramic storage vessels with openings that are capped by round cork “noses”.
Leroy Xavier Zhong is a man of art and commerce, a duality that is quickly apparent when you talk to him. As an artist, he imbues his watches with a sensibility and style that close approaches art; and as a businessman he has, in the short span of two years, established Edypoi as a much sought-after watch brand from ‘the little red dot’.
This watch-maker’s tools are his accuracy and sharpness. “People only get to see things on the surface, they see the final product,” pointing to a screen of excel spreadsheets he declares, “but this is Edypoi and Hyper Grand”. As we chat over a proudly-pressed coffee in the second floor of Konzepp (he also takes his coffee seriously), we’re starting to see how this craftsman is elevating the status of the watch beyond that of a mere time-telling accessory, but a true statement of one’s self.
Can you share with us a little about life before Edypoi? Before Edypoi, I worked at A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology, and Research) for about 4 years, where I was the commercialization person for all the technology that came out of there. I was like the business guy for A*STAR.
My degree was in Engineering, so while I had to go to school to acquire fundamental engineering knowledge, my business acumen came from seeing how my family dealt with businesses as I grew up. My mum’s family runs a dog farm in Pasir Ris, and my grandmother used to open pubs along the current Shenton Way. That was in the 1970s. She started from one, took the profits to start another, and soon enough she had 7 of them. So growing up, I heard her talk about her businesses a lot. That got me interested in doing business.
What eventually made you leave to start your own watch brand? Ever since I started working, I knew that my calling was to do business, but I had enough sense to go out and work for someone first. So I had sufficient experience before I left. Being in a government organization opened a lot of doors. You actually get to meet people at the CXO level! It also bred the business decorum and acumen to do my own thing - with that kind of exposure you’re not afraid to talk to anybody, not afraid to knock on doors! Finally I felt 3 to 4 years was enough to learn everything I could learn.
"It’s the romantic idea that you can actually power your watch mechanically, and how much effort it takes to push out time by engineering every gear, every spring, to make that movement"
Was it always watches for you? Not really. I had to push around a few ideas. I used to collect watches. I think a lot of people thought that the engineering background was why I branched out to watches - they could see the relevance. I can say it’s only partially true. Ultimately, you have find the idea that is viable as a business, but of course, passion is still part of the ingredient, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to push out the kind of branding you’d want for your own business.
Making a watch isn’t simple. How and where did you learn to do that? To really understand the watch business, I had to get my hands dirty. I flew to Hong Kong to find people and knock on doors and say, hello, I want to make watches! One of the take-aways for me is that you don’t get to learn these things by googling. You have to get to the crevices to get the knowledge you won’t be able to get online. You have to get to the hotspot where everything happens. And for me that’s Hong Kong.
I went to not only the engineering design offices, but I also went down to production offices to see how people carry out their productions. Designing a watch is not an abstract thing where you just go all artsy and draw whatever you want, because ultimately it has to be manufactured. It’s actually two separate jobs - one, the designer; the other, the industrial designer. I have to wear both hats.
Has your watch-making journey been fraught with challenges? Actually, right from the start it has been good, for the sole reason that Singapore doesn’t have any watch designers. We have one other brand that occupies a different positioning, like a $3000-$5000 range. I’m trying to occupy the gap between fashion watches and very well-made watches. Fashion watches are those that you wear for one year and then they break down or scratch easily. The well-made watches are built to last, but they over-engineer to beat the competition. Oh yours has 96 parts, mine has 205 parts! But in the end they all tell the same time.
So what I wanted to do was to keep things simple: a well-made watch that doesn’t spoil within a year, doesn’t scratch easily, made of good materials. When making the watches I used a more simplified movement that’s of quality as well - movement is the thing inside your watch that runs it - and I retained the things that are important to people: the case materials, the nice leather straps, good design. Things that could add a lot more value to fashion watches and take away stuff from the high-end watches that would serve no purpose to the crowd.
How many pieces of watches did you initially make? We started off, plus the pre-orders, with about 400. The first 200 sold out really fast. I was so focused with getting the watch out I forgot about the sales portion. But one day I walked into a shop in Marina Bay Sands called the Society of Black Sheep - it’s a multi-label store and I was there to buy clothes - and I started chatting with the shop owner. She found out I was a designer, but she was not surprised, maybe she thought I was a t-shirt designer, then when I said I design watches, her eyes opened up, because you don’t get locally-designed watches here. I was wearing one, so she saw the prototype and she was so interested. Then they started stocking Edypoi watches.
Can you explain to us the process of making a watch? Is it really as difficult as most people think it is? To make a watch, first of all you have to mitigate the huge, huge challenge of making your watch look different from what’s out there. The problem is that as an artist or designer, your canvas is really small. And fixed. Two hands, a face and straps. So how do you design a watch? Sometimes it doesn’t have to look over the top, it just has to look pleasing. So I always start from the conceptual design. When it comes to making the watch itself, you start from the movements inside your watch.
When it comes to mechanical watches, it’s the romantic idea that you can actually power your watch mechanically, and how much effort it takes to push out time by engineering every gear, every spring, to make that movement.
Where do you source most of your materials from? Mostly from Hong Kong. Unbeknownst to a lot of people, the watch industry is biggest not in Switzerland but Hong Kong. About 60 to 70% of all watches made come from Hong Kong. Traditionally they have been making watches for the longest time. The horological watches are mainly made in Switzerland, but how many people buy the expensive horological watches compared to normal watches? So most of them are made in Hong Kong. I make my watches in Hong Kong as well.
Have you ever thought of making the watches locally, here in Singapore? The problem with Singapore is that we don’t have many supporting verticals. To have a watch-manufacturer you’ll need a hand-supplier, you’ll need a watch-face supplier. Not one factory does everything. It’s hard to do it here because it’s a trade that doesnt even exist. Even in Hong Kong, nobody wants to learn the trade, so they are turning into mechanical processes where watches can be manufactured by pressing buttons.
The first thing I’m trying to educate people is, a watch is not an accessory that happens to tell the time. It’s actually an extension of your personality. This applies more to guys; for guys, the only allowable sartorial thing is a watch, and at most a ring. But the watch is predominantly the statement. And if what I preach gets to people - that watches are an extension of your personality, it’s a craft - then… that would be perfect.
"A mark of a good designer isn’t how avant garde you can make your stuff, it’s more of validation … how much people take up your stuff”
Tell us about Hyper Grand, the second watch brand that you started? How is it different from Edypoi? Hyper Grand is a partnership between me and 2 other partners. The thing for me is that Edypoi has been a success, but it’s such a waste that it’s not going international. And it’s difficult, because it’s a small-batch manufacturing brand, and people buy it for that reason. So instead of changing the direction of Edypoi, why not just start another brand that can go on that path? Hyper Grand started because I don’t want to pride myself as a pseudo-Italian or Japanese brand. I need that Singaporean brand to be pushed out globally. People become educated about a particular country or culture not through textbooks or television shows. The first time I get to know a culture is by using the country’s products.
Would you ever miss the intimacy and satisfaction of making each watch yourself? I’m already missing that! I like to touch the things that I make. If I weren’t so bothered with making an expanding, scalable business, I probably would be assembling every single watch and selling them in a small shop. It could be a small retail store, and I could be in a glass window and everyone could walk by and see me making watches. Imagine having to buy something where you can speak to the designer! Wearing such a product is a lot more substantial than buying it off the shelves, off the racks. That was one of my dreams.
As a busy owner of two watch brands, and wearing the hats of being both a designer and a businessman, what is one day in your life like? I will give you a snapshot of yesterday. Yesterday I was working on the design for the Esquire collaboration, I was also replying alot of emails and chasing suppliers, I was doing packing and quality control until 4am, and we had interviews to hire people. And the next day is completely different. And I do everything - the copywriting, even the website!
What inspires you? For me, it’s a bit of architecture. That’s why the first watch in Edypoi was so architectural. It was my best way of saying “avant garde”. The first watch we did was very abstract. It had a watch face that was not conventional. There was metal dust sputtered onto the face at very high heat. This was done in small spurts - nice and glimmery. I did a black one and a blue one. The blue one looks like midnight sky. That sold out and I can’t make that anymore. The craftsmen gave me hell. So tough! It is a see-through watch, so the dial sits on an island, which is laced with crystals, and the island sits on glass. When you look into the watch, you can see an island floating in the middle of the whole space. It doesn’t look like it’s attached to the watch. I also have floating hour-markers that are floating around the island because they are sitting on another level of glass. So that’s what I mean by being inspired by architecture. That was the first watch. I was thinking, first one, go big or go home! If you want to debut you must make sure you’re different, even if it’s avant garde. So my “avant garde” had a purpose as well. It got me a lot of press.
What are some of your current plans? We are busy with collaborations, and once we are done with the launch this month, we will jump into the October designs. Then we will manufacture them fast. We want to sell and see which styles will be adopted. You can see I’m a very systematic person. I can’t just design what I like. A mark of a good designer isn’t how avant garde you can make your stuff, it’s more of validation from adoption, meaning how much people take up your stuff. If it’s avant garde and people appreciate it but don’t adopt it, then they have never really validated you as a designer.
What’s next? The lowest hanging fruit is whatever you have learnt. For now we only sell watches. In future it could be another watch brand with a different positioning. Maybe I will enter horology, maybe I will sell celebrity watches, and I market myself as a celebrity watch-maker. But another form of business would mean relearning everything. If there’s no leverage from what you have already learnt, it’s abit hard. But it’s not impossible - as long as we see a need and no one else is doing it, and it’s viable, we will do it.
Mr.&Mr. is a story of stories, a contradiction that works. Comprised of Alexis Lautier and Pierre Talagrand, the creative duo prefers to see themselves as an editing house, that celebrates the fact that they are young and independent. Moving away from the contemporary design practice which traditionally seeks to mix concept with technicality, Alexis and Pierre do not impose anything on themselves. To the contrary, they favour the poetry of ideas and encounters, and are constantly in a work in progress mode to perfect their creations for their ultimate purpose. For Mr.&Mr., “1+1=1” - Where everything, though separate, can be made into a whole.
Hello! Do tell us a little bit about yourselves, and your studio. Our editing house is located in Montpellier, in the south of France. We are based in a locale that is used for both living and work purposes. Alexis is an architect by profession and carries out his job independently of Mr. & Mr.. Pierre has worked for many years in the fashion and marketing industries while teaching himself graphic design in an instinctive way. It is the combination of our competences, our desires and life itself that have created this synergy which has culminated in the formation of Mr. & Mr. since 2007. We believe that a design can be thought of by collaboration. It’s for this reason we hope in the near future to also edit articles from other designers as well as other artistes’ works.
