We are always full of thoughts and resolute when the year comes to an end. For me, this 2017 is probably one that will leave a mark in our history books. Mixed feelings and emotions all the way. Business wise was extremely tough yet opportunities were unbelievable. Difficult and meaningful times always seemed to co-exists – the perfect meaning and beauty of life isn’t it?
A new year will bring new hope which, made it necessary for us to collect our thoughts and to give thanks for the events that shaped us the past year.
When we had a couple of our collections selected by BEAMS JAPAN, we thought that is it. It is time to call it a wrap, I have kinda achieved my wildest dream as a product designer – to have my collections sold in the land where I first found my calling in the way I approach design. When I first visited Japan some 11 years ago, I stumbled upon a T-shirt store presenting their T-shirts as art pieces on a conveyor system (Obviously the idea has been ripped, seemed outdated and irrelevant today). Amazing! I love it when we take pride in something as simple as a T-shirt. That T-shirt shop is BeamsT. In 2016, the (mother) company opened BEAMS JAPAN in Shinjuku. Earlier this year, some of our porcelain collection was selected and presented in their flagship store. This is wild, really.
Then in December 2017, we opened Supermama Tokyo.
Together with our long time friend and partner Keisuke Otani in Kugayama, we set up a base in a residential neighbourhood in Tokyo. To have our products distributed in Japan may seemed like a wild dream but to open a shop is nothing short of being dreamy (wishful thinking some may say). Yet it happened. (In 2018 I will personally curate a selection of the finest – but often hidden, undermarketed – Singapore designs over at this little shop in Tokyo.)
Why am I always easily excited by the thought of doing something in Japan?
What makes Japan special to me?
It is in Japan that I experienced a society that consumes design as it is – the authentic value of design, not because of its packaging.
It is in Japan that I actually experienced and see with my own eyes that good design can command a good price without the need of flashy marketing campaigns.
It is in Japan that I experience true service design and impeccable service standards that is birthed from within – culture, upbringing and basic human values – not to meet some ISO900watever nonsense or attained through some 3-days certification course.
It is in Japan that I was acquainted with the idea of crafts through Tokshiyuki Kita when he brought a group of us for a visit to a carpenter and paper maker in Kyoto some eons ago.
It is in the basement of Kita’s design studio that I understood design as a soft power, not a subject. This experience shaped my thinking about design deeply. At that instant I realised that our design education has been designed to react and not to innovate. We have always been looking at design through the lens of science, technology and art. Now, how about from the viewpoint of culture and identity.
Do we really need one more design thinker? Or do we need more creatives who can define the Singapore way of thinking, designing and doing. Therein lies the way we innovate – not by copying, making better what others have done and then adding our own tag to trademark it – but by our own distinct way. To react is about making sense of things on the outside, to truly innovate is birthed from what is within. It takes time, of course. And having seen Japanese designers “been there, done that” more than a decade ago, they are fantastic role models and has always been my inspiration.
This is why to work with Japanese makers is a big deal to me. It gives me a glimpse of what I can achieve for my own city, by peeking into their history, values and work ethics.
This is why to have a simple, little shop in Japan is a big deal to me. Not your Shibuya, Aoyama or Ginza but in a neighbourhood, understated (as usual about Supermama) but one where honest conversations with the common folks can occur.
So, here’s a toast to the true craftsman, the under-marketed designers and those with no budget for anything fancy but still stood true to their calling.
You know who you are.
You did well.