This week Nicely Made in China’s (NMiC) delivery brings us back to Hong Kong, a city which could well be dubbed ‘the city of design’ as it is literally teeming with interesting designers.Danny Fang, as his name does not suggest, is Dutch. Danny’s great grandfather was Chinese, although Danny grew up in Amsterdam and graduated from the Eindhoven Design Academy in The Netherlands in 1998. He decided to move to Hong Kong in 2006 after spending 6 years at the studio of the renowned Marcel Wanders. In answering NMiC questions, he talked about good design, employee shortage in the Pearl river delta and Western misconceptions about China.
Danny, what brought you to Hong Kong?
Different reasons! Firstly, after I left my job with Marcel Wanders, I had no money, no network, and no projects but I knew that I wanted to be in a place where I could make a difference. Asia is still the place where Western buyers meet Chinese engineers, so I thought that there I could play a part in bringing better products to society. Secondly, 30% of Chinese exports are made in the Pearl River Delta and a big chunk of it is made by Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs. I was excited by the thought of getting my foot in the door there. So I came in 2006 and started the company in January 2007.
Why did you become a designer?
My dad influenced me a lot! We did not have a lot of money but he was a very handy guy. He was always renovating or making stuff. As early as 3, I remember helping him to construct my bed. Now I “think” well with my hands – when I’ve had enough of the computer I just make things with my hands and it makes 10 times more sense to me. I also believe that it is important to understand what you’re looking for.
Where do you get your influence from?
Just out of my daily life, and I do my homework properly: I study the production, the end users and the context of a product very well before I start.
How do you define design?
Design for me is a visual language which is not only about shape and color, but also about production, logistics and durability. This creates a very complicated puzzle which I try to solve in a simple and clear manner by creating a visual and understandable product without interference from the details that do not matter.
What do you most enjoy doing?
Anything I’ve never done before! I just want to improve products!
Which materials do you prefer to use for your creations?
All sorts really! The Gepetto chair is made of polycarbonate and the Gradient collection is in polyethylene – a product which was developed as a substitute for rattan. I am currently working on some new projects using different materials – for example, a collection of bags made of fabric. In the Philippines I am using paper pulp for a lighting collection, and I just completed a watch collection for a Chinese company, made of stainless steel and leather. I am also working on a new concept around pearls.
How would you describe your relationship with the factories you work with?
I try to develop long term relationships. There’s a Western misconception that says Chinese people are not interested in long term relationships, but this is not true. The people I work with know I am committed, as I invest a lot of effort in my collaboration with them. There is considerable transfer of knowledge, and I am a firm believer in training – many of the people I work with are self-taught. I never go for the cheapest price. If the companies I work with are not happy with the price they’re getting, they won’t respect or treat my products well. For me the way a factory treats its workers is also part of the equation of why I choose to work with this or that factory. Take Kian, a factory near Guangzhou. Last year 100% of its workforce – about 200 people – returned to work at Kian after Chinese New Year, when the national average is at best 70%. Most workers at Kian are ex-farmers. The bosses have created a farm on the compound with cows and chickens which are tended by the workers themselves.
That sounds interesting. Can you tell us a bit more about what is going on in the Pearl River Delta?
At the moment there’s a 2M workers shortage and salaries are going up. The only way factories can survive is by manufacturing products with a higher added value than they usually do.
Who are your clients?
I have a design consultancy that works for brands who do not have their own production as well as for manufacturers. My company’s mission is to bring well thought through design to the mass manufacturing industries.