Tell us more about your editing process as a form of design. We create our projects from a crazy idea, in a way similar to the surrealist exquisite corpse technique of assembling images. There is a fundamental element-event that is noted which is the beginning of the history of the object. First and foremost, this preliminary step involves an observation of the world and then imagining how it could be otherwise. As such, the absurdity of a form, the naivety of a sentence, the grandiosity of a structure, the coarseness of a material or its fragility and the backwardness of a myth are all anchorage points in the intrigue of an object. Other elements are eventually added which arise quite often out of an encounter.
The notion of error plays a pivotal role in the development, which oftentimes is in contradiction with the current design practice that seeks perfection in its creations. It is for this reason that we make a lot of prototypes, putting emphasis on the error, the imperfections or technical and manufacturing constraints, and the need to carry out research in the production of each piece of work. The creation of prototypes leaves aesthetic or functional imprints on our goods. In this regard, our approach may be closer to that used in artistic practices or even that used by artisans, maintaining a direct link with the reality of the objects created.
“Making craft items is a system of production for the future. It arises from the need to stand out from the uniformity of products.. It also means for us a desire to live differently and better.”
What was the underlying motivation for Antithesis? We wanted to work with contrasting materials while using handmade creations which run counter to the standardized designs of the fashion industry nowadays. Our aim was to create a line of bags that are unique and urban.
How did you get involved with Atelier Maroc? Was there any significance to Marrakech? After carrying out much research on weaving techniques with the use of different materials, we discovered the palm leaf. This was well suited to the natural line that we were looking to create. The softness of this palm corresponds perfectly to the image of the line of urban bags we wanted, that is, light and manoeuvrable. It is in Morocco, therefore, that we have met craftsmen specialized in this technique of weaving, and you can clearly see the evidence of that encounter.
Marrakech was the ideal destination. There are a lot of palm groves in this region of Morocco, and as a result of this, many hand-crafted basket makers are found there.
Run us through the important points of your design and craft collaboration process. Our creations always start off with a story to relate, an image to show or to be archived. This allows us to make tangible an idea that may seem sometimes silly to the craftsperson. This is done from a model which can then be formalized notably by the design. The porosity of the latter along with the methods of fabrication always respect the original idea.
For Antithesis, we first made prototypes formally, as precise as possible, in our studio in order to then enter into dialogue with the craftsmen. It is in the middle of the machinery, directly in the fabrication workshops, where we are able to work towards finalizing the product. The craftsmen proposed technical solutions and then, in turn, we were able to examine these techniques before entering into a period of very intense dialogues. It was important for us that Antithesis did not remain fixed by an idea but that it surpassed the fantasy of form and stayed as close as possible to the art of the Moroccan craftsmen. The product evolves spontaneously by the exchanges with the craftsmen and the solutions they find, in face of the technical constraints. We like this type of dialogue to take place in situ.
For this line of bags, the Moroccans had given us an incredible assortment of buckles, fasteners and zippers, in very different materials, in plastic or metal, which are used widely in retail leatherwear. But for us, it was essential to use them as little as possible as we wanted the materials selected to be local, the most unique and natural possible. That’s how we have arrived at this system of belting.
Was it easy to work across borders? What were some of the challenges? First of all, we are based in the south of France and this is the ideal cross-border junction with other regions and countries in the Mediterranean (Italy, Spain or even Morocco). That provides us too with collaborations which are very natural and it facilitates in situ exchanges and meetings. We like to work in this area, as close as possible to our collaborators.
So, for Antithesis, we went to Marrakech. It’s only two hours by plane from Montpellier, which allows us to work with a company or with local workshops. We stayed there one week and thanks to this immersion in the Moroccan workshops as well as in the city, we were able to devote ourselves entirely to the project. The language barrier was soon erased in favour of communication by gestures, the manipulation of materials, and the transmission of technical know-how on both sides. It was so wonderful that the person in charge gave us free rein and open access to the manufacturing facilities. We were at the heart of the processing of the materials. The experience was as rich for us as it was for those at the workshop that we are already preparing a new collaboration for a line of baskets.
How is the series different from other bags, compared to say luxury brands? For Mr. & Mr., the luxury we have are our collaborators! It is this exchange between crafts persons and creators, craftsmanship and inventiveness that allows us to conceive and produce simple and unique items. By simplicity we mean making the manufacturing process easily understood by all. We want that, through our publications, persons are able to learn about the item, and we want this at all stages; from its creation to its production, up to its distribution. In a sector where everything is standardized, we believe that this is what makes our products stand out.
That’s where, for Mr. & Mr., this notion of luxury resides: in the product itself, in its manufacturing process and in the uniqueness of its creations.
How do you see craft featuring in the modern world, and how does it influence your other work as a studio? For Mr. & Mr., making craft items is a system of production for the future, closer to our different ways of life. It arises from the need to stand out from the uniformity of products, so an Antithesis bag will never be absolutely identical to another. That’s what translates for us other possibilities, in a world obsessed by output and standardization. It also means for us a desire to live differently and better.
Mr. & Mr. conceives and produces against the backdrop of globalization and the invention of another way of living together. It is not just a simple inspiration, this idea of a dialogue; it’s really at the heart of our approach. That’s where you get the craft spirit!
What are some of the current trends in the French design scene For the last five or six years, a certain number of independent editing houses have opened in France. This has changed the predominant image of designer-creator. Today, these designers also produce items, just as artistes.
In this sense, this cross-sector approach allows one to widen one’s fields of competence, to explore other areas of creation, to try out other tools of production and distribution; those that are most accessible.
For us, the ergonomics of objects and their aesthetics are not the only things a designer should worry about. The production and the commercialization of items are the outcome of a process and are really the trend of creation for designers nowadays!
How is it like being based in Montpellier? Montpellier is for us a home base which allows us, over the course of our travels, to find ourselves, in the heart of a city which moves at a slower pace and has fewer dense spaces. That’s what we appreciate about living here.
Our studio is conceived as a porous space which combines: a home, a studio, work spaces, and a showroom.
Mass production and storage has traditionally found itself in factories and warehouses outside the city. But with better infrastructure and consumer technology, we’re seeing making move to the city - something we’d like to see for a couple of reasons. Some might quickly conclude that convenience is alluring, but we think that there are larger societal gains to be made from the shift to urban manufacturing.
Access to manufacturing in the city would see a rise in the ability to make, as well as greater perspectives amassed from the broad range of skills applied cross-disciplines. Reduced spend on transportation and communication would allow more time to be spent on the iteration process, leading either to faster outputs, or better products, or both. With the rapid prototyping and quick iteration processes familiar with web technologies now being adapted and applied to physical products, we’re seeing a revival of small-batch productions and the ability to profit from filling niche market gaps.
It makes sense that someone living in the tropics would understand the local environment and landscape, and with that knowledge, better design furniture or houses that would wear well for the tropics. When invention and production happens in the same place, ideas become the mode of transaction, and we can expect city dwellers to constantly be searching for simple ways to improve quality of life with things made in the city, for the city.
Makers who source locally, are also more inclined to reinvest their profits locally. Consider the localvore movement in the heart of Bangkok city, where restaurants like Quince and Bo.lan source from local farmers. Admist the healthy competition, they share suppliers and have the opportunity to pick the best produce by hand, lending to the high-quality food output. In an age where transparency of the process is important to consumers, people are just as concerned about reducing carbon footprints as well as supporting their own local economy.
Lastly, making in the city strengthens the social fabric. Where governments are concerned about a younger generation residing in their homes glued to the Internet, making encourages one to make a trip down to the suppliers, to step out of one’s comfort zone to get to know people, and ultimately it requires using your hands to get things done. The shift to urban manufacturing strengthens the bonds in a city, allowing people to be engaged in a new economy.
Held on 4th October, Manufacturing Day is designed to expand knowledge about, and improve public perception of, manufacturing careers and manufacturing’s value to the economy.
UPDATE: A big thanks to all who joined us at our first pop-up experience at 100% Design Singapore. HAYSTAKT was privileged to be part of the 100% Making Showcase, a curated section that provides visitors with an insight into how tradition and technology has made significant steps in bringing design to the masses. For those who missed us - fret not, we’ll be moving to a new location soon. In the meantime, here’s a couple of snapshots from the event.
100% Design Singapore is on its second run this year, and will be held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo from the 11-13th September. We’re nestled nicely between architects, award-winning design pieces, and 3d printers. The organizing team has been fantastic, and we’re excited about meeting people and being part of the conversation. If you’re in the area, do drop by our booth and say hi. We’re located right at the entrance as part of the 100% Making showcase.
For those who intend to visit, we’ve compiled a condensed calendar of events we’re interested in.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS: OUR TAKE
Wednesday, 11 September 2013
10am - 11am Opening Keynote Making and Findings Speaker: Minsuk Cho, Mass Studies
10:30am - 11:30am Clay Demonstration: Basic Functional Ware to Contemporary Forms
2:30pm -4:30pm Adapt Series: Making it Real (Creativeans)
Please register online here OR register onsite at the Visitor Registration Counter outside Hall C, Level 1 of Sands Expo and Convention Center, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Admission is free upon verification by name cards.
Public visitors can visit on 13 September 2013 (Fri) 10am to 6pm. Free admission for all.
Visitor registration is available onsite at the visitor registration counter outside Hall C, Level 1 of Sands Expo and Convention Center, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.
Food - There’s a small cafe in the vicinity, but the closest food joints are a 10 minute walk away, so we’d advise you come fully-fed and hearty.
Wifi - the hall’s wifi signal isn’t too consistent, but fret not, as there are a couple of internet kiosks placed in the convention hall.
Consumer Technology and the rise of the Modern Maker
The onset of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago brought an unprecedented shift to the way people made things. Suddenly, humanity found itself faced with entirely new ways to make and manufacture goods that were never before possible - the people of that time must have felt, and rightly so, that anything could be made.
Over the years, our expectations caught up, and the magic of the big factory machine faded - we merely acknowledged its role in producing a steady stream of objects for us to consume everyday, nothing more. Undoubtedly, manufacturing processes still progressed. The laser replaced the saw. The CNC machine replaced the manual handwheel. But all these improvements were, at the individual level, evolutionary rather than revolutionary - they simply meant that factories could now produce at faster rates and more precise complexities.
