3 Oct 2006
Creative Crystals(HKTDC Gifts, Premium & Stationery, Vol 04,2006)
Green Field Arts Ltd
|Polyresin and crystal figurines are a forté of Green Field Arts Ltd, which exports to Europe and the US|
Insomnia does have its advantages, as Green Field Arts Ltd president Nancy Zhu found when suffering from jetlag after one business trip to the US.
Zhu woke at 2am, took up her pen and started sketching a new line of farmyard animal crystal figures that she thought might be big sellers for her figurine company.
By 6am she had finished the design of a pair of five-inch-high hens, plus a sketch of a new crushproof box, a couple of pages of instructions for the R&D team on the Chinese mainland and some suggestions for designing other animals to form a collection. "After faxing everything I felt a bit tired so I went back to sleep," she says modestly.
This dedication and determination is typical of Zhu, who was deprived of her education by the Cultural Revolution when growing up in Quanzhou in the mainland's Fujian Province.
"The schools stopped teaching and the children had nothing to do but play for almost 10 years," she recalls. "But my sister was an amateur sculptor, and a few friends and I joined her to experiment in making figurines."
Zhu was the mould-maker, and also helped paint the finished pieces. "They were made of plaster and broke easily, and though we didn't sell many we learnt a lot about the fundamentals of making small figures."
Desperate to complete her education, she eventually got her visa to Canada, completed a diploma course in secondary schooling and started work.
But the two sisters still held dreams of getting into the figurine business, and in 1993 Nancy found herself shuttling between Hong Kong and a rented 200-square-metre factory space in her birthplace as she perfected a series of polyresin dogs that comprised her first collection.
"The first two years were very hard - besides problems with sales and money, samples had to be brought to Hong Kong by hand as there were no courier services from the mainland,"she explains.
But buyers in North America and Europe began snapping up the cute little dog figures, and soon Zhu was moving production to ever-bigger factory space. "First 800 square metres, then 2,000 square metres in 1997, then into our own 5,000-square-metre factory in 2000," she recalls.
By then output had expanded into action figures of most sports activities, plus small but elegant sports trophies for school events and minor competitions.
Two years ago, Zhu launched a new line of crystal figurines, opened a second factory near Qingdao and transferred key R&D staff there to ensure that their design skills would be replicated in the new lines.
However, working in crystal proved very different from producing polyresin figures from mould-injection machines as much of the work has to be done by hand.
"First, the crystal must be buffed to produce small shiny features that need smoothing and polishing by hand before up to a dozen separate pieces such as heads, legs and tails are painstakingly glued to the body," she explains. "That's why crystal figures are expensive, but many collectors find them irresistible."
Today, Green Field employs 500 workers at its two factories, and Zhu regularly shuttles between both, working closely with designers on all new products.
She is justifiably proud that she has come such a long way in such a relatively short time. "We started from nothing and now ship dozens of FEUs to many parts of the world every month," Zhu notes.
"Also, I'm proud in a way that so many other factories on the mainland copy my original designs - after all, they say imitation is the greatest form of flattery."
She adds that Green Field's most successful products have been the dog and sports figure collections. "Over the past 13 years we've made millions and millions of both, especially dogs," Zhu reveals.
"I've always been a dog lover, and when I was perfecting the designs of my original polyresin collection I read hundreds of dog magazines to get the features absolutely correct - especially their facial expressions."
As for the future, she says Green Field will keep expanding into new figurines. "For now, the US still holds the best sales prospects, but it won't be long before there's a growing market on the mainland," Zhu predicts.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Green Field Arts Ltd