Category Archives: Creative Culture

Innovative Leather

As an accessories designer, I do frequently come across leather, but have always seen it as a commodity rather than the true form of art it can be. As a guy who tends to stay away from meat, I’m also conflicted when I realize that leather can also be viewed as a way to minimize the waste of our animal consumption. But when in Bangkok I met with Nauvarat Songsawaddichai, President of the Thailand Leather Association. She asked me about fish leather…fish leather?


Then I was asked if I had seen chicken shin leather…really? It’s also known as poulard.


But my imagination really took off when I was shown stingray leather. In fact I had to buy a wallet made out of it. The white eye shape is where the bony tail emerges from the top of the animal. It’s so tough you could sand wood with it.

Now I am determined to find out more about all of these resources and wrestle with the concepts of sustainability in harvesting and tanning the skins of these animals. Perhaps there really is a place for innovative and sustainable leather in our coming product line of shoes. Needless to say, the more I learn the less I know!



Setting the Stage for Great Design

American designers should not read this post. You know that feeling of inspiration that makes you so excited that you feel you might cry? The Thailand Creative & Design Center can create that. A project by the Office of Knowledge Management and Development, it was created by a directive from the Prime Minister to make Thailand a leading force in design…getting misty yet?

The public facility itself is stunning and well-suited to be the centerpiece of a significant design scene. Located in a vibrant shopping mall of the Emporium Shopping Complex, it is easily reached by skytrain and is comprised of these essential elements:

1. Design museum to highlight the best designs in ten different countries and explore “What is Design?” A centerpiece to the whole exhibit is a wall-sized timeline of design that could keep me occupied for hours. The collection itself is truly stunning and not small – an early Citroen in the French exhibit fits well within the scale of the space.
2. A design gallery which rotates exhibits every two months. The current exhibition, “The Databases” is designed to put designers in touch with resources of art, design, business and materials. The combined exhibit spaces comprise 1800 square meters (19,400 sqft) by themselves.

3. TCDC Resource Center which includes more than 25,000 books and 250 magazines and journals all dedicated to creativity and design.

4. The gold standard of materials libraries, they have a fully stocked Material Connexion Library within the facility.

5. The Shop@TCDC highlights design with a retail shop supporting the local scene.

6. Meeting, reading, and coworking spaces

7. Actively programmed coffee shop called Kiosk, which also gives home to music and Pecha Kucha Bangkok presentations.

8. TCDC Connect which is a designated virtual and physical meeting place to link designers, clients and suppliers.

What’s most amazing is not the fantastic design, nor the overwhelmingly comprehensive facilities, but instead the federal commitment to give home to the emerging design scene. Upon arrival you feel like design is a priority of the community. Then you meet the likes of the TCDC Executive Director, Apisit Laistrooglai, or the OKMD Executive Director, Pradit Rattanavijitrasilp, and you realize that Thailand has put brilliant minds and generous souls behind the whole effort.

Of course there is more to a great home than a nice house. After some truly enlightening discussions, I realized that TCDC’s work is not yet done. There is a real hunger to grow the inventive culture of Thailand. This is not done with facilities but by empowering grass roots creatives to question more and take the leadership to resolve those questions. Certainly there are a number of new educational programs aimed at opening up these skills in Thailand’s next generation, and I will talk more about these activities on this blog later.  However my resounding impression is that a structural change is needed. OKMD and TCDC ran the first lap and got Thailand a great head start, but it appears the baton of design leadership needs to be handed off to Thailand’s creative minds to finish the race.

It appears that the American design scene is running this same race backwards, and it will be exhausting until we find more substantial support to pass the baton of design leadership.

Special thanks to OKMD President Pramode Vidtayasuk and all the OKMD and TCDC staff for supporting my visit.

Below is a slick video that gives an overview of the TCDC efforts. If I find the English subtitled version, I will repost it here.

