The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved with the One World Artist Gallery from their various places around the globe.
Today, I talk with Chinese-born/Paris-based illustrator & architect Caring Wong.
John: Hey Caring! You know… you’re the only “Caring” that I know. Who gave you that name?
Caring:My parents, haha. It’s the same pronunciation of my name in Chinese (Cantonese).
John: And what’s the meaning?
Caring:It means “novelty”!
John: Okay, Ms. Novelty. Where’s your hometown and how did you end up in Paris? If your name is Cantonese, then you’ve given me a good clue.
Caring:I grew up in Guangzhou and went to Paris to continue my study of architecture after university.
John: I don’t remember if I told you or not… but I lived for a few years in Guangzhou. It’s where I learned to design and manufacture the first DrawBag. I used to go to Sanyuanli market and look for sample materials all the time, or reference bags for inspiration.
Caring:I grew up in Panyu, in the south of Guangzhou. And the university where I studied architecture is in Tianhe.
John: Ah, Tianhe. We laowai (foreigners) know it well. So what are your first memories of art?
Caring:I’ve been addicted to watching and drawing cartoons since I was a child. I love all types of Japanese anime and Disney animation. They had a great influence on my growth as an artist.
John: This sounds familiar. I was into anime as well growing up, and collected tons of comic books. Which cartoons or anime specifically influenced you?
Caring:I remember watching Cinderella and all the films of Studio Ghibli countless times.
John: And did you watch the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) cartoons growing up?
John: Just the other day a Chinese friend told me about the new Ne Zha animated film. Sadly, it’s not subtitled in English here. I didn’t even know this character or story, but grew more interested the more I read about him.
So are Hiyao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli films some of your biggest influences?
Caring:Yes. I was attracted to the setting and the story of Ghibli films when I first watched Totoro. To paint a scene full of dreams like that became my hobby at the time.
John: You know, I think it can be challenging to present worlds that inspire our dreams and imagination these days. The danger is in appearing escapist or falsely sentimental. But I think your work definitely has a quality of sincere beauty and wonder to it.
Caring:Oh, and Monet is also a great influence. In Paris, I’ve been given so many more opportunities to get in touch with art than ever before. The exhibitions, the museums, and my journeys through Europe have helped me find more inspiration.
John: What was it about Monet in particular that has inspired you?
John: Okay, duh. And what do you do when you aren’t studying or making art?
Caring:In addition to being a freelance illustrator, in fact, another part of my life is with architecture.
John: Yeah, you know… many of your images remind me of scenes from Hong Kong or Guangzhou. They have these tight spaces packed with life and detail.
How much are you doing architecture these days? And who are your favorite architects?
Mario: Haha. I mean the djinn or genie. A demon or spirit… like a soul. For me, the meaning was like another way to be myself. Another form in which to express myself.
John: And where did you grow up and do that early tagging?
Mario: I was born in Milan and grew up in the southwestern suburbs there. Now I’m living right here in the city as a senior designer for my firm. It’s my home for now. But I’ve been feeling the need to travel and find and live in new places, too. In the future I don’t know where I will call home.
John: if you could paint a wall anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Mario: Anywhere! Really. Anywhere.
John: Who do you collaborate with in Milan?
Mario: In Milan there are a lot of great artists I regularly work with. Most of the time it’s Foskia, Yems, Prosa, Daste, Trust, Plinio, Zelig, Draks, Close, Tawa e Dada, Poms, Mr. Pollo, and the 10G crew. We just paint walls together for fun.
John: And how did you get started painting?
Mario: My aunt was a painter and teacher of art. When I was in her home as a kid I would get alot of inspiration. I was also influenced by manga and hentai growing up. And I started with graffiti in the streets in 1998.
Later I started to redraw my friends and brothers in an anime style. And when I discovered graffiti, it opened a new world of inspiration, colors, and ways of expressing myself.
John: And being Italian, have you been influenced by any of the greats from the past?
Mario: A lot influenced me. I don’t have any specific preferences, but for sure I remember moments like the first time I saw Caravaggio’s paintings or one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.
John: What are you communicating through your work? Are you?
Mario: Sometimes I work in freestyle simply as pure expression. Other times I think about the sick world in which we live and how I would like to change it. Or maybe that’s just a way I take refuge from it.
John: What do you mean by the world being “sick”?
