Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Douglas Young
“It is important to travel so that we can open up new horizons and gain new perspectives that not only provide us with more insights into the world but into ourselves. It takes immense courage to go out of your comfort zone but the rewards are enormous and truly eye-opening. When you return home, you almost develop a new eye from the outside world after having been on the other side of the world. You end up seeing another aspect of yourself and the place you live in, which makes you appreciate what you have even more. At the end of the day, I travel to learn about others but I also travel to learn about myself. That is why I enjoying traveling and exploring so much.”
Co-founder & CEO of G.O.D.
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
My name is Douglas Young, and I am the Co-founder of Goods of Desire (G.O.D.) and when spoken in Cantonese it means “Live Better”. As a very proud Hong Kong brand, we feel that we are partly responsible for updating our many local traditions and making it relevant to consumers today. Our designs aim to draw inspiration from everyday life of the city, especially from the traditional districts, and we try to add a bit of modern funk into it so that people can wear it and implement it into their daily lives. Essentially, the G.O.D. brand is a modern take on Hong Kong traditions. I think it is quite rare to find brands like us because Hong Kong is such a westernized place where international brands try to tap into this market, whereas we are a local brand that takes inspiration from local ideas and speaking to an international audience. We inject a lot of western culture and style into local traditions that is reflective in our pieces, and in doing so, we are creating a unique fusion of both worlds that can appeal to many.
Did you always know you wanted to be in the realm of design?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong and at the age of 14, I went to boarding school in the U.K and stayed there for quite some time after university and even worked as an architect in London after graduating before I came back to Hong Kong. Growing up in this city, I never really appreciated all the wonderful things about the city until I moved back. It’s only when you get to experience a completely different world, for me the U.K, that makes you realize what you had was actually quite special. I began to question why there was no one else or other brands showing Hong Kong’s fascinating characteristics in their work on a global scale.
What made you decide to go from architect to home design/lifestyle aficionado and entrepreneur?
Architecture was great training for me as it is very versatile – you can do anything from fashion to graphics and design-related work. I would still very much like to design and construct a building someday as a future project but the opportunities were not readily available back then, whereas retail was. At the time, I met Benjamin Lau, the other Co-founder of G.O.D., and we both had a similar concept to create this amazing brand that we really believe in. With that said, I still feel I have not left the realm of architecture because the thinking is quite similar – it has to do with visual aesthetics, functionality and economy. Even now, every retail space we create is an architectural design for our customers to experience the G.O.D. brand.
Do you ever feel that because you have grown up in Hong Kong and have also lived abroad for some time, you are able to draw from your experiences and apply it to your line of work?
Absolutely! When you have duo vision and you are able to see from both sides, you have the three dimensional aspect and can see things objectively and more alive. I am very grateful to my family for having this opportunity to have these experiences. At the same time, I think it requires one to possess an innate sense of curiosity. I have always been curious about the world and enjoy venturing off into the danger zones so I think by having that kind of attitude, I am able to apply it to my work and design.
What does a day in the life of Mr. Douglas Young look like?
I’d rather not have a typical day because I like variety! The reason why I am doing what I am doing is because I did not want to be confined to a typical 9 to 5 office job. I like to be very hands-on in all my projects – from our store displays to creating a new product. I also very much enjoy working together with my team and having collaborative discussions with multiple people with their own viewpoints on one project so that the final result becomes an amalgamation of unique ideas contributed by various individuals.
What does “Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?
I really love exploring urban areas and cities because there is a lot of human culture and history that lies in these places. Going to a new city is very fascinating to me because I enjoy seeing how the locals live. So to me, an Urban Explorer is someone who goes off the beaten track and purposely deviates from the touristic routes and staying away from the obvious tourist locations. You are looking for something different that will get you outside of your comfort zone and that allows you to experience something completely unique from your daily life – be it new challenges or a new adventure that is authentic and local.
Design For Living
You are indeed an Urban Explorer because you are always seeking inspiration around the city. Why do you think it is important for others to explore?
It is important to travel so that we can open up new horizons and gain new perspectives that not only provide us with more insights into the world but into ourselves. It takes immense courage to go out of your comfort zone but the rewards are enormous and truly eye-opening. When you return home, you almost develop a new eye from the outside world after having been on the other side of the world. You end up seeing another aspect of yourself and the place you live in, which makes you appreciate what you have even more. At the end of the day, I travel to learn about others but I also travel to learn about myself. That is why I enjoying traveling and exploring so much.