On Indonesian & Singaporean TV

MNC Business is a news channel broadcast in Indonesia and Singapore, similar to the USA’a MSNBC. As a result of Eka Soerbakti’s prodding, I was invited to speak with host Elmo Hakim for a one hour segment on innovation and the creative economy. Although the questions emailed ahead of time were a bit dry, I appreciated Elmo’s ability to roll with the discussion and take it into some interesting areas. I was given some time to talk about our emerging theory on Inventive Culture. I was then allowed to reframe Innovation as something that requires a benefit to all strata of society, not just certain players. Finally I was able to give some exposure to those who had helped and inspired me along the trip, including Eka, Laretna Adishakti of Center for Heritage Conservation, Svida Alisjahbana at Femina Group and Singgih Kartono of Magno Radio. Once the interview ended, Elmo turned to me with a big smile and said, “this was interesting and so much more fun than reading the numbers!…which I have to do next.”

As an added bonus I was asked to demonstrate our Teastick on air!

I should be able to post the show once we navigate the legal mumbo jumbo…

Fusing Heritage with Modern Design

La Spina Collections exemplifies many of the things I am encouraged about in Indonesia – all coming together into a line of shoes.

Here’s my reasoning:
1. The shoes are beautiful and inventive.
2. The collection embraces Indonesian heritage.
3. The products uses batik fabrics from villages to promote and help its artisans (mostly in Java).
4. The shoes also use wood carving as we saw in Bali.
5. The business is a pure start-up, starting from a group of three highly skilled shoemakers.
6. La Spina received entrepreneurial coaching and international exposure by the Femina Group.
7. The collection is now growing rapidly with exposure at Tokyo Fashion Week and previews in Europe.
8. Established local companies who embrace the heritage batiks are now contracting La Spina for some special collections.

All of this is the product of the efforts by design entrepreneur, Lianna Gunawan. Lianna was gracious enough to give me a full tour of her operations – from back office and retail store in Jakarta to her factory in Bandung. Her operations are growing and her staff will need to expand to keep up. It was refreshing to see in Bandung how shoemaking really starts and the craft involved to make beautiful shoes. It will be an interesting challenge to see how Lianna can keep up with growing demand and maintain her vision to use heritage fabrics and techniques and fuse them with her flair for contemporary style. If anyone is up for it, it’s Lianna, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of her as an icon of new Indonesian fashion design.

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

Eisenhower Fellows are spread far and wide, but I have yet to meet one on this trip who is not doing important work that resonates with my own goals. Svida Alisjahbana runs the Femina Group, Indonesia’s largest media outlet for women (if not all people) in the country. With more than 14 media brands, they have been able to secure a compelling foothold in Indonesia’s culture.

It was refreshing to hear Svida’s passion on supporting the women enterepreneurs of Indonesia. With exceeding clarity she presented compelling statistics that by far the biggest part of Indonesia’s future is the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) businesses run by women. According to the scholar Dr. Dana Santoso Saroso of Universitas Mercu Buana, the typical Indonesian SME is defined by having less than 20 employees and less than Rp 50 million (US$5,000) in capitalization. Indeed this would be consistent with my own limited observations.

So Femina decided to support this important group, not just by following with related content, but by taking a leadership position across several fronts. We were able to discuss two important ones: Jakarta Fashion Week and Wanita Wirausaha.

After just a handful of years, Jakarta Fashion Week is not only one of the global fashion events for Muslim women, but it is also becoming a gateway event for many native Indonesian designers to reach the international stage. Showcasing 2000 pieces created by 180 designers it brings in more than 150,000 attendees.

I was quite impressed with JFW’s Creative Director Diaz Parzada and inquired how it could make sense for a publisher to take a lead role in an event like this. He responded with enthusiasm that “this effort generates content.” Forget counting eyeballs, building reader loyalty, or getting their logo out there, he was most excited about creating new content.

I don’t want to alienate my American media friends, but I’ve not heard one of them justify massive community development efforts on the basis of content generation alone. Of course Femina is receiving those previously-mentioned ancillary benefits that only strengthen their brand, but its this perspective on their participation that makes their work remarkable. In fact, Svida mentioned the need to state this refocus with a title like Chief Community Insight Officer.

Jakarta Fashion Week involves a jurying process of new and emerging designers. 85% of the fashion show slots are subsidized by Femina, with 15% being purchased by the more established designers. Svida noted that “some designers think that its all about the runway show.” But Femina only selects designers that have 1) have done something new and exciting and 2) are ready with a profitable business to suppport that line.

