A not-so-General conversation with Colin Chen
Realise your vision
Living in the spirit of 2019 means preferring to differentiate oneself from others. You want to possess material no one else has. Be it artisanal, handcrafted, handmade, or bespoke, the demand for personalised items are on the rise. There seems to be an increase in the current generation's willingness to spend on limited edition products. One company in Singapore has been rising to meet this demand since its inception in 2012. Emerging local and international craftsmen and designers require a platform to present their creations—that's where The General Co comes into the picture. They provide a platform in the form of installations and pop-ups, as well as workshops to impart informal craft and design education to the public.
In the company's words, they are "a collective of new generation craftsmen, artisans, and designers offering luxury craft services to discerning customers and brands". Here, get to know more about The General Co and Colin Chen, co-founder of the brand.
What is The General Co?
The General Co is a collective of new generation craftsmen, artisans, and designers seeking to preserve heritage trades by melding traditional craft with modern approaches.
Who does The General Co cater to?
The General Co is an inclusive community aimed at engaging anyone with a keen interest in craft and their processes. We curate experiences for the general public to interact more with handmade crafts, getting to know the stories of our craftspeople and to understand the intricate processes behind each make. Also, our network of craftsmen have been commissioned by private individuals, corporates, brand, and trade partners, to create bespoke luxury goods, customised wares for cafes, restaurants, and bars as well as VIP gifting for private events.
Can you pinpoint one specific memory growing up that influenced your interest in crafting?
My mother was a traditional seamstress and I would watch her cut and sew when I was growing up. Frequently, she would bring me along to buy fabrics and materials for her work. In a way, I believe this was how I got exposed to the world of traditional crafts, sometimes meeting older master craftsmen with years of experience, yet who were so open to teaching my mother new tricks and techniques whenever she encounters them at the supply stores. I was intrigued by the wonders of mastering a skill as well as the process of passing down those skills through generations.
What is your proudest moment in The General Co?
I think every small win is a proud moment for me at The General Co. Each time a respectable international brand or private individual comes forward to engage our team and our craftsmen to work on projects with them, I can't help but feel grateful for their support for our craft community.
What's one brand you really want to work with, and why?
Interestingly, I would love to see if we can ever get to work with IKEA. I'm a firm believer that we can have great craftsmanship and good design to make products and goods that are well made and functional, and at the same time affordable for the public to enjoy. To me true luxury isn't just about being expensive or exclusive.
What are your thoughts on the craftsmanship and design in Malaysia?
To be honest, my guess is that there are probably more traditionally skilled master craftsmen scattered across various parts of Malaysia than we have in Singapore due to the rich history of traditional crafts and the presence of more cottage industries back in the days. However, much of the goods that these talented craftspeople make nowadays are somewhat behind the times. This is the part where a new generation of designers and makers can come in and introduce new perspectives, to adhere to traditions while welcoming new approaches and apply traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design.
In what way does Singapore have an edge over Malaysia?
Due to our limited land size and lack of natural resources, in a way Singapore has always been forced to constantly innovate and to look outwards for growth. Many Singaporeans have since travelled abroad and acquired a wealth of skills and knowledge, and eventually returned to Singapore to perfect them. We have a stable economy and great infrastructure that encourages entrepreneurship and small businesses to start and grow which really helps. But at the same time, we have a really small domestic market, which is why Singaporean brands need to look overseas for growth and to scale which is a challenge. Malaysia on the other hand, has a fairly large local population to tap on readily and given the right approach, that can really help small businesses and brands grow to be more efficient.
You enjoy travelling. Where is the one place you have never been that you want to?
I would love to visit the Patagonia region in South America flanked by Chile and Argentina one day. I enjoy getting lost in the great outdoors, soaking in all of nature's marvels, something that's hard to come across in our small island.
What influences your destinations (why do you go to the places you go to)?
Usually I seek destinations where I can experience more of the local cultures, be it for their food, language or to learn more about their history as well as traditional crafts and trades. I find it inspiring to meet other creators and makers while at the same time understand more about their untold stories.
What's next for The General Co? What's in store?
For the past couple of years, we have been mostly working on projects and commissions for private clients and while we have gotten so many requests to recreate some of the goods and products for consumers, we just never found the time to do so. So over the past year, we have been working with the talented craftsmen and designers that we have met, to create a small collection of goods and products designed for the consumers. These will be launched later this year so stay tuned with us!
For more information about The General Co, visit this website.