Douglas Young is the face behind “Goods Of Desire” or G.O.D., a homegrown Hong Kong lifestyle brand that has gained notoriety for its designs and humor. Along with co-founder Benjamin Lau, the provocative designer is trying to preserve the city’s rich history and culture through its products. With younger Hong Kong citizens struggling with issues of identity, the former architect decides to tackle these issue head-on.
Tell me, what made you leave your job as an architect to start G.O.D?
A: I guess sheer boredom of the job, of the profession in Hong Kong. I was trained in the UK and I actually practiced as an architect in London for a while, and I really enjoyed it. But after having come back to Hong Kong, architecture here is just completely different.
It’s no different from being like a lawyer or an accountant, which I consider pretty boring professions. I was just doing one thing and that was fire escapes. I was just filing plans or photocopying things. I wasn’t creating. For me architecture was not about handing in forms and filling up paperwork. It’s about creativity, its about drawing, its about using my hands you know. So I wanted to get out, so that was it.
Q: Your business philosophy from the beginning was to sell Hong Kong culture to Hong Kong people. Did that go down well in the early days when goods in the West were considered so much superior?
A: The idea didn't come until maybe 1 or 2 years after we started. We realized there was actually competition. There were a lot of foreign competition by way of Scandinavian and Japanese furniture retailers. So we were asking ourselves how do we compete with these foreign labels.
Hong Kong people, like a lot of other Asians, like foreign brands, exotic sounding brands. So instead of disguising ourselves as being foreign, which a lot of local brands actually try to do, we decided to go the other way. We just blatantly tell people we are from Hong Kong and we are proud of it. So we made an advantage out of a seeming disadvantage.
Q: What actually did you know about Hong Kong culture having been away from Hong Kong for the past 15 years studying in England?
A: Well I was from Hong Kong originally. I was born in Hong Kong and I didn't leave Hong Kong till the age of 14. So I see myself as sort of like a hybrid kind of person. I can see something that’s from Hong Kong both from a local point of view, and from a foreign pair of eyes. That kind of ability gave me a very unique position as a designer - to be able to see things from both sides and see the irony of certain situations or features about ourselves that would be oblivious to a local person.
So for instance… we have this piece of furniture that is covered in this “death money”. Chinese people like to burn “death money” to their ancestors. Now to a foreign pair of eyes it would be considered purely from an aesthetic point of view, which is actually very pleasing with patterns. But for a local person there would be utter shock because I'm dealing with taboo and nobody’s seen “death money” used as paper mache before.
Q: But why be so provocative, how do you know it would sell?
A: I don’t know it would sell but I just find I like to do things that are provocative. I think that’s probably the artist in me because I always believe great art should be provocative, it should change society. The make-money part will come later. But for me, I like to create a statement.
I think creating art, architecture and design is definitely art (and) should be provocative. It should make people think. That’s how it inspires.
Q: Can you say something provocative without using profanity?
A: I think people should just get up and delay no more and not procrastinate. If they think of an impulse, they should just go and do it, and not regret not having done it. Get up and go. Act on impulse.
This interview is an excerpt from CNBC’s longest-running feature program Managing Asia. Catch CEO interviews with anchor Christine Tan every weekend on CNBC.