Slowly but surely, the perception of products that are made or designed in Taiwan is shifting.
From whisky to furniture to ceramics, it’s clear that Taiwanese products are growing in quality and craftsmanship. But a significant hurdle is that sales and distribution channels often don’t support them, making it hard for consumers to see, touch and buy. Without grassroots support from retailers — both local and abroad — “made in Taiwan” simply can’t rebuild.
That’s why I was so impressed to learn about Native & Co, a London boutique where Taiwanese homewares and craft designs share shelf-space with their Japanese neighbors. Native & Co’s Notting Hill shop was opened in November 2014 by Taiwanese product designer, Sharon Jo-Yun Hung and her business partner, Chris Yoshiro Green. Their aesthetic is clean, honest and timeless.
I’m excited to share their perspective on Taiwanese design and their experience sourcing Taiwanese products for Native & Co. Thanks to Sharon and Chris for this interview!
How did the concept for Native & Co concept come about?
The original concept of our shop was to source the native, local products of Japan and Taiwan. The intention was to bring together a selection of region specific craft and design for the modern home.
We also felt, that although Japanese products are well known in London, they were restricted by large brands or held inside intimidating specialist shops. It was important for us to project ourselves as an independent homeware shop based in London, rather than another Japanese goods shop. Our aim is also to promote Taiwanese design and craft and help to establish Taiwan as a centre of good design and heritage.
What are your backgrounds?
We are both from a product design background and studied together at Central Saint Martins. Chris is half-Japanese and half-British, and Sharon is Taiwanese. This background informed the beginning of our product choices.
As product designers, we strive to do as much of the shop’s design work ourselves, and personally take care of the graphic design, photography and the shop’s interior including the furniture. Once the shop has settled down and we have finished every little detail, our long-term aim is to design a range of homewares in collaboration with our makers.
How do you curate which products to feature? What do you look for?
There is a specific aesthetic we have in mind; simple pieces of a discrete nature, with beautiful subtle details. Objects that have purity, where the material’s natural beauty is left untarnished. Homewares that complement an interior space but do not dominate it.
We particularly specialize in craft-based home products that we source personally and locally in Japan and Taiwan. We work with small suppliers, (sometimes companies of only two staff total) and specialist workshops. For instance, makers that excel at one particularly skill, such as casting iron, hand sewing leather or hand-beating brass.
How do customers respond when they learn the products are made in Taiwan?
Taiwanese products are generally harder to sell than their Japanese equivalent. We believe this is because there is little awareness for Taiwanese craft or design in the UK. They are unfortunately often misinterpreted for being of Thai or Chinese origin. However, to those who are aware of Taiwan, these products are interesting as there is an air curiosity and new discovery.
In comparison to Japan, Taiwan is at the moment less well-established as a design or craft centre. However, it is beginning to emerge as it forms a more concise national design identity. Taiwan is a unique centre for aboriginal tribes and their region specific craft. (Bamboo ware, straw weaving, and ink dyeing, to mention a few.) Taiwanese craft has great potential and one of our goals as a shop/design studio is to promote Taiwan as a nation of high quality craft and good taste.
What are your bestselling Taiwanese designs?
Our traditional Taiwanese school canvas bags do well. The story of their original use and their heritage is very interesting to customers. They are well made, have quite a contemporary design and are very affordable.
What hurdles do you face sourcing quality Taiwanese design?
Taiwanese makers are often weary and very cautious of having their products abroad. They sometimes either need convincing or are just not set up for trading overseas. Our ambition is to help these makers grow and get more awareness of their products outside of Taiwan.
Other than that, Taiwanese companies require you to go door-to-door for business but we enjoy this as it’s part of our Taiwanese trips.
Thanks Sharon and Chris!
Photo Credit: Native & Co