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HomePage > News > Q&A With Yuichiro Hori, Founder And CEO Of Shanghai-Made Furniture Brand Stellar Works
Q&A With Yuichiro Hori, Founder And CEO Of Shanghai-Made Furniture Brand Stellar Works
Source: forbes     2019-05-14 09:59

Yuichiro Hori, founder and CEO of Stellar Works, discusses how his furniture brand is reinventing “Made in China”, proudly showing off its Shanghai-based manufacturing and how it has single-mindedly challenged the stereotype that China is only synonymous with mass-volume and low-quality production.

 

Why are you proud of the “Made in Shanghai” label?

People have a fixed mindset of “Made in China”, so we want to go the opposite way. China is the biggest production platform for any industry, but nobody creates a brand. It’s a new approach, a different angle and brings curiosity. Shanghai is very international and diverse, so what’s important is not the origin of the manufacturing, but the story of the brand, the quality and design. We’re a Japanese-French company, a joint venture. Our Shanghai factory is a kind of hybrid: we use Japanese manufacturing operations, Toyota production systems, like how to arrange production planning, systems or visible quality control. Now lots of Japanese companies are using this method to get the best efficiency and the best quality management, so it’s also useful for furniture factories. We brought this Japanese know-how to Shanghai, but the technical know-how is from France, and many of our workers are Chinese. Our managers are Italian, Japanese and French, and they manage the whole production quality using Chinese resources.

 

New Stellar Works pieces by its creative directors Neri&Hu: the Discipline sofa, Bund table and a re-edition of the Cabinet of Curiosity, now available in a Dress edition

Photo courtesy of Stellar Works
 

Why did you decide to incorporate French savoir-faire?

 

Laval is one of the best in Europe. It is the best factory in France and we’ve known each other for a long time. They are my clients and we can communicate easily, so one day we decided to invest together. That was the first step, setting up the factory in 2008 to do project work for luxury hotels or restaurants, but the Stellar Works brand started from 2012, so that was the second phase of my business.

 

How difficult was it to convince others of your vision for Stellar Works?

 

It was hard at the beginning to create a brand from China. When I was looking for designers, it was a challenge because they had a certain image of China. Some top Italian and Danish designers thought that our concept and business model were interesting, but too risky because they weren’t confident about Chinese production. Now the situation has changed. They recognize the brand, so we have gotten many offers from very good designers. But it has been a long journey. Everybody had said I was crazy to own a factory in China. But in any business, if you want to create value, you have to take a risk and be a pioneer.

 

Lucent floor lamp by Copenhagen-based OEO Studio, Stellar Works' first foray into lighting

Photo courtesy of Stellar Works
 

Was there a turning point for Stellar Works, when people started to sit up and take notice of the brand?

 

Neri&Hu was one of our designers at the beginning, and after that, they became our creative directors in 2015. We’re creating a brand from Asia. We represent Asia, so lots of Asian esthetics. It’s hard for other people to understand Asian esthetics. Neri&Hu are Chinese, so they clearly understand, but their mindset is very international. That’s why it was a perfect match. They’re also based in Shanghai and perfectly understand what Shanghai is. That changed a lot because of communication – we can meet anytime we want. Creative direction, product development, business development, everything, we have to communicate closely. Our brand identity became very clear and strong for consumers and designers, who clearly understood who we are, our DNA, what is Shanghai. We started providing a clear message.

 

Describe the Stellar Works esthetic. 

 

Timeless, Asian sensibility, hand-crafted. But Asian esthetics doesn’t mean it needs to be an all-over Asian look. Asian sensibility means our factory itself, our manufacturing and our business model because we are making furniture by Chinese craftsmen and made in Shanghai. It’s important to say we are a manufacturer. We never outsource. Many European brands are not manufacturers because they don’t understand engineering, so it’s hard to say it is their craftsmanship; they subcontract. We are different. We are honored to say that these are our employees. Our company creates quality. We are not middlemen. We don’t want to buy from somebody and resell to somebody. We produce by ourselves; all the engineering, metalworking, woodworking and upholstering, we do in-house, so we can mix different materials on the same piece, which is very difficult. That’s our strong point.

 

How do you select your designers?

 

We’re not bringing European design, but when we hire designers, we ask them to understand our brand and DNA because many designers have different styles. Their proposal must be suitable for our DNA. Sometimes we pick a designer who knows Asia or who has an Asian background. We don’t care how famous the person is. We can hire young designers if we see they have talent and will be successful in the future. Some designers may be known for their super contemporary or Italian design, but when they design for Stellar Works, they have to bring a solution with Asian sensibilities, so we need to have a long conversation. Otherwise our brand is not a brand.

 

What is the background of your employees?

 

Our Shanghai workers are not Shanghainese. They’re from the countryside and living in Shanghai. One thing is that they are very young: in their 20s and 30s. But even a 25-year-old guy can have more than 10 years woodworking experience already because he’s from a small village famous for woodworking. So when he was five or six years old, he started to make something with wood. Today, when he touches the wood with his hand, he knows the moisture content just from the feeling. He learned everything from feeling. That’s impossible in Japan or France, where we would have to educate from the zero level. But China is different. Metalworking is a bit different – not so many workers start when young. Of course, we have a metalworking facility so lots of young people we hire, we just train them in the factory. I was very surprised and impressed by these workers’ skills, but most other companies prefer cheap mass production, so are not using their skills, never asking them to produce complicated handmade products. They don’t train them and the machines work faster. For them, low quality is fine because the price is cheaper, so most of the companies are doing it that way and selling by the container. This is a typical example of local manufacturing. I respect that way, but this is not our business. We go in the opposite direction, more tailor-made, handmade things. So at our company, people can buy just one piece.

 

Why does China have all this expertise in the villages?

 

It’s their tradition. China is so big. Some of the small villages are famous for their woodwork, metalwork or fabric-making. And if this person was born in this village, automatically he starts living with wood. I think everybody stays in their industry.

 

Who are your target audiences? 

 

There are two kinds. One is of course consumer business, we do retail, but the majority is our project work for hotels and restaurants. Recently, we have been selling a lot to workplaces: Wework, Google, Dropbox and Microsoft. We are supplying furniture to offices because now there are less and less borders between office environments and hospitality. Many creative offices are changing to lounge-like settings.

 

 

How do you envision Stellar Works’ future? 

 

We will create a truly international brand from Asia, the best brand in Asia, and expand globally.

 

 

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