Mario: I’m talking about a world full of pollution causing global climate change. I’m talking about bad vibes like hate and racism. I feel many people are thinking only for themselves these days.
John: Yes, I remember our first conversation about your design for the LunchKraft lunchbox. I asked you to just come up with something you felt strongly about and would want to communicate even through the canvas of a lunchbox.
Mario: I was thinking about our overuse of natural resources at the time, while also the respect for nature that people can and do have.
John: So the gas-masked figure is trying to protect that fragile bit of nature under the domed glass.
John: I also asked you about drawing that LunchKraft lunchbox into the design itself, because I have some of the same concerns about our use of resources in a consumer culture. Sometimes I wonder if I’m helping or harming by manufacturing anything at this stage in history. I’m hoping to change a certain consciousness about fashion in small ways, but I still wonder.
John: Currently, we don’t really play up the eco-friendly elements of the bags much in marketing. We focus on the art. But maybe we should. It’s been more of an attempted baseline rather than a marketing angle, and in some ways using it to market would feel deceptive to me.
Anyway, yeah… I’m trying to figure these things out.
Changing topics… you and I were talking recently about Playdead’s video game Limbo as well as their (somewhat) more recent release Inside. I brought it up because you had devoted a wall to the former. What is it about these games that have inspired you to reinterpret them in your work?
Mario: Yes, I really like these games. The world and characters are so simple yet wonderful at the same time. But the gameplay and the stories are the best things about them. You have to think about how to overcome puzzles all the way up to the end. And the stories are speaking into the darkness of the world that the characters are entering.
I like how their stories inspire my imagination… and not in a way just meant to get you to buy the next episode. They really made me think. I did a piece of work based on Limbo. I think I’ll do another one about Inside also.
The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.
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Today, I talk with Kiwi illustrator, designer, and educator Jade Beale-Linklater.
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John: Hey Jade! Congratulations to you and your husband on the birth of your son, Quinn. How are you managing being a mother and an artist these days?
Jade: Thank you! Funny you should ask. When I was pregnant I asked a friend whether I would be able to continue with my art once our baby came. I realize now that was a silly question!
Art-making has simply become stop-start, stop-start since giving birth. Most of it is done late at night when I should be preparing for Quinn’s wake-ups. And during the day, now that Quinn is moving, he likes to be a part of work himself… as the materials-eater, ha ha.
John: An unpaid assistant! Nice. So tell us about your life there in New Zealand.
Jade: Just to clarify… New Zealand is a separate country from Australia.
Jade: And yes, we have TVs here. We don’t wear grass skirts. And yes… there are lots of sheep!
John: Okay, we got all that out of the way, ha ha. So you are from the North Island?
Jade: Yes. I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Tokoroa, which is a town in the centre of the North Island. It’s close to the mountains, lakes, and beaches, and is known for forestry, farming, and a pulp & paper mill, coincidentally.
So much talent comes from Tokoroa. In particular, a huge amount of professional sportsmen and women. And of course, awesome artists! But I now live in windy Wellington, as my husband is teaching at a Catholic boy’s school here. It’s a pretty cool place with a real artsy vibe.
John: Let’s talk about your art and design work. To me, your work is very intricate and ordered… and very calming. Is that at all reflective of your personality or temperament?
Jade: Yeah, I think I’m pretty cruisy and calm (sometimes perhaps too calm!) and that comes through in my work. I’m definitely not very organized, though. I do try to be neat, now with baby Quinn here. But my art doesn’t usually have an intended outcome.
John: So not organized in the sense of you knowing exactly what the finished design is going to be?
Jade: Yeah. I kinda just start, wing it, and hope for the best. Lots of happy accidents occur and I usually end up with a beautiful mess! At times I will regret a mark I’ve made, but it’s a challenge to try and fix it.
John: That’s why you gotta get an iPad.
Jade: As the patterns are so detailed, some pieces take me quite a long time. At times I’ve spent several hours to then just decide I can’t stand a piece and will put it away for months. But then I’ll pick it up again down the track and go from there. In a completely different head space, I’ll create something pretty cool… only several months later! I think this is pretty normal? Is it?
John: Sure! There’s no real definition for what’s normal. And when did you start drawing? Do you remember your earliest interests in it?
Jade: My mum told me that as a young kid I wasn’t so interested in reading, because I couldn’t really keep still. But when there was the option to draw, I would sit still for hours and doodle. As a teenager, I would sit on the phone for hours and doodle like this.
