'Would you like to pay with Wechat or Alipay?' - Such a question might confuse foreigners at the checkout counter, but it has seamlessly become an integrated part of Chinese daily life now. Similarly, within the compounds of the three biggest trade shows during September's Shanghai Design Week - Furniture China, Maison Shanghai and Interiorlifestyle China - transactions like these happened so frequently that it might have just been another day at the supermarket.
Clearly, the Chinese are not keen on following the 'no selling permitted' rule at trade shows when it comes to business. And why should they? Especially for young designers gathered at Hall 3 in Maison Shanghai. Selling at trade shows not only make sense logistically, but it also created direct communication with its customers without having a brick and mortar space.
For example, I've been eyeing Wuu's concrete collections for a while now. And when it was on offer with a 10% discount, I quickly decided to scoop it up then and there - hence the question about my method of payment. But that's not the only thing the Xiamen-based design studio presented. Founded by Furong Chen, Wuu's new Stargazer series of pendant, floor and table lamps took inspiration from the stars and used a round metal plate to diffuse light. The result is a series of lamps that looked simple yet classic at the same time.
With my purchase in hand, it's not hard to notice that most Chinese designers have, one way or another, been taking on the role of a designpreneur. Since there's no local big furniture brands to rely on and anyone can easily set up shop online via e-commerce site like Taobao. Young designers/brands have been able to create superb quality products on their own and handling every facade of their business: from PR, to sales to even packaging. Aside from Wuu, Zision Studio and EY Products are also among the standouts.
Founded in Shenzhen, Zision studio launched the Mushroom Lamp, a power bank-integrated lamp that is portable and multi-functional at the same time. Not only was this lamp made with high-quality materials such as maple and hand-blown glass, it winning an iF Design Award 2017 further confirmed Zision as a future contender in the global lighting market.
Also hail from Shenzhen, Jerry Huang and Eva Zhou founded EY Products in 2010 to bring surprises and pleasures to daily life with their small and beautiful items. Already with three collections under their belt, their designs have seen them working with a number of interesting materials which included ink-and-wash, i.e. the upcycling of deserted ebony wood. And as you might have guessed it right: all three of EY Products' collections are now available to purchase via their site.
So, with designpreneurs on the rise, are there any other opportunities left for the more 'traditional' designers/brands? The short answer is 'Yes' - a platform of original design like Mamamoon might be the next phase for Chinese design industry.
Imagine it like a French design gallery but only existing in the cloud, Mamamoon has been supporting and producing young designers' work like Yuue, of which their humorous looking Oops! Pendant Lamp is in production now. This year, the platform has also taken on Benwu studio's very sculptural looking Pavlof Lamp. The design is inspired by the famous double-crater active volcano in Alaska, and like the eruption of a volcano, the light will come up from one end of the marble to the other end. Although still a protoype, I can already see its potential to become an iconic piece in the future.
Last but not least, young brands from across the pond also made new waves. Ziinlife from Hong Kong presented their Life Explorer Collection, a series of furniture that saw the brand veer away from its previous all-wooden creations. Among them, the Lotus Tea Table and Rainbow Clothes Stand are my favourites. The former reinterpreted the very common household item into a stand that can be folded and pulled open like a fan, while the latter, inspired by lotus leaf, used a unique waterproof fabric as the table top, making it not only literally like a lotus leaf, but physically too.
Xcellent Design from Taiwan, on the other hand, could definitely be the best LED lighting brand during the whole design week. Their new collections attempted to balance traditional culture and modern living, capturing the essence of Chinese literature and customs, and then transferring these elements to breath-taking designs. Hence there was the Crescent Lamp series that immediately reminded me of Li Bai's poem and the Flying Fish that took inspiration from the story of Zhuangzi. Both lamps are adjustable to alter light direction, hence making them totally customizable.
The Life Explorer Collection is available to pre-order in November, and the new lamps from Xcellent Design are all available now.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.