For­ever Young, for­ever Hong Kong

The co-founder and CEO of life­style brand and chain store G.O.D. says lo­cal cul­ture is its driv­ing force and it has proved to be a win­ner. Sophie He re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

Stay­ing in touch with the lo­cal cul­ture has proved to be a very suc­cess­ful busi­ness strat­egy for Dou­glas Young, co-founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Goods of De­sire (G.O.D.), a lo­cal bou­tique retail chain sell­ing sou­venirs, pre­mium gifts, quirky cloth­ing and home fur­nish­ings with a dis­tinct Hong Kong flair.

He founded G.O.D. in 1996 with busi­ness part­ner Ben­jamin Lau, when Young was all of 25. “The rea­son why we started it had some­thing to do with the fact that I am a Hong Kong per­son, I was born in Hong Kong, ed­u­cated partly in Hong Kong and partly over­seas,” Young told China Daily.

“I felt that my time out­side of Hong Kong made me re­al­ize that the city is a very spe­cial place, has a lot of spe­cial iden­ti­ties, which is very dif­fer­ent from the rest of the world.”

He noted that the com­pany’s name also means “to live bet­ter” in Can­tonese, pho­net­i­cally ren­dered as “jyu hou di”.

Young left Hong Kong for the UK at the age of 14 and later stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture there.

He points out how ar­chi­tects are also de­sign­ers, their work is about func­tion­al­ity and eco­nomic use of ma­te­rial, as it is with de­sign.

It is just that the ma­te­ri­als are dif­fer­ent but the dis­ci­pline is very sim­i­lar. And Young still con­sid­ers him­self an ar­chi­tect in a way.

“I found that Hong Kong was a huge source of in­spi­ra­tion for de­sign, and it in­spired me to start my busi­ness, to do some­thing that would take things of Hong Kong and make them into a se­ries of prod­ucts and into a brand,” he added.

Young came back to Hong Kong about 20 years ago and was free­lanc­ing as an ar­chi­tect or in­te­rior de­signer. “I came back on hol­i­day and started a num­ber of free­lance projects and de­cided to stay be­cause of the ef­fi­cient work en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

Then through a mu­tual de­signer friend he met Lau, who had trained as an ar­chi­tect in Syd­ney. They found they shared the same aes­thetic sense and de­cided to go into busi­ness to­gether.

With the help of their per­sonal sav­ings and some sup­port from their fam­i­lies, the pair started by open­ing a store in Ap Lei Chau, on the south side of Hong Kong Is­land.

“My part­ner (Lau) and I founded the com­pany to­gether, he takes care more of the busi­ness side, and what I do is the vis­ual and artis­tic di­rec­tion, (which has) also to do with the long-term vi­sion of the com­pany,” Young ex­plained.

He said that he wanted to cre­ate a unique style that in essence is Hong Kong-style or Chi­nese-style, but an up­dated ver­sion — and he also gave it a mod­ern twist.

“In the be­gin­ning we sourced a lot from trade fairs in Europe and in Asia, but we dis­cov­ered that a lot was ac­tu­ally made on the main­land or even Shen­zhen. We now have prod­ucts made in Shen­zhen to our de­signs.”

“We took some of the tra­di­tions and added in con­tem­po­rary el­e­ments and style. As a re­sult, you have some­thing that is both old and new. I con­sider it a rev­o­lu­tion of tra­di­tion. It is some­thing new to Hong Kong peo­ple, as in Hong Kong, if some­thing is old, it will be thrown away … we have ac­cu­mu­lated so much his­tory and it is time to re­think that and to see what we can pass on to the next gen­er­a­tion.”

Young said he of­ten starts with some­thing that is old, like a news­pa­per. He has a cer­tain mem­ory of th­ese prod­ucts from his child­hood, but be­cause he was away from Hong Kong, from th­ese prod­ucts, for a very long time, when he saw th­ese again af­ter he re­turned, they sud­denly seemed to ac­quire for him a new look.

“As if it were an old friend I had not seen for a long time. When I see the friend again, the feel­ing is both fa­mil­iar and strange at the same time. This feel­ing is what I want to cre­ate, it is a feel­ing of in­ti­macy. But I don’t want to just re­pro­duce it, I want to give it a twist. I may take a news­pa­per, and print it on a cush­ion. And if you can read the char­ac­ters on the news­pa­per, you would see that the word­ing is dif­fer­ent and it’s our hu­mor, which is also some­thing I re­ally like.”

The first store did not cost them a lot of money as they started at a rather re­mote lo­ca­tion and man­aged to con­trol costs. They were also lucky to have many sup­port­ers in­clud­ing their land­lords when they were just start­ing out.

“The land­lords were sup­port­ive of what we did and they be­lieved that we could bring in some spe­cial and dif­fer­ent el­e­ments to their prop­er­ties,” he re­called.

The first store was very ex­per­i­men­tal, Young said, as at the time he was not sure if this con­cept of sell­ing lo­cal cul­ture to lo­cals would work.

“Peo­ple were very skep­ti­cal. Many peo­ple have the idea that Hong Kong peo­ple like for­eign things, that’s why a lot of Hong Kong brands would rather pre­tend to be for­eign brands when they started, they would give them­selves some fancy Western names. The fact that we would call our­selves G.O.D., which is very lo­cal for Hong Kong, a lot of peo­ple ques­tioned if that would work. We are very hon­est about (the fact that) we are a Hong Kong brand.”

The first store did very well and when the busi­ness sta­bi­lized, G.O.D. ex­panded to more cen­tral lo­ca­tions, grow­ing to six stores around Hong Kong to­day, and as many as three in Tai­wan.

“Once we es­tab­lished a style and cor­po­rate agenda, it was easy to re­cruit,” Young said of their de­sign staff.

Young said that at the mo­ment G.O.D. mostly sells home­ware, things that ei­ther Young de­signed or per­son­ally se­lected.

But they also have a small range of prod­ucts de­signed by oth­ers, mostly Hong Kong de­sign­ers who share the vi­sion of Young.

G.O.D. is very ap­peal­ing for tourists, he noted, as many vis­i­tors to Hong Kong find it dif­fi­cult to buy some­thing that is unique to the city. Hong Kong has a lot of shops, but a lot of th­ese shops also ex­ist in other parts of the world. Th­ese vis­i­tors are ea­ger to find some­thing that is unique to Hong Kong that they can take away as a me­mento or present, so G.O.D. is con­sid­ered an ideal desti­na­tion to shop for Hong Kong sou­venirs.

“Lo­cal peo­ple love to shop in our stores too,” Young added. “A lot of our prod­ucts re­mind peo­ple of old Hong Kong, and not nec­es­sar­ily old folks — young peo­ple find our prod­ucts very trendy and they get our sense of hu­mor. It is very naughty, so they can also iden­tify with us,” he added.

They also sell to “a lot of the world’s big depart­ment stores and mu­seum stores”.

In Europe, G.O.D. has at var­i­ous times sold to such big names as Sel­f­ridges, the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don, Bonmarche in Paris and Globus in Switzer­land. US clients in­clude the lux­ury de­part­men­tal store chain Bloom­ing­dale’s and the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York city.

Young ad­mit­ted that he would love to take his store fur­ther over­seas in the fu­ture, be­cause he be­lieves peo­ple from all over the world are look­ing for­ward to more prod­ucts from the Chi­nese main­land and Hong Kong, and there will be an in­creas­ing ap­petite for Chi­nese cul­ture.

So G.O.D. would like to help fill that space.

Con­tact the writer at so­phiehe@chi­nadai­

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