I remember really starting to love art at intermediate (middle school), when I was asked to be in Extension Art (which is an advanced class). The art room was my happy place at school and I realized that I was most relaxed there. I’ve never been naturally gifted, academically speaking, so I had to work really hard in all areas. But in Art class I could just go with the flow and not worry about getting it right or wrong.
John: What other artists have influenced you over time?
Jade: Growing up in New Zealand and in Tokoroa, which is such a multi cultural community, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a variety of artists growing up. I especially loved Maori and Pacific artists and lots of my senior research and folio works were based on artists such as Robyn Kahukiwa (Maori), John Pule (Niuean), and Fatu Feu’u (Samoan). We have such incredible artists throughout New Zealand, and I was a big appropriator of their work.
John: Yeah, your work actually reminds me of Josh Bashford’s. He was a student of Fatu Feu’u, I believe.
Jade: There are some amazing Maori artists who visually represent Maori culture though their art. We’ve grown up visiting the Marae (meeting house) where traditional painted and carved symbols surround us. Ta Moko (traditional tattoo) is another beautiful representation of Maori tradition. Growing up, we often saw Maori symbols, particularly Kowhaiwhai (Maori patterning) which is how we learned about the different symbols.
Two examples are koru, which is a symbol of a fern frond, and hei matau, which is a fish hook. I bring symbols such as these into my own art, but with a contemporary twist.
John: You’re still managing to do some commissioned work these days when not mommy-ing and teaching?
John: You’ve been an educator for some time; that’s actually how we first met in China when I was teaching Drama and you were teaching Visual Art. What’s the value of art or creativity in education, do you think?
Jade: I believe it’s so important to give children the time to explore and create. Growing up in New Zealand, we were so blessed to have had opportunities at school to play and to think for ourselves. We were taught the basics of art, but we were given the freedom to follow our interests and just go for it. We were given a “skeleton” guide, and a variety of ideas, and support, and lots of discussion… but ultimately it was our choice to create our own unique art.
Teaching in China a few years ago, I really had to work hard to get the local Chinese high school students to think for themselves and tomake the shift away from copying… to get them to inquire and not to worry if they made “mistakes” because it’s all part of learning and a mistake can be a good thing.
When we moved from Guangzhou to Beijing, I was teaching Grades 3 and 4, and I absolutely loved it! There were no walls up, they were such sponges who were interested in everything I had to show them and really went all out to create the coolestartwithout any worry about what others were thinking.
The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.
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In this post, I talk with Spanish illustrator and painter Jesuso Ortiz.
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John: So where are you from and where do you call home these days, Jesuso?
Jesuso: I was born in the province of Córdoba, in the south of Spain… although I have been living in Málaga for almost twenty years now. I came to Málaga originally to study, and after finishing my university degree I stayed here for work. The weather and the people here are wonderful!
John: How did you first get into drawing or painting? What were your earliest influences?
Jesuso: I’ve always been interested in art. Since I was very young I liked to draw, and when I was fourteen years old I entered an art school in my hometown. My first artistic influences as a teenager were Monet and the Impressionists. What I liked about them was their use of color and the shape of the brushstrokes. I found their style very delicate and at the same time very free. A bit later my tastes changed, and I was quite inspired by the work of Andy Warhol when I found him.
John: Yeah, I think in your paintings (which I’ll ask you about later) those influences are reflected a bit. Matisse comes to mind for me.
Jesuso: Honestly, over the years I’ve been inspired by many contemporary artists. Nature also inspires me a lot. I think the world hides beauty in every corner; you just have to be awake to find it.
Jesuso: The idea of mixing illustration with photography arose spontaneously. One day I just came up with the idea of a picture and a drawing together, and when I posted it, it became very popular among my Instagram followers. So I kept experimenting on that line.
John: They’re very delicate and playful pieces. And you sell these illustrations online?
John: But your painting on the DrawBag is quite different from this. Recently you started sharing more paintings done in this style. Can you tell me more about that style of yours?
Jesuso: Yes, the painting I did on the DrawBag is totally different from the illustration we just spoke of. Actually, I only recently returned to painting in this way, and I thought it would work much better for this project.
I started out as a painter and not as an illustrator. And in my painting, I would experiment with flat and strong colors and the restraint of geometric shapes. The result was quite appealing. I recently created a new Instagram account for my paintings in this style, and I also have an upcoming exhibition.
