Friday, June 29, 2012

Creativity in Chiang Mai

For a long time I have wanted to visit Thailand's second city - people keep telling me it is the place for giftware. Indeed we have one supplier there who make the rock shaped soaps we sell, and it's one supplier who's factory I have not yet visited.
Leaving Bangkok and flying to Chiang Mai is like making a trip to see a country cousin. Where Bangkok is fast and flash, high-rise and serious money. Chiang Mai is up country. The highlands of Thailand, and altogether slower paced. It's a low-rise city, old temples, ancient city wall and a lazy river. Streets full of sleepy shops, old hippies and orange robbed monks. Built on a plane with distant mountains rising on all sides, it feels like a small town even though it boosts a population of two million and is home to a highly active giftware industry. They call it: The Creative City.
First stop with my agent (Fredy the Peruvian) was at a freight forwarder to check out the costs and complications of shipping from this city. We learned that most producers don't do packing and labelling the shipping company acts as a packer. Second interesting fact: Holy images of Buddha can not be exported, at least not before they have been un-holyfied. Naturally this costs money. You have to get a license and stamp for every model and shipment.
Then onward to Bann Twai creative village on the outskirts of the city. Here the local government has encouraged producers to set up showrooms and factories. It has grown to the size of a small town, you can get lost in a maze of wood carving, ceramics and table lamp producers. The main streets all showrooms, the back alleyways workshops and small factories.
One showroom had such spectacular glass lamps, and huge carved statues, I couldn't believe anyone would buy. A small Chinese guy with squeaky english and thick round glasses explained that his business supplied five star hotels with artwork for the lobby, designed to impress. We ship to every corner of the world he told me proudly, very good business he said giving me his card.
Chiang Mai is like another world, nothing like the rest of Thailand. So much to be discovered here so little time to do it. It's a seriously arty place with a highly intelligent and entrepreneurial population. A real melting pot of cultures. Local Hill tribes, Burmese (not far away), Thai and Chinese people, not to mention an old British colonial influence. After four days I had reluctantly to move on, but I will be back. Next stop Bali in Indonesia.
More news next week.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bangkok and a game called Dakon

Greetings from big bad Bangkok. The city has such a reputation, which on I'm beginning to think is not totally deserved. The traffic is relatively organised and relaxed compared to any Chinese or Indian city, the air is definitely cleaner and the sky is actually blue. The people are unremittingly polite, and invariably smiling. Smiling and bowing, bowing and smiling, like a city wide travel ad sponsored by a teeth whitening clinic. In many ways Bangkok ain't so bad.
But I have had just one day here, just time to go and see a new wholesale Silver market - which was interesting with very professional companies, great designs and (surprising for Thailand) realistic prices. Tomorrow it's off to Chiang Mai - a whole new city for me. After that it's Indonesia.
Meanwhile.. Our first container from Indonesia washed up in Ancient Wisdom home base in Sheffield. Lots of goodies, but I'm particularly excited about a game called Dakon. Which I have to tell you about.
When I first saw this board games, I thought how beautiful.. and you can have fun playing with them. The more I learned about them the more I thought they would make an interesting and unusual gift line.
It was outside the city of Yogjakarta in a steamy rainforest on the banks of a volcano where we found a small sleepy village, the cultural home of Dakon. Where the inhabitants are invariably skilled artisans spending their days creating beautiful batik decorated Dakon boards.
The history of the game dates back to forth century Egypt and it is thought that the game was brought here by traders and then adapted by Malacca merchants and developed into this very popular Javanese game. Here on the mountain where the wood, heritage and skills come together a mini industry has developed producing these beautiful intricately decorated sets.
The sets are made in the shape of various animals, rabbits, fish etc. The most prized and carefully decorated are the signature standing dragons. I think they are not just a game but a work of art, that anyone with an ounce of cultural appreciation would simply love to own.
Dakon is a simple and addictive game, to win you need to think further ahead than your opponent, be quick at calculations and a good judge of numbers of shells in a hole.
More info and the rules read more here..
More thoughts and news next week.. from Chiang Mai in North Thailand.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Retro Xmas with Chopsticks