All G.O.D. products are designed in-house by a multi-disciplinary design team led by you. So how does the whole process happen from initial design to the actual creation of the product, then finally on to consumption?
A lot of our designs take inspiration from exploring and traveling the world. Sometimes, I will start the design process and sometimes it will be my team who leads the idea. When I travel, I get inspired by the foreign culture and you can really see these influences in our work. Sometimes, I even dream about certain ideas and then I will flesh it out with our team so everyone can add in their perspective, like why not use this type of material or collaborate with this artisan. It is quite amazing to see that when everyone chips in their point of view, the final product becomes a multi-layered project and a conglomeration of unique ideas. It is important to listen to everyone’s ideas but at the same time my role is to be the conductor of the project that curates all the ideas and put it into a coherent body.
G.O.D. has often been in the media spotlight for being the vanguard of cutting-edge design and possessing some tongue in cheek humour. Do you think it’s important to keep the surprising element alive and visible in your products?
At the end of the day, our ultimate goal is to create something that my team and I can be proud of and that cheers up our customers. We hope to put a smile on our customer’s faces through humour that can transcend across cultural boundaries. Humour is often lacking in many brands; some brands exude status and power, but our brand propels toward another direction. Our products are made not only to be functional but to entertain and make people laugh – it is supposed to be clever, witty and a bit naughty that our customers can relate to.
G.O.D. has collaborated with numerous international brands such as Starbucks, Coca Cola, Microsoft, Swarovski, Canon, Greenpeace, and NGO SPCA (Hong Kong). If you can collaborate with any brand right now, who would it be and why?
In terms of collaborations, our philosophy is that the more different two brands are in terms of its design, style and aesthetics, the more interesting the collaboration will be. We recently did collaboration with Hello Kitty, the renowned fictional character produced by Japanese company Sanrio, and some people may question what the relation is between our brand and the character. From our perspective, we enjoy working with these unique brands that are immensely different from us because it allows us to create an element of surprise. I would very much like to collaborate with a boutique hotel brand in Hong Kong that can allow guests to truly experience a unique and authentic side of the city. When people go to a city, they always want the real local experience and I have not yet seen a hotel that has done that in Hong Kong. I have such a strong vision for a project like this, from choosing a suitable location that allows guests to experience the East meets West culture through to designing the uniforms and graphics of a hotel. It would indeed be a challenging yet rewarding experience to embark on this endeavour.
What do you like most about your job?
I really am thankful that my job allows me to meet new people and have new discussions, be it a new project or collaboration. It is ultimately having the ability to make my dreams into reality, literally. There is such fulfilment when I get to see our ideas materialize and then have it displayed in our stores where customers can interact with our product, buy it and bring it home. It definitely makes all the hard work behind the scenes in creating the product all worth it when we receive positive feedback from customers.
Exploring The City
As an entrepreneur, how often would you say you travel?
As an owner of a business, work and pleasure is always fused together in my travels. When I am on holiday, as much as I enjoy nature or sitting on the poolside in a beautiful resort, I actually prefer to visit urban cities as it allows me to roam around and be inspired by its rich culture and history, and I can work as needed. A beach getaway is nice too but I don’t get inspired in the same way as I would in an urban metropolis!
So where does your inspiration for travel come from?
My travels often happen purely by opportunity when I come across a person from a particular place. I really like to explore a city from the local perspective so generally I choose destinations depending on who I know, like visiting a friend or a business partner in another country. Especially if I am traveling to a destination that is off the beaten track and not a typical tourist attraction, I would like to be shown by a local who knows the ins and outs of that place.
What other destinations are on your bucket list?
All places that I have never been to! I like to explore new areas but with that said, London has a special place in my heart because it is such a unique place. The city offers so many great shows and exhibitions so it gives me a completely new experience each time I go back. I have always been fascinated by the history of North Africa and the Middle East too and the way these places have fused its history with contemporary culture. I am enthralled by some of the art books published by Taschen, showcasing the beautiful interiors and rich colours of a city that is just so appealing to me and makes me want to visit these particular destinations.
What do you enjoy most about the city? Are there certain elements or characteristics that are visibly Hong Kong?
In a way, the things that make me not like Hong Kong are also the very things that make me appreciate it. The density of Hong Kong is stifling but at the same time, because everything is in such close proximity, it makes things so easily accessible and convenient. And because of the density, it allows us to jump from culture to culture right within the city.
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Variety, Tradition, Connected