Frédéric Gooris is a Belgian industrial designer. After graduating from the Hogeschool Antwerpen and Domus Academy in Milan, he worked for the likes of Philippe Starck and Stefano Giovannoni. He founded his own studio, Studio Gooris, in Milan in 2004, where he focused on product, concept, and interior design for brands including Alessi, China Southern Airlines, Ferrero, JCPenny, Levis, Nespresso, Qantas, Seiko, and Target. Following this, in 2009, he and his wife, Paulina Chu, together founded their own children’s furniture brand, Bombol.
It was during the global financial crisis that began in 2008 that Gooris and his wife decided to move their family to Hong Kong. Chu, who hails from the city, was offered the opportunity to join her family’s business, and Gooris was excited to explore opportunities in what he considered a dynamic part of the world for design. However, after so many years living and working in Italy, the thought of the move was also daunting: “In the beginning, I thought I was going to lose everything that I’d built up in Italy.”
However, his long-running relationship with world-renowned Italian homewares and kitchen utensils brand, Alessi, provided him with the confidence he needed. “I thought I was going to lose Alessi as a customer when I moved, but what I didn’t know was that they had just started working with some Chinese companies,” he explains. “They were running into trouble developing their products due to communicating over such a long distance. Since I was in the region, they asked if I felt like picking up those projects and actually visiting the factories and keeping a close eye on things.”
Looking after his Alessi product development in Greater China allowed Gooris to immerse himself in the working culture of the region, as well as connect with some of the area’s most ambitious factories and brands. It was on the back of this work that he began to expand into working with OEMs that were looking to create their own brands. His success with the Alessi products also gave him ammunition with which to persuade leading local companies to work with him.
Scores of OEM companies in the Greater China region are experiencing a decline in the manufacturing business, and according to Gooris, they have just a few ways to remedy the situation: they can relocate to countries where it is cheaper to manufacture; invest heavily in R&D to stay relevant; they can launch their own brand; or they can offer design as an extra service to their customers. “The companies that want to start their own brand, I call them ‘false start-ups’ because they are new brands with no experience, no history, but there is a factory behind them, there is capital behind them, and there is the necessity to make it work. Before, design was simply a hobby of the owner, but now it becomes a tool for survival,” he explains.
It is this opportunity that drives his desire to stay in what he considers one of the world’s most dynamic places for design: “I can definitely help these what I call ‘false start-ups’ in many more ways than a normal designer could, and this is only possible because I’m in Asia. Here I get exposed to all these new experiences, which helps me to grow much faster as a designer than I would be able to in Europe.
“Once people are used to doing things in a certain way, it becomes very difficult to make that whole machine change direction, even if the market is changing. Things can move very rapidly [in Greater China] because all the resources that are needed are right here. In Italy, for example, it would take three years to develop a product, but you can do the same thing here in nine months–if you’re lucky, even six, from design brief to having approved pre-production at six months–and still have a great quality product.”
Right now, Gooris’ is focused on his other passion, Bombol, a high-end children’s furniture brand helmed full-time by Chu and their business partner, Francesco Pozzato. Born out of a desire to create sleek, portable baby products that simplified life for young families, the brand was founded by the Gooris duo in Italy in 2009 with the launch of their first product, a bouncer named Bamboo. This year, the company has undergone a brand transformation under the slogan, Stay Sparky, alongside the launch of a second product, a highly transportable booster seat called Pop-Up.
While their bouncer, Bamboo, takes it name from a typically Asian material because it shares similar properties, namely strength and flexibility, the inspiration for Pop-Up was truly born out of Gooris’ cultural assimilation into the Asia region, both on an aesthetic and a practical level. “To develop these new types of products, it takes a lot of trial and error,” he notes. “What really helps, obviously, is being in Asia. Origami comes from Asia, so that was a natural source of inspiration, but it was really the fact that we were able to create so many samples, one after another relentlessly, until we arrived at the solution. Unless you have your own factory, it’s close to impossible to do this in Europe.”
Pop-Up is highly innovative, taking five years to develop, manufacture, and launch. About the size of a tablet when folded in on itself, the booster seat weighs only one kilogram and is upholstered in a soft yet durable, water resistant fabric. The straps that hold a child into the seat are removable, and can therefore be washed. Importantly, it can hold up to 75 kilos because of the astounding structural integrity of its folded, origami-inspired construction. Due to its small size, the seat is not only suitable for young families on the move, but also for use in the hospitality sector, which is a key market for Bombol: “Restaurants and hotels, for example, can just put it on the shelf with the menus.”
One final reason for creating such a compact product lies in the fact that Bombol has been re-imagined as a completely online business, another idea inspired by life in China. “China and Hong Kong are frontrunners–I imagine Taiwan is as well–because the most successful business models here are internet-based. The West is so backwards when it comes to conducting business online, yet it’s something you see developing very rapidly here. For me, it was a real eye-opener. We would never have done this type of product or redeveloped Bombol in this way if we hadn’t come to China,” Gooris explains.
It is the popularity of the online model that will allow Chinese brands to flourish as brands, Gooris continues, while companies in Europe and the USA struggle to catch up. “In Greater China, everything’s going straight from the factory to the consumer, which makes much more sense,” he says. “There are these new brands bubbling up that are only targeting Chinese markets so far, but it’s just a matter of time and logistics before they start selling to the rest of the world. That’s why it’s a great advantage for us to be here right now.”
About Frédéric Gooris
Frédéric Gooris was born in Belgium in 1974. He graduated from the Hogeschool Antwerpen in 1998 and earned his Master’s in Design from Domus Academy. After graduation, he stayed on in Italy, working on a wide range of projects with design world luminaries like Philippe Starck and Stefano Giovannoni. In 2004, he founded Studio Gooris, an independent studio focusing on product, concept, and interior design for companies all over the globe, including 101 Studio Limited (Sun Hing Vision Group), Alessi, China Southern Airlines, Ferrero, Foreverlamp, JCPenny, Levis, Minotti Cucine, Nespresso, Qantas, Seiko, Target, and many others. In 2009 he co-founded Bombol, a company for smart design oriented baby furniture, and the year after, Gooris moved with his young family to Hong Kong where he continues to run Studio Gooris and develop products for Bombol.