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Genie from a bottled jungle
Published on Thursday, 08 Sep 2011
Delication’s Charlie Kayi Chan with her products at the Hong Kong Design Institute.
Photo: Edward Wong

For a designer, nothing beats having your own brand. Charlie Kayi Chan should know.  The 25-year-old award-winning designer, who is proud of her “humble beginnings”, funded herself through design school before scraping together her savings to start a business.

Sum up your designer instinct.
I have my own way of looking at things and this has always been so. From a young age, I loved redesigning and reformulating things to make them look better; toys and clothes were my main targets. I love to draw. In short, I am interested in making things look nice. An ordinary object can become extraordinary when designed well. Design can make a difference.

When did design become a business for you?
I was already taking on freelance design jobs, like making brochures and designing logos while at secondary school. I self-financed myself through a higher diploma in timepiece and lifestyle product design at the Hong Kong Design Institute and while studying, continued freelancing.

In 2007, I won the Guess Design Elite award and was then was offered an internship there. My awards and design experience have landed me a design job after graduation at an international watch company based in France.

What made you think you were ready to set out on your own?  
Working as an employee, I was lucky to be trusted with a variety of duties, including marketing, advertising and meeting clients. I learned a lot about the process of operating a business. A management change within the company prompted me to open my own business.

How did you begin your business?
It was a story of blood and tears. I partnered with a friend who was doing video production and we rented a 700-square-metre studio in Central. I invested all of my savings – around HK$10,000 – to renovate the place and buy furniture. Everything went smoothly until a month later when my business partner decided it was not what he wanted and dissolved our partnership.  On top of my design work, I had to take on some part-time jobs to cover the rent. I was stuck with the office for a year. When the contract for the studio expires expired, I moved out immediately. Those were dark days.

What was the turning point for your business venture?  
Things improved when my brother, Wailey, created the ‘Jungle in a Bottle’ mini-ecosystem, filling old bottle with plants. Both of us love design and nature.  We gave them to friends as gifts. To our surprise, our friends encouraged us to create various styles of bottles that we then exhibited at the design mart of the Hong Kong Design Centre. The exhibition was well-received, and we drew interest from factories and brands. Earlier this year, a cosmetic brand ordered the 120th ‘Jungle in a Bottle’ from us to be given away as souvenirs.

What is your personal motto?
I am a perfectionist so my motto is to do the best I can. For every design, I do the best my utmost before showing it to others. Also, learn to accept failure but never give up.

How would you describe the style of your products?
The brand name ‘Delication’, which I made up, is derived from the word ‘delicate’.  My aim for my products is that they should be both artistic and sophisticated.

Where do you want the Delication brand to go?
We make creative and sustainable products. Our upcoming collection includes a garden clock that powers itself, making use of the chemical reaction between soil and metal. We also plan to launch an accessories collection that makes use of watch parts that fail to pass quality control. They cannot be used in actual watches but they can still be used as a piece of as accessory. We are hoping to collaborate with watch brands to promote our accessories. I also hope our products can be sold in high-end lifestyle stores such as Log-On. In addition, we are building an online store. The long-term goal is to create products entirely under our own brand name.

What is your advice for people wanting to start their own business?
To dare to dream big. To own a business, you have to be aggressive and take matters into your own hands. Never think of yourself as the boss and merely delegate. Field experience is also important. You need to have a thorough understanding of the field in order to open your own business. Budget control is also something to take note of. Never go for a big office and avoid ambitious recruitment plans if you cannot afford it.

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