SEA design blooms
Creators in this part of the world are getting global attention.
BY global standards, the South-East Asian product design industry has been fledgling at best, if you don’t count the tiny clique of the likes of Singaporean Nathan Yong or Filipino Kenneth Cobonpue or the Singaporean-Malaysian duo Voon Wong and Benson Saw of VW+BS. But things are changing fast. Lately, cool design retail concepts, design studios and brands have been mushrooming up in the region. Not to mention the growing pool of talented, up-and-coming SEA designers.
And global design-led shows like 100% Design Singapore (a spin-off from the 100% Design brand from London) and Maison&Objet Asia are gracing this part of the world.
In Singapore, small and independent design studios and brands are popping up.
“Singapore shoppers are sophisticated. They now look for a product or service that’s independent and has a good story to tell. The sentiment for branded good is ‘ been there done that’,” says Yong, a trailblazer in Singapore furniture design industry. (Yong was profiled in Star2 on Sept 2, 2013.)
“I know of many companies promoting Singapore design and craft under the ‘ handmade movement’, like Makers of Singapore, The U Factory by Hjgher and Handmade Movement by Noise Singapore,” he adds.
Savvy governments in the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand have also clued in on the fact that design isn’t just about making things. Design can be and is adopted as part of a strategy for economic growth. Set up in 2003, the government-run DesignSingapore Council is ploughing S$55mil (RM143mil) into Singapore’s design industries between 2009 and 2015.
“Government support provides many avenues for funding for designers and artisans,” Yong adds. Designers or enterprises can apply for grants to develop prototypes, attend training or design schools, and participate in trade fairs.
In the Philippines, designers receive help from CITEM (The Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions – the export marketing arm of the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry) to put Philippine brands on the world stage through events like the Maison&Objet Paris and Salone Del Mobile in Milan, according to designer Vito Selma.
“We also get a lot of support from the government to show our designs at international and local fairs like Bangkok International Gift & Houseware or Thailand International Furniture Fair,” says Bangkok-based Studio248.
But while SEA’s healthy economy does boost the design industry, it’s not a troublefree utopia.
“Economically advanced countries like Singapore and Malaysia suffer from a syndrome of drawing too many references from the West,” says Kuala Lumpur-based Saw.
“We think ideas conceived by SEA designers should be relevant to the brief of the design and not just mimic lifestyles of the West.”
Also, the awareness to create sustainable products is lacking among designers in the region.
“Products that are not well designed to last for generations may inundate the market,” says Saw.
Another common plight faced by SEA coun- tries is the high cost of producing goods and the flooding of local markets with low-priced, mass-produced goods from our neighbours, Cobonpue points out.
“There has to be a perceived value in the design and manufacture of South-East Asian goods that differentiates them from their cheaper counterparts. Ultimately, the right combination of man-made materials and natural fibres, of machine-made and handmade processes, will win the day,” says the prolific designer whose works are sold around the world.
But after all’s said and done, SEA’s design vibe is slowly but surely pumping up. Stay tuned!
In the mean time, here’s an introductory roundup of trail blazers, established global players and rising stars of South-East Asia who are making waves in the international design sphere.
Floral effect: The Bloom Chair by Filipino designer Kenneth Coponbue, who has been called a ‘trailblazer in South-East Asian design’.