Felicia: Inspired by northern lights
Jewellery manufacturer Felicia Design doesn’t sound very Norwegian but nevertheless represents core values – quality, precision, and creativity, technical quality in production and innovation in design –that are often associated with the region. And the founder of Felicia Design – as well as the new president of the Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce – Vibeke Lyssand Conselvan, concedes that one of the draws for customers is her own Nordic appearance, as people associate it in her work with those same values and aesthetics. To discuss the company’s branding concept and business model, we sat down with Paolo Conselvan at the Felicia Thailand Ltd offices. Mr Conselvan is Mrs Lyssand Conselvan’s husband as well as Felicia Design’s marketing and communications manager. Together they oversee some 160 staff at the headquarters on Pan Road off of Sathorn. Working for the family business, which produced machinery in Italy for the jewellery industry, he met Ms Lyssand Conselvan at a jewellery exhibition in 1991. “She was my first customer,” he says. Later he arrived in Thailand again at the end of 2005, but the technical type of work that was possible in Italy was not as easy to do here, instead, he joined her efforts to produce high- quality jewellery for international customers. For the sake of this profile he describes her as a colleague, from a business perspective. “Vibeke is the mother of my kids and my wife, but professionally speaking she is a visionary,” he says.
What she lacked in experience in Asia and in the jewellery trade, Mr Conselvan says, she made up for in hard work and letting actions speak louder than words. With forbearance and resourcefulness in the face of obstacles, jewellery became her career path.
It began for her with a slice of luck, when as a 19 year old working in Norway she was asked to come to Thailand to help with the production for a jewellery company. Bangkok was less ordered 25 years ago, without the Skytrain or highway routes that now make it more accessible. What she lacked in experience in Asia and in the jewellery trade, Mr Conselvan says, she made up for in hard work and letting actions speak louder than words. With forbearance and resourcefulness in the face of obstacles, jewellery became her career path. “She was strong and powerful enough to fulfil her dreams, working hard and sticking to her philosophy,” Mr Conselvan explains. “One of the main things is that people like the company not only because Vibeke is a woman and
Norwegian, but because she has two characteristics that in the jewellery market are missing in many places. She is a designer but she knows a lot about production, with extensive experience on the bench.” In her line of work, he says, hard work was crucial. “It’s an important sign when people stay with you over 20 years because they respect what you’re doing. She managed to build her reputation because of what she does, not what she says or promises.” In 1995, Felicia Design was founded, named after a friend whose name she liked the sound of. “Afterwards she realised the connection with ‘ felicity’ and happiness, doing things that you like, but initially she simply liked the name,” Mr Conselvan explains. Felicia Design’s strengths that come out of this personal background include both the design creativity and the practical issues involved in production. “One thing to understand about jewellery is that even if you’re a fantastic designer it’s not always possible to produce what you design. And if you’re a very good producer doesn’t mean you have the creativity to produce the next collection. This is a gap between the design and manufacturing, and that is what Vibeke is. She is a designer who knows a lot about production.” This includes being up to date on new trends, collections and designers. Mrs Lyssand Conselvan shows us a Swarovski catalogue for 2014. Her office is full of jewellery magazines and colour schemes in order to keep a pulse on the industry. In a field with many derivative designs it helps to know the market and the competition. What are the Norwegian aesthetic attributes that mark Felicia Design? “Not shiny,” he says. “The feeling should be natural; natural shape, clean lines, simple and stylish” Mr Conselvan states. One of Mrs Lyssand Conselvan’s great-great-grandfathers was a rosemaling painter, drawing floral details on furniture; one early collection was inspired by that heritage. Her iconic bracelet line, on the other hand, is based on the Nordic aurora, an element of which has become the symbol of the brand. The early designs are still viable now, and that longevity helps with longstanding customers as well as attracting new ones.
One of Mrs Lyssand Conselvan’s great-great-grandfathers was a rosemaling painter, drawing floral details on furniture; one early collection was inspired by that heritage.