In the past few years however, all these stepwise evolutions in machining, in the way we communicate, and in our expectations towards objects are finally about to tip over, and give rise to an industrial revolution of a different kind - production is moving from the big factories to the small houses, because it is no longer prohibitive to be small. All the barriers to entry are quickly collapsing.
"Young designers have given up waiting to be spotted by a big producer" - Tom Dixon
Manufacturing Tools are now Consumer Level Technology: Secondly, acquiring the assets needed to produce things is finally achievable on a personal level. Perhaps the 2 prime examples to illustrate this trend are the Pirate 3D Printer, and the Handibot, both of which captured overwhelming uptake on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. While 3D printers had been steadily becoming more affordable, at the range of approximately $2,000 (USD) per unit, it was Pirate 3D’s Buccaneer that suddenly made it clear that 3D printing was finally within the reach of the average person, with an affordable entry point of $347. Similarly, the Handibot brought down costs of CNC machining to a never-before-seen price point (though the price of CNC machining tools will need to drop even further for it to be truly accessible).
Collaborations Now Transcend Geographical and Cost Boundaries: One last reason for this new wave in manufacturing is that even at a small scale, the complete manufacturing process no longer has to be completely taken up by one individual or group. Rather than settle everything from conceptualization to blueprinting to prototyping to distribution, aspiring makers can now count on specialist companies to outsource parts of the production process to, even on a singular scale.
Shapeways allows makers to convert a digital design into a 3D-printed prototype or finished product. FabHub allows designers to easily find a craft specialist for a specific fabrication method. For designers who aren’t yet proficient in computer-aided design, numerous CAD houses offer to convert a sketch into a properly-built CAD file. It’s become increasingly so that the mechanics of production are turning into less of a concern for the aspiring maker. All one truly needs now is an idea for a desirable product.
As British designer Tom Dixon sums up nicely, digitalisation is enabling aspiring young makers to take production of their craft into their own hands - they no longer have to rely on established producers.
We think that things will be taken to extreme levels, with the designation of specialized traits such as designer or craftsmen becoming either obsolete, or more-so-than-ever important. Industries will be overturned, every experiential firm will have it’s own production process - from a simple prototyping sketch on a 3D printer, right down to the controlled detail and output of final products. For the modern maker, now is nothing short of an exciting time to be in.
This leather craftsmen is in no hurry. Jeremiah Ang of The J.Myers Company is taking the time to hone his craft in a studio tucked in the corner of bustling Chinatown, slowly building products and a label that will be used and appreciated by generations to come.
You started experimenting with leather because you wanted to make yourself a belt and a bag. How did a personal hobby turn into a business? I’ve always liked making things. I grew up in my mum’s tailoring shop where I was always fiddling around with her stuff. In my first year in polytechnic, I chanced upon a book about Freitag bags and I wanted one so much. But I did not have enough money, and it was the early 2000s, when it was still not easy to buy things online. So I bought some tarpaulin canvas and made my own. This personal endeavour of making continued through my National Service when I dreamt of building my own label. I came up with the idea of getting designers to create prints for T-shirts, but when I found threadless.com, I was devastated and ended up with a job instead.
It was while working as a photography assistant that I was introduced to nice leather bags and belts during fashion shoots. However, what I liked I couldn’t afford, and what I could afford I didn’t like. My best friend’s father sold leather, so I bought some and started figuring out how to make my own leather goods by reading up books and websites. While my wife went shopping, I also stood outside the Hermès boutique to look at the stitches on their bags to figure out how it was done. Through trial and error, I learnt how to make my own leather goods and began making for friends and myself. After I made a belt for my wife’s friend to put her mobile phone and wallet while she was horse riding, her husband suggested I apply for an entrepreneurship grant and start a business doing this. That was when I started planning, and I got the grant to set up J.Myers in 2010.
Tell us more about your creative roots: your mum owned a tailoring shop, your father worked in an art studio, and you studied film and worked in photography. How did these influence you in any way? The biggest influence was probably my dad, Ang Ah Tee, a second-generation Nanyang painter. If my dad was an auditor, I would probably have grown up and worked in an office, but he happened to be an artist, and seeing him in his studio made me also want to work in my own time and place, and doing my own things. No one pushed me to study Film, Sound & Video in Ngee Ann Polytechnic though, I was jamming with some friends when one of them talked about this course where I could record music and there was no examinations. Being not very academically-inclined, I signed up and grew to love it a lot.
Are you still doing commercial photography? I still do. It’s something I enjoy, and it is still a source of income. Both photography and leather crafting provide an escape for one another: after shooting for two weeks it feels good to come into the workshop and just zone out on stitching. It’s also refreshing to return to photography after stitching for a long period of time. Also, as I shoot a fair bit of fashion, I can get up-close with other products and hear from stylists about what the latest trends are. But ultimately, J.Myers aims not to make something trendy but classic. Some 20 years down the road, our products may not be seen as spectacular, but it would still be regarded as well-made.
I think I’m lucky that I still do photography as the revenue from it gives us time and space to try things. If I am relying on just J.Myers to provide for my family, then things will be very different — I’ll have to churn out wallets and card cases day in and day out, and there is no meaning to that.
Do you think being self-taught opened up more possibilities There are pros and cons. The cons is you probably take longer than needed to achieve something or you cannot achieve it at all. You also have a limited skill set, but the good thing is you then have no choice but to improvise and expand on that. Also, being self-taught means you end up having your own distinctive style, as compared to having a mentor whose styles and methods will rub off you.
Mass industrialisation has separated design from craft, but you do both. Is it important for you to continue doing both? I like designing a lot and I also like crafting a lot. In the long run, the focus should be on design, while relying on my knowledge of craft. When you design you are able to achieve more hour for hour: while you probably spend a day designing the bag, you take 30 days transferring it from paper to product. In 30 days, you could have come up with 30 designs! However, it is important for us now to improve our knowledge of our craft so that we can train craftsmen in the future and help the brand expand. This is the only way, otherwise being just one person means you can only make so many goods a year, and you will stagnate. It is important to have both design and craft as these are what builds credibility for the brand.
Eventually, we want to branch out to a ready-to-wear line. It will not be made in this studio because it is impossible to make 300 pieces here, but customers will understand that it is curated from the same stand point as what we make here in terms of quality and design. By splitting the line, we can offer our goods to more people at a comfortable price point, yet also keep some of our work exclusive. In the future, I hope to have a creation line where I can make products without the influence of clients, but they can purchase if they like it.
As someone who offers bespoke services, how much of your work is giving what clients want versus what you think works? I always try to push for what I think is good design. There are different kinds of clients, and one of the best is those who commission watch straps. Most of them collect watches and are already used to discerning value and are willing to wait. Whereas for bag and wallet commissions, many come to us because they think it is cheaper than buying a luxury brand item. They don’t say so, but the impression I get is that people think we are cheaper because we are local.
I’ve been speaking to a few business developers and we all feel that Singapore is not ready for bespoke services yet. Perhaps in another 5 to 10 years, the market will be like in Japan where a Louis Vuitton bag costs $2,000, but the Japanese will pay more for one made by a craftsmen. They see that it is made by hand rather than a mass produced luxury branded item whose design is made 1,000 times over. For most Singaporeans now, if they spend $1,000 on something they will want everybody to know they spent that amount, rather than spend on something worth the value.
From your production process to how you see your practice, and even the choice of working with leather, a common element that threads them together is the appreciation of time. What does time mean to you, especially in busy Singapore? To me, time is relative to the place where you are at. If I go to Australia or Thailand for a week, I feel my internal pace slow down, but the moment I return to Singapore, the pace suddenly kicks up — you drive along the road and an Ah Beng (speedster) suddenly pushes you to go faster, and this just speeds up your sense of time in this city.
I believe no matter how long you take to do something, you have to do it well. The monogram for my upcoming ready-to-wear line took me one and a half years — that is how slow I am! There is something nice about being slow and I am trying to pull back time even while people are trying to move faster. While I try to slow time down in what I do, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel the stress of time when I look at the order book. I wish to eventually do things at my own pace but that is not easy. It is a huge challenge for an unorganised dreamer like me to run a business. I love to dream and do nothing, so to me, time is precious because I am most happy when I have spare time. At this point, I cannot find myself taking a day off and enjoying it guilt-free.
"There is an age gap in the appreciation of leather, for the older generation, it is a common product."
You no doubt love leather a lot, but have you considered working with other materials? I am trying to branch out to wood and canvas. Both go nicely with leather, and they are also materials that last a long time — so it is a nice extension of what we do. When you use canvas, the cost also goes down for the clients, as compared to a full leather product. We just did a project for Lexus where we made a menu for their showroom that incorporates wood and leather elements. I see a lot of meaning in such bespoke commissions, rather than just creating a wallet with nine card slots and one coin compartment as the client may not appreciate our craft but simply have come to us because they could not find what they want in the market. When we work with a brand, we also get more mileage and push yourselves creatively. Who knows, I may go into furniture one day too!
Can you tell us more about the various collaborations you have done with other fashion labels? One collaboration we did was with nana & bird to do a wallet and another was with AL&ALICIA to create a double wrap leather cuff made out of snake skin. Nowadays, it is so easy to just put a cross and another brand name next to yours and call it collaboration. But there is no meaning to that other than to earn more money. To me, collaboration is something that both parties actively work on to create something new. For our work with AL&ALICIA, they came up with the rough design and we prototyped it here in our studio where I cut and pieced together something that looked pleasing. I sent this sample back to them for feedback and that is how we came up with the final product.
Having been in the craft-making scene for several years now, how has it changed? More and more people are entering it, and a lot of times just for the cool factor — but that’s also how I first started. I’ve also seen an improvement in appreciation for craft and I hope this will continue to grow. There is an age gap in the appreciation of leather, for the older generation, it is a common product in Singapore as there used to be a few craftsmen doing it. However, people in their 50s have a lesser appreciation for leather because it has become a rare commodity over the years. It’s just like how ready-to-wear was once rare and tailor-made was common. But with the younger generation seeing businesses like mine popping up again, their perceptions may change.
A country’s design economy and it’s cultural landscape are often linked. In Thailand, a new generation of Thai designers having studied abroad, are now returning home with a passion and loyalty many modern cities would die for. With easy access to modern manufacturing and age-old knowledge in craft methodologies, it’s no surprise that this new generation is making waves in both local and international waters.
