Not much, if it’s in furniture design, says Nathan Yong, Chief Creative Director, International Furniture Fair Singapore.
Yong, who runs his own design firm, estimates that only a mere 2% — out of about 1,000 design graduates leaving school every year — make their way into the local furniture industry.
To compound the issue, Yong says only a handful of design companies have managed to crack the international market, and he feels that being so far away from all the action in Europe has stymied Singapore’s growth.
Geographical disadvantages aside, Yong says that design in not the easiest sector to break into when in competition with the best of the best from around the world. “It is very difficult to stand out and get noticed — you must really be very, very good. And you also need a little bit of luck.”
The Hungry Chinese
Thankfully, the market slowly gaining pace in China may be a boon for the furniture industry in Southeast Asia. The increasing affluence, expanding middle class, and a growing hunger for lifestyle products in China are all priming the industry for a demand boom in the near future.
“The Chinese are eager for their homes to look good and designers there are desperate to find new products to push to clients,” Yong explains.
A growing Chinese market will have a rejuvenating effect on the whole industry in SEA, spurring new developments in both design and manufacture. The staggering voracity with which the Chinese market can consume, Yong remarks from his recent trip there, is indeed very promising.
He does however concede that local designers have to take some important steps before they can look to making a dent on overseas markets.
“Design is not just about creating pretty things. Young designers have to also understand and get better at the business,” he asserts. With that maturity, will come the know-how to create a business engine to drive their design aspirations and to market and sell their products.
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The SG Style
Europe dominates at the moment — Italy is known for its sleek stylishness and Scandinavia for its cool and understated emphasis on functionality. Singapore, on the other hand, is still finding its feet as it slowly develops its own style and brand. Yong warns that developing an intrinsic style and sensibility will yet take a few more decades.
“We cannot engineer it in anyway, it has to take shape on it own. Otherwise we will be left with something that is contrived and not at all honest!”
Yong suggests that Singapore design’s journey of self-discovery will be innately shaped by the prevailing culture, society, and policy.
Finding New Inspiration
Yong’s own design journey has however brought him to India where he has embarked on a collaboration with Indian furniture makers Ipse Ipsa Ipsum. Targeted at the US and international market a and manufactured in India, the new collection takes inspiration from the romanticism of Indian design from the Mughal Empire.
Yong promises that it offers more that just good design — he aims to convey stories of a traditional Indian craft and of the luxury of proud kingdoms past. “People are looking for something different, something with a story and a little bit of character.”
If you want to find out more about these stories, you can check out his latest pieces at the International Furniture Fair Singapore 2017.
International Furniture Fair Singapore
9 to 12 March 2017