Made In Asia: Neighbouring Design Cultures
In a proudly multicultural society, it seems archaic that the contemporary Australian design compass still seems largely set to European standards. The mainstream ubiquity of Scandi-chic in recent years, for example, is one testament to this strange idolisation of an aesthetic far beyond our shores. And, though specialised crafts are similarly handed down through the generations, consider the reverence we place in anything made in Europe, as compared to the perception of furniture produced in Asia. Where do these biased assumptions come from? And what can the Australian community learn from design cultures closer to home?
Suzy Annetta, Hong Kong-based Editor-In-Chief and founder of Design Anthology, led an electric open discussion on the topic, joined by Caroline Olah of Reddie Furniture, Jon Liow of One Design Office, and JJ Acuna of Bespoke Studio, a regional designer based between Manila and Hong Kong.
“We’re based in Hong Kong but our editorial coverage is all across Asia, as well as Australia and NZ, and we made that decision deliberately. I felt that it was important to acknowledge the fact that Australia is part of the Asia Pacific region.”
“There is this initial assumption that anything that’s made anywhere in Asia is of lesser quality, and that it is just a price point decision. I think it’s very easy to forget that a number of countries in Asia have crafts and heritage that dates back longer than Australia had white people in it! And we also forget that the West was copying China way before it was the other way around. There are materials and skills, like silk, and porcelain, and lacquerware that was invented in China.”
JJ ACUNA – Director, JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio
“Everything is so close together. There’s so much development happening, and ideas running, and investment going into Hong Kong. And Manila – even though I never thought about working in the Philippines at all, suddenly all of these investors are there wanting to do stuff. There’s a lot of money, and the market is well-travelled.”
“I mostly cater to millennial clients in their 30s and 40s, and these people are the next generation of leaders. A lot of them are developer’s kids. The have ingenuity, entrepreneurship, the dreams of creating businesses, lifestyle spaces and homes for themselves and their kids. And they’re looking for designers to collaborate with, especially those with a global viewpoint and a regional perspective.”
“Every project that I work on, being more of an interior designer, I collaborate with artists, artisans and craftsmen to create bespoke things. Our clients always want something unique and different, and if it’s a good price point, then that’s a plus. There are all these craftsmen in Asia that I work with, paper makers, rattan makers, that their work is still kind of new in terms of the global stage, so it gives a sense of unique identity to the projects, and the clients always appreciate it. And the quality is amazing.”
CAROLINE OLAH – Founder, Reddie Furniture
“You can execute really, really good work in Asia. I get this all the time, having a brand that I proudly say is made in Indonesia. There are a lot of people out there that will roll their eyes at that and say, ‘Oh, it’s not as good as Western made’. But that’s pretty much like saying that lawyers are only good in one country. The talent out of Asia is incredible.”
“I was put in a position, when I first launched my brand, where it was recommended not to say we’re made In Asia. But to not say I’m made in Asia is doing a disservice to every single person that’s making my product. They are exceptionally talented.”
“And the technology there now – they’re really just miles ahead. I think it’s something that more and more people in Australia should be taking advantage of.”
JON LIOW – Director and Co-founder, One Design Office
“We were in Jakarta a few months ago, working with a furniture company. And the level of craftsmanship that we saw there, the engineering feats, the mechanisms they were playing with – it’s stuff that I haven’t seen here yet. So it’s definitely a myth that in Asia you can’t access the quality, or things aren’t as good. In fact, I think the pace they work at and the technology they access enables them to actually trial and error a lot faster than we can over here.”
“Tapping into Asia isn’t just about accessing cheap or fast production. It’s about tapping into the layers of cultural heritage that are there as well, so you discover new materials, new processes. One of the things we learned about working with manufacturers overseas is that they’re not just the hands and feet of my creative genius. It’s really a collaboration. Together we can partner and create some incredible stuff that I couldn’t do just sitting here in my office.”