Korla’s Jane Bonsor and Ted Utoft speak about filling the middle-market gap in Singapore’s soft furnishings industry with their boldly printed textiles.
6 December, 2012
There are two very surprising facts to be discovered about new Singapore-based interior textile and design house Korla. Firstly, every metre of its fabric is silkscreened by hand. And secondly, it sells its fabric, curtains, blinds, cushions and lampshades online rather than in a physical Korla showroom.
Visit the Korla website, and you’ll find a virtual showroom where you can drag and drop Korla prints onto various objects in an experimental living room setting. “It’s about giving the consumer the confidence to be eclectic in a guided way through the website,” says Korla’s Creative Director Jane Bonsor.
“Our range is designed as a big rainbow,” says the British textile designer. She formerly ran her own fashion label, Pocket Venus, which Kate Middleton has been known to wear. The label’s signature style mixed vintage silhouettes with Bonsor’s bespoke prints.
“Every Korla print mixes well with about three other ones in the collection, so you can build up an eclectic mixture,” she says. The one-year-old company’s orders are sewn in Singapore on demand.
“The interior textiles industry still operates in a really old fashioned way,” says Korla’s Executive Director Ted Utoft, an American with a background in brand consultancy. “You can buy anything from shoes to prescription glasses online, but for interior textiles you still have to go somewhere and flip through books. We thought there had to be a better way.”
Of course, bypassing the traditional physical showroom makes a big difference to company expenses, and this is a critical component of Korla’s DNA. Utoft explains:
“In the UK there’s Habitat and Heal’s. In the US there’s Crate and Barrel, Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn. They’re all variations on the middle market – from quite affordable (two steps above Ikea) to more expensive (one step below ‘interior designer’). There’s huge variation. In Singapore, that’s been missing.”
Adds Bonsor, “We tried to create something that’s high design, but not too hard on the pocket. I think this is great for how we live nowadays; it’s not a precious, heirloom type of living where you buy one thing and have it for years. It’s more like fashion – dressing your home.”
The business partners, who have each lived in Singapore for 6–7 years, met through a mutual friend. Bonsor had taken a break from the frenetic pace of the fashion world and sold Pocket Venus. Utoft was travelling the region working in the marketing and branding industry.
“Jane wanted to keep designing prints,” he says, “and I was looking at the market thinking wow, there’s a change in mentality in Singapore right now about homemaking. When I first moved to Singapore, no one would ever invite you over to their house for dinner; you’d always meet out. I don’t think people felt proud of their spaces. But that seems to be changing. It’s reflected in other things too – like the baking movement. We thought there was an opportunity for a print business like ours.”
Korla’s sales are split between Singapore and elsewhere – primarily the UK, USA, Australia and Hong Kong. Does Bonsor aim specifically for an East-meets-West aesthetic? “Well, as a creative person I’m influenced by what I see and where I go,” she says, adding that her designs have been influenced by an antique kimono, lattice screens in Bhutan, and the Islamic pattern tradition.
“But really,” she continues, “Eastern and Western [textile] design is a very melded thing. Historically, what was fashionable in France or England was often manufactured in Turkey or India.”
Certainly, though, the bold colours used by Korla are encouraged by Bonsor and Utoft’s tropical surrounds. “Singapore lends itself to being more brave with colour,” says Utoft. “It’s to do with the light,” says Bonsor. “Here you can use these intense equatorial colours,” she adds. Korla’s next move will be to engage with that light more directly through a range of exterior fabrics.
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