Paving the way are two designers Decha Archananan and Ploypan Teerachai of Thinkk Studio, whom having no connection to the media or designer-royalty backgrounds, are the quiet heroes in the local product design scene. We visit them at their studio off Sathorn Road, a space that emotes much of the gentle energy we enjoy in their work.
How did you get into products? Have graduated from Lat Krabang University, we first started working with an interior design company. We learned a lot then because the company also handled the production and importing of furniture. Once there was an order from overseas, it was quite an expensive piece, but we liked it the moment we saw it. Around that time, we noticed that many local manufacturers had begun copying designs from overseas, and we felt that there was an opportunity for Thai manufacturers to make original local designs instead of importing from overseas. If we could design and produce in Thailand, we would get a combination of quality and value.
After working there, we took part in a couple of workshops, where new designers had the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs who would select products to put into production. We also started sending our work to many competitions. One of the highlights was getting an Honorable Mention for the Young Designers category at the Singapore Furniture Design Award 2010. There were about 30 works in total, and we got the joint second award together with another Singaporean candidate. That year, there was no the winner as both works were chairs. The name of our chair was Scrap Facet.
Having had some experience in making products, we felt that we really enjoyed the process. So we thought we would would like to gain more knowledge and decided to pursue further studies overseas. One left to Lausanne in Switzerland, and the other to Sweden.
D: We went separate ways because we wanted to get different experiences. Also at the back of our minds we had thought that we would come back to work together, and the specialization of study would allow us to share knowledges. I studied at ECAL because I liked the style of their works. My major was in luxury design, but it was not like the mass luxury you see in Louis’ [Vuitton’s] work. The company we collaborated with was a luxury brand making watches, crystal and silverware. It was fun.
P: We both liked to buy second-hand furniture and most of which were of a certain retro-scandinavian style. I like the Scandinavian style because it is claim, beautiful, and uses simple material. So I studied at Konstfack, and took space interiors, architecture, and furniture design courses, eventually graduating with a major in Interior Architecture. Those foundations formed the core of what I emphasize when I design furniture.
And your thesis works garnered quite a bit of interest in the design community. D: My workpiece was Weight Vases. There were many web blogs that picked up on it, which designers liked to follow. The graduation display drew the attention of three companies from America, Italy, and France. In the end the French company “Specimen Editions” purchased the Weight Vases. This was one of the first workpieces from Thinkk studio, from which people started getting to know us.
P: It was a little pressurising because I studied for 2 years, and Decha’s Weight Vases had done really well. My thesis work was the CONST lamp. That year, my workpiece was selected to show in “Rossana Orlandi”, one of the more popular design galleries in Milan. Thankfully people liked it.
D: One of the publications called it the best of Milan in 2012.
P: The CONST lamp was well received by the media, then a furniture brand from Sweden also bought one of our works. I was very happy because the Milan fair was big for us, and they credited the piece to Thinkk Studio. Not all of our work would be popular all the time, some works were exhibited and they went by quietly, or nothing happened. This was vastly different from our home, where we were merely students without reputation, but overseas the media paid attention to our work.
For products, it’s all in the details.
Then you returned to start Thinkk Studio. What is the concept behind the studio? We don’t have a fixed style because there are many stories and inspirations we come across during the work process, but we can not use them all. Our framework is more of focusing on the idea - a lot. We choose to develop the one that we feel is a challenging but idea. The idea will be developed to a good work through thinking, thus “thinkk”.
Your works have a sense of smooth, clam energy. We like work which is honest, and in its real material. We don’t like what is unnecessary, so things must have a reason, response, or application in use. We’ve come to a stage where we don’t think there is a need to decorate much.
You recently worked with COTTO. This was another form of collaboration. COTTO is a manufacturer of sanitary wares and tiles. At that time, we thought the phrase “Another Perspective”, which led us to thinking of toilets that had another view. The work was titled ‘Lavanity’, combining the functions of a vanity area with a lavatory.
How was it like to show at Milan? The preparation time we had before going was really short. We also heard that *Wallpaper had set up a studio outside the city, and would be selecting distinguished works to feature in their magazine. Some of our friends’ works were selected, and we hoped, but not much - because our work was big and might be difficult to move. So we thought it might not be selected since our group was quite new and very small, and not many people knew about us. However, there was lots of interest after the opening of the fair. Many people were interested and someone was looking at our details. We thought they were students. They gave us a business card, and they turned out to be stylists from *Wallpaper, and asked to take a photo of our work for the magazine.
Would you say there are similarities between interior work and making products? Yes. In interior design, you’re looking at the overview and think in big scales. For products, it’s all in the details. We begin to look at centimeters, millimeters, and more details. Interior design has it’s positive impact on product work as well. When we design a product, we think about the environment and atmosphere it functions in, that’s part of it.
What would you say makes a good design? We think it should respond to the need of users, the production system of manufacturers, and of course, explain our idea well.
Jewelry design is often an overlooked trade. Yuki Mitsuyasu, whose jewelry pieces are infused with a tender balance of beauty and meaning, overthrows the notion that necklaces, rings and bracelets could just be mere accessories. More than a jewelry designer, Yuki is a storyteller; inspired by daily life and her travels around the world, she creates each piece of jewelry with a story in mind, reminding us once again that good design can go beyond being merely functional or beautiful, but can also teach us about the important things in life, like nature, faith, and most crucially, love.
How long have you been working as a jewelry designer? It’s been quite some time! I graduated in 2005, after that I was working under someone else for 4 years. During that time I was working as something like a craftsman - my boss designed the pieces and when she got orders in, we’d make duplicates. It was a small company.
You must have learned a lot in those 4 years. In terms of making, my boss’ designs used more semi-precious stones and gold wires, and a lot of beading stuff, but what I do now is more heavy metal work, so it’s quite different. But still I learnt a lot about coming out with collections, how to price your pieces, and because it was a small company, you get to see everything.
Have you always wanted to start your own jewelry label? I think I always wanted to have my own label. Even when I was working for someone else, it was so that I could do my own thing, to come up with my own collection.
When did you decide to become a jewelry designer? I always liked making things with my hands, working on a small scale, working with details. When I was in high school I discovered there’s this job title called “jewelry designer”. When you’re in high school you don’t realize that everything is designed by someone, and that there’s a designer for particular things. So when I discovered there’s someone who makes a living out of designing jewelry, I thought, that’s wonderful! I always liked to wear jewelry but it’s those very cheap ones, like rings, and I’d change [the pieces] everyday, but now I don’t wear much jewelry.
Can you tell us about the first collection you launched? It was right after I came back from a trip to Grenada, in the Caribbean. Usually my ideas come naturally, so after I went to Grenada, I saw a lot of people there who are very proud of their flags. You know how Jamaicans would have their flags everywhere - on their wrist, on their cars - it’s the same in Grenada. The people there love their flags, it’s everywhere! Grenada’s such a small country that they don’t have many souvenirs, so I thought maybe I should come up with a souvenir for them. Very random. I thought, why not let them wear [their flags] as a jewelry piece? So I took their flag, and I developed and simplified it to make into my first collection, the pendulum collection.
"A lot of my design process is simplifying, but to have anything simple to look beautiful you need to have perfect unity with the body."
What is the creative process like behind each piece of your jewelry? In the beginning I spend time thinking about it and then when I a vague idea, I’ll do research or maybe get some more visual references. Sometimes I do that, and then sometimes I just like sketching.
But design is not just 2-dimensional, so I won’t work straightaway with metal. Instead, I use whatever material is available, like paper clay, to make models, to see things at scale.
What we love about your work is that it carries a lot of symbolism. Have you ever made something just because you think it looks pretty? No. I think that’s the biggest thing I learnt, which is how to develop your design. For example, even though this [piece] is star-shaped, I’m only using the star as a symbol for something else, for the idea of “shine”.
It was inspired by what my dad said about finding the right partner. It doesn’t matter what’s his nationality or religion, but you should be with someone who can let you shine. The two hearts represent two people, and when they come together, they shine like a star.
Then for instance for the Varuna Bracelet, I was inspired by my trip to the Himalayas - water falls on the mountain, joins the river, and then goes into the ocean. The water always goes back again, showing the cycle of life.
That’s very, very beautiful. Are you working on your next collection now? Yes! I just sent them to get cast! The collection should be out end of September. I’m going to Paris end of the month, so I’m trying to have everything ready by then. I’ve been to Paris three times now. It’s challenging, because all the top buyers attend the Paris show. The one I go to is called the Première Classe, which is the one I’ve been wanting to go. It’s great that you get many good buyers there, but at the same time the buyers are so busy. They start from New York, London, Italy, and they already have the designers they have an appointment with or always buy from, so some won’t even bother to look at your booth. So it’s quite harsh!
And how is it like being a jewelry designer in Singapore? In the beginning I found it very difficult, because back in London, it’s such a big industry, and most of their art universities have jewelry design courses and you can easily get any material - metal sheets, wires, etc. And there’s this one area called Hatton Garden where the jewelry industry is - they have diamond dealers, specialists in polishing, in stone-setting. If you want to get a diamond, you see a dealer, then take it and get it to a setter, then you go to a plater to get it plated. It’s very difficult in Singapore, because there are not many jewelry manufacturing places here. Maybe more before, but not now. I did find one place that helps me do casting, setting, plating all in one place. But even silver sheets I can’t buy in Singapore. You have to get silver grains, melt them, put in the roller, then make your own silver sheets. In the beginning I thought it’s impossible and I couldn’t imagine how much work it would take! Now if I need silver sheets I just order from the UK.
On the other hand it’s less competitive, and you get support and more attention. Like they are taking us to do the show in Paris, which is mostly sponsored by the Textile & Fashion Federation Singapore. When I was coming back to Singapore, I thought if I leave Europe that would be it - I would be so far away. But actually nowadays with the internet and cheap flights, it’s so easy. In London, hundreds of jewelry designers graduate every year. There’s so much competition and grants are given only to UK citizens, so it’s impossible for me as a Japanese to get those grants.
Now that you have begun to make your mark in the local scene, what do you think sets your label apart from the others? I think myself being able to make the pieces is one big advantage, so I can make pieces that are very 3-dimensional. Some people just find something and assemble to make a piece of jewelry, or use outlines or some shapes, so it can be very flat. But my design process develops as I make, and I’m always thinking in 3-dimensional. And also the clasps, usually I don’t use any traditional clasps. All of my work don’t have them.