That’s where the mentoring comes in. Femina hires a group of international fashion experts to critique, grow, and finalize each designer’s line. Some stories shared were ones that Idol’s Simon Cowell would probably appreciate, but ultimately the idea was to bring te real fashion world to these designers and help them improve and stand up to the scrutiny and demand s of a succuessful fashion business.

Petty Fatimah, editor-in-chief of Femina magazine, heads up a program called Wanita Wirausaha (translated as Entrepreneurial Women). Through a review process, top women entrepreneurs from Indonesia are chosen to not only celebrate their achievements, but to mentor them to go onto bigger and better things. Some are focused on GPS tracking and others on baked goods, or spa services. However, some of the fashion entrepreneurs end up refining their work and making it into Jakarta Fashion Week, which in turn opens up the international stage. Talk about developing local talent!

Svida and her staff pointed me to a variety of contacts with whom to follow up, including Lianna Gunawan of La Spina Collections – a success story in both of these programs. I’ll have a further post about my meetings with Lianna. Unfortunately I was unable to make time for the most of the other recommendations the Femina team had for me. The upside is that I have even more reasons why I need to come back to Jakarta’s creative and dynamic scene.

Bali Kite Festival


My favorite festivals are multi-dimensional. We had found some scarce information about the Bali Kite Festival, but it really surpassed expectations. We knew it was going to be good when our driver’s face lit up when we told him we wanted to go to Padang Galak.

As Beth mentioned in her post  the kites came with teams: 20 people to manage the incredible forces on the rope (not kite string) of these huge beauties, and 20 more to play the accompanying music. The camaraderie was readily apparent, and the fun was purely infectious. It reminded be a little bit of the NC State Fair, except that the main entertainment was provided by the creativity and enthusiasm of the attendees. Food and drink were on the side, not the main attraction.


Each kite style had its own competition and performance objective. The Bebean (fish) kites were put into the air for 20 minutes and judged by the pace and evenness of their “swim” from side to side. Meanwhile the Janggan (bird) kites have monstrously long tails and are judged by the flow of the tail. We missed the Pecukan (leaf) kites but did see some special creation kites, which included human-sized gods.

Equally impressive was all the logistics required, which included building large bamboo structures on the field launch them from, and driving them back and forth to each Bali village down narrow roads with oncoming traffic driving under them. It seemed like the festival gathered all the energy of Bali in a compelling grass-roots activity. And the whole thing started with the simplest of natural assets: wind.


The Mind Behind the Skull

Lee Downey is an inspiring man. With over 20 years of working in Bali, he has seemed to embrace everything about it while maintaining a world view.

Lee has a significant following for carving skulls. He and his crew carve them out of glass, meteors and bowling balls. They carves them out of things you never heard of, and do so expertly in painstaking detail. At first I thought it was a skull thing. And certainly there are enough skulls, including giant rodents and weird pigs whose lower teeth grow long enough to puncture the top of their skull. But as creepy as skulls can be, they always represent the mystery of creatures: what’s in that head?

But then we gazed onto a large chunk of amber glass. It looked like maple syrup sitting on the table. Lee mentioned it was a next big project: carving a

We sat down for some of his delicious homemade chai and the conversation developed. What was this Eisenhower thing about? What am I about? What’s our biggest problem in this world? In my personal working experience, it’s been shoes. We also discussed the perils of cars.  But then we gazed onto a stunning chunk of amber glass on the table. It was from the Manhattan Project. The more we discussed nuclear energy and bombs, the more I realized that he was extremely knowledgable on the subject and that these skulls weren’t just about mystery, but were also about sending out warning signs.

Lee is world-renowned for his craft. In fact Sting’s wife bought a piece from him for Billy Joel’s birthday. I believe it was from the “Bones and Stones” series below. Schwarzenegger was photographed for a Time Magazine cover wearing one of his skull belt buckles. But his mastery extends into metalsmithing and sculpture from fossilized mammoth tusks. 


His home is located within the studio. Perched on the peak of a magnificent and unspoiled valley, his home is a sliding giant glass wall.

Lee has extensive travel experiences. Finally I asked him “why Bali?” He quickly responded that there is nowhere else in the world where people can carve so well. This only affirmed my conversation with Cynthia Hardy.