John: I noticed a bit of writing by Alejandro Jodorowsky on your website’s homepage. I think he’s gained some wider appeal in recent years due to the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which isabout his pre-production work on what would have been an earlier film of the famous sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert. Has Jodorowsky been an influence to you as well?
Jesuso: Yes, Jodorowsky is an artist who I deeply admire. I’ve learned a lot listening to him and watching his movies. I like the message of awareness he sends to the world and the ways he transmits that. He uses his art to teach that problems are not outside of us… they are inside everyone. It’s the way in which you look at the world that determines what happens in your life. It’s not a good idea to blame others for everything negative that happens to us– it’s better to look at oneself and to change this.
John: Do you think that’s a message people are really receptive to these days?
Jesuso: Yes. I think that people are much more open to waking up. Many have already discovered that wealth and material well-being is very good, but it’s not enough to bring real peace to one’s life. When one starts to question many things they have previously believed to be true, it is through this that they can gain new awareness.
Jaime: Thanks, John. It was a pleasure to collaborate with you.
John: As you know, the artists involved in the OWAG project are from all over the world. Can you tell us more about the design you drew?
Jaime: My illustration is basically a modern representation of a character from Mexican culture known as La Catrina, which represents death during El Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead).
John: Now, you go by the name El Mordi, which is different than your birth name. How did that come about?
Jaime: It’s actually a cheesy story. My ex-girlfriend started calling me that after a phone call in which I was eating a sandwich. She asked what I was doing and I offered her a bite by using the first two syllables of the word “bite“ in Spanish which is “mordida“. She thought it was funny for me to say “mordi,” and started calling me Mordi. Shortly after that we started calling each other by the name and I created a couple of characters which represented the two of us: “Mordi & Mordi”. From that moment on I started signing my artwork under this name.
John: What were your first memories of art-making?
Jaime: I started drawing at a young age. One of my first teachers was my older brother. I remember drawing by his side… as a matter of fact, at the beginning I just used to copy his drawings. And I’ve been connected to that early way of expressing myself ever since.
John: That’s funny, I had the same experience with my older brother. And were there any working artists or illustrators that influenced you in your development over time?
John: I would say there’s a bit of tension in our world right now…
Jaime: Yes… I agree.
John: Are there any artists who are interacting with those tensions in a way that inspires you?
Jaime: There’s a lot of chaos in the world right now. I like to use creativity as a way to criticize political and moral aspects of society, and so Banksy’s work is an inspiration to me in that way.
John: What form is your own artwork taking these days?
Jaime: I’m currently freelancing with my art and before that I was fully into web design. But now as a freelancer I have been focusing on children’s illustrations. I like the world of children’s tales a lot.
John: And what about when you aren’t drawing..?
Jaime: I like watching movies, playing video games, and hanging out with my friends. The truth is I’m pretty ordinary in my interests. But what I enjoy the most by far is drawing and getting inspired by the artists I follow!
The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.
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Today, I talk with graffiti and street artist André Perreira (Acer).
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John: So, André– how did you get into art and graffiti/street art?
André: It started when I first began art school and met some big names in the portuguese graffiti scene at the time. This was around ’98/’99, at António Arroio, which is the best art school in Portugal! Most of those artists aren’t even active anymore, but I remember the names of Capone, Hel, Res and few others that were pretty strong in the scene back then.
John: What’s your memory of your first piece?
André: I have memories of my first attempts, but the biggest memory I carry with me is from when I entered my first “wall of fame” in 1999 along with some artists I admired.
John: So why do street artists use tags instead of their birth names to identify themselves?
André: In the graffiti scene all (graffiti) writers have a tag, which becomes their identity. Once the “street art” movement became part of the picture all that changed. So it’s all a matter of where you come from. I stick to my tag (alter-ego) of Acer because my background is as a graffiti writer.
John: Why did you choose Acer as your tag?
André: Acer came from the word “Ace” and also just mixing up letters from my name. My friends picked it up and started to call me by it, so it stuck.
John: Haha, simple enough. What’s the street art scene like in Portugal? Do you travel much to do work?
André: Portugal has a very strong street art scene right now with many local artists getting their work recognized all over the world. I travel a lot, but that’s mostly for modeling and acting jobs.
John: Who do you usually collaborate with? And who (or what) are some of your artistic inspirations?
André: I have to say the members of my crew Zk’s are both my partners and my biggest inspiration.