A lot of my design process is simplifying, but to have anything simple to look beautiful you need to have perfect unity with the body.
I always liked making things with my hands, working on a small scale, working with details.
Finally, we’d like to ask: what do you enjoy most about designing jewelry? When you visualize your idea in your mind and you actually finish making it, it’s really satisfying. In terms of the making process, I like the soldering - when the metal melts it feels really good. Also when I do the polishing, because silver without polishing or buffing is really dull. When you file it and make it really smooth on the surface, that’s how the light reflects and makes it shiny. So when you do the final buff, suddenly everything shines.
Independence is something we often take for granted. It’s not something we normally assess during our decision making process, or necessarily adhere our lives to, but that could also be due to the fact that it’s not something that is easily defined.
Yet this writer would argue that the issue is a lack of awareness in our state of mind. Because the difference of independence is the very reason why one chooses to grab a cuppa roasted at your local joe’s, rather than battling it out at a corporate starbucks. It’s the reason why one avoids the malls on sundays and instead visits an independent shophouse. We may not realize it yet, but there are times when we’re already making the choice of independence.
Being independent allows us to control the small things that matter. It allows a chef to ensure he serves only the very best of produce while supporting the local economy, it allows a curator to stay true to a theme, and it allows for the building of relationships beyond business transactions.
Let’s take the simple analogy of display shelves. The corporation values the shelf through the calculation of real estate translated into sales. On the other hand, the independent store owner sees it as an opportunity to communicate - to line curated clues and hidden messages along the shelf-front, each conveying a personal message, feeling, or emotion that connects them, a person, to you. The value here is the human touch.
So the next time you find yourself having to make a decision, why not opt for the difference you want in the world. For now, this one’s to the people, whose individual efforts are collectively building a world of independence.
Whether you’re working out of a loft studio in Bangkok, a craft village in Kyoto, or workshops within the industrial estates of Kallang, Ayer Rajah, or Bedok, the world is more connected than ever - not just by technology though, but by something more.
As information and technology continue to become more easily accessible, objects we interact with on a day-to-day basis are often overlooked. When was the last time you physically fixed your car engine, or changed a phone battery? The truth is we probably can’t remember. Yet, the world has odd ways of balancing itself - as technology continues to reduce our need to tinker, we increasingly feel the need to scratch an itch.
We were meant to make things with our hands. It’s only natural - it’s who we are, and how we tell other people who we are. It’s no wonder there’s been a revival of age old craft, right next to hordes of 3D printing enthusiasts. We are truly privileged to live in a time where the landscape of tradition and technology are merging. This is our generation.
The previous industrial revolution led us to achieve things unthinkable: we saw the invention of steam-powered ships, railways, factories, and sustained growth. This time, what binds us together is a cultural heartbeat that values independence, quality, and the human touch.
So we’ve decided to focus on singing the unsung, to tell the stories of the everyday people who make. We hope you enjoy what we’ve put together, and invite you to join us on our journey, as we define the new industrial revolution together.
The weight of blue is an exhibition of the works created by Outofstock in collaboration with Freiherr von Porshinger Glas-manufacktur, a 450 year old glass factory in Bavaria, Germany. The exhibition was held from 16-21 August, 2013. We paid our friends a visit at the Truffs Cafe.
Inspired by the removal of their daily rituals and familiar comforts, The Workshop Gallery returns from a sojourn with a renewed curiousity. The exhibition was beautifully curated, and we loved the embedding of video devices under the ‘snow’.
With a subtle sense of continuity, the ring vases feature metal craftsman Mr Yee’s work, who also collaborated with The Workshop’s first series ’Living Textures’. It was nice to meet Mr Yee in person, and of course to catch up with the Outofstock team.
We’ll be exhibiting more of their work at 100% Design in September, so in the meantime we’ll let their craft speak for itself. Watch their video ‘Captured’ below:
We love marketplaces - there’s always an underlying theme or secret formula, they’re often packed with great carnival-type fun, and with such variety you know you’re going to come out with the best stuff.
Talad Rot Fai is the vintage lover’s dream - an industrialist wonderland full of eclectic upcycled furniture, exquisite antiques, and a growing slew of independent brands. We recently took a trip to Bangkok’s best kept secret jaunt (that is, until now).
Suitable for: A weekend trip if you’re in Asia. A laid-back alternative to the crowded streets of Chatuchak.
Suvhaburmit airport is connected to 151 International scheduled routes in 64 countries, and Bangkok is riding the upper crest of a new wave, with support from the government to become a ‘Creative City’, and featuring a slew of wholesome homegrown restaurants under the localvore movement.
Not suitable for: Other plans - You’ll want to spend a casual evening here.
The Insider: The market really only kicks in at 7pm, so get there no earlier but in perfect timing to enjoy some sunset jiving with the locals. Grab a couple of beers in one of the small outdoor bars (old Volkswagen camping buses with live music), where you sit on the tiniest stools crammed together over a plate of tapas. Then saunter around.
When shopping, go for the vintage finds. It’s an exercise that calls for the training of your eye. Prices are still considerably reasonable, but do note this is a market still very much visited and run by savvy locals. It’s also probably a good idea to bring an oversized shopperbag. With many of the stalls selling upcycled furniture or rare one-of-a-kind pieces, international cargo and postal services would find themselves in high demand here, following the examples of DHL and Bangkok Post who both set up stalls in Chatuchak. Unfortunately that infrastructure isn’t readily available yet, but taxis are a dime a dozen outside the market - trust us, you’ll be so exhausted you’ll be more than happy to hop into one.
How to get there :
- Take the MRT to Kampaeng Phet station. (One Station from Chatuchak) - Take Exit Number 1, and make a u-turn at the exit - You’ll walk through a narrow passage and past an old building till you reach the main street. (Roughly 10 meters) - Follow the road right, passing a couple of antique shops and bars on your right, with the main road flanking your left (About 7 minutes) - You’ll know it when you’ve arrived
UPDATE: We’ve been told that since our last visit the market has relocated, but it’s industrial core still remains. Thanks to reader Timmy for the heads up! Directions on how to get to the new location here.
The State Of Buildings: Crafting an Online Memory Experience
The mark of a modern city is that its landscapes are constantly changing. While there’s constant improvements to be made, places are a largely sentimental thing. But one small team is doing something more than just fulfilling our whim nostalgic desires. We sit down with Kelly Koh, Eugene Tan, and Gad Tan to chart out the shifting relationships between physical and digital, and the spaces in between.
We love the project. Who does what? K: I’m Kelly, an Architecture graduate. Eugene and I embarked on this project together while we were still in school, developing the structure, focus, and experience of the website. Apart from that, we do research, particularly from rare books, and field work, which adds to the site’s content.
G: I’m Gad and I lead a web design and digital development studio called Pettycache. Our role in the project was to design and develop a digital framework to facilitate the needs of the SOB team. We handled everything digital from building a content management system to setting up emails.
It can be said that the concept is rather ‘nostalgic’, would you agree? Or would you say the project is a reflection of the current cultural heartbeat? E: It’s interesting you point that out, though we didn’t set out to do so. We started with a focus on many buildings with strong public dimensions mostly from the ‘60s to ‘80s, because we felt they held meaning to a greater public. This was Singapore’s nation-building period, and paralleled in our urban history are building projects which attempted to articulate what it meant to be Singaporean and to live in Singapore. Many of these buildings have also developed deep-rooted communities which are worth documenting and discussing. So if you take those two qualities to the hilt, you may find yourself looking some time into the past. This is where we began, and we are always looking to build upon the current crop of buildings.
I think it’s difficult to grasp what the present cultural heartbeat is, even in a fairly small place like Singapore. And because we are in Singapore: What is culture? Who decides what culture is? I feel these are very interesting questions which are part of what we would like to explore.
K: Yet it does appear that the local situation is rather caught up in nostalgic sentiment, as seen in several activist movements, debates, and even expressed in interior design. This rallying spirit is an encouraging one, which brings the image of the city to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Our hope is to eventually broaden the system of value appendage, inculcating in people an appreciation of our built environment without the impetus of impending loss.
You chose a newer medium to present something so archival. E: In our research we had to constantly read and react to local happenings. That’s when we realized that things online were changing - there are people willing to talk about buildings and spaces, to discuss their meaning and significance. One example would be the effort to retain the old Malayan railway as a green corridor. We felt that the social contract between the public and the planners is evolving, or the public’s relationship with the architect. The value of good design is becoming more widely acknowledged, and I feel that the internet as a public domain, is the ideal place to test and understand these relationships.
G: In short, I think what we’re doing is to serve as an online repository of peoples’ memories and stories. It’s almost a visualisation of how far we as a city have come and how much more there is ahead of us.
K: Yup, maybe in a way, equal parts nostalgic and progressive.
Was it easy working with Google Maps? G: Well there are a number of limitations, like one of the things we’re trying to do now is to allow an an administrator to easily set a location without having to go through the backend - previously that was more complex, we had to get the exact latitude and longitude and insert it through manual code, update the servers, only then does it display on the frontend. We also had to build a site on top of Google Maps to host all the content. We’re constantly thinking of how to make it as easy as possible.
How long did you guys take to build the site? E: Almost 2 years from our idea conception to public beta, we were still in school when we started this..
G: The biggest part was content accumulation, and that’s all them. They’re the ones who are running around with the cameras, doing the research, making multiple trips to the libraries.
So you seed the information, and other people contribute sob stories on top of that. G: Yes, that’s one of the founding principles behind the project. Person A can describe it one way, someone else will have another interpretation. It’s the intersection of these stories that give it sense, and that’s why we built in a contributing section. It’s one of the key insights we’re trying to highlight.
E: For the info part we’ve just interviewed several architects who have shared the stories behind their buildings, and hopefully in the pipeline we’re going to gather contributions from more of these lao jiao (experienced) architects. So it’s not going to necessarily be just coming from us, but in the beginning we needed someone to seed that content and that was us.
Can people pin on a location yet? E: That’s definitely in the works.
What are the plans going forward? E: Given that this is a nascent passion project and not a full-time job, the long-term plan is to keep it sustainable. I think there have been a lot of sites with interest that have fizzled off after awhile, some of the creators have gone on to do other things or found ‘real jobs’. Right now we’re exploring how future generations can come in and help us out, for example younger people who are still schooling and have some time on their hands.
