Jessica Wong, co-founder of furniture label SCENE SHANG, shares how the DesignSingapore Council’s Business of Design (BOD) programme, in particular the mentorship provided by BOD in-market consultant Nathan Yong, helped them to craft a new collection for the global market.
SCENE SHANG is a contemporary furniture label based in Singapore with roots firmly planted in a rich Asian heritage. In 2013, Pamela and I were inspired to create a brand with a strong desire to dig deep into our roots, in an immersive search for stories within our Asian culture, with the aim to create meaningful furniture and homeware.
Our furniture and homeware designs have gone on to win several awards, bringing together traditional design aesthetics with contemporary functions and needs. From a small workspace within our historic apartment in Shanghai, where we first started the brand with just the two of us, we’ve grown into a company with over 10 talented team members.
We now have two beautiful retail destinations in a historic shophouse along Beach Road in Kampong Glam, and in the historic Raffles Hotel Arcade. Besides our retail destinations, we also retail through our online website, and through distributors such as Krisshop.
Room for growth
Having built the brand successfully, Pamela and I were keenly aware that for a business to thrive, there was a need to constantly improve and identify areas of growth. Early on, we felt the constraints of the local market size and recognised the need to go beyond our borders. We received moderate success through international forays in bite-sized portions such as tagging along with other brands through pop-up stores and showcases in London, Tokyo, Sydney and Xiamen. We could see the potential, but limited by resources and knowledge, we were not actively able to review and grow these markets.
Pamela and I were keenly aware that for a business to thrive, there was a need to constantly improve and identify areas of growth. Early on, we felt the constraints of the local market size and recognised the need to go beyond our borders.
When the opportunity to apply for the inaugural BOD programme by DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) came up last year, we saw this as an opportunity for growth, to tap the business consultancy, mentorship and knowledge of the in-market consultants. Thankfully, we were selected and matched with Nathan Yong, a veteran designer and business person with a great depth of experience.
Identifying potential business strategies
With Nathan, we reviewed the brand’s business challenges and opportunities together. Through analysis and consultation, Nathan astutely helped us to identify several strategies. One was to look at expanding our product offering to reach a global audience; the other was to look for good maker partners who could produce our designs at a high standard and had the capability to scale to meet the demand from an international audience. We had started off from small batch production and at times, found that this led to bottlenecks and missed opportunities.
In search of maker partners
Nathan advised us to consider looking for more makers in the South-East Asian region for several reasons. The first was the close proximity that would allow us to have a smoother process in meeting and overseeing the processes. The second was to tap the rich resources unique to our region that could shape and strengthen our brand’s DNA in making contemporary Asian wares. Taking Nathan’s advice, we shortlisted a few countries to visit in search for maker partners and finally decided upon Indonesia for the proximity, capability and availability of materials.
With the help of Singapore Furniture Industries Council and Enterprise Singapore, we were able to build a meaningful list of potential maker partners to visit. We travelled to East Java, Indonesia, visited a number of factories and showrooms and met and spoke with business owners and makers.
Designing new products
Eventually, we made a shortlist of partners whom we found a synergy with and started working on designing a new range of products to leverage the maker partner’s skills and capabilities.
We found a wonderful maker who worked with natural rattan and recyclable synthetic fibres. He understood immediately what SCENE SHANG stands for, and thus began the start of a partnership. Our maker lent his expertise and showed us patiently how things were made. We listened, asked questions and were excited by how we could use the materials and techniques available to design something with a SCENE SHANG touch, a contemporary piece that paid homage to culture and history.
We felt that this was a good opportunity also to tap the growing demand for products that were sustainable and eco-conscious. Together with our strong brand DNA of contemporary Asian designs, we felt that this would further strengthen the brand, and reach a wider audience with our unique products.
Through this process of developing new products, we scheduled meetings to speak with Nathan on the developments. In the process, Nathan gave insightful advice on putting together product collections such as the number of pieces and types to create a whole package that would appeal to our prospective international buyers. Before this, our product collections tended to have less than five products; Nathan pushed us to create larger product collections with eight or more pieces to provide buyers with choice.
A new chapter
WIth this new strategy, we now have not only expanded our product offerings through design but have also built the capabilities to meet global demand. Through this, we have also strengthened our operational and logistic networks and processes, which is an essential key to going global.
Since the launch of our new products as a result of the BOD this June, we have received tremendous positive feedback locally and are in the midst of reaching out to international B2B and B2C buyers in France and China through the help of the BOD in-market consultants.
We are excited for the growth of SCENE SHANG in this new chapter and are very thankful for the opportunity by Dsg for us to be mentored by our consultant Nathan Yong. The consultations have pushed us beyond our past capabilities and has helped us to build our brand to be able to meet global demand.