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 18 March 2009
Douglas Young: The Man Behind GOD

Douglas Young started homeware and accessories company Goods of Desire (GOD) with Benjamin Lau in 1996. "I'm the design partner; he knows where the money comes from," he says. Born in Hong Kong, Mr Young got an architecture degree in the United Kingdom before teaming up with Mr Lau back in Hong Kong. They wanted to do a homeware shop, bringing in a franchise. "Then we did some research and found that so much of what these franchises carried is made in China. It seemed crazy to buy Chinese goods from the West, then ship them back to Hong Kong," says Mr Young. "So we thought, since we're designers ourselves, we ought to be able to design the products, have them made across the border and sell them here." And so they did, fashioning a stylish and youthful brand that is as irreverent as it is successful. Among his creations is a T-shirt emblazoned with "Delay No More." In Cantonese, that sounds "like something rude, but in English it's a call to action," says Mr Young. "I like my things to bring a smile to people."

How is the financial crisis hitting GOD, and how are you responding?
The crisis has affected the sales of our big-ticket items such as furniture. But accessories fashion and bags are still selling strongly, if not stronger. Our products are made in places that offer the best quality/price balance. We take particular interest in traditional craftsmanship rather than mass production. So it can be Egypt for cotton, India for silverware, Thailand for carpentry, China for handicrafts, Japan for ceramics, etc. Our latest line is food. With the economic downturn, food and accessories are doing well. And many opportunities have arisen for us because of the downturn. We are getting incredible offers from landlords wishing to attract us into their developments. Large brands/companies have approached us to do crossovers, and we're getting many job applications by well-qualified people.

How has your business expanded since you opened in 1986?
We now have four retail outlets in Hong Kong. Outside Hong Kong, we sell our products wholesale or brand-license them to existing boutiques or department stores. There have also been a number of franchise enquiries for smaller GOD
boutiques in different parts of the world. This is a model that we shall explore.

How has your brand marketing changed over these last 13 years?
Like all the best brands, it's about attitude, not demographics. People either like us or they don't. Nothing in between. Think of brands like Mini, Levis or Swatch: their appeal cuts through generations, sex, income groups, race, etc. GOD is very much like that.

How did you go about making GOD so well known in Hong Kong?
GOD is a brand inspired by Hong Kong culture. We offer products that are really different from the rest; we satisfy our customers' emotional needs. Our products make people think about culture and history; they are more than merely functional. We challenge existing methods and taboos. We do go out of the way to seek publicity, but the media have always been very supportive of us. I guess we do things in a different way and that makes us newsworthy.

The Hong Kong Government is putting more emphasis on the creative industries. How are things developing?
We are getting there, but we need to be much more daring. The government has a responsibility to instil in us citizens the will and courage to innovate. They need to set examples with their own action. Hong Kong needs to rekindle the gung-ho, anything-can-do-spirit from which our success was built.

Do you have any advice for Hong Kong SMEs looking to develop brands for the China and overseas markets?
Seek a niche and a reason to introduce a new brand or product. Seek authenticity.