Another thing we want to get is also the architects and designers’ opinions. We’re also thinking of doing a tablet and smartphone version, so the walking trails will be more accessible for people and maybe even tourists.
Are there plans to go beyond singapore? E: I think one thing you’ll realize is that the Singapore map fits quite nicely on the screen. It opens up on the screen, you see the expressways, the main arterial roads, you get a very good sense of location and where certain things are. If you go bigger, it becomes harder to see things, and this unique condition of singapore is lost.
K: But if there are people who would want to franchise it, we won’t necessarily object.. (Laughs)
If you could sum it up, why would someone come to your site? E: We hope to appeal to people by giving them a takeaway - they get the information, pictures, and play around with the website - so there’s something that they can receive as much as we ask them to give. We know that we can’t just put out an empty canvas and expect people to contribute. Asking people to give - it’s a very sentimental and emotional thing, it’s very personal. On our part we need to keep abreast of what’s happening to certain places. On a basic level - not everybody reads the papers everyday so if we know of something we can tell people and they can have an emotional reaction to that.
K: I think what facebook has is a kopitiam (cafe) atmosphere, so uncles (distinguished men) are happy to contribute to that sort of environment. For us we’ll have to focus on the interactive and exploratory elements so that people will start seeing the website as a destination.
How would you describe the website in your own words? G: I like to think of the website as a kuay-lapis, a cake with many layers. There are layers of mapping and cartographic tools to tie in layers of collective stories and memories, creating a strong sense of association and geographic placement.
E: A leap of faith.
K: A being in infinite gestation, never fully discoverable.
And your favourite buildings in town? E: In Singapore, Tampines North Community Club by William Lim Associates from 1989.
K: The Subordinate Courts Building by Kumpulan Akitek, built in 1976.
G: Pearl Bank Apartments. Probably have to check our site for the architect, but I like it for its design. They don’t build them like they used too.
E: It’s by Archurban, also completed in 1976.
The State of Buildings project is a celebration of histories, memories and relationships connected to buildings and places. We believe that every place is larger than itself. No single piece of information or account can ever pin down what a place truly is or means. Whether or not it still stands, it never ceases to exist. Contribute your transient encounters with these places, and together, shape the State of Buildings. Explore, Discover and Share.
Art x Craft x Science: Handmade Design with 10¹² TERRA
We find ourselves Kappabashi (Kitchen-Town), just off the Asakusa Prefecture in East Tokyo - a quaint old town known for it’s craftsmanship in swords, kitchen knivery, and plastic display food samples. It’s here we meet up with the talented Daisuke Tsumanuma, one half of 10¹² TERRA. Daisuke greets me at the front of Bridge cafe, an industrial space that houses a cafe, an artchitecture firm, as well as 10¹² TERRA’s pop-up exhibition. We quickly bond over a cup of delicious coffee, and his initial shyness is soon overcome, his eyes lighting up with a grin of excitement each time he speaks about his glass terrariums.
Pleased to meet you, Daisuke. What inspired you to do this? Since young I’ve always been fascinated by chemistry and biology classes. I was especially inspired by laboratory observations, because you always discover something new, things you can’t normally observe or are aware about in everyday life.
Then I completed school and like everyone else I got a job. I was actually a game designer, I worked at Square Enix, previously Squaresoft. If you remember Final Fantasy 12 to 14, I worked on some of those games.
Whoa! An entire generation grew up playing those games. Yes, it was great fun at the time, and I was very into it. But then one day I decided that I wanted to make something real.
How long has that been? I had come up with the initial concept but had to develop, source, and do testing for about a year. We went through quite a few iterations before we came to the final product. That was back in 2011, and the brand officially launched in October 2012.
What’s the concept behind your terrariums? There are many types of terrariums and it has become a trendy way of urban gardening. Our terrariums are designed so you can examine the structural roots of a plant - something that is rarely seen.The brand’s name was inspired from the number of cells produced per day (10¹²), and the sole purpose of our terrariums are for collecting and showcasing plants. It’s a very observational object, and personally it reminds me of the constant changes of life and that it’s full of new discovery.
For myself, through first-hand research I discovered that succulents start to adapt to their new environments. After a while the desert plants begin to grow aquaphonic roots, you can see the difference in the color of the soiled roots and their new white roots.
What’s the process like and how long does it take? It depends on the terrarium make, but it takes on average between 3 to 12 hours per terrarium. It’s a long time because I have to individually cut the glass, line it up and then solder it together. It has to be very precise because it is designed to be a functional object, and it has to be watertight.
"I was actually a game designer… then one day I decided that I wanted to make something real."
Is it important that the terrariums are made by you? Making the terrariums by myself was actually a speedy way to commercialize my idea. It was easy to trial and error, and make adjustments to the usability. So, the terrarium is designed in two separate parts such that it is easy to refill water, and this is a feature I could create only because I am working on it and iterating myself. Today I still make it myself because it requires high precision crafting, and to maintain a high quality. It also gives me the possibility of providing customizations that satisfy the request of fine customers.
Would you say there is a Japanese influence to your work? I’m actually unconsciously influenced by bonsai. Bonsai are very old plants and trees, miniaturized and potted for aesthetic appreciation. They are an art form unique to Japan. In bonsai, the important thing is to re-create the appearance of beautiful trees from nature in small bowls, for example cutting out the landscape, shaping it. And it takes time.
After the refreshing coffee, Daisuke and I took a walk to find more makers.
10¹² TERRA is Daisuke Tsumanuma and Kenichi Yamada.
Perhaps the best work that describes what Desinere does is founder Melvin Ong himself. Soft-spoken and thoughtful, Melvin embodies his studio’s Latin name which means to stop and reflect. That is what he does for close to an hour in his shared workspace at Seah Street, pausing to muse on his creative processes and the need to stay still in busy Singapore.
How did you become a designer? I studied in a science combination for my A-Levels, and thought I was going to do biochemistry or something in pharmacy, but during the course, I realised it was not what I wanted to do. The only time I enjoyed biology lessons was when I got to draw diagrams and cells, and I found myself drawn to art. So after my A-Levels, I didn’t bother to try for university and took up a diploma in interior and furniture design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). I wanted to design furniture, but it was the school’s pre-requisite to do interior before you can study furniture. While I like graphic stuff, I find doing something three-dimensional more fulfilling because you get to make it with your hands, whereas graphic work is on the screen most of the time.
You were doing well in London, studying under the likes of designers Chris Lefteri and Reiko Kaneko before finding work in a brand consultancy. Why did you return to Singapore to start your own studio in 2012? After I finished my course at NAFA, I went to Central St Martin’s College of Art & Design in London to get a degree in product design. I felt that if I wanted to do design, I needed to experience a different culture outside of Singapore because its scene is still very young. Working in London after graduation was good and an eye-opener, but I couldn’t see a long-term plan. Whatever I earned was just enough to get by, and my visa was expiring, so I decided to come back.
My time in London made me more independent, and that gave me the courage to start my own company. I could have worked for someone here, but even while I was working in London, I also participated in exhibitions in Tent London and Salone Milan on my own and with friends. Part of my mind was always on what the next project I was going to design even while I was working, so even if I were to join a company here, I would still be doing my own work at the back of my mind. So I thought, why not just do it full-time. Also, I was reaching an age where the time was right to start a business if I wanted to, and if it didn’t work out I could at least find a full-time job.
You’ve cited In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik as the origins of Desinere. Can you tell us more about this? The book is about the author’s search to why we are so attracted to a world of noise. Reading it got me thinking about the moments when I found myself most creative, and I realised that ideas only started flowing when I stepped aside and had a quiet cup of tea at a cafe or went for a walk. When you’re in the midst of doing things, you feel cramp, and so it’s almost counter-productive. You got to stop before things will start moving and I found myself working in that way — very similar to what the book was describing. I named my studio after a word the author discovered, desinere, which is Latin for “stop” and also entails a kind of reflection. This describes how most of my work comes about, it comes from me taking a step back and reflect so as to find some quietness and inspiration.
Can you tell us more about how Desinere’s philosophy is reflected in your design process and works? Our work usually starts from small observations that you don’t really see when you are preoccupied with stuff. Like for the rocking chair, “Itty Bitty”, how it came about was when I noticed that people have this unconscious habit of fidgeting and seating on two legs. But a chair is not designed to be like that, so I designed one that moves with you. The chair does not have a smooth arc, so instead of rocking smoothly, it feels more like steps. I don’t think I would have noticed this habit if I was very preoccupied with just designing.
I think consumers nowadays are more discerning, and can tell if a product is thought out in five minutes or less.
Do you think this spirit of stopping and reflecting is very much missing from the city of Singapore? I always hear friends and peers saying they are very busy — everything is just busy, busy, busy… We all are, but we just need to allocate time to not be busy. It is possible, but not easy, and I still struggle with it myself. It’s also about finding contentment in the small things, so you have to ask yourself what you are so busy for. When I started Desinere, I was very conscious that for the first few years, I don’t want to be concerned about making money, but instead I want to focus on creating designs that are honest. My products are not driven by profit margins, because when you bring too much of that into account, the designs that come out tend to lean towards being frivolous and are not so well thought out. If you want to establish an identity, you got to take it slow. I think consumers nowadays are more discerning, and can tell if a product is thought out in five minutes or less.
Tell us more about how you work with your co-founder Supertini Tjiang. It is now tough for us because she just moved back to Bali, Indonesia. Before this, I was working on Desinere full-time while she worked at NAFA as a workshop technician. For our projects, I gave the direction, did most of the writing, drafted out of our concepts and we sketched together. Supertini is more hands-on compared to me, and she had access to a workshop. I think it is good and bad that she is now based overseas, it means she is closer to manufacturers in Indonesia who are better and cheaper than here, but it is also harder for us to communicate.
You seem to enjoy the materiality of things in your design: from paper-folded and concrete tableware (Mappa and Rok) to wood and sheet metal furniture (Itty Bitty and Monolith). Is material exploration a big part of your design process? Before I started Desinere, most of my work was always about the concept and thought process. I only moved to a materials-centric approach when I started working with Supertini, who was exploring materials and processes in NAFA. I was also very influenced by my time in London as I worked with Lefteri who has written a lot about materials. I realised that my designs were starting to stagnate and approaching it in this manner kept things fresh for me.
For instance, Rok came about after I realised that the language of concrete was changing as it was getting popular with more and more of my friends. I wanted to present it in a different way from how most would perceive it, so I used this heavy and industrial material to create a small and intricate decorative object.
