Following on from the beautiful work of Singaporean designer Melvin Ong I posted last week, I thought it only appropriate to do something on a talented Australian who now calls Singapore home - Jarrod Lim.
I interviewed Lim last year at the European launch of his new brand Hinika, a predominately teak collection of furniture and objects made in Indonesia that range from a sideboard to a bijoux birdhouse.
But it's not a simple matter of deciding to start a furniture brand and launch it in Tortona during the Milan Furniture Fair. With Lim, like most designers who have set up their own brands, there was a long (horribly overused expression coming up....) journey before this was possible. Finishing an Industrial Design Degree at RMIT in 1999, Lim then completed a furniture making diploma and it was courtesy of this that he won an Apex Australian Foundation scholarship. A requirement of the scholarship was that the recipient had to be a exemplary at a given trade so despite the fact that his real passion was to become a designer, it was Lim's furniture making skills that enabled him to fly off to Europe hopefully to gain some international design experience.
"I had spoken to Spanish designer, Patricia Urquiola at a trade event in Melbourne where she was guest of honour and told her how much I would love to work for her but of course she gets that type of offer every day. Once I won the scholarship however I emailed her until she agreed to look at my work when I got to Milan. I went along and surprisingly she looked at my portfolio then said; ‘Okay come down to the studio next week and we'll see what you can do’. It was as simple as that! I ended up working for her for fifteen months or so. Her studio was only very small at the time with just ten of us and it was all very hands on. It was sort of like being back at university, sanding things, making models and that sort of stuff. She was great to work for and took me to all the big manufacturers she worked with like B&B Italia and Moroso. That was a real eye opener for me. The business relationship side was something I hadn’t previously understood", says Lim.
After his stint in Milan, Lim worked in London for SCP before returning to Australia in 2006 but by the following year he was ready to move to Singapore.
"It wasn’t a difficult move to make because my father is from Singapore and I felt fairly at home there. It had dawned on me how much was happening in Asia and I wanted to be part of that. In Singapore there are lots of small projects that you just don’t get in Australia with heaps of little bars and boutiques opening everyday. These entrepreneurs are willing to use young and fairly unknown designers. They don’t have a lot of budget so it’s about doing things cleverly and quickly whether it's interiors or a one-off chair", says Lim.
It was the confidence that he acquired in Singapore that enabled Lim to make such a big splash in 2009 when he was accepted to exhibit at Salone Satellite, the Milan Fair's young designer showcase.
"It’s an Asian trait to want value for money and if you are going to fly over to Milan to show at Satellite which typically costs as much as $20,000, you might as well go big and show as many products as you can! So I worked like crazy and produced twelve or fourteen products for that show and I'm happy to say that about five of those are now in production", says Lim.
Lim received plenty of press for his ambitious volume of product but also for the quality of his work and several of his pieces were featured in the book, Once Upon a Chair: Design Beyond the Icon published by Gestalten. It was however, the quirky British company, Innermost who took the first leap of faith and signed up three of Lim's designs from his 2009 Satellite show. The 'Koi' chair, 'HiHo' rocker and 'Aviva' chair were released in 2011. Now with new designs in production by well known Italian companies Bonaldo and Sintesi, Lim is no longer the young Australian guy but the accomplished designer with a flourishing studio in Singapore. Recent work includes rattan pendant lights for Philippines brand, Hive and a cafe table 'Century', for Finnish brand Skanno but Lim feels that the time is right for branching out into new territory and to create his own brand.
"It’s sort of future planning. Designers like Tom Dixon and Marcel Wanders have done it, so without wanting to sound arrogant why not me? Once you have met a lot of manufacturers you realize that you can do it yourself. That’s not to say it’s easy without the advertising budget or the brand recognition but setting up your own brand has its benefits. You’re in full control and you get to tell people how you want things done", says Lim.
"I’ve been designing things that are produced by other companies for quite a while now (Innermost, Sintesi Decode London and others) but the money earned in royalty payments isn’t as much as some people might think - that's partly why I decided I needed to start my own brand. I’ve been working on projects made by a particular manufacturer in Indonesia for about 4 years and I know they can deliver the quality I want. That level of skill is hard to track down but once you do it's a worth considering taking that next step", says Lim. "You're not relying on someone else to tell you how many of your products have been sold that year and what your royalty cheque will be. It's all up to you. There's a certain amount of freedom in that".
Hinika images by Wang Wen.