Taiwan has a cabinet making tradition that is over 3000 years old. As China closed it doors to the world in the 1940s, Taiwan leveraged their experience to become a manufacturing powerhouse, now producing over US$2.4 billion a year in furniture for Western markets. Today, Taiwan is rediscovering their traditional craftmanship and combining it with modern technology and manufacturing expertise to create pieces that are innovative, stylish, and profoundly globalist in their outlook.
In 2016, more than half of the top 20 US commercial furniture brands outsourced their manufacturing to Taiwanese companies. But facing fierce competition from China and Vietnam, young Taiwanese designers are now moving away from producing furniture on-masse for foreign brands, and turning their expertise to creating their own original, high-quality pieces. Taiwan’s patent registration per capita is only exceeded by the US and Japan, ranking it amongst the world’s most knowledge-driven manufacturing economies.
Young innovative designers, often trained in European architectural schools such as the Royal College of Art, are creating breathtaking pieces with a uniquely Taiwanese sensibility and exporting to the world. Elvis Chang’s Homer Concept is a name that is well respected in both Milan and Taipei and the 2018 Creative Expo Taiwan attracted more than 300,000 foreign visitors.
Patricia Lip, founder of Studio Lim, says that the strong manufacturing industries are strengthened by the competition present on the small island. “As the environment is quite competitive, we all strive to make products that are distinct from one and other, creating a huge diversity of design brands”. For Studio Lim, combining traditional handicrafts with sustainable materials and modern manufacturing capabilities has resulted in re-imaged tableware objects that are uniquely Taiwanese in flavour, but perfectly suited to modern homes.
The openness of Taiwanese society also means that many young designers have been able to take advantage of design schools in Europe and elsewhere. The founders of Stimlig for example, all met while studying in Paris and Austria and bought design principles learnt there back to the manufacturing expertise of Taiwan. The Stimlig Ballerina series uses the Taiwanese joining techniques to re-interpret ballet as furniture. This work was inspired by the founders of Stimlig watching Swan Lake in Prague.
The studios of Taipei and Taichung should be closely watched as they continue to break new ground in the design world. Take a look at three emerging Taiwanese designers in the SCHÖN Zen Collection!