Business - Issue 109 - Magazine | Monocle

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Crafting a niche

Singapore — commerce

“There are a lot of shops selling Japanese products but not kogei – fine Japanese crafts,” says Choon Yeow Lim, general manager of Singapore’s Huls Gallery, which specialises in just that. Lim and the company’s founder, Yusuke Shibata, gathered the best plates, bowls and saké cups made by craftsmen from across Japan’s rural prefectures to line the shelves of their elegantly converted 19th-century shophouse showroom, which opened this September.

“Our goal is to create a clear market for small Japanese manufacturers who cannot speak English and often have no knowledge about exporting,” says Shibata. Singapore’s thriving f&b sector is one particularly lucrative avenue, as are the burgeoning hospitality industries in neighbouring Southeast Asian nations.

Although the gallery accepts walk-ins it’s modelled on a b2b business, matching f&b clients and hotels with little-known makers, such as Riso Porcelain from Saga and Ishikawa-based Gato Mikio. What emerges from that initial introduction is often a bespoke collection to suit a particular chef or restaurateur’s requirements.

First, though, the partners needed to overcome the language barriers faced by Japanese makers wanting to take their products overseas. They created a Japanese-and-English-language website, which shares information about makers with international buyers and functions as Huls’ snappy portfolio.

Shibata insists that the venture is not a one-way cultural street. Japanese craftsmanship, well regarded and well known, is an easy sell but through Huls Gallery’s success he hopes Japanese businesses will also come to recognise Singapore as fertile ground for future partnerships.

Christmas spending per household

Average spent on gifts, food and drink, travel and decorations.

UK: €905.40
Germany: €689.30
France: €484.90
Italy: €430.80
Spain: €389.30

Glassy number

Prague — craft

Historic Czech glassware manufacturer Rückl recently marked its revival with a new shop in Prague and a branding overhaul. “We’re building up a brand that has a strong tradition already,” says art director Rony Plesl. “We treated this with respect but also gave it a new ambitious vision.” Ales Najbrt was tasked with the graphic design, including refreshing the original logo: a stork with a stopper in its beak. “The simplification gives it a more modern look,” he says.

Reaping rewards

Switzerland — technology

With the agritech sector booming globally, Swiss firm EcoRobotix has developed an ingenious autonomous weed-killer. It rolls across a field and sprays unwanted plants with pesticide from nozzles that are more accurate than hand-spraying. “The mounted camera surveys the land and distinguishes between weed and crop,” says co-founder Aurélien Demaurex.

What’s in store?

London — storage

The growth of e-commerce is a game-changer for the storage industry. “What was missing was an Airbnb for warehouses,” says Charlie Pool, who launched Stowga in 2016. The online platform matches warehouses with space to fill to clients in need of storage. Its customers already include Holland & Barrett and Asda and it’s planning to expand beyond the UK into Europe by next year. On average logistical costs make up a third of the price of a product; Stowga hopes to do away with these inflated costs by offering all logistical services on its easy-to-use platform. “We want to change global trade,” says Pool; now that’s a big goal for the new year.

Q: What would you spend €5,000 on?

Answer: “A Range Rover Sport SVR in Stowga colours. But €5,000 wouldn’t even cover the deposit. We’d spend it on a team party – in a warehouse, of course. I used to organise raves and two of our executives DJ, so we could pull off a banging party.”

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