“Besides showing people what we can do, there’s a story behind that bracelet. The enamel glows in the dark like the aurora. The stones are topaz. The casting is in two pieces. It is our mirror, it represents what we do: high technology, high creativity, high performance in every facet of production.” In general terms, Felicia Design doesn’t have its own new collection, Mr Conselvan explains. “We’re a service company. We have collections, but we don’t push it much in advertising and marketing so we don’t curb the enthusiasm of new designers. We prefer to lift them and help them with their choices. There are so many decisions to make for the designer to have something to sell. That is Vibeke: she can help you choose this stone, not make this metal too heavy, use higher carat, design what will sell in a specific market. I’d like for her to go back to her own designs more, but she’s very good at improving those of others.” The customers they serve are generally non-Asian clients producing their own catalogue and their own style. It’s a collaborative effort to make a new collection, and critical advice can be crucial to their success Bangkok is a centre for jewellery design, and in Asia one of the most important after China and India, Mr Conselvan says. While China has improved, Felicia still has little contact with the Chinese market, although Mr Conselvan admits that some of the designs they produce might be copied there. “In the Chinese mentality they look at a good quality copy as a positive thing, whereas in the most of the world it is seen as negative. In Chinese art, that’s how you start. It measures how capable you are in making something. How do you clash with this mentality? It’s easier to do your thing in a proper way and afterwards people will judge you on what you do. We are always one step ahead that way.” Mr. Conselvan states. There are many benefits to being based in Bangkok, he says. “What we can do here is not possible to do in Europe, and not possible in countries with cheaper labour.” While recent wage increases were implemented very quickly and the company had to adjust, operating costs are still lower than in Europe, and the technical ability is high. He cites the preference of auto manufacturers for using Thailand over China. “Thailand is coming out of the stereotype of
producing cheap goods with poor quality; while the cost might be higher, so too is the quality.” The ASEAN Economic Community will provide opportunities and challenges, and possible free trade agreements may lower the costs of imports. The silver and stones they use usually come from Asia, the accessories from Europe, making Bangkok a convenient base. “Bangkok is a hub; we can get something here that we need in 24 hours. Also, the quality of life is very high. There are few countries in Asia where you can find the same level. And you can take a taxi or walk at two in the morning in Bangkok and no one will bother you.” While political and infrastructure problems may be a concern again in the future, Felicia Design has a solid platform to work around and has enjoyed steady growth over the course of its history. While there are some cultural differences to working in Thailand, such as the preference of keeping face rather than admitting to not understanding an instruction, or learning from memory rather than challenging a precept – the company maintains the Nordic standards that people associate with the brand. There is also a five-step quality control process, with every item accounted for and records of who worked on what. Staff, facilities, communication and procedures – all are kept with the intention of maintaining high standards. “We have three levels of quality: from top quality, with an incredible designer, the best quality, the best result, but low quantity to mass production where the quality is high but we can produce 15,000 pieces a day.” They have a strict policy when it comes to client confidentiality, with even much of the staff unaware of what brand the jewellery will later be marked with. And if one customer has a catalogue in a specific market, Felicia won’t work with a direct rival. That preserves the integrity of the intellectual property and the manner of production. “Brand protection,
“We have three levels of quality: from top quality, with an incredible designer, the best quality, the best result, but low quantity to mass production where the quality is high but we can produce 15,000 pieces a day.”
is really important for us, we have a system that works in that way.” On the Felicia Design brand, the logo of the aurora lights is continuous movement, never straight. The slogan is “emotion through innovation” which represents the unstoppable research of something new with the power of emotions, a promise that we keep in our branding. Like with many bigger companies, branding is a promise, Mr Conselvan explains. “What people think about you is important. The marketing message needs to be clear, and communication is a big part of that, a big part of every company. Branding in Europe is easier; in Asia it’s easy to be misunderstood. You need a balance between doing and thinking. The budgets for SME companies are always limited and advertising versus results are important”
“We’re proud to be a company with multicultural expertise, a mix of cultural experience.”
Vibeke Lyssand Leirvåg Conselvan
EMOTION THROUGH INNOVATIONEMOTION THROUGH INNOVATION