The Philippines turns Japanese at the International Furniture Fair in Tokyo

For this fair, 13 companies underwent product development geared towards the Japanese market with Japanese industrial designer Kohei Takata.

It was a Japanese-themed Philippine booth that greeted us at the International Furniture Fair Tokyo (IFFT) Interior Lifestyle Living held in Tokyo Big Sight, Tokyo, Japan from Nov. 14 to 16.

The Philippine Pavilion at IFFT used cool, natural and neutral accent colors as backdrop to help visually highlight the local handicrafts sector. As this time of the year, this is what the Japanese market looks for in its furniture.

Taking part in IFFT is an opportunity to further strengthen PH-Japan relations just in time for the 2020 Olympics — the most awaited sporting event in the world.

The 13 Philippine companies underwent product development geared towards the Japanese market with Japanese industrial designer Kohei Takata.

“Last year we were not able to get a Japanese consultant,” said Duke Zuluaga, president of the Chamber of Furniture Industries and EVP Azcor Lighting Systems Inc. “But this year Kohei Takata curated the show for us under CITEM. He helped us develop furniture for the Japanese market.”

Organized by CITEM, the export promotions arm of the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), in partnership with the Design Center of the Philippines and the Chamber of Furniture Industries of the Philippines (CFIP), the 13 participating companies underwent a series of product development sessions with Takata for the country’s participation in this year’s IFFT, which focused on tailoring the Philippine products to the Japanese high end interior market.

Takata’s take for this year’s exhibition of Lifestyle Philippines focused on functional furniture, home decoration and gardening products.

“It would help highlight the handicrafts sector to showcase local craftsmanship because Filipino products have good techniques, which is important for Japanese people who like handicrafts,” he advised. “Filipinos like making products that may be too decorative for the taste of the Japanese, who like functional and modern designs. Despite these differences, I hope I can combine them and make more new sets of products.”

Turning Japanese in Filipino style

I was pleasantly surprised by the booth of Zuluaga as it was much different from the way it was set up last year — this year it had that Japanese vibe — minimalist and simple lights hung in the booth. He told me that each of the exhibitors submitted designs to Takata who chose which ones would be best for the Japanese market.

“We were told that because the IFFT is in November, the Japanese will be looking for furniture with more natural colors,” added Zuluaga. “Also, the Japanese prefer furniture that they can assemble on their own as they do not have help at home, for example. There are hotels, which are gearing up for the Olympics in 2020 that are looking for new yet simple furniture for their hotels.”

Although Zuluaga admits that this is his last year at this fair he is happy that he made good contacts last year and this year, and these are enough for him.

Then there was Albero, a new participant at the fair, which Zuluaga pointed out was run by three millennials aged 21 — Lance Christian Tan, Isabel Lim and Patriziah Nucum.

“This is our first time in this fair,” said Lance Tan. “Actually, our company was established this year and we got an invite from CITEM so we decided to join.”

“It started out as our thesis project in Ateneo,” added Isabel Lim. “ We discovered that we liked marketing furniture.”

Lance shared that for their thesis they were required to make an actual business project — and thus Albero was born. “We wanted to do something sustainable — not T-shirts or food,” said Lance. “We wanted to do something that we could use even after college so that our efforts would not go to waste.”

“Since Lance’s family is involved in furniture we noticed that there was a lot of scrap wood lying around,” added Isabel. “These end-cuttings of wood are thrown so we decided that we could use these for our projects and eventually for our business.”

It was no wonder that that Albero, the startup furniture company that Lance, Isabel and Patriziah started, had a lot of animal figurines made of scrap wood — for a kid’s room. The booth of Albero at the fair was a children’s room with lots of small animals that are functional as well. For example, they had an elephant on display that double as a pencil holder as a decorative part of the room.

“We submitted our design to Takata and he approved them all,” said Lance. “Thus, it was not difficult to make this room — we made our animal decorations out of natural wood so they will appeal to Japanese buyers.”

“If there is one thing we noticed is that the Japanese are very meticulous when it comes to detail,” added Isabel. “The people who have visited our booth hold everything we have here and check for any piece of wood that may be out of place. They even smell the bed sheets, even if they are not for sale.”

Lance shares that although their company started out with small items, it has become a full furniture shop with their first collection being the one they brought to Japan — the kiddie collection.

“We decided to join this fair because we were told that our furniture is a perfect fit for the Japanese market,” shared Lance. “I guess because we show the wood grains, very natural, like it was taken from nature.”

The trio is excited about the possibilities and hope their furniture will get the nod of the Japanese market.

Another first timer at the fair was Randy Viray of Triboa Bay.

“We came here not expecting a lot,” said Randy Viray. “It seems in the past two years there has been a comeback of Japanese buyers.  One of the factors could be the forthcoming Olympics in 2020. I am the chief designer in the company and somehow my design sensibility is congruent with Japanese design.”

Minimalist, simple lines, not too much details are some of the concepts Viray is familiar with and what went into the design concepts he used for the furniture at the show.

“I designed tables with thin tops for the market knowing from experience this is what the Japanese may like,” added Viray. “ I know that Japanese sensibilities is never heavy on furniture. Like art work making furniture must evolve with your market so that furniture is made for the market that we cater to.”

Lifestyle Philippines returned to Japan IFFT 2018 with new collections that merge tradition, natural raw materials and local craftsmanship with international contemporary design. They represented the country and brought the Philippines best functional furniture, home décor and gardening items under CITEM’s industry brand dubbed as Lifestyle Philippines.

The participating companies were Southeast Metro Arts, South Sea Veneer Corporation, Vivere Lifestyles Co. Inc., Albero, Prado Filipino Artisans Inc., Contemporaneo Design Enterprise, Johansen World Group Corp., Natural Craft Connection Enterprise, Azcor Lighting, Nature’s Legacy, Coast Pacific Manufacturing Corp., Basket and Weaves and Designs Ligna.

The participation of Lifestyle Philippines in the 2018 IFFT/Interior Lifestyle Living was organized by CITEM in partnership with the Design Center of the Philippines (DCP) the Chamber for Furniture Industries of the Philippines (CFIP) and We-Link.