Thursday, December 27, 2012

Vietnam, Take Two

New Developments In Vietnam

Todd Discovering New Finishes

The first time I developed product in Vietnam, I came to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), primarily looking for ceramics and candle related items.  I had already met one ceramic factory at Ambiente in Frankfurt and decided that this would be my entry point.  This particular factory was very well suited for developing new product.  While they did not have a lot of specific looks already developed that I felt would work for Pomeroy, they were very open to new ideas and pushing themselves in new directions; which means spending time and money trying new samples.  Take my word for it when I say that this is a quality not shared around the world.  

Let’s face it; if you are a factory with a well-developed business why would you want to bother with a lot of drama and expense trying to develop something you don’t really understand for a customer who may or may not use the new development in the end.  It is a quality I deeply admire in a factory’s character, which makes me fiercely loyal, and makes it very difficult to even look at a competing factory.  I’m sure this sounds a bit old fashioned but such are the relationships I endeavor to build. 

After the first set of designs that we created together were introduced, I became distracted as I often do, and began focusing on other urgencies, and categories. A principal challenge faced by all companies when starting business in a new country is not only creating enough interesting product to fill the first container but continuing the process for re-orders and future containers. 
While we kept buying the product we had developed, the business dwindled because I had not continued to develop new product.  Time marched on, as did my creative interests, and Vietnam began to slip further and further into the background until it all but disappeared.  I met another factory recently which peaked my interest again in Vietnam.  It was also a ceramics factory, but with a totally different product range. It is a very rustic look which, for Pomeroy, who was born of “rustic” parents, would integrate beautifully into our growing garden collection.  
While other countries have long combined raw materials into finished products; Vietnam has yet to develop this vocabulary on a grand scale.  Combining raw materials is a technique which I developed for Pomeroy some twenty years ago while we were still producing in Mexico, and continues to be a primary focus for me to this day.   For this particular collection of product, when visiting this new  factory the first time, I noticed that they had some glass cylinders which they were using on some other items for a European customer. This was an exciting discovery for me.   I integrated these into some lighting designs for pilar candle holders which I had drawn; only to be told that after they had made the mold, that this clay had too much shrinkage and there would be no way to control the fit of the glass.  My fall- back position was pilar holders with no glass.  Well, on this latest trip, I realized that we were having a communication problem and that we could indeed include glass on these pilar holders, as long as I was willing to have some tolerance in terms of the fit.  Problem solved. 

As I have mentioned in the past; the holy grail for a designer is to reach a new look, finish, or design which has not been shown in the market before.  A graduate school teacher of mine in Switzerland told me once that a student cannot do something he hasn’t already seen.  I would have to agree; which makes it all the more imperative for designers to continually search out creative , and open factories like those I have been fortunate enough to work with in Vietnam. Factories who are willing to push into new directions, which will allow us (designers) to keep changing and driving new product to market; and if we are lucky, create a few things along the way which have not yet been done.