STORY HIGHLIGHTS


Dutch designers' Chinese dream

CNC reporting from Guangzhou
Added On July 19, 2013

In recent decades, lower labor costs and developed manufacturing facilities have made China, especially South China’s Guangdong province, the manufacturing hub of the world.

CNC met with a group of Dutch couple who are pursuing their Chinese dream there with a design business.

Among the foreign designers working in China, a group of designers from the kingdom of the Netherlands are especially noteworthy for their professional expertise, entrepreneurial ambitions and pioneering spirit.

They're seeking opportunities in south China's Guangdong province.

The lady playing with her child looks like a housewife, but actually she is the co-founder and director of a fast growing Dutch Design Company in China.

Like any working mother, 37-year-old Boukje Koch, has to find a balance between work and family.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"Both my company is growing and my child is growing, so they both need attention, so it's naturally difficult to balance. It's possible but it's just mean that all my attention goes to these two my 2 "babies". I don't have too much time for myself but its fine. And it’s just a matter of a few years."

Before Koch came to China, she had been a professional dancer and a design student at the Delft University of Technology, one of top design schools in Holland.

She moved to China in 2005 to help set up a factory in east China's Wuxi city for a Dutch company that produces greeting cards.

After successfully building up a factory with more than 1000 employees, she decided to quit and pursue a design career, which is more related to her education. Koch and her partner moved from Wuxi to Guangzhou to seek new opportunities.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"By far the biggest turning point was I decided to quit my job and start my own design company."

As soon as she arrived in Guangzhou, Koch discovered that Guangzhou has the best availability of materials, services and knowledge for consumer electronic products.

Adjacent to Hong Kong, Guangzhou is located in the middle of Guangdong, making it a convenient hub to go between the manufacturing cities in the province.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"I decided to move here is because the possibilities of production here is broader. They have injection modeling, they have electronics, and they have everything here. This is basically why. Say china is the workshop of the world; it's very much focused here in Guangdong province."

In 2007, Koch set up her own product design company Ask4Me Group in Guangzhou, designing products and organizing the engineering and manufacturing of products in China for clients from both Europe and China. 

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"I decided to set up a company because I knew there would be a good future in this. Because there are so many requests for designs to be produced here. And I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, to do the things my way."

At the beginning, the product design company was just a tiny workshop.

But as South China’s design market flourishes, Ask4Me Group has quickly expanded into a reputable design studio with a dozen professional designers.  More and more Dutch designers are enticed to South China by the region’s abundant manufacturing facilities.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) MAARTEN BOER, Dutch Designer
"i think the business environment is very nice. we are so close to all the factories, we have huge advantages compared to all the design agencies in Europe or US or everywhere.We are so close to what we design from the sketch on paper until production."

In most cases, the firm's mission is to help its clients make "the road from idea to finished product as smooth as possible."

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) AJ SCHEP, Dutch designer
"The systems work from idea, inspiration, fine design towards functional and also commercial products."

At the beginning, the firm began their business by helping western companies deal with local manufacturers in China. The Dutch firm understands western design culture and knows how to translate it for the local manufacturers.

Being close to factories, the designers are able to talk face-to-face with Chinese manufacturers during the whole product development, to ensure that a product is manufactured precisely to the clients' requirements.
 
Here’s is a toy designed by Boukje Koch. A small change in the design of existing products can also make a difference for the consumers.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"Basically these lights are already existing. It's an existing type of night lights for children. It is always with stars. Why don't we make some fantasy figures? So this is sea animal version. so you can see the sharks and dolphins and jellyfish and sea stars. And our of shape, I guess you could call this a Dutch design, it's minimalist. actually it looks good for modern parents. they would buy it. And they would give it as a gift to other young parents. Children would see it in the dark on the ceiling."

The product has been manufactured in Guangzhou and presented to the public at China's largest trade fair—the Canton Fair, and has been very well received among Chinese and overseas clients.

Home appliances constitute another part of Ask4me design projects. And this is a popular automatic cooker designed by the team.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) MAARTEN BOER, Dutch Designer
"For this product, it's a cooker. The Chinese manufacturer brought it to us to make a new design. We started small, but in the end, we turned out to change this whole model, into this one. We just change the whole shape, in the end, we turned out to change the interface, like the clients mentioned--make it more usable."

With one after another successful products, the designers have seen their company’s revenue grow steadily.

Now, the designing team is striving for bigger ambitions.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): Boukje Koch, Director of Ask4Me Group
"Now we want to focus more on design and designing for brands, designing for brands that want to grow. We also need a name that expresses that more. We are Dutch, we are designers, we are creative, and that’s why we choose that name Orange Creatives, because our national color is orange."

The firm is also poised to set up more outlets in other cities.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"We have a plan to open an office in Shanghai, maybe in the year after that.From this year, we are going to have a studio in Holland, because now we are only in China, and it's also important to have something in the Europe, so we can be close by our clients there."

Leading an internationalized team like Ask4Me is no easy task, but Koch has managed to organize an enjoyable social life and fun activities with colleagues and friends in China. And she finds time to do a lot of travelling too.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"I go out with people for dinner, or drinks, i go to the gym, sometimes i go to do ballet, At weekends, I go to swimming pool, ometimes to museums, and just enjoy free time."

But, as mother of a 4-year-old boy, Koch would spend most of her spare time with her son, Julius, who is attending a Chinese kindergarten in the Guangzhou. Picking up her son at the kindergarten would be the happiest moment for a mother like Koch.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"To be honest, it's a little bit hard. Raising a company and raising a child at the same time is, I wouldn't recommend to do that. I just find all my time on child and company so I don't do a lot beside that."

As a Dutch designer working in China, Koch believes she is already in the middle of fulfilling her Chinese dream after years of efforts. 

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) BOUKJE KOCH, Director of Ask4Me Group
"My China dream is actually what I am doing now. To develop products, to realize products here in China and in Chinese factories, I mean in our own studio."

And for many international designers in China, their Chinese dreams just begin.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) AJ SCHEP, Dutch designer
so I think my career path for now is going to be in China, because there's al lot of stuff going on over here, and there's a lot of opportunities and chances, and i'd like to get different projects, bigger projects, creative things. That’s my goal.