John: What about modeling? How did you get into that?
André: Well, I started modeling for fun and to get some extra cash, because when we got hit by the financial crisis I couldn’t afford any longer to live only from my art. But soon I realized I had potential to do much more and became a professional international model and actor working around the world.
John: Nice! Sometimes what looks like a setback is really a kick in the ass to move forward, right? I actually had the same experience running a small black-box theatre in Manhattan. We shut it down around Christmas of ’98 and I left for South Korea, which launched the rest of my life’s work, really.
André: Failure is part of life; only when you fall down will you be able realize how strong you are to get back up. My advice to younger artists is to be true to yourself, find what you love and stick to it all the way… see and try different things, get inspired and keep developing your style and identity.
John: Right on. So who is the woman in the DrawBag you did up?
Last weekend, the high school where I’ve been teaching IB Theatre held a community “Fun Fair” for parents, students, and visitors on campus. Teachers were responsible for coming up with at least one booth or stall to raise funds for a local Guangzhou charity.
While learning the manufacturing process in China this past year, I found a massive reservoir of information on the website Chinaimportal.com. I ended up purchasing what they call The Starter Package, which is a start-to-finish guide for someone like me who was attempting to design, manufacture, and import a product from Asia.
I asked Chinaimportal.com’s co-founder, Fredrik Grönkvist, to answer a few questions based on his assisting me produce the DrawBag in 2017. Chinaimportal.com also ran a nice little feature on the DrawBag this past month, so I wanted to return the favor.
Fredrik has offered a 30% discount to those who find out about The Starter Package through this post, so read on down for the promo code.
John: Hey Fredrik. Or can I call you Freddy? I feel we’ve talked so much over the past year I should be more informal. Or do you have another nickname I can use?
Fredrik: I’ve had many nicknames throughout my life, whether in Swedish, English, or Chinese. Most are (in a friendly way) a lot less flattering than ‘Freddy’ so let’s stick to that.
John: Haha, okay. What’s the simplest way you would describe The Starter Package?
Fredrik: The Starter Package is a set of online tools that enables e-commerce businesses to import products from Asia (not only China), from their home or office. It provides:
Tutorials, videos, and task lists (to guide you through the process)
Supplier lists (PDFs)
Booking system (to arrange quality checks, lab testing, and shipping)
Basically, our customers use the tutorials to navigate the process, and request support from us whenever they get stuck. When you get to the point that you need a quality check, lab testing, and shipping, you can request free quotes from our service partners. We’ll take you from A to Z through the entire process, all from one account.
John: I actually found out about you when I was well into the early stages of manufacture with the DrawBag. I had designed the prototype and chosen two manufacturers. I’d communicated a product specification to them and we had produced a sample or two.
How is The Starter Package useful for someone who has found you halfway through their process, or perhaps has been through the entire process before?
Fredrik: I would say that the majority of our customers actually have already tried to manage the process on their own in the past. For example, they may have contacted suppliers, or they might be at a stage where they need help to check out one particular supplier before they go ahead and place an order with them.
We have always received inquires from companies with very different needs, from early to later stages in the process, so we created tutorials that cover the entire process:
Part 1: Creating a Product Specification
Part 2: Supplier Sourcing
Part 3: Product Samples
Part 4: Production & Quality Check
Part 5: Shipping & Customs
Part 6: Product Safety Standards
You can either start from the beginning of the process, or use it midway through. It took many hours for us to make The Starter Package so comprehensive, but I’m happy we didn’t settle for less. A decent portion of our customers already have suppliers. But they often have questions about product regulations in the US and Europe and how they can improve their quality assurance processes, as you did.
John: You have a newsletter I receive perhaps once a month with information on emerging trends in the manufacturing and importing industries. How is it that you keep up with these changes? And how did you first decide to get into this and create Chinaimportal.com?
Fredrik: I think I spend too much time in front of the computer, haha. But on a more serious note, e-commerce and international trade are a big interest for me.
In 2008 I started importing watches from China. That was during my first year of university. At that point I had never traveled further east than Turkey. Yet, I could already sense an energy coming out of mainland China and Hong Kong. So one year later, in 2009, I signed up for a language course and moved to Shanghai.
Long story short, a dispute with my partner back home forced me to shut down the watch business. I was stranded in Shanghai, short on cash, and with no income. I had no experience working with complex sourcing projects, but I had more than enough inspiration and energy outside my window to get started. I registered our first website, ScandinAsian.se, and outlined the details for our first “Sourcing Package”. We had no traffic and no customers. But through sheer luck, I managed to get featured on a large business portal, and we got our first customers just weeks after setting up the website.
