Urban Explorer Series: Interview with William Lee
“To be an urban explorer, you need to live, love and breathe the city life – which means taking in the hustle and bustle, the density, and the fast pace of the city.”
Founder of Loveramics
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
My name is William and I was born in the UK and grew up in Hong Kong. I am the Founder of ceramics brand Loveramics, in which I founded the company 10 years ago.
How do you think your view of ceramics has evolved from when you first started in the business till now?
I grew up being surrounded by ceramics, since my parents were heavily involved in the family business. When we would go out as a family to dine, it was almost second nature for us to look at the quality and detail of a restaurant’s tableware. If I am being frank, growing up, I always thought ceramics was quite boring – white plates with gold rims – and you would store the tableware in a cupboard for the whole year only to take them out for special occasions. It was only when I started to take on the family business and creating products that I truly liked and believed in, that I began to realise that there was so much you can do with it, in terms of its design and aesthetics.
Can you tell us the story of how Loveramics began?
Producing ceramics is actually a third-generation family business that my family started 57 years ago, in 1963. We started our own factory and primarily supplied ceramics to overseas retailers. I joined the company 15 years ago, and at the time there were not many ceramics brands that were hip, cool and inspirational that catered to this younger generation so I really wanted to create a product that would speak to them. When I was in college, I had no plans of carrying on the family business as I felt the existing business did not reflect what I wanted for a brand, but then I started noticing unique trends in the realm of fashion. Designers were releasing unique creations with innovative cuts and fabrics, and adding their own twist to fashion. So I asked myself “Why not do the same for ceramics?” Hence, I decided to start the business from scratch and re-evaluated the entire design process, basically creating something that did not exist in the market at the time. We created ceramics that we genuinely like and did it purely out of joy, then people started taking notice of our brand.
How did you come up with the name “Loveramics” and what does it represent?
I am sure it may be quite obvious, but the name “Loveramics” is the combined words of “Love for Ceramics”. It is truly a passion of mine and what really inspired the name was when I went to visit one of my clients in Portugal. He is a ceramics manufacturer that specializes in the production of vases, and his love for ceramics really helped me understand that it is more than just a piece of tableware – it is an art. This made me appreciate it more and realise my love for ceramics. Hence, that is how the name came about. We thought it was catchy at the time and it really embodies the genuine admiration we have for the craft.
What does a day in the life of Mr. William Lee look like?
On a normal day, I would drop my three kids off at school before heading into work. We would usually start the day off with a 15-minute briefing at our coffee bar where we would talk about the business while our staff would make their morning coffee. In fact, we have some very talented baristas amongst our staff, where they all know how to make perfect latte art! After that, we’d all head back to our desk and carry on with our daily tasks. For myself, I would be looking through spread sheets and examining the designs of our latest collections in the morning. During lunch, our staff would then all gather together in the pantry. At Loveramics, we try to build a young and energetic company culture that is forward-thinking and flexible. Luckily, we have created an office system that allows us to work remotely, which our team has been doing during these unprecedented times.
What does “Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?
To be an urban explorer, you need to live, love and breathe the city life – which means taking in the hustle and bustle, the density, and the fast pace of the city. In fact, a true urban explorer thrives on these elements and finds it invigorating being in the midst of it all. Secondly, to me, an urban explorer is someone who doesn’t follow the mainstream way of doing things. They take risks and enjoy taking a detour from the main tourist routes. When it comes to travel, I always love visiting cities like London because there is always an element of surprise. You could be walking down an alleyway in Soho and serendipitously stumble upon a vinyl record store. When I come across these unique city gems, it really energizes me and that is what an urban explorer really is.
A Love For Ceramics
We see that there is a lot of thought and care that goes into each product. Who designs your products?
All of our products are designed by our Head of Design Mr. Simon Stevens, who is based in London. I’ve known him for 15 years and he used to be the Head of Design for Wedgewood, a renowned ceramics manufacturer in the UK. At the time, we worked with several designers including Simon, but the products he designed for us would always sell the best so we decided to work exclusively with him. He’s one of the best in the world, and so we are thankful to have built such a strong partnership over the past decade.
How would you describe the design aesthetic of your brand?
I would describe Loveramics’ design aesthetic as contemporary, modern, minimalistic with a splash of colour. We’d like to shatter stereotypes on classical and formal approaches, creating beautiful designs infused with our passion. Speaking for myself, my home is pretty exotic and colourful, especially when I was younger, but my style and taste has changed quite a bit since then. Now I can appreciate minimalistic designs with attention to small, intricate details. That said, I really appreciate beautiful things – designs that can be timeless and understated yet infused with a modern twist.
Can you share with us the creative process – from ideation all the way through to production and getting on to the shelves of your stores?
We generally have an 18-month timeline so we plan all of our products 18 months in advance. Simon and I will generally meet up casually, either in London, Hong Kong or somewhere we are doing a coffee show, and we would generate ideas together. We will take an off-field day and head to a history or ceramics museum, a café or some trendy restaurant to draw inspiration from its interiors, the way things are paired and how the food is served. All these fine details give us insight and inspiration into how we want our next collection of products to look and feel. From there, Simon goes back to the office and starts designing, and then 18 months later, our products are on the shelves of our stores.
