A burgeoning retail chain offering desirable contemporary furniture, home ware and lifestyle accessories, G.O.D. is the result of Young’s ambition to build a brand far removed from the traditional images of the dragons and skyscrapers one might associate with Hong Kong.
Young wants it known though, that by “living better,” he doesn’t want the residents of Hong Kong to simply buy G.O.D. products, but to build a greater sense of identity and culture together. A lofty goal, perhaps? In a society like Hong Kong, where you’d be forgiven for thinking that the common goal is to make enough money to move elsewhere, Young feels a sense of duty to help locals find pride in their own identity, which he feels would lead to the formation of a stronger, less transient community.
Young, who is a member of Project Hong Kong, a think tank on the city’s future, believes Hong Kongers have always been too hasty to embrace foreign influences at the expense of developing a local style. But what exactly is “Hong Kong style”? Young admits it is hard to pinpoint, but believes it stems from the energy of the city itself. He feels this energy in the pulse of the streets and the markets with colorful yet orderly displays of fresh produce, and also in the general buzz, sights and smells of the city. It is from this kaleidoscope of life in Hong Kong, the “chaos, contrasts and contradictions,” as Young describes it, that inspiration comes. Making sense of the chaos, Young says, is the fun part. His goal is to build on this cultural heritage, not in a nostalgic way, but to move forward and write a new chapter in Hong Kong’s history.
Today, G.O.D.’s top-selling items are sofas. But it is best known for its signature products carrying iconic Hong Kong scenes. Imagine sleeping on bed linen called “karma” printed with lively illustrations of people practicing ancient Chinese exercises such as tai chi (an exercise traditionally favored by the elderly but gaining cachet among younger Hong Kongers today). Or how about toting a messenger bag or a handbag printed with housing tenements? Young, an architect by training, admits that he did not research the viability of such product designs. It appears, though, that his hunch is paying off handsomely.
Burt Blume, executive consultant at Interbrand Japan, calls Young’s branding strategy “edgy and playful.” He explains, “Notwithstanding Young’s rationale about the brand name’s Cantonese meaning, one cannot escape the fact that the primary intention of the romanized name G.O.D. is to capitalize on shock value. Actually, it’s a very effective strategy to generate awareness and put the brand on the map. It’s similar to FCUK jeans. Underpinning the acronym with a formal name buys back a little tongue-in-cheek dignity while maintaining a streak of irreverence that many people will find charming.”
G.O.D. has certainly worked its charm in overseas markets. Today, its lifestyle and fashion accessories are found in boutique stores in London, New York, Singapore and Sydney. No mean feat, when you consider how fashion conscious these cities are. Other design-focused brands that have gone international include Shanghai Tang and Alan Chan Design. Shanghai Tang, with its romantic name harking back to a bygone era of decadence and Oriental exoticism, offers bespoke tailoring and lifestyle accessories. Alan Chan, recognized by many as one of the most influential Asian designers of his generation, aims to capture the true essence of Hong Kong in every one of his products or designs.
In many ways, G.O.D., Shanghai Tang and Alan Chan are similar. All three profess to a desire to build a Hong Kong brand and all have gone international. So what makes G.O.D. different?
After spending his formative teenage years in an English boarding school, and then training and working as an architect in London, Young returned to Hong Kong in the early 1990s. He was distraught to see that many age-old traditions and techniques were being lost. With G.O.D., Young sought to find a unique way of preserving the use of traditional methods and materials, but more importantly, making them relevant to modern needs. For example, he uses the technique for weaving fishing baskets to make modern day laundry baskets. He also uses the canvas that covers goods ferried on trucks, as well as rice sacks (made from durable hemp), to fashion surprisingly attractive accessories like totes. It is this unique take on everyday items that gives G.O.D. products an unmistakable stamp.
Peter Smyth, strategic planning director at BBDO Hong Kong, says G.O.D. is closer to building a true “Hong Kong style” than any other brand. He thinks G.O.D. is one of the rare stores where both the local and expatriate communities feel at home on a regular basis. According to Smyth, G.O.D. has managed to tap into the two communities’ shared love for the city’s energy and possibilities, achieving what he calls a true “fusion of styles.”
The UK edition of Elle Decoration recently hailed Young as China’s answer to UK designer Terence Conran. A wonderful compliment, but Young says, tongue-in-cheek, that he would rather be the “Chinese Douglas Young.” He declares, “I hope I am not similar to anyone; the world does not need two of the same designer.” Young strongly believes that his heroes like Le Corbusier found success because they are, or were, very good at being themselves.
So what does the future hold for G.O.D.? Young is setting his sights on a vision to place Hong Kong and Chinese heritage firmly on the world map of modern culture. He lets on that his team is working with other Hong Kong companies on co-branding projects. His dream collaboration? To work with a team of experts from different fields, where as far as possible, there are no overlaps in expertise. The synergies resulting from such co-operation, Young feels, can be far-reaching. He may be absolutely right, and the knock-on effect of building a stronger Hong Kong style cannot be dismissed. In turn, more design talent, both local and foreign, will be drawn to Hong Kong. Living better? It may not be such a lofty goal after all.