When Bynd Artisan the brand was first conceived, it had a look and feel that was meant to appeal first to an international crowd. Frank feedback from a friend sent founders James Quan and Winnie Chan on a journey to create a compelling story and experience for customers through a concept of “Total Design”.
The story of Bynd Artisan is tied to more than 70 years of artisanal excellence at the Goy Liang Book-Making Company. Founded in 1947, the Goy Liang Book-Making Company was established in a little shophouse along Mohamed Sultan Road in Singapore by Mr Chan Koon Song, grandfather to Bynd Artisan co-founder Ms Winnie Chan.
In the intervening years, the bookbinding business moved progressively with the advent of technology. Yet the beginning of each book remained unchanged; each book is still hand crafted and designed by craftsmen in its early stages. With that in mind, Winnie Chan and James Quan founded Bynd Artisan in 2014 to celebrate traditional bookmaking and leather crafting.
Customisable notebooks made by craftsmen at a Bynd Artisan atelier.
When the idea to start the brand was first conceived, Bynd Artisan was focused on showcasing high-quality leather and paper goods with the intention of gaining popularity amongst design-savvy clientele in New York before bringing the success back to Singapore. While looking for shop space in New York, Winnie and James received frank feedback from John C L Ang (known as John Clang), a friend and renowned Singaporean photographer based in New York City, that the brand lacked a compelling story and an impetus for purchase.
The challenge was to build a brand that is distinctive yet relatable. Winnie and James went back to the drawing board , and developed Bynd Artisan into what it is today – revolving around the theme of “Total Design”.
“Total Design” was built on the collective wisdom of Bynd Artisan’s founders. “Total Design” comprised five aspects: People Design, Brand Design, Experiential Shopping Design, Interior Design and Collaborative Design. The aim was to intertwine these elements into Bynd Artisan’s customer engagement, and create a loyal community around it.
Leveraging the heritage and the Asian roots of Bynd Artisan, the brand was able to ride on the growing public interest in Singapore designs and start-ups that gained momentum in the years leading up to Singapore’s 50th National Day Celebrations. In the true spirit of sharing and celebrating the art and joy of craftsmanship, Bynd Artisan provided personalised services to consumers and allowed consumers to customise their products.
There was a need to create an attractive retail experience that would bring customers back to physical retail shops. Moreover, physical shopfronts were starting to face competition from lower priced alternatives available through online e-commerce websites and platforms. Therefore not only should this experience enable customers to customise or personalise their items, Winnie and James believed that it should also allow them to be intimate with the brand and its heritage by appreciating the skills of the craftsmen up close, and learning it through workshops.
Workshop conducted at Bynd Artisan’s Holland Village atelier.
Proximity to craftsmen formed a core part of experiencing Bynd Artisan’s artisanal excellence. Craftsmen, who were used to enclosed production floors, were now on the retail floor interacting with customers. They shared Bynd Artisan’s brand story and completed orders on the spot. It was a formidable challenge for senior employees who were apprehensive to the idea of having to work at the front line. Many were afraid to speak to customers, for fear of saying the wrong things in English, which was not their first language.
Besides production, craftsmen also had to learn to use the computers and point-of-sale systems to analyse stock movement, update workshop sign-ups and process payments – duties they were not familiar with.
Despite the challenges, all of Bynd Artisan’s staff was convinced of the need to change and they were committed to the transition. After conducting both internal and external training as well as countless encouragement from the rest of the staff, the mature employees gained confidence.
Over time, they learnt to embrace their new skills and grew in confidence. With the support of Spring Singapore and IE Singapore, Bynd Artisan’s craftsmen were successfully retrained in their newfound roles in the business. Consultants for branding, human resource and public relations were also brought in to guide the transition for at least six months.
Bynd Artisan employees have been trained to interact with customers
and to share their brand story.
Senior employees were able to share their knowledge and expertise about bookbinding and leather crafting with younger employees while younger employees were able to share the know-hows of social media and latest development in consumer technology. For example, senior employees have learnt how to use Instagram Stories, allowing them to better interact and communicate with customers through social media sharing. By doing so, the inter-generational sharing of the traditional bookbinding and crafting methods to the younger staff has been preserved.
With a grant from DesignSingapore Council, this brand concept was developed in less than a year from concept to launch. In 2014, Bynd Artisan’s first flagship atelier was opened at Holland Village – an embodiment of “Total Design”.
The concept of Bynd Artisan’s space was derived from the brand’s ethos “Something’s Worth Sharing”. Developed by &Larry, who also developed Bynd Artisan’s branding, this led to a space featuring collaborations with local artists and a retail area showcasing customisable leather and paper products. The atelier is also where the artisans work and share their skills and knowledge with others and where workshops such as crafting classes are held.
The 1,400 sq ft atelier at Holland Village comprised a food and beverage area and a workshop space that could sit about 30 participants comfortably. The craftsmen counter was positioned at the centre of the atelier, where the skills of the craftsmen took centre stage for customers to observe their craft in close proximity.
Through “Total Design”, Bynd Artisan was able to provide an immersive retail experience for its customers. Not only could they enjoy a personalised experience that allowed them to choose their own materials, they were able to learn more about the brand’s heritage whilst watching craftsmen perform their skills “live”. Through the entire experience, both young and old were able to relate to the various stories shared – of the brand’s history and artisanship of its craftsmen. These stories in turn created opportunities for the customers to share online and on social media platforms.
An array of Bynd Artisan’s products, which include bag charms, cardholders and notebooks.
As an avid supporter of local talents, Bynd Artisan also collaborated with local creative talents such as Gentle Bones, Iggy’s and Ying The Label to create products.
Bynd Artisan has grown tremendously over the last few years. Since its first flagship store along Chip Bee Gardens, the company has now expanded to a total of six stores, five of them in Singapore and one in Shanghai. Furthermore, Bynd Artisan was awarded Best Shopping Experience at the Singapore Tourism Awards 2017 and President’s Design Award – Design of the Year 2016.
Today, the brand’s success is widely acclaimed, and its story sought-after by the press and social media. As Bynd Artisan continues to grow in stature, its journey will continue to inspire many rising entrepreneurs and SMEs in Singapore.
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