Interview with Joerg Suermann

Joerg Suermann is Executive Creative Director of FOUNDRY Berlin, branding and marketing agency or inspiring business as he prefers to put it. This man is also the father of DMY International Design Festival, but decided last year that the child had grown enough to make it in the world without him. Facing new projects and challenges, Joerg Suermann feels happy, as did we at EARS when he found the time to talk about his Asia experiences with us.

You are the founder of DMY International Design Festival in Berlin. How did that all start?

It’s funny, actually in 2003 I had this idea of promoting myself as a designer, not building a global designer platform. The plan was to find clients and working opportunities in Berlin by throwing open studio parties to my friends, other designers and creative industry influencers. In 10 years it grew into something else. And I’m happy it did. Last year I made the decision to leave DMY as I felt the child was big enough. I was the father who was always concerned about my baby and brand needs changes. DMY is all about young designers and young audience, which I felt wasn’t me anymore. I always want to build something new and by leaving DMY behind I felt open for new possibilities again.

What are you working on with FOUNDRY Berlin at the moment?

These past weeks, I have been working with a new bike brand from China starting their business in Europe. Asian like European brands, many Chinese companies make their first steps in Europe and then go back in Asia to triumph. After establishing their brand in Europe they can make more sales in Asia.

What kind of projects have you realized in Asia?

We have done a lot of projects in Asia since 2006; 5 to 10 exhibitions every year from Tokyo to Singapore mostly promoting German designers. The reception has always been quite good; the people in Asia are open for design and inspiration, but it’s very difficult to sell the products. The understanding for design costing money is not yet in the same level as it is in Europe. But Asia is changing; nowadays people have more money and they are starting to invest in fashion, art and design.

What would be your 3 tips for creative company establishing business in Asia?

1. Start first in some other market than in Asia, like in Europe or US. If your product is already in the market, the Asian factors are not so fast to copy it. Get the pictures and descriptions out making your product unavailable for stealing.

2. Find local partners!

3. Find legal support. Asian business mentality is really hard to understand without legal guidance. A good Asian company won’t ever pay 100 % of the price asked. If you know this, it’s not a problem. I always charge 120 % price from Asian buyers. That way, when in the negotiation price will get to 80 % I won’t lose money. I also make the business partner feel good and respected.

In your view, how do European and Asian design interact?

German design is very basic and functional. Asian design is more playful and focused on details. Also the mentality is very different: in Europe we live in a culture where we learn to ask and criticize finding new ways of design and innovation that way. In Asia it’s not like that. The way to create is by copying honouring the master by doing that. European industry doesn’t approve this copy culture. It’s totally another way of designing, which is important to know and understand. We need to think that they like and respect design so much that they want to make it even better.

What’s the most interesting Asian country for creative industries at the moment?

China! Chinese market is so huge and they need so many things, it’s a paradise for designers. China has money and factors which makes it a strong place for creative industries. The Chinese government just launched a major project for the next 5 years including a lot of investments in the creative industries. They are in the position where they can buy all the knowledge they want for creative innovations.

How you see the development of Europe-Asia collaborations in the creative field?

Asians buy knowledge more and more from Europeans using it in educating their own people. It is very hard for Western people to blend into Asian culture, there is always going to be a certain distance. This is a problem if we don’t know how to cooperate with Asia the right way. One third of world’s population lives in Asia so it is important to think what we want out of these collaborations. How can we continue staying in our position and where we want to go. If it’s the right direction, Asia will follow.

What inspires you at the moment?

I think there’s a lot of potential in social design developing new models, strategies and products that can play a decisive role in the development and transformation of society. We have more and more people in the world so it’s essential to save resources and not necessarily buy everything new. That is what Asia needs also.

What would you like everyone to know about Asia?

You have to know that people are very respectful in a formal way. They have amazing food. They can not say no: they say yes, but you have to know what it means. If someone says to you “yes yes it’s coming” don’t wait for it, go for it.


EARS – Europe-Asia Roundtable Sessions is a platform focusing on creative industry collaboration between Europe and Asia. The next EARS event will be held in Helsinki, August 27-30, showcasing the latest trends from Asia in the fields of design, music, performing arts, literature, marketing and media.

Interview with Esther Muñoz Grootveld

Dutch native Esther Muñoz Grootveld broadened her scope to China in 2011 and is now the Brand Consulting Manager at Shanghai-based design agency COORDINATION ASIA. Besides her day job, Esther is an independent creative consultant. Her most recent project, the online sustainable fashion initiative The Dotted Suit Project, was launched in July 2014. EARS has a chat with Esther about fashion branding in China and the country’s luxury goods market.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Esther Muñoz Grootveld and I’m Dutch but based in Shanghai since a little bit more than three years now. I work in Shanghai as a consultant specialized in design and fashion.

You are the Project and Brand Consulting Manager at design agency COORDINATION ASIA. What kinds of thing you are working with?

At COORDINATION ASIA I’m mostly consulting on space design and branding for museums, retail clients and brands. They either already are in the Chinese market or want to set up a cultural or retail space and need advice on branding, design and communication.

Coordination Asia is basically my day job and besides that I’m a freelance consultant. My freelance work is more focused on fashion because that’s where my background is. I consult designers coming from European countries to the Asian market or other way around.

[quote text=”People need to believe your story because there’s so much to choose from, especially in fashion, and especially in Asia.”]

What do you think are the main qualities of success in the fashion industry?

