29 June 2012
Novel and ecological design winners
- report from Interior Lifestyle Tokyo, 2012
|Simple folding chairs from Hong Kong's On Way.|
As if in obeisance to that tragedy, the main trends were ethical (plus ecological goods) and simpler, more utilitarian design. These two trends may have been connected, as ecological design tends to emphasise simplicity to highlight both materials and purity.
Concepts and novelty remained important and those companies that could combine ethical and ecological factors with new ideas attracted particular attention.
The importance of governments supporting their producers was in evidence, with impressively large stalls and pavilions from some European countries, notably Portugal and Latvia.
While the Japanese market has always placed a premium on natural products that have an ecological dimension, this tendency was stronger at this year's event, perhaps as a consequence of last year's earthquake and the long-running problems surrounding the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
There is an apparent correlation between technological evils and the public's desire for "eco" produce.
Although not strictly "eco", Japanese fabric brand Unpiatto Inc managed to elicit interest with its new collection of strongly-textured towels and bathmats that evoke natural patterns.
|Air vases hit a chord with visitors.||Suzuki with pebble design.|
Its Ishikoro bathmat (50 x 75 cm) has a heavily indented pebble design in white and a variety of grays, retailing for US$40.
The extremely tactile designs also included bamboo and sand, with a pleasantly rough texture, drawn from a mixture of cotton and polyester.
Brand designer Masaru Suzuki was on hand to show the towels, which he explained are the result of collaboration with Yoshii Towel, a manufacturer in Ehime Prefecture.
Unpiatto's referencing of bamboo reflected the material's growing popularity. It was present in a number of guises at this event. Because of its fast-growing qualities and sustainability, it is becoming a prime "eco" resource, something that bamboo tableware producer Funfam had fully worked into their appeal.
|Funfam's Table Manners.|
Retailing for around US$200, Funfam's Table Manners set used visual icons and indentations in the tray to guide the child through the menu contents and serving order of a Western-style, full-course meal.
Despite the high price, the company has been enjoying brisk sales, including hotel chains like Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons groups, which see the products as an additional service to offer guests with children.
"Revenues have been really growing and the products have received a lot of media interest," said Sales Manager Tomokazu Date.
Although Funfam has no plans to expand into the Chinese mainland market, Date said that if they did they would do so through Hong Kong due to an absence of language and other barriers there.
Hong Kong competition and sustained effort
Hong Kong companies could well make the most of business opportunities in Japan by offering more unique crafts and an ecological image as well as demonstrating greater adaptability in strategy.
|Bathroomware from 8Plus Development.||Nakahara with On Way chair.|
Hong Kong exhibitor 8Plus Development was showing attractive kitchenware, bathroom equipment and cushions at very competitive pricing. Pepper grinders were priced at US$2 and washing-up dispensers and brush sets at US$4. But the company had a quiet time.
"We came to the expo to get more orders," Scarlet Ho, Representative for the company, explained. "[But] they want to do business with wholesalers. They will not buy direct from overseas."
Exhibitor On Way, a Japanese company specialising in a folding chair design, and with strong Hong Kong connections, said it found the fair "slow", but seemed set on taking a long-term approach.
"We have experienced expos in Germany, the US and the Asian Furniture Fair in Singapore," Company Representative Keishi Nakahara revealed. "We made many connections in Singapore, two Indian companies and an Israeli one, who bought our product. But Japan is a difficult market. At other trade shows, buyers buy big lots, but in Japan they buy smaller lots and are very picky."
On Way's stylish folding furniture uses canvas on steel frames with felt coverings that can be adjusted to the season, with prices ranging from about US$50 to US$180.
"We are building a sales channel," Nakahara explained. "This is our first time to sell in Japan. We collected lots of business cards. It's the first stage."
The experience of these companies shows that Interior Lifestyle is an expo for which specific conditions apply. It would be a mistake to expect instant results in Japan. Japanese businesses are notoriously slow to warm to companies they are unfamiliar with, but sustained and patient efforts do pay off.
|Fujinami with Ekelund towel.|
Its towels, woven from a combination of cotton and bamboo viscose, create intermediate colours from closely woven primary colour threads (so, purple is created from red and blue threads). These retail at US$25 for the 35 x 50cm sized towels.
Seymour's Managing Director Juichi Fujinami said this was their 12th time at the fair. "At our first fair, the response was very low," he explained. "Nobody understood the products. Now the Japanese market recognises what Ekelund is."
Fujinami also drew attention to marketing through associational aspects, like the company's long history, its environmental policy, and its Swedish background, all attributes not directly related to the products, but which create a tone and image.
More instant success was being enjoyed by Corque, a new design company from Portugal, which was working with Sofalca, a producer of corkboard, a sustainable natural product previously used mainly for insulation.
Corque 's designs, overseen by Designer Ana Mestre, found multiple new uses for the material. On display were trays, bottle coolers and garden furniture.
"Japanese consumers really like this because it's light, reasonably durable and has a lot of character," Sofalca's Malfada Estrada explained. "They also like the colour and just the fact that it is cork."
The Interior Lifestyle show ran from 6 to 8 June, with 26,485 visitors compared to last year's 24,085.
|Designer Takumi Shimamura with bag made of wood.||Simplicity itself: holder and light from Knobz Design.|
from special correspondent Marius Gombrich, Tokyo
|8Plus Development Limited||Tel: (86) 20-3993-9430, (86) 20-3993-9440
Fax: (86) 20-3993-9440
|Corque||Tel: (351) 21-241-72-59
|Ekelund||Tel: (46) 320-209-000
Fax: (46) 320-871-95
|Funfam||Tel: (81) 3-3888-6551
Fax: (81) 3-3888-6555
|Mesago Messe Frankfurt Corporation||Tel: (81) 3-3512-3277
Fax: (81) 3-3262-8442
|On Way Co Ltd
Satoshi Izumi, Director
|Tel: (81) 3-3233-3018
Fax: (81) 3-3233-3008
|Unpiatto Inc||Tel: (81) 3-3461-2655
Fax: (81) 3-3461-2565