Something else that is underlying in most of my work is I don’t do a lot of surface treatment for most of my products and rather have them raw. My rocking chair is not stained but left in its natural colour, but the sheet metal has to be, if not it will rust.
Is it challenging to work with a materials-approach in Singapore where there is a lack of craftsmen and new materials available? The common reaction to most of my products is that they are nice but very expensive. The price mentality is something a lot of designers here struggle with, because for us, our stuff is either made by ourselves or locally, and that usually means the production cost is very steep. We don’t have many craftsmen here, so it is not easy to find people to produce our designs. The guys who created my Monolith tables are not even furniture makers but actually welders. And as we can only produce small batches, it usually costs more, which explains why our products are more expensive.
It is very different in Singapore because we view craftsmen as second-class jobs. But in Germany, carpenters need a Master’s degree, so it’s a totally different value proposition. Yet, we cannot deny that tradition and crafts are dying out, so we need to evolve as well. Today, there is 3-D printing and laser cutting, but it is just as difficult to source them here. I was quoted $300 to print a mould here, but I managed to get two done in the Netherlands and shipped here for just $120.
Common Vessels was an interesting project using a “anti-design” approach and it also highlighted “low-tech” design solutions. Can you tell us more about it? It was commissioned by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council as part of Singaplural 2013. The brief was to design a furniture installation that promotes sustainable design. For us, sustainability is something that designers need to think of and should not even be just a concept any more. We were a bit sian (bored) with the brief, as we were sure people would submit concepts using recycled materials, and we wanted to avoid that. We felt sustainability could rather be about designing something that lasts, so for “Common Vessels”, we created simple archetypal furniture forms and made one of their legs shorter than the other to invite people to give them a second life. For instance, a table may be wonky, but it does not mean you have to throw it away, you can just fold a paper stopper to solve it. The solution may not be refined, but we wanted to bring the message across that this is also sustainable design. This is important because in our society we just buy things and throw away, and we always want something new.
What are Desinere’s future plans? We’re trying to make our existing products more sellable, and we’re refining Rok and also Mappa. To be honest, I am still taking one step at a time. I hope to do more consultancy work as I know that I cannot survive solely on sales of my designs. Currently, I also teach design.
I am also collaborating with designers in different disciplines as I feel Singapore designers tend to stick too much in our own fields. But design is design, and we should cross between different disciplines and even in school there should be more communication between different faculties. My first collaboration is with Stolen, a local fashion designer. I’m designing some accessories with them, it should be interesting to approach fashion from a product design perspective.
"Teaism is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life." - Kakuzo Okakura
The concept of Japanese beauty finds some of its roots in the cult of Teaism, which bases itself on the imperfections of everyday life. In the Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura writes that “teaism is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”
Tea plant seeds were first brought from China to Japan and during the Nara period (710-714), priests and noblemen consumed the drink as medicine. Throughout the Kamakura period, tea was cultivated by the founder of Zen Buddhism for religious purposes and during the same time the Japanese tea ceremony, as it is known today, was established.
Tea drinking has been embedded in Japanese everyday life for many centuries and quietly defines the simple values of Japanese culture and aesthetics. Its teachings are about the spirit of self-cultivation, the harmony with nature and humanity.
At the origins of Japanese tea drinking, the traditional craft technique of Nanbu Tekki ironware was developed some 900 years ago as a complex production process for iron kettles. The craft originated in Morioka City and Mizusawa, Oshu City, in the Northern part of Japan, and was led by the Nanbu clan, which was involved with numerous artisans from Kyoto to promote the traditional tea ceremony.
To make the kettles, materials were sourced from the local area and included iron sand, river sand, clay, lacquer, and charcoal among others. To this day, each piece requires an outstanding level of craftsmanship and a process of 64 to 68 different steps to completion. 15 years of apprenticeship are necessary for an ironware maker, and 40 years of practice leads to the title of master craftsman, also known in Japanese as ‘kamashi’.
This Japanese ironware is known to last at least 100 hundred years. If it breaks, the material can be recast into a new kettle or another object.
Today, the most renowned maker is the 100-year old company Iwachu based in Morioka. Iwachu continues to make iron kettles entirely by hand and follows the same traditional steps established many centuries ago.
Over the weekend we headed down to the Singapore Mini Maker Faire, a subsidiary of the original Maker Faire organized by the good people of MAKE Magazine. The event champions a sentiment that lies somewhere between the hacker realm and the DIY spirit within each of us. It’s no surprise that the floor was a smorgasbord of makers from all passions - 3D printing advocates, the electronics community, independent crafters, cosplayers, and a whole host of specialty projects too novel to categorise.
Amidst the eclectic heap, we take a closer look at some of the hacks and craft we found interesting.
The Lasalle Media Lab had a couple of interesting concepts. We first spoke to Mithru, pictured below, who designed the Aleph of Emotions.
Put together using a couple of circuit boards, a smartphone, and packaged in a neat glass case, the camera-like object allows you to take a snapshot of the current emotions of any city in the world. The result is an infographic display of the trending emotions gathered from the twittersphere using text and hashtag crawlers. When asked about the purpose of the object, he simply wanted to create something that would present big textual data in a visual form. We think that’s awesome. For more of Mithru’s work, visit his website.
The next exhibit was even more complex. Collecting rock samples from various parts of Singapore, the artist uses a self-constructed iphone magnification glass to capture enlarged images of the soil.
In post, he stitches the images together and converts them to a greyscale to determine soil density, finally mapping it onto a three-dimensional surface via digital fabrication. Judge the results for yourself.
Huey Ling is a ceramic visual artist who works in a shared studio space at the Bedok Industrial Park, where she has a kiln to fire her ceramic art pieces.
On display were her Knitted Vessels, made by dipping crocheted rice paper cords into porcelain slips. The semi-solid piece is fired up in a kiln, burning away all traces of the paper cords to result in a pure porcelain vessel resembling the shape of traditional fishing nets. The Knitted Vessels serve an aesthetic and conceptual purpose, contemplative of the on-going exploration of form and the porcelain material. Huey Ling writes a blog to keep a log of her work.
The Kang describes himself as a craftster and a designer with a penchant for chainmaille and unconventional materials. Mixing the up-cycled and freshly industrial, he turns common materials into things like hand-dyed cable-tied bib necklaces. You can learn more about his work here.
A neat sense of calmness invites you when you first arrive at ACRE’s studio. An oasis on the top floor of a building in the ‘industrial heartlands of Singapore’, ACRE is the design studio founded by T Y Zheng and Jason Song.
T Y was proud to show me around the studio. Lined with tools organized neatly and self-constructed desks, the space is every bit the inspiration pad - design books, magazines, and toys laid out in the sleight precision highlighting the studio’s negative space, you immediately start to feel your inner geek creative churning. But it doesn’t end there.
Perhaps what’s most intriguing is the small but growing plant life section in the studio. I’m given a quick tour of the ‘garden’, with T Y describing the different care methods and the precise watering and lighting requirements of each flora. If you observe from this corner, T Y shared, the sun sets at different angles each year, turning the studio into a spatial sundial.
We’re pretty happy to leave the creative math to the ACRE team, knowing well that someone has surely done the calculations behind the poster that now hangs proudly in our office.
Maker Mondays: Manufacturing Giant China weighs in on the Maker Movement
With it’s own breed of DIY enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, China weighs in on the maker movement with these post apocalyptic inventions. You may think they look scary now.. but don’t rule out the possibilities just yet. Who knows, one of these things could save us in 10 years.. Ready or not? We’ll let you decide.
Zhang Wuyi sits in his newly made multi-seater submarine at his new workshop near an artificial pool in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on November 14, 2012. Zhang, a local farmer who is interested in scientific inventions, has independently made seven miniature submarines with several fellow engineers, one of which was sold to a businessman in Dalian at a price of 100,000 yuan ($15,855) in 2011. The submarines, mainly designed for harvesting aquatic products, such as sea cucumber, have a diving depth of 20-30 meters (66-98 feet), and can travel for 10 hours, local media reported. (Reuters/Stringer)
Zhang Xuelin sits inside his self-made aircraft during its test flight in Jinan, on November 29, 2012. The plane, which took 11 months to build, failed in its test flight. (Reuters/China Daily)
Noah’s Ark of China, a six-ton (5,443 kg) ball container built by Chinese inventor Yang Zongfu, undergoes a rolling test in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, on August 6, 2012. According to local media, Yang spent two years and 1.5 million RMB ($235,585 USD) to build this four-meter diameter vessel, which is capable of housing a three-person family with sufficient food for them to live in for 10 months. The vessel was designed to protect people inside from external heat, water and external impact. (Reuters/China Daily)
Lei Zhiqian rides a modified bicycle across the Hanjiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze River in Wuhan, on June 16, 2010. The bicycle, equipped with eight empty water containers at the bottom, was modified by Lei’s instructor Li Weiguo, who hopes to put his invention into the market. (Reuters/China Daily)
One visible sign of China’s recent economic growth is the rise in prominence of inventors and entrepreneurs
Chinese farmer Yang Youde pushes his homemade cannon near his farmland on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province, on June 6, 2010. Yang’s cannon, made out of a wheelbarrow, pipes and rockets, is used to defend his fields against property developers who want his land. (Reuters/Stringer)
Gao Hanjie installs rotor blades on his homemade helicopter in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on June 9, 2010. The graphic designer and helicopter enthusiast, with help from his friends, has spent more than a month building the 6-meter-long and 350kg helicopter. Gao claims he will eventually fly the contraption as a personal project. (Reuters/Sheng Li)
Amateur inventor Chen Shungui, 54, drives his homemade solar-powered electric car, which he built in 2008 and can reach a speed of up to 45kph, on a street in Jingjiang, Jiangsu province, on October 30, 2010. Chen took 13 months and 130,000 yuan ($19,485) to build the car and recently completed a second solar-powered electric car. The characters on the car read “solar car”. (Reuters/Stringer)
Zhang Wuyi, a local farmer interested in scientific inventions, operates his self-made miniature submarine “Shuguang Hao” during a safety test at Moshui Lake in Wuhan, Hubei province. China, on August 29, 2011. (Reuters/Jason Lee)
I first found Thitirat and Pattaprong seated in a quaint café across Rama 9, just one of Bangkok’s latest giant developments outside of the main city area. The magic-hour light trimmed the edge of their industrial silhouettes, lighting up a slight excitement in their eyes. Over lattes I found out that Pana Objects was an extremely new brand, part of what I’d call the new wave of Thai Designers - graduates of the Internet generation armed with maker mindsets and online press know-hows, coupled with the access to materials and building facilities.
