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PRACTICAL WINNERS (HKTDC Houseware,1999)

Apr 1999



PRACTICAL WINNERS
- Ezech Ltd.

A CLASSIC CASE
- Out of Asia Ltd.

PRACTICAL WINNERS
Ezech Ltd.

AWARD-WINNING designs for the real world is the straightforward approach that has enabled Ezech Ltd to gain access to international markets.

Ezech designs and markets furniture, tableware, and wine, photo and office accessories. The unique-sounding name is the English transliteration of a Chinese character chosen not for its meaning but for the easy pronunciation and phonetic and visual appeal. This Hong Kong-based company, founded in 1997, grew out of its parent company, Sunhing Millennium Ltd, which was established 40 years earlier.

Ezech's new Gecko line of desk accessories illustrates the firm's commitment to innovative and visually appealing designs. "The objective here was to create something that isn't too limiting ... the shapes are quite free and open and allow the user to really use them in a way that is most appropriate," says Sam Ribet, director of design for Ezech.

He says the company's line of wine accessories has become quite popular in the US. Made of elastomer and metal, the Sling wine rack holds three bottles but can be expanded as a user's wine collection grows. "The nice thing is that you can stack it, increase the capacity as you build up your wine collection," explains Ribet. Each rack has rubber "feet", which not only protect surfaces from scratches but also attach themselves to additional racks. This wine rack received the 1999 Best Product Design Award from The Chartered Society of Designers.

The Centaur line draws inspiration from the half-man, half-beast character in Greek mythology, but the result is anything but beastly. A humorous design with simple lines, the product stands on two bent legs with a long body that leans forward. This design, which comes in a variety of colours, is used for salt and pepper shakers, toothpick holders and cardholders.

The Centaur cardholder holds pictures, cards or papers - whatever the user wants. "The concept is to create something which is very flexible. Instead of giving you a fixed-format frame, it allows you to use it in a more casual, easy manner," says Ribet. The product impressed fellow designers enough to win the Hong Kong Designers Assn's 1998 Judges Award.

Ezech uses its parent company Sunhing to manufacture its products. Raw materials come from Mainland China, South Korea, Canada and Malaysia, wherever prices are competitive, says Tat-Chi Chow, managing director for Sunhing. Production takes place at Sunhing's factory on the mainland, which employs more than 900 people.

"We are selling mostly to Europe, Japan and the US. You can also find most of these in Hong Kong," says Chow.

What makes Ezech's products so attractive is their flexibility. The designs are such that items are not restricted to size or use. The Farfalla plastic photo frames are a good example: designed to adjust to photos of various sizes, the frames, whose name means butterfly in Italian, are both practical and attractive.

"Every product we have made so far is an excellent product, so we are beginning to get recognition," says Chow. In February, the company was at the Ambiente show. "We struggled very hard to get to that show because the show categorises companies according to their status, so we have to qualify. Now we do."

Attention to detail and quality, and the bonus of affordable prices, makes Ezech items designs, if not a lifestyle, for the real world.


A CLASSIC CASE
Out of Asia Ltd.

TIMELESS European designs created with Asian materials is Out Of Asia Ltd's formula for its new line of leather household products. Just three years old, Out Of Asia has hit upon the latest retail craze: selling storage.

"Storage is, at the moment, the fastest-growing retail category," says Geoffrey Dobbs, a partner of Out Of Asia. It manufactures traditional storage items out of leather, canvas and bamboo, such as trunks which can double as coffee tables, file holders, picnic baskets and wine holders. While these are very practical items, they are also very decorative - the look is classic and the items high-end.

Out Of Asia was created in response to changing market trends. "If you're an exporter you have to offer something different, so we came out with these design-led products," says Dobbs. The products have a graceful and luxurious feel, not something usually found in modern stores or factories in Asia.

The company specialises in handmade household items, manufactured at a factory near Shanghai, in mainland China, with materials also sourced from the mainland. "When you have one good design, you can roll it out and make it in different materials," Dobbs says. The five-piece box set called Campaign Trunks comes in a variety of materials and colours. The leather-and-bamboo mix is distinct and has a different appeal from the all-leather boxes that come in brown and tan.

"These items are very attractive and got a very good response when we first came out," says Dobbs. The company's largest markets are Europe and the US. Speciality retailers such as The Holding Co in the UK and Hold Everything in the US carry Out Of Asia's lines. "Not many other people seem to be doing this at the moment so we've hit a niche market," he adds.

Dobbs says he wants to keep the product image upmarket so these design-conscious stores are perfect outlets for his products. The large leather box alone retails at US$300 in the UK. "What makes these items attractive is the very classic design," Dobbs says. They are competitive, he says, because of their traditional design and lower-cost labour and materials in Asia. "It's a product which is a lot more competitive than if it were made in Italy or some place like that."

Out Of Asia also has offices in Thailand and Indonesia that make wickerwork and pandanus items. In Asia, the company has limited exports to Malaysia and Japan. "The Asian market is quite fickle. They're not branded goods so we can't attract the Asian market that way, and they're also slightly too expensive for a lot of people in Asia," says Dobbs.

For now, the company has enough customers to keep it busy. "Expansion is going as quickly as we want it to," he says. The formula of East meets West has definitely worked for Out Of Asia.

Written by Melissa Westcott

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