For now, it’s very important to have a very strong story. I think that before people differentiated themselves either through design or the concept. Of course you have to have high quality materials and design, you have to have a good business plan but also your story needs to be on spot. So when you look at how you set yourself out in the market, you really have to think why is your brand story original and how is it related to your product. And all together, it needs to be authentic. People need to believe your story because there’s so much to choose from, especially in fashion, and especially in Asia.

What makes a great fashion brand for you?

For me a good fashion brand brings timeless products that do not necessarily follow flows of fashion. I like brands and products that you buy and keep for a long time, products that tells a story and are produced in responsibly way.

How would you compare European and Chinese fashion consumers?

I think that European consumers have kind of evolved beyond the story and are really focusing on sustainability, ecological and responsible producing – honest, maybe even like handmade style products. In China, people are still really focusing on the story. In Europe, we have turned our mind-set to a little bit towards honest products but in China it’s more about honest stories. When looking at the fashion products authenticity, honesty and uniqueness are what we have in common. But maybe in Europe, the way the product is produced, that you know it’s real and good is a little bit more important than in China.

You have talked about the new luxury in China. What do you mean by that?

I’ve only been in China for three to four years but in this short time I’ve seen how quickly the market changes. Something like 10 years ago, fashion consumers in China looked towards the west for inspiration. Most people didn’t have means to buy big labels so they were buying cheaper, maybe not that well-designed and well-produced products. Now when the wealth and taste of fashion in China are increasing, people started to think that wearing brands like Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton means expressing that you’re moving up. But slowly I think it’s changing and Chinese fashion consumers are moving towards understanding that they can actually use fashion to express their own unique identity, not just to label themselves as well-offs.

This is where the new luxury comes in. People are looking for products that really express their unique culture identity and that they have evolved taste. They have money to spend but they are picky about where they spend it on. They are looking for unique products that nobody has in the market where you can get everything, copied or non-copied. In China, it’s really challenging to find something unique that nobody else has. The fashion pioneers in China are looking for those products: unique, maybe even China designed, one-off products that they can show to their friends and say “I’m unique cause I’m wearing this”. This is what I called “the new luxury”.

What’s your vision on upcoming trends in the fashion business?

I just met a Finnish designer called Satu Maaranen and I was very impressed by her. One of reasons was that she has a very interesting vision on her role as a designer. She doesn’t necessarily want to start her own brand. She just sees herself as somebody with a vision of fashion and who is interested in textiles and patters. She’s a craftswoman but also a businesswoman. This is interesting because when I was working in the Netherlands and speaking with young fashion designers, I remember that everybody wanted to be a new Versace. They came out from school and wanted to have a store with their name above it. Meaning of being a fashion designer was having your name on a label.

My vision is that as a designer your role is to make creative solutions using your skills. Satu is a very nice example of a new fashion designer who uses her skills as a fashion professional but also looks into interior and art. She’s kind of a hybrid and I think this is where the fashion business is going in the future. Sometimes the design disciplines, especially in fashion, kind of close themselves in their own world. My personal hope is that the fashion circles will open up and start collaborating more with architects, designers, technologists and whatever may come along.

What inspires you most at the moment?

Travelling and talking to different people inspires me most in general. I try to move around all the time and living in a city like Shanghai has a big advance because people come in all the time. What really shapes my vision and inspires me on design and also in life in general is talking to people living in different cities. That just brings new ideas. I would advice everybody to travel and definitely come to China!

Interview with Rossana Hu

Rossana Hu is a Shanghai-based architect who has received many recognitions for her work and expertise, including the Wallpaper* Designer of the Year 2014 Award. Read on to learn more about Rossana’s upcoming projects and thoughts on re-branding and reusing spaces.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Rossana Hu and I am an architect by training and I now work as an architect and a designer in Shanghai.

You have a recent project where you re-branded an old police office. What were the biggest difficulties in the project?

Number one was to convince the client, who actually hired us to do a new building. They wanted to demolish the old building but we saw value in preserving parts of it. So that was the biggest challenge as he is putting in all the money and was expecting a brand new building.

What kinds of spaces inspire you the most?

Generally speaking? It’s hard to pin point exactly but I would say that places that bring out memories inspire me. It’s about the mood and experience or a memory of an experience. I think spaces are not neutral, they always include feelings. The feelings are deep, whether they are good or bad, happy or sad. If they are deep, I like it.

[quote text=”Designers are a lot like performers; judged by the latest piece.”]

Recently you won the Wallpaper* Designer of the Year 2014 Award. What are your next goals or projects you are working on?

We have a lot of projects that we work on and never see awards as goals. Those things just kind of come. Designers are a lot like performers. They say that a musician is as good as their last performance. If you are a pianist and you fail at a concert, no one will ever want to see you again. I think that’s same with us designers. If you do one bad project, people will forget about all the previous good projects and only remember the very last one. So what I think we try to do is that the next project has to always be better than the previous one.  So always thinking of fresh ideas, always challenging yourself, never taking convictions or traditions as the only way, finding new possibilities and doing things differently.

Here in EARS you talked a lot about re-branding and reusing spaces. What is the value of reusing old buildings?

I think people talk a lot about sustainability. Often that kind of talk has to do with technology, finding new technology, new materials in order to recycle and reuse. But I think one of the easiest ways to sustainability are; number one, make thinks that last. If for example a building is built to be long lasting, you don’t need to rebuild. The second thing is to reuse. It’s very sensible and common sense way of making your environment sustainable. For example if a shopping center ceases to exist as a viable commercial center, then you can see a theater taking over or a church or a school as the building is already there and the structures are already there.  I see that reusing something is a good example of sustainability.