This was 2010, and I didn’t even think about targeting customers internationally. At this stage, we only had a Swedish language website. It was only in late 2012 that I started thinking about Chinaimportal.com. I wanted to do something bigger. Something that could scale. Also, I was fed up with dealing with Chinese suppliers and angry customers. I had never been so stressed out in my life. It’s hard to manage one or two suppliers, so just imagine what it’s like to manage 30 suppliers at the same time. It’s a nightmare and I will never go back there. But I didn’t create Chinaimportal.com on my own.
I first met Ivan Malloci at a dive bar in Shanghai called Windows Too. Ivan had just left his job as a researcher at Zhejiang University, in Hangzhou. He had traded this career to launch an affiliate blog about traveling. This blog is now known as Saporedecina.com, and is one of the largest of its kind both in Italian and English. But back then, he wasn’t making a cent.
Still, Ivan knew how to get traffic from Google. I had some experience with this, but Ivan was (and still is) a scientist. So I pitched my confused ideas about what Chinaimportal.com could be, and we got to work. At that point we didn’t have a clear product or service. We only knew that we could potentially make a lot of money if we could get a lot of traffic to our blog about importing from Asia.
John: So, I’m manufacturing the DrawBag in China, and it’s a product that falls into a few different manufacturing categories. It includes a backpack as well as markers, and can be sold to different age groups. I originally purchased the “Apparel & Textiles” package but later utilized the “Children’s Products” package as well. How does a customer know which package to purchase?
Fredrik: For most of our customers, it’s easy to decide which version to choose. But in some cases, like yours, the product falls into several categories. Then we simply give them access to both.
One thing I realized early on was that importers don’t actually care about China itself. Blog or media posts about China don’t really do anything for them. They see China as just a strange country that’s far away. What they do care about is their product and their industry. They want to create a watch brand or an apparel collection, or they have an innovative idea, like the DrawBag. So we focused on really providing essential information in The Starter Package on all categories and industries.
John: I feel I had a lot of questions to ask during that span of about two months midway through my process. You were really quick in getting back to me using the ticketing feature of the Starter Package. How do you keep up with managing questions from your customers? Do you drink Red Bull or espresso shots?
Fredrik: I do drink espresso shots. Two to three double espressos every day. I used to drink Nescafe all the time, but our office has a good coffee machine. It’s even included in the rent!
But, to answer your question: I reply to customer tickets every morning. It takes awhile, but it’s a core part of our service. From my viewpoint, our customers don’t really pay for the tutorials, but for the consulting features.
John: I’ve had manufacturers in the past just disappear with prototypes for other products of mine I had delivered to them to test manufacture. How can Chinaimportal.com help in finding and establishing trust with manufacturers in China?
Fredrik: We provide suppliers lists. Our customers fill in information about the product, design type, and then upload images. Based on this, we can then identify qualified suppliers based on the following:
Product compliance documents (i.e., uploaded test reports)
Quality Management Certification (i.e., ISO 9001)
Social Compliance Certification (i.e., Sedex or BSCI)
Year of Registration
Our goal is to find 5 to 6 “high end” suppliers that specialize in the customer’s product. That said, this supplier list is useless unless the customer follows the tutorials as well.
China is still a developing country. There are no “great suppliers” with fantastic customer support and free design services. If you don’t know how to manage the suppliers, and the overall process, you will fail. A decent supplier is a critical component, but 90% of the outcome is decided by how you manage the process.
And by “process”, I’m referring to the following:
Create a spec sheet
Find out which regulations apply to your product
Order product samples
Sign a sales contract
Get your products quality checked and lab tested
Some importers have the idea that a great supplier will take care of all these things for them, but it doesn’t work like that.
John: Are you running any promotions currently, or can we offer something to my blog readers that won’t be found elsewhere?
We can offer a 30% discount to all readers who order the Starter Package. Simply enter the code THEDRAWBAG during checkout.
The China Import and Export Fair (or Canton Fair) occurs twice a year in Guangzhou, China in both the Spring and the Fall. Most of its exhibitors (officially: “Sellers”) are Chinese, although there are also countries represented from outside the mainland. Some are strictly factories, some are design teams, and some are a combination of the two.
