Feli­cia: In­spired by north­ern lights

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Con­tents - By Ezra Kyrill Erker

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

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