Are there any noteworthy tableware trends you see this year?
The pastel water colour trend has been popping up in the market, but to be honest, I don’t necessarily believe in trends as they are all created by people. Trends always come and go in cycles, so everything has been done before. You are not making a breakthrough in technology or inventing something new, so just do what you like and create timeless products that work. In my opinion, at the end of the day, you create the trend.
During this difficult time, what creative ways have you adopted to communicate to your global audience?
When COVID first hit, we wanted to put more weight and focus on our online business, so we tested it out in the home market (Hong Kong) first by providing free shipping with a minimum spend. To meet the demands in the market, we wanted to target home chefs and everyday cooks a little more as people are spending more time at home nowadays, where prior to the pandemic, we placed more emphasis on restaurants and cafes we supply to, an area that generated 70 percent of our business. It is important for us to be there for our customers when they need us most and continuously evolve with them.
With more people spending time at home during the pandemic, do you find there is a spike in sales as more families are spending time cooking and entertaining at home?
It is interesting because we noticed that between February and May of this year, the traffic of customers coming into our stores have doubled since COVID hit. I guess people realize they need new cutlery and tableware since the whole family will be dining in more often.
Are there any particular product(s) that are in high demand during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, it is the full set of tableware, like a set of four or eight, that have been selling very well. Surprisingly, a large portion of our clientele ordering from us live in Happy Valley, so we discovered that there are actually a lot of larger families located in that area.
You also have quite a substantially large family, so how much tableware do you have at home?
My ritual is that I would buy all the latest products in the shop so I can test be the first to test it out. I really love ceramics and I will travel the world to find unique ceramic brands to buy for the home. It’s funny because both my designer and I take our wives to Mykonos on vacation and we would literally go check out ceramics. That is how obsessed we are with it!
Where would you want to open your next Loveramics shop?
We would love to open a store in London, as I was born in the UK, and our head designer resides there. Plus, we have a lot of clients from London, so it seems like a natural progression for us to expand into this region.
Who has been your biggest inspiration in life?
My biggest inspiration is a 70-year-old Portuguese ceramics manufacturer who has been producing beautiful vases for 5 generations. He was actually a client of mine and he would always marvel at his work and get teary-eyed when he’d look at the incredible work he has created. I was so impressed by his passion and dedication for his craft. It is so moving and inspirational to me.
What do you most enjoy about your job? What do you least enjoy?
The thing I enjoy most about my job is the creative aspect. It is also very fulfilling to me when I meet someone and they tell me they like using our products or they have seen our products in a café. Whenever I have work that piles up or problems that I have to solve, I always remind myself the reason I started this brand is because of my passion for ceramics and to serve the greater community.
That said, the least thing I like about my job is the tedious operational stuff, so it’s good that I have a great team that supports me in this area!
Given the existing circumstances, do you miss traveling?
The funny thing about me is that I never really enjoyed traveling. I think the last thing I miss during this pandemic is that I can’t travel. Don’t get me wrong – I miss going to trade shows to scout out unique designs but I don’t really miss the feeling of going to a place that I have never been to. In fact, we are opening up stores in Paris and Shanghai this year but unfortunately, I cannot travel to both openings due to the current situation. I think the reason I don’t mind “not traveling” is because I am not a fan of long-haul flights. Every year for the past 10 years, I have been flying a lot for work, doing about 10 long haul flights per year, which has been quite tough so I don’t particularly miss that part. I have travelled to so many major cities around the world like Paris and London, so they don’t change drastically.
What do you do to explore now that traveling is not permitted?
During this time, we have a lot of family time where will go for a walk in the park to let the kids burn off some energy but we generally live our lives as normal as possible. We actually don’t miss traveling as much compared to other people because we enjoy family time at home. Hong Kong is a foodie haven, so in terms of culinary exploration, you can do that right in the city.
Where does your inspiration for travel come from?
I have a few friends that are well-travelled and they always give me great advice on where to go and things to try in the city. I’ll be honest – I will not ask friends who only do luxury travel and stay at five-star hotels. I prefer asking friends that really dig deep into the city and that are not afraid to sneak into hole-in-the-wall restaurants that deviate from the typical tourist routes. These friends really know how to experience the authentic side of the city, so I like to ask them for travel recommendations!
What other destinations are on your bucket list?
I would like to go to India, but that would be more of an experimental trip with friends or perhaps a solo trip – that is on my bucket list. If I were to go with my family, the kids would love to visit Kenya for a safari and visit the animals. I would also love to visit Iceland! For us Hong Kong people who are used to the hustle and bustle, whenever we go to a place that is less congested, we find it absolutely amazing because it is such a different atmosphere compared to the bustling city vibe.
What do you enjoy most about the city? Are there certain elements or characteristics that resemble Hong Kong?
I think Hong Kong is a very safe place, and it is very international. The mixing of cultures is fully embraced, where you get to enjoy both the East meets West culture. I also love the vibrant energy and the convenience of the city. You can easily get access to anything you want here – ice cream shops, restaurants, grocery stores that are all within 5 minutes of where you live.
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Safe, International, Energetic