I understood every bit of their honest enthusiasm when they finally showed me their products. Seated on the edge of her seat, Thitirat removed the careful packaging, bringing to life their proud creation we’re now so familiar with - the playful Frank Lamp. Pattaprong was eager to show how the wood grains lined together, explaining how the studio took extra care in selection and process. “See how the wood grains line up and the colour matches?” These products are meant to make you smile.
Who is behind Pana Objects? There are 7 of us, and we met each other almost 9 years ago as friends who graduated from industrial design from the same design college in Thailand.
What makes Pana Objects interesting is our diverse background. Before we created the brand we were working in different branches of design, ranging from industrial design consultancy, graphic, branding, furniture, and even as a manufacturing supervisor. The mixture becomes really helpful when developing a product and more so a brand. On top of being friends, our chemistry is strengthened through a shared passion for woodcrafts.
What inspires the brand? We had discussed this very early on, when were first conceptualizing the idea behind Pana Objects. What kickstarted us was our observation that everyday lives have been dominated by synthetic objects. You’ve got almost the same soulless mobile phone make from plastic pallets fitted in the same factory, put together by workers in China. We wanted to offer something else, things that carried meaning beyond fads or trends, and of course synthetic objects. So that’s why we gave birth to our brand, Pana Object, which means “things from the forest” (Pana is the Thai word for forest). Our goal with Pana Objects is to put the emotion back to everyday life and make it more meaningful by using woodcraft to create products that will timelessly accompany people’s lives both aesthetically and functionally.
Your products have a very consistent look. What is your approach, and what are you thinking when you design? Before releasing our pilot product line we spent almost a year fine-tuning our brand characteristics and branding strategy. This was a crucial first step, following which we use the brand DNA to set criteria for our projects and scope down our ideas.
Our diverse backgrounds also allow us to analyze our work from different angles. When we start sketching or prototyping our design we’re not afraid to criticize each other if something seems odds or looks out of the way. This intensive criticism seems hard to cope with at first but when you get used to it it’s very helpful in preventing you from falling in love with your work but instead seeks a way to improve it and make it as perfect as possible.
How much of Thailand is in your products, or are you focused on building an international brand? Right at the beginning we agreed that our brand would not be restricted to Thailand, so we focused on interpreting our Thai-way of thinking into modernized objects with character and fine details. Take Frank Lamp for example, its playfulness is very Thai but its aesthetic interpretation is very modern and timelessly beautiful to a global audience.
Since then, we’ve received good attention from the Thai market as well. We recently got featured in a couple of local design shops and departmental stores, which is a very big leap for a young brand like us.
What’s next up for Pana Objects? We are currently planning our new collection for this year. We’re only a year old and we plan to design a new collection annually so stick with us for more news and goodies!
When Francis Ooi leaves home, telling his wife he’s going for a run, he’s obviously lying. Because he walks more than he runs. And he’s never out of breath either. Otherwise he’d never spot his breathtaking subjects, on the pathways of Singapore. But let’s not be too harsh on Francis - for his lack of focus outdoors, is our gain in beauty indoors.
From the workbench: Francis’ Collection Tray
Inspired by botanical illustrations of the past, whatiseewhenirun is Francis’ modern interpretation of the craft. We get behind the scenes with the creative director and amateur photographer (as he humbly insists).
Francis’ very first botanical portrait, dated 1980.
What inspired you to do whatiseewhenirun? I wanted to fill up my living room wall, and most of the paintings out in the market were kinda expensive. I stumbled upon some Botanical Portraits I have done in the past, and I decided why not continue doing it.
What's your relationship with nature? I used to run in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve until i hurt my knee. So I ended up walking more. That’s when I noticed more of the ‘treasures’ in there. It was also very peaceful in there.
Aha! So that’s how the clever copy came about. The reserves’ full of different floral offerings, how do you select which ones to portray? I look for interesting shapes, designs and details. They are actually common flora that most people wouldn’t even notice. But when you take it away from the cluttered environment, the jungle, and isolate it on a plain background, suddenly you start to focus on its beauty. There is nothing to distract you anymore.
What is your favorite/most interesting photo to date? The Plague, Freckles, Reindeer, and Rust are my favourites. They are not the pretty ‘supermodel’ types but they’ve got character.
Reindeer & Rust
They are actually common flora that most people wouldn’t even notice. But you take it away from the clutter.. suddenly you start to focus on its beauty.
What's next up for whatiseenwhenirun? Trying to expand into other merchandise and hopefully one day, I will be able to have a Botanical Portraits exhibition.
Sounds exciting! We could certainly do with more awareness of the beauty that already surrounds us. Thanks Francis!
Armed with only a micro four thirds camera, Francis shoots flora wherever he goes. His choice of format, paper, and treatment produces a fine grain, giving it a look closer to than of an illustration rather than a photograph. So don’t be surprised when people ask about those portraits of yours.
“An adventure is about exploring with new eyes and free spirits… begin your journey with just a pair of TIMO trunks and a curious mind…”
19 February 2013. After a humid hour’s traffic from the Suvarnabhumi International, I stumble out of my taxi and hobble into the hotel lobby. A torn ankle ligament really isn’t the best accessory for work travel. Unpack. An hour or so and more hobbling later, I’m at the Nana Thai Restaurant in Erawan, where I meet Pow Foongfaungchaveng, the very talented designer behind TIMO Trunks. It’s 7.30 pm. The curry crab we’ve ordered arrives a few minutes later.
TIMO first burst onto the scene in 2009; since then it has received nothing short of enthusiastic approval from the likes of Wallpaper*, Monocle, and Asia’s own Bryan Boy.
TIMO designs are colourful, playful, fun. Conscientious attention is paid to the structural details lining the trunks, and each pair is engineered with the comfort, convenience and classiness of the wearer in mind. With features like subtly inserted pockets and air escape apertures that facilitate amphibious movement, it is no wonder this premium swimwear line has garnered such a cult-following.
"With a country that boasts of some of the world’s most famous beaches, it only makes sense for us to have a good Thai swimwear brand"
Over dinner we chat about the Internet, the state of wealth in the region, and what it means to own a business in this climate. The sharply dressed designer, with his monk-strap shoes and wool jeans, embodies much of TIMO’s adorned fun and preppy sensibilities. Pow tells me it was a New Year’s resolution, together with a long-standing desire to add something bon vivant to the famous Thai beaches, that led to the creation of TIMO. “It only makes sense for us to have a good Thai swimwear brand,” he smiles. I know at this point we have to bring TIMO onboard Haystakt, and it’s my turn to pitch.
The crab is sumptous, and Pow forces me to finish it, insisting I’m on holiday. We take a quick city tour of the menswear scene in Bangkok, zipping in and out of the shopping malls, escaping the raging traffic below as we rush on the overhead walkways (peak-hour lasts till 10pm). We’re racing against closing time, and I struggle to keep up with my ankle.
We stop at one of the boutiques where TIMO is stocked, and Pow proudly shows me the shop-in-shop display he’s designed (he’s coerced them into giving him centerstage on the floor). His thoughtful interpretation of a Trunk case features a slide-out shelf – a convenient setup in the mall or by the beach.
Regretfully we don’t have time for drinks – my short schedule requires me up and running early the next morning. Pow graciously drops me off at Asiatique for a brisk walk, and when I return to the hotel, my ankle is throbbing madly. Standing at my window, I bid goodnight to the city’s boiling smells and steaming streets. I feel I’ve just experienced an adventure right out of a TIMO design.
Haystakt is proud to present TIMO. Introducing a line of swim trunks that combine good basics, classic sportswear, and modern functionalism.
For the graphic enthusiast, treat yourself to this mathematical print in TIMO’s classic prep cut. The series is the designers’ personal spin on Dutch Artist Escher’s work.
Forest by TIMO x Yune is the result of a collaboration between TIMO and Tokyo-based illustrator Payoon Worachananan, a.k.a. Yune. We’re big fans of our South-East Asian rainforest, so you can imagine our excitement when we found a pair of swim trunks with such a fine local print.
One of Yune’s illustration references. Recognize the landscape? We’re thrilled to think a jungle adventure lies waiting in our backyard. (Photo: Yune)
The design, in the translated words of Yune (courtesy of Google) conveys “an emotional look into the zones of a tropical forest, and the shifting temperatures as we move from the outside in,” giving a new narrative to our favourite TIMO LONG PREP.
Atem — it means ‘breath’ in German, and is an etymological descendant of ‘Atman’, the Sanskrit word for ‘self’.
Formed in 2011 by designer Nelson Abulencia, ATEM creates purity, finesse and quality through its garments, leathers and accessories. The tagline is “contemporary timelessness”. Only carefully considered materials are used.
In 2012, Vogue Germany featured ATEM’s handbags on its essay blog. The reviewer raved about ATEM’s limited edition shopperbags that possessed “erstaunlicher Raffinesse und Alltagstauglichkeit” (astonishing sophistication and practicality) and claimed that they came close to the Perfekt Bag.
The pastel-toned range (oatmeal, soft yellow, and powder blue), as captured by photographer Patrick Debrosses’ low-contrast palette, convey an understated chic and an earthy elegance.
Abulencia first ventured into making when he chanced upon some discarded sailboat canvases. Soon after, he set up his own screen-printing studio and started printing his own shirts..
Abulencia previously held stints at American Apparel, Filippa K, Acne Jeans and Tom Tailor Denim, where he was a menswear designer. In a 2010 interview at FÆBRIC, an online-only fashion magazine, he tells Midia Abbas that he first ventured into fashion when he and a friend chanced upon some discarded sailboat canvases. The friends collected the abandoned material and made bags out of them. Soon after, Abulencia became inspired to set up his own screen-printing studio and started printing his own shirts.
The friendly and down-to-earth designer has had some experience in our part of Asia: Abulencia had attended a tailoring school in Manila for three months, and also emerged as one of the 20 best participants of a design contest held by Evisu. This current collaboration with Haystakt marks a continuation of his engagement with our part of the world, and we at Haystakt are pleased and honoured to host his creations here for your visual (and real) consumption.
Gestalten’s stunningly curated hardcover of Scandinavian interior and product design shows how sensitivity in craftsmanship makes the contributing difference - to simple, inviting, and comfortable living spaces.