China’s export-led economy is slowly becoming more of a local consumer-led market. Evidence of this can be found in the growing number of consumer products with Chinese brands appearing in the shops all over China. Today, at Nicely Made in China (NMiC), we’re happy to introduce Zhao Lei – based in Hangzhou – and his Chinese furniture brand Smartwood.
Zhao Lei, when did you create Smartwood and what is it?
Two years ago, I was working in an architectural firm but I did not like the atmosphere there so I decided to give up this profession. I then spent about a year exploring my own business model and in 2010 I created Smartwood. Smartwood produces furniture that my wife Xiaofan and I design and that clients assemble themselves back at home. We manage all aspects of our company including marketing and sales and quality control.
Why did you choose wood as your material of choice for your design?
I think wood has wisdom, just as forms have shadows. I decided to design wooden furniture because wood is an easy material to handle. I am a nature lover and I love material that is alive.
What types of wood do you use? Where do you source your material?
Most of Smartwood furniture is made with American white oak which according to our American provider is between 80-150 years old, or German beech. In those two countries, forests are managed in a sustainable way. The quality of the wood is excellent, the classification is standardized, the supply is sufficient and we don’t need to worry about illegal felling.
What type of quality control do you have in place?
We work with two factories. The first specializes in white oak while the second works with beech wood for our shelving system. A prototype model is produced for every new design and only goes into production when we’re happy with it.
For customer service, if problems are found with our products they can be returned and exchanged within 15 days after sale.
If after 15 days any problems arise, customers can send the product back to us for repair at basic cost.
Where do you get your inspiration?
For me design should be functional. Some products are just nicely designed stand-alone pieces while others can be adapted. For example, our shelves – the S03 shelving system – allow you to realize multiple structures through different combinations of standard components.
Which piece of Smartwood furniture are you most proud of?
I think our most original design is our coat-rack. I discovered that Chinese designers do not pay much attention to coat-racks, so we designed two models. I like to think that our models have successfully achieved a balance between beauty and usefulness.
How many products do you have in our catalog at the moment?
Right now we have 12 products – not a large range but that will change very soon.
Where can Nicely Made in China readers buy Smartwood flat pack furniture?
On our Taobao shop: http://smartwood.taobao.com/