On a sunny afternoon at Haworth’s Beijing showroom, Davide Fugazza and Kin Lam are each seated on The Archibald, a leather chair supported by a ribbed back and featured prominently in the space. The two are discussing at length a number of issues facing the world of design in China and beyond.
Director of Business Development and General Sales Manager, Haworth
Hometown: Milan, Italy
Background: His previous employer was Ferrari; he studied architecture in Milan
Director of Inkmason International
Background: Previously studied and/or worked in Canada, Malaysia, and Hong Kong
Haworth, a leading contemporary furnishings design and manufacturing company, and Lam have a long history of collaboration. Both worked on the Nokia Headquarters in Beijing back in 2006 when Lam was employed by another design company. Together, Lam, director of the Nokia project, and Haworth have delivered a 77,000 sqm space of more than 2,400 workstations, 250 meeting rooms of different sizes, and a host of other facilities. Nestlé has been another source of design and artistic collusion on everything from workstation system furniture to loose furniture and soft seating solutions. Nestlé has been an Inkmason International client since the design firm’s inception six years ago.
Here, Fugazza, a Shanghai-based architect and director of business development at Haworth, and Lam, director at Inkmason International, discuss the nature of the design business in China, Haworth’s total solution approach and the design trends taking hold in the Middle Kingdom.
Davide Fugazza (DF): Kin, great to see you again.
Kin Lam (KL): Likewise. I’m happy to be here. I think you have done an excellent job with your Beijing showroom.
DF: I wanted to first ask you about your corporate clients. What are they looking for when they approach Inkmason?
KL: We’ve been working with corporate clients for many years, mostly international MNCs (multinational corporations), but nowadays we are working with Chinese corporates who are willing to pay more attention to design and detail, especially with furniture. With our Chinese clients, it’s an educational process. They tend to be a bit conservative compared to our foreign clients. We have to speak their language and spend some time trying to convince them to try new things – and we’ve had a lot of success in that regard. Although the market in China is moving at a rapid pace and constantly changing, you have to be very patient. Once you deliver a good quality design and gain their trust, they are more willing to rely on our expertise.
DF: I noticed many prefer thicker, bigger, leather furniture. These preferences are quite different from some of our non-Chinese clients. Do you think they’ll be a shift in the trend for something more modern, more contemporary?
KL: I see the changes happening already. While in some traditional industries our corporate clients might gravitate toward the furniture you described, there’s a growing number of young and vibrant clients in China who are interested in more modern and sometimes even bold solutions. In any case, we still bring the piece to the office so they can test it out first. That’s the easiest way to convince them.
DF: I agree. They have to see it. There’s no way you can convince them with an image. There’s so much linked with feeling it, touching it – the language of the furniture itself. People need to have a 3D experience, otherwise they aren’t willing to invest. Sometimes I don’t speak. I just ask people to sit and feel it.
KL: Exactly. And I want to add that the market, the corporate culture, the people – everything is changing. When I first came to Beijing 11 years ago, a lot of the management and the decision makers were foreigners. Now it’s all localized. Even though the culture and the methodology isn’t different, the mentality is different.
DF: Things like this fascinate me. When I first arrived at Haworth in Shanghai, it was all Americans. Now it’s all Chinese – I’m the only laowai. There’s no reason to have so many laowai anymore. Using the local language is faster, more efficient, better understanding. I’m waiting for the time for them to tell me, “You’re not needed anymore” (laughs).
KL: No, I don’t think so. I think the touch you bring is still very valuable.
DF: What do you think of Haworth and the fact that we have these “Collections” of brands offering a wide variety of product solutions and different styles?
KL: I think it’s a smart move. If you look at the big brands, especially from America, they’re more into functions. I see the trends from local corporate clients here. They’re not entirely looking just for function – it’s about how to present themselves. For you guys to have all your own products combining different luxury brands that can fit into an office environment, that’s good for us designers. When a brand provides its own total solutions, it makes life easier. We once did an embassy project here in Beijing. At that time, we didn’t have a selection of total solutions, so we had to design our own furniture.
DF: What about the challenge of time? When it comes to craftsmanship, are executives willing to wait or do they want the furniture now?
KL: I think time and cost are not too much of a problem. Because a lot of furniture is produced in Europe, when you show them the catalog, it’s only a tenth of the value. But once you sit on it, its like, wow. It’s not something you can find on Taobao. So, having a showroom is important.
DF: Do you travel often with your clients?
KL: In the cases we do travel with clients whether in China or in Asia, we try tobe fair and show them different showrooms, different brands. I think the setupof the showroom is critical. When you come to a showroom like this one (Haworth’s showroom in Beijing), it’s easy to convey your ideas to the client.
DF: China is the market where we need to be right now. We have a couple of bigprojects that are happening in Shenzhen. We want to focus more on other cities,not just Beijing and Shanghai. Last year we opened a store in Chengdu, andwe’re in the process of opening in Shenzhen. The idea is too focus on realrelationships and clients who are in their cities, not just Beijing and Shanghai. But I think Shenzhen is the future of China. Southern China ispicking up. China’s the place to be.
KL: Absolutely, Shenzhen is booming right now when it comes to design.
DF: I lived in Australia for eight months after being in Shanghai for fouryears. After eight months, I got a promotion – but back to Shanghai. I enjoyed my time in Australia. It’s very vibrant, though a bit sleepy in away. I was missing the vibe you feel in China. I was away for eight months and came back and saw buildings that appeared that weren’t there before.
KL: So you like China a lot?
DF: I do. I always travel a lot in China, maybe more these days than I used to do. From Hefei to Changsha to Shijiazhuang. I’m always working. We learn from travel in order to improve our portfolio.
KL: Working in such a large market, how do you adjust yourself?
DF: It’s a different conversation and you have to frame the message in a differentway. At the end of the day, it’s a message about the quality of the product. We’re not talking about compromising quality because it doesn’t have the same price point of an Archibald chair. It’s more related to the same quality concept. I’m proud of that. We are experts in that we provide – for whatever pocket you have – the right product on the market for the people you care about. We talk about economics; we talk about material. We tell a design story – to support a designer like you – to create an environment you can be proud of. But also for the people who work in that space. We want them to recognize themselves in the company thanks to your design and our furniture. The story may be different per client, but the concept behind it is the same.