Cherish one’s own culture for international recognition — Lo Yu-Fen

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Recognized as a “Rising Asian Talent” by Maison & Objet Asia in 2014, Lo Yu-fen has been designing products for nearly twenty years. From her perspective, the only way for Asian designers to gain international visibility and recognition is through respecting and cherishing their own culture. She integrates unique Taiwanese materials into her design work.

She also shares some insights regarding her journey from designer to brand operator. After 7 years of grit and hard work, she now owns two brands – CUCKOO and Pinyen Creative. One of her brands won a contract with Disney this year, a truly admirable accomplishment.

Departing from 10 years work in the consumer electronics industry, Lo took part in the Craft Fashion Project held by the National Taiwan Craft Research Institute in 2007, and fell in love with Taiwanese bamboo. In 2009 she decided to leave her six figure salary behind and devote herself to craft design, utilizing bamboo. Over the course of 7 years, she has commuted back and forth from Zhushan, in Nantou, to confer with local bamboo craft artist Su Su-ren, and Zhushan craftsman Chen Gao-ming. Close cooperation with the craftsmen yielded a series of contemporary craft pieces, such as the Tutu Stool, Ru-Ju Stool and Hemera Bamboo Lamp.

She took part in Maison & Objet Asia (Singapore, 2014) where the clever combination of local culture and contemporary aesthetics won her recognition as one of six “Rising Asian Talents” at the exhibition. She is the first Taiwanese designer ever to be awarded this honor.

Lo founded her first brand in 2010, CUCKOO, designing products for professional women. Most products within the brand are made from ceramic materials. From many years of international experience, Lo knew that it would be impossible to gain international recognition through affordable ceramic products alone. This is the reason she founded Pinyen Creative in the following year, focusing on high-end bamboo craft products.

She recalls taking part in an exhibition in Milan in 2009, a group of real estate investors from Hong Kong took interest in a bamboo lamp, Meow, which she and Su Su-ren had collaborated on. They invited her to design the décor and furnishings for a mansion in Tianmu, Taipei, which came as a great surprise. When she asked why they took to her piece they explained that their clients own properties all over the world, and if each place is furnished with the same furniture then they would be almost identical. They would rather go for a custom-made, local style to better showcase the experience of living in Taiwan.

“That was the moment when I decided that I should make an effort to enhance the local Taiwanese elements of my design, and modernize traditional crafts,” says Lo.

Explaining the design philosophy behind Tutu Stool, her first product to gain widespread recognition, Lo states how she discovered these hexagonal bamboo weaves made by the women of Zhushan. Since it does not require state-of-the-art technology to craft, the possibility for mass production presented itself. Thus, she began discussions regarding cooperation with Su Su-ren who had been working with bamboo for nearly two decades.

Tutu Stool is a wooden seat, made from Radiata Pine, with a colorful cotton-linen blend cushion, supported by woven bamboo structures reminiscent of a tutu skirt. The overall concept conveys a chic, feminine, lighthearted, and lively feeling. This piece selected for the Formosa Regent’s VIP room, and Taiwanese celebrity Mickey Huang also purchased it.

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Ru-Ju Stool was designed in collaboration with Zhushan craftsman Chen Gao-ming. When you say bamboo stool, most people will picture the rough bamboo benches of farmyards in the countryside. Lo went against the archetype by asking herself, “Would it be possible to create an elegant stool for a lady to sit upon while enjoying her afternoon tea?” They utilized bamboo for its strength and resilience, crafting four curved chair legs, invoking an elegant, feminine form, which departs radically from our existing impression of what a stool should look like.

Hemera Bamboo Lamp was designed in collaboration with Su Su-jen. It utilizes a special method of interweaving fine slices of bamboo. The bamboo utilized for this piece was long-shoot bamboo from Tainan, south Taiwan, which is characteristically soft in consistency. The woven bamboo lamp shade creates a truly Asian ambiance, as light is delicately scattered upon the ground.

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When Lo founded her first brand in 2010, CUCKOO, her lack of knowledge regarding business models, and her dignity as a designer, resulted in her parting ways with investors. The following years took her down dire financial straits. Upon advice from her second investor, she gave in and seized every opportunity that presented itself, gradually broadening her horizons to transition from designer to business owner.

“You must learn everything about finances, charts, contracts, human resources, production and manufacturing, sales channels, and marketing,” says Lo. “While you don’t have to be an expert at everything, at least you must know the basics.”

She also began actively resolving issues with downstream production lines in 2014, moving the production for CUCKOO to Mainland China, while keeping production for Pinyen Creative in Taiwan. There were two main reasons behind this; first, revenue in Taiwan had begun to decline due to an economic downturn, and second, the only way to minimize costs was to move production directly to Mainland China, as export duties were prohibitively high.

“Design alone does not make an industry,” says Lo. “Actions to consolidate the design are vital. Keys to successful brand operation range from clear brand positioning to capacity for mass production, as well as effectiveness of marketing, and sales channels.”

With the rapid emergence of the Mainland Chinese market, designers from all over the world have begun investing aggressively in this market. Lo feels that Taiwanese designers possess a significant advantage at this time.

“Compared with designers from Europe and the US, we have a better understanding of Chinese culture and customs,” Lo explains. “Compared to traditional craftsmen from Mainland China, we have a better global perspective. Compared to younger Mainland Chinese designers, we have better work ethics and life experiences. So, why not support Taiwanese designers?”

Lo has in fact already proven her point. Her design work was selected by the Walt Disney Company, as they are making efforts to enter the home furnishing and décor market. Disney has given her permission to use images of its classic animated characters. She is utilizing the character Mickey Mouse in a series of designs, and we look forward to seeing how she integrates Eastern and Western culture in the project. The project will include vases, tea sets, and a special edition of the Tutu Stool.

In past work, she has created magnificent merchandise for Asian fantasy franchises, completely fusing Chinese and Western culture. These collections are predicted to sell mainly in the Greater China Area. Lo’s work catapults Taiwanese design forward on the international stage.

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About Lo Yu-Fen

Lo Yu-Fen was born in 1974, and graduated from Shih Chien University’s Department of Industrial Design in 1999, whereupon she entered the consumer electronics industry. She has worked as a product designer for Philips Taiwan, Tsann Kuen, BenQ, ASUS, and MiTAC, winning numerous distinctions. She is a five-time iF Design Award winner, as well as a Red Dot Award winner. She founded the brand CUCKOO in 2010, to design products for professional women. In the following year she founded Pinyen Creative, which focuses on high-end bamboo craft design products in an effort to modernize and globalize a traditional Taiwanese craft. She was recognized as a “Rising Asian Talent” by Maison & Objet in 2014. Her representative pieces include Tutu Stool, Ru-Ju Stool, Hemera Bamboo Lamp, and Take Breath Pot, among others. She currently holds the position of Creative Director at Pinyen Creative Inc.

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