For award-winning Australia-born designer Jarrod Lim, the prospects of lower-cost machine production are tempting, yet he’s well aware that buyers prefer handmade furniture. This tension is part of the theme behind this month’s interiors exhibition titled 100% Design Singapore, at which some of the 35-year-old’s outdoor teak furniture are on display. Having set up Hinika in Singapore after designing for luxury brands like Alessi and B&B Italia under Patricia Urquiola in Italy, he’s the perfect guy to turn to on the merits of handcrafted products and factories in China.
Where are your products made?
Many of them are handmade in Indonesia, which is a nice thing to tell people. They even do hand-polishing there, which is uncommon, except in Europe, where masters do it. I like how the industry in Indonesia works; it’s different from China.
What’s the difference?
Most things in China are machine-made and the products must be high volume – that’s how the factories keep costs down. The factories in Shenzhen and Shanghai I visited are much more professional and advanced than half of the ones in Australia.
What’s your impression of Chinese factories?
The size is just phenomenal. They have childcare, restaurants, everything. You get this impression that they’re dark, dingy and backwards, and the workers are all being whipped – but it was nothing like that. It was modern and clean and they work quite hard to meet high production quotas.
But, in terms of quality, do they match expectations? Not everyone is a big fan of the Made in China tag.
I think China can definitely have quality products.
Can? Is that in the future?
Not 100 per cent of the time, that’s the problem – the work is inconsistent. Some factories are better than others and the key is to find the right factory and work with it for some time. But the biggest problem with China firms is that they’re terrible at marketing and have no idea how to build their brands. The best they can do is copy the marketing of European companies.
Between machine-made items and handmade ones, which do you think makes a better product in the eyes of a buyer?
It’s all in the perception of value. Between a $400 plastic vase made by a computer and a ceramic one made by a grandpa for the same price, you can see which buyers will choose.
Does knowing that impact the way you design?
I’d definitely choose the one most valuable in people’s minds. The more handmade an item looks, the more they like it. Like my Koi Chair, it’s made by hand and people go: “Wow, someone sits there and welds every single piece?” And I go: “Yeah, they do.” I could make it with a machine but would they be that interested in it?