Last week I was telling you about Fast Feng Shui... 
It might be Father's Day in the UK (Happy Dad's Day to all who qualify!) but here in China it is Christmas. You see I'm still in Yiwu, seeking out new products to ship to Europe. It's June so therefore it's Christmas and now is the time to get in the festive spirit and figure out what Xmas stock we need. Order now and it will be arriving in the UK warehouse early September.. with a bit of luck.
I'm thinking along retro nostalgic lines. So if you have any ideas for Christmas stock lines please let me know. Actually nostalgia not what it used to be (I always wanted to say that).. seriously the retro look has become a theme of it's own borrowing old styles and reinventing new ones. I love it actually and especially since the theme fits well with our AW style. Some of our best selling lines are in the retro / steampunk style. Your not with it, unless you are old fashioned.
I have been hanging out in the festive halls of the Yiwu market. It's the busy time here for Christmas trade, the market is buzzing. All dancing Santa's and flashing Christmas tree lights. Smiling Chinese salesmen eating lunch with chopsticks. Miles and miles of tinsel and endless Rudolf soft toys. Chinese lanterns and red tassels for luck. I have done this job before but it always seems altogether surreal.
Next week I'm off to Chiang Mai the northern city in Thailand famed for it's handicrafts and growing gift trade. A few days there and then on to Indonesia to further develop our sources in this hugely growing area.
More thoughts and news next week.. from the East.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fast Feng Shui

Last week I was telling you Children's Day here in China... Read below
So here I am back in Yiwu, China. We have an office and warehouse (and now a small factory) here so I'm often in this town. For those new to this newsletter, or have not come across this Chinese city before: Yiwu is a trader's paradise. 80,000 factories have showrooms in this city - they have a market for every small commodity you can imagine. From scarves to socks, to silly pens.
The other day I visited the main gift-ware market, it is maybe 3 months since I was last there, so it's interesting to see just how many new items have appeared, and which ones have disappeared. Only by been a regular can you see such things. A lot has happened in three months, the Chinese currency has shifted 10% and the shipping costs have doubled, wages have increased 20% meaning cheap and cheerful things are much less viable. So like little whippets they are reinventing themselves with higher value designer type items.
One thing is for sure the world is changing fast, exciting times. I read about a very small chain of Chinese Feng Shui shops that made over a million pounds in Singapore last year, they are floating on the London stock exchange (at a lucky 8p of course) and coming to Europe and opening up across China.
I think that's very interesting, there's money in Feng Shui, retailing is not dead. But more precisely specialist retail is not dead because it marries well with a web-shop. People love specialists, and an enthusiastic is naturally endearing. In the future I see retailers specialising more and more.
Feng Shui Shop - Retro Jewellery Shop - Ethnic Soft Furnishing Shop - Everything Lavender Shop - Funky Collectables Shop -
Like the Chinese we need to reinvent ourselves quickly..
More thoughts and news next week.. from China.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Children Day

Last week I was telling you about house hunting in Malaga...
Greeting to all.. here from China where almost no-one has heard about the Queens Jubilee, actually today is Children's Day and a day off from school, and a day that many parents are given as a day off.
They call it "Értóng jié" - it means, games, candy, holidays.
In the UK we are one of the only countries worldwide that doesn't have a children's day. Why? well you can blame that old skinflint: Gordon Brown who said "There is no positive need to the day, other than to add an unnecessary day off school or work. We have bigger things to think about". Whoops, bet that lost him a few votes. Here in China where they don't have votes they do have children's day. Go figure.
Interestingly in Spain they don't miss the chance for another fiesta, this date is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday of May, and it's called "Día del niño".
Anyway I don't want to spoil the fun and garden parties.. happy Jubilee weekend to all the UK and throughout the British Empire. I'm a bit jealous since I'm missing all that bunting and buttered scones. :( I'm sure it will be the most glorious full on fest of Britishness.
One things for sure, even though kids day has officially been ditched.. this year at least they will be having as much fun as anyone.
Hoping you have a great long weekend. If you are trading, don't work too hard and I hope you have time to join in the fun.
More news next week.. from somewhere else.