When co-founders Samantha and Kevin were just starting out The Great Indoors in 2011, they were just salvaging furniture.
It was then that Kevin accepted a job offer to work in Shanghai, and the pair made the difficult decision to part with our tanah tumpah darah to manage the business remotely. After all, it made sense.
“China is the manufacturing hub of the world, well known for producing things quickly and at great volume. It would be crazy of us not to take advantage of it,” said Samantha.
The jobs kept coming in, and popular demand led them into building furniture from scratch, as well as working together with architects to design spaces. They mainly worked on graphic design and product or package designing, though recently another line of business has gripped them as well—murals.
Even a cursory glance through their projects reveals that the pair still manages to keep their passion for design and art alive.
Despite, or perhaps because of their design sense, the couple landed big-tier clients like Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC in China.
But this was not enough for them.
They then formed Kedai Runcit 2.0, a mom-and-pop shop that sells vintage stuff.
At the start, it was difficult for the pair to settle into life away from home, and we’re sure that the rapid pace of business coming from Malaysia didn’t help the initial homesickness.
Meanwhile, they were operating a business in an unfamiliar place with different social norms and business practices.
They had to relearn all of the technical terms in Chinese, and were constantly kept on their toes because “the Chinese ask few questions, work quickly and enjoy taking shortcuts where you least expect it”.
“Having finally settled into life outside of Malaysia, we found ourselves holding dearly to our Malaysian identity, heritage and culture. What used to be something we took for granted became a driver for us. We began to adopt a deeper appreciation for tradition and all the things that influenced us while growing up in Malaysia,” said Samantha.
All those feelings culminated into the Straits Settlements Collection, a collection of home accessories celebrating our shared heritage and culture, with vintage designs inspired from Penang, Melaka, Singapore and Labuan.
“The Strait Settlements collection has been a really insightful journey of rediscovering our nation’s history. It is a collection which utilises the design language and slice of life in the 1950s to create products that would be relevant today.”
“It was conceived from a love affair with the design language from Malaya’s pre and post colonial days, reaching as far as the late 1960’s for inspiration. Each item from the collection prides itself as a unique conversation piece that hinges on the contributing trades of yesteryear that have and are slowly diminishing.”
The Straits Settlements Collection became the first of The Great Indoors’ two lines—the second one being the Oh, it’s Borneo! to be launched in 2018. This is a modern interpretation of their native roots.
The collection came as a way of paying homage to Kevin’s ancestral heritage—Borneo’s rainforests, the people, their folklore, and their way of life and relationship with the forest. This is reflected through their use of textures, lines and colours.
Even though their designs are all contemporary re-imaginings of these old Malaysian elements, Samantha reveals to us that actually spend a lot of time on researching these elements. They believe that it’s important to get their facts right even when no one is checking.
“China is a very progressive market. The youth are well travelled and are very receptive towards unorthodox styles and modern design, making China the land of opportunity for our Oh, It’s Borneo! range.”
With Kevin and Samantha coming from an engineering and copywriting background respectively, they took an unexpected career twist with Kevin handling all of the “ideas”, while Samantha takes head at clients, productions and daily operations.
According to Samantha, there is a saying in China that, “In Europe, everything is easy but nothing is possible, In China, everything is difficult but nothing is impossible.”
Indirectly through nostalgia, The Great Indoors takes a small step into introducing Malaysian design elements into a large e-commerce sphere in China.
In fact, the pair reveals to us that they’re making more cash from selling in China than they are to Malaysians, attributing this to the household income and population in China. It certainly doesn’t hurt that China is the world’s biggest e-commerce market, seeing US$672 billion of online sales annually.
They told us that right now, they’re seeing RM60k to RM80k of revenue monthly. And The Great Indoors are going to take this one step further.
Just relying on their store (and Naiise in Malaysia) is not enough for them, so they’re going to be launching their products on Taobao very soon to further establish their brand in China.
“China is so far ahead when it comes to e-commerce, security and logistics and we see this opportunity as a huge step for us moving forward.”
They’ve already been profiting off the business since they were still salvaging furniture, but the couple has chosen to reinvest this into expanding their collection, as well as finding more capital to invest in production. It’s an exciting time for them.
After all, “In China, when you snooze you lose, and if you are unwilling to do the task there is always someone out there who will,” said Samantha.
“Also, with every successful product in China, you only have a 2-week grace period before the competition catches up and 50 other people have a similar variation of your name, design, flavour, material, etc. So constant reinvention is they key to survival here.”
It’s been a constant race for the pair ever since they moved to China, but the pair has just begun.
Feature Image Credit: The Great Indoors