Established in 1957, The Canton Fair has the longest history of any international trading event. It also boasts the largest scale, the most complete exhibit variety, and the largest and broadest buyer attendance. For those looking at manufacturing in or importing from China, it’s worth a visit.
It was while attending the Spring exhibition of The Canton Fair in 2017, that I was inspired to create the DrawBag. I had picked up a kraft paper bag in one booth and immediately thought, “Why hasn’t someone drawn on this thing?” Thus began my own journey into product design and ultimately manufacturing from China.
Most of the Canton Fair’s attendees are foreign importers (officially: “Buyers”) looking for new products to bring to market in their home countries. Others, like myself, are designers looking for manufacturers to collaborate with and for inspiration to work from. However, pictures are typically prohibited around exhibitors’ new products, and business cards are gently demanded. This is so that sellers know who they are dealing with and have a means of follow-up whether you show interest or not.
Using The Canton Fair To Find New Ideas
Because I’ve already settled on my two manufacturers, I go to the Canton Fair now primarily for inspiration. I live just a little way down the metro subway line from the two stops that access the fair, so it’s not hard to drop in.
In a previous blog post I break down the process by which I find new ideas from looking at multiple existing ideas or problems. I recently I went back through my old notebooks and found some ideas inspired from previous attendance at the Canton Fair. Here are a few of them:
Cat habitats with themes (James Bond hideouts, Yoda’s hut, bridge of the Enterprise, etc.)
Old skool physical amplifier for smartphones — like a brass trumpet
Magnets instead of zippers/buttons on clothing
I had the inspiration to create these (at least in my imagination) from looking around at what was being exhibited during the Fair, and doing a mental mash-up with other ideas already in my head. I haven’t actually taking the time to do a google search to see if product like this have been made yet. I don’t actually know if they are even “good” ideas! But they are interesting ideas to me.
Using The Canton Fair to Find a Manufacturer
A friend and early partner found the manufacturer I eventually settled on for producing the DrawBag at the Canton Fair. I’ve been quite pleased with them, and our relationship has expanded to include personal conversations and discussions over dinner about things like the state of education and art in China.
I didn’t meet my marker manufacturer at the Canton Fair, so I’ll discuss that story in a separate post.
The Dangers of Manufacturing in China
I’ve visited five different factories in the past year while developing the DrawBag and two unrelated products. Three of these factory visits resulted in healthy and profitable relationships going forward, while the remaining two factories did not. Instead, these two held onto my designs and prototypes while progressively dropping communication to zero within half a year’s time. Whether these other prototypes are now gathering dust or being produced under some other brand name… I know not.
Background checks are absolutely essential on any manufacturer you are considering working with. Although I learned this the hard way (by getting swindled) I recommend you arm yourself with knowledge before sharing your ideas. Also be aware that a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is only like a bike lock: it’s a useful deterrent, but not an effective means of recovery.
During my learning of the manufacturing process in China this past year, I found a massive reservoir of information on the website Chinaimportal.com. I ended up purchasing what they call “the Starter Package,” which is a start-to-finish guide for someone like me who is attempting to manufacture and import from China.
In a future post, I’ll chat with Chinaimportal.com’s co-founder, Fredrik Grönkvist to discuss a how he assisted me in producing the DrawBag in 2017.
In proceeding blog posts in the It’s Your Business category, I will share the process of how I went from complete ignorance to some competence and aspirations toward mastery in designing, manufacturing, and marketing an original product in 2017. If you have an idea for something to manufacture (or even if you don’t yet!), I hope this is the year you take the plunge, as I did, and learn how to bring it to life and share it with the rest of the world.
First, I highly recommend you read or listen to Seth Godin’s Linchpin if you haven’t already, as it was a catalyst in pushing me to commit and launch the DrawBag this past year.
Less than a year from the end of 2017, I wrote Seth Godin a brief email (my first to him) thanking him for the inspiration he had given me through his his writing and talks online. And in turn, he wrote back a lovely three-line haiku of a response, which made me want to glaze and frame my laptop screen.
Yeah, I’m a bit of a fanboy of his.
Currently, there aren’t many subscribers to this blog as I’ve just launched in December and I’m running this show of getting the word out basically by myself, but I hope in time I might also become a source of inspiration and encouragement to others in what I write here. For that to happen, I’ll have to take risks, continue learning things valuable to both of us, and find ways of sharing them with you.