We catch up with the furniture brand’s Shanghai-based Japanese founder and CEO, and hear about manufacturing with high volume and a crafted character in China.
26 July, 2018
Yuichiro Hori has carved out a sweet spot for the Stellar Works brand in Shanghai. The brand was established in 2012 as a partnership between Hori and luxury French manufacturer Laval, and has rapidly achieved a global following. Key to its brand character is the Asian sensibility it targets through with products.
This was also expressed in Stellar Works’ presentation in Milan earlier this year, where it presented the installation any/everywhere in the Tortona district. Designed by the brand’s Creative Director Neri&Hu, the installation presented contemporary and mid-century furniture pieces among large-format photography that depicted how Shanghai is changing – particularly in terms of its housing stock. The idea was to prompt visitors to question what it means to be anywhere or everywhere.
It’s a relevant question for the inhabitants of Asia’s fast-growing megacities. Against that background of change, we began by asking Hori about timelessness.
What gives a design timelessness?
Stellar Works doesn’t look at short-term trends. We look at the future and the past; all design must be sustainable for a long time. Also, the material must be timeless.
Why do you think products with an ‘Asian’ character are important to the market?
Because most of the furniture brands come from Europe; nobody has created a truly global brand from Asia. The strength of European furniture companies is ‘software’ – design and material development. The strength of Asian companies is ‘hardware’ – production capability. We decided to combine the software and hardware. That attracts curiosity. We are manufacturing everything in-house in Shanghai.
Why do you have a factory in France, as well as your larger factory in China?
It’s because our company is a Japanese-French joint venture. The French company is the best manufacturer in France. When we first started, I was working with different manufacturers, but communication wasn’t so easy. Communicating and finding materials took a lot of time. It was too much for me. I needed my own factory, so I decided to invest in one.
I was planning to launch my factory in Japan, but I needed 100 people. Certain capabilities were needed. The challenge was how to find 100 skilled woodworkers in Japan. It’s impossible. It might take three to five years. I did research in Europe and Asia, and I found that China has lots of young people with good woodworking experience. But my question was, why are so many products from China lower in quality? I realised after my research that it comes from the owners of the factories; they want to do mass production – bigger scale and faster. Nobody does handmade work because it’s complicated.
I decided to move to Shanghai and set up a factory there. I invited my French partner – because I know they’re the best manufacturer in Europe – and we decided to invest together in Shanghai and set up a very exclusive factory using high-end French techniques with a Japanese operational system and Chinese resources. It’s a very good hybrid. And I believe this is what the market wants.
Which countries are your biggest markets?
Our market is 30 per cent Europe, 30 per cent North America, and 30 per cent Asia and Australia. The last ten per cent is other markets.
That’s a good mix.
Yes, it’s very much equal. At the moment, the biggest markets are the USA, UK, Scandinavia, Spain and Germany. In Asia, it’s Japan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. And China is increasing a lot.
How would you like to see Stellar Works develop in years to come?
We want to be a truly leading-edge brand, representing Asia. In the coming years we’ll be looking for more Asian designers and Asian materials, hopefully from Singapore.
Photography of Milan installation by Taran Wilkhu, courtesy of Stellar Works.
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