Mong Kok is notoriously known for being one of Hong Kong’s most crowded and polluted areas of the city. As one of the city’s shopping districts, a variety of malls and markets exist side by side in this tourist-laden district. Yet you wouldn’t know that such urban chaos existed at Shoe Artistry. Walk alongside a narrow alleyway behind a few street stalls and enter into a non-descript building. The workshop is found on the second floor. It’s an industrial haven of sorts, where leather skins in a variety of colors and textures drape along one of the walls, with heavy machinery sits at the back, and a long set of tables and chairs taking up a majority of the space. Founded by Kit Lee and Jeff Cheng, the Shoe Artistry business model is built on two pillars. The first provides a hands-on workshop experience, allowing rookies and amateur shoe-enthusiasts the chance to create their own pair of shoes. The second path is a bespoke shoe-making service. Lee and Cheng have just finished one of their shoe-making workshops, and are slowly tidying up the area. As they slowly put their stock away, we sit down for a few moments to chat about the future of bespoke handmade shoes, their thoughts about industrialization and what it is the company ultimately stands for.
Every visit to a bookstore here in Hong Kong, and especially the business section, irks me for a particular reason. Littered across the shelves are titles that preach the promise of understanding the Chinese consumer with the ultimate goal of making money from them. I’ve even read a few, some which I find to be quite frankly rubbish. Industry jargon and technical words are used to highlight the differences between East and West, in such a way that any understanding derived from them is stilted and formalized- comprehended by cold graphs and figures rather than an approach that is intimate and humanized. It was therefore with pleasant surprise that Universal McCann recently contacted me to help them in their quest to understand the new affluent luxury consumer. Their report, entitled Shared Stores, possesses none of these traits mentioned above. During my correspondence with the research team, I was happy to find a group of people very willing to listen,and represent these new luxury consumers in an intuitive and respectful way. Shared Stories outlines the archetypal psychographic profile across three major growing luxury market segments: China, Russia and the Middle East. Through seven years of quantitative, digital, social research, the report has summarized and identified three different consumer segments and the drivers of their luxury purchases. Today marks the official release of this exciting report. Here are some of its findings about the Chinese consumer, and my thoughts about these claims:
“Fashion is for really fickle people,” says Lam at the outset of our talk. The thin-framed Vogue China veteran sits next to me at a low-key cafe, her outfit by Hong Kong designers Jourden and Compound. And why wouldn’t she know? Lam has been a fixture of the fashion scene, working previously for i-D Magazine in London before moving to Hong Kong for Vogue. The fashion veteran has seen more than her fair share of glamor, working with some of the world’s biggest names like Lana Del Rey, Kate Moss and Steven Klein. We come together to talk about her career journey, which she speaks about with a clear mind, fond memories, and a bright sparkle of laughter.
Art much like other cultural industries sometimes suffers from a reputation of elitism and snobbery. Unlike fashion which is grounded more in commerce, art doesn’t possess the kind of functionality that fashion does. Why put something on your wall when you can wear it? All of this leads some people to assume that art is a superfluous luxury meant for those with too much cash to spend. This is where the Affordable Art Fair has stepped in to dispel such a notion.With the mantra pillars of accessibility, education, and encouragement, the concept of the Affordable Art Fair has been to democratize art collection to a wider span of people. What began as a starting point for Will Ramsay with his first opening in London for the concept has expanded internationally to the Americas, Asia and the rest of Europe.
A few weeks ago I was spending some well-deserve time off traveling in a far-off distant land- Peru to be exact. During my time in the wonderful country I had gone on a road trip with three other close friends to see one of the Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan kingdom built on the summit of a tall mountain. We ventured across the exotic terrain of the country through rocky mountains, desert, fog, snow, valleys, gorges, rivers, plains, and everything else you could think of. To capture the experience in either words or photos would do the experience an injustice. It was for a lack of a better word (or rather no word at all), breathtaking. Whilst heading towards our destination was an experience filled with oohs and ahhs, the car ride back home elicited a very different response. I was sitting at the back, silently pensive and looking out the window.
Any visit to Japan is an otherworldly experience: a country where design and a fanatical focus to detail are part and parcel to this East Asian culture. It’s also a place where modernity meets tradition, a country that pays homage to simplicity, as it does to the zany Harajuku aesthetic. Within all of these contrasts, one of Japan’s most signature trademarks is its ability to create beautifully minimalistic products. Any visit to international franchises such as Muji, Francfranc and Uniqlo will show this longstanding homage to simplicity. In fact, this design aesthetic has deep roots in the Japanese culture. The Japanese have a term for this: Wabi Sabi. In his book, “Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence”, Andrew Juniper provides a framework for foreigners to understand Wabi Sabi, and its far-reaching presence in Zen philosophy, tea ceremonies, spirituality and culture.
Located in the municipality of Italy’s Castelucchio, Pasotti Ombrelli’s artisans have been working intensely. Peak season has just finished with the umbrella workshop operating at full capacity- a rarity not only for a country but an entire continent suffering from a rain-drenched recession. Whilst other manufacturers and family business are sinking deep into the ground, there’s something distinctly special about the products churned out of the Pasotti workshop. Some umbrellas feature handles with a smooth, wooden hand-carved central shaft. Other handles feature brilliant Swarovski-jeweled ornamental heads of lions and skulls.
Sustainable Pearls is a research program looking to find new ethical ways to culture the natural gem. In an industry characterized by over-farming, artificially low prices, and lack of proper education, the project hopes to achieve several objectives. They include studying and establishing the means to manage pearl farming resources sustainably, devising a set of standards, and examining how cultured pearl farming affects the environmental and social communities at large. To learn more about the initiative, visit their website by clicking here. Feel free to also learn more from this article by National Geographic.
Multi-brand retailing will be the future of China’s future- or that’s how Richard Hobbs and Peter Caplowe of The Hub will have you believe. Co-founders of the business-to-business fashion trade show based in Hong Kong, both men are rapidly preparing for the second installment of the event. Both men have ample experience establishing brands in Asia. Hobbs is a denim and sportswear label proprietor, whilst Caplowe propelled domestic Japanese denim label Evisu into an international brand. The goal of the show is to connect respectable, hard-to-find niche brands with buyers all over Asia.
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in an industry panel hosted by Buymedesign entitled “What is Design Curation in Asia?”. Alongside major figures in the industry such as Business of Design Week project manager William To (check my interview with him here), influential blogger JJ Acuna of The Wanderlister and Arnault Castel of famed Hong Kong store Kapok, we provided a range of differing opinions as to how we saw the role of curation in an increasingly crowded and noisy design marketplace. Unlike more mature markets like Europe, the concept of good design, and also what might be considered “Asian” design is still nebulous and at times plain enigmatic. The large geographic region in particular has grown tremendously resulting in this boom in art and design. This development has allowed both promising and not-so-promising designers to grow.