But Lee’s personal story speaks volumes for integration with a community. He is highly knowledgable about proper documentation for wildlife artifacts. His Balinese business partner became a priest and now Lee’s home adjoins the temple. Lee still works with his original craftspeople, who live in this compound and enjoy health insurance. He has trained their children and is now witnessing a third generation coming. He integrated a local cafe/bar to share the valley view. He has a great Macaw keeping him company as he designs, manages, creates and researches. He also has a plan in place to reintroduce a nearly extinct bird population into the adjoining valley. There are few people in this world that leave me so inspired. Cynthia and I discussed this on the rainy scooter ride back and I felt I had witnessed a person who exemplified a poem by Whitman. At first I could only bring back the compelling excerpt: “…dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

I got back to Ubud and found the whole work:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

― Walt Whitman


The Ride to Tegallalang

I first met Cynthia Hardy on the Yoga mat. I am not a yoga practitioner but it was being offered for free by Annie in the centerpiece bamboo yoga structure of Bambu Indah. If there was a place for me to learn yoga, this was going to be it. I didn’t hear any cackles from the small group while I struggled which put me at ease, but then Cynthia volunteered to lead us in a squat pose twisting and pushing our arms side to side. After my muscles started burning, I realized this was a strong and graceful woman.

We talked at breakfast about our interests and she immediately put together an agenda to see Lee Downey later that day. The middle of the island has the smallest of roads, and are increasingly filled with busses and cars. So to get from Ubud to north of the Tegallalang region by car was going to double the 1 hour trip. This was not going to work for Beth, she had already done some scooter time the day before – without traffic – and that was enough. So I jumped behind Cynthia on her scooter and Annie followed on hers.


We had a brief stop at Tegallalang to see the magnificent vista of cascading rice terraces. I understand that the water for the top tiers comes from an extensive upstream canal system that feeds into these terraces one by one. There are elders who will adjust the water needs of each field by corking one terrace and unplugging another. It seems like it would be quite a tricky math problem to model.




The petrol stations were unique: just an oudoor shelf system of glass bottles of fuel. Jus pick it up and pour it in. Of course it was fun to think about how much of a full liter you were getting, but you could also pick your own.



Along the way we also passed a multitude of craft shops. Its inconceivable to think about how many artists and crafters live in Bali. It certainly feels like the whole population is inordinately skilled. Cynthia suggested that this was related to their religious ritual of making offerings. From exquisitely arranged flowers to delicately peeled and folded leaves, there are always fresh offerings within sight – on a dinner table or on the ground at the entrance to a store. I loved the idea of these offerings. They were not offerings of flowers, leaves and food as much as they were offerings of labour and skill. And this offering had a reciprical effect in making the Balinese the craftspeople and artists of Indonesia.

Expat Workshops

Today we spent most of our time with John Hardy and exploring architecture. John gave us a warm up by sending us to two workshops in Ubud on the way to his office. The first was to Gaya Ceramic.

This shop produced wonderful clay pieces – both artistic and commercial.  The Italian founder, Marcelo Massoni, had commissions from Bulgari, Donna Karan, and a variety of other fashion brands. Their gift shop showed off some of their artisans, and then a school across the street gave 3 month courses on pottery. Beth has some great photos on the workshop, but I was taken with this way of organizing a collection: vision piece on the outside of the cabinet and developing designs behind.

Next we went to Horizon Glassworks, which is led by another ex-pat, Ron Seivertson from  California. The same model applied, fine art, prestigious commissions, and glass blowing classes. We were particular taken by one of Ron’s collaborations with an archaeologist to produce a glass Java Tiger Skull – done by hot drawing method. Beth has a more detailed post on how we compared & contrasted these shops to Penland in NC.

Interestingly enough, most of the clays, glazes, glass, colorants, and even masters were all from outside of Bali. Somehow this became the place to set up shop and experiment – including for Spanish painter Antonio Blanco, which I will cover later. The resulting tripod business plan of art, commercial commissions and education is one to think on for a bit…


Last Hurrah before travel

Gamil Design was contracted by the City of Raleigh and the Raleigh Convention Center to once again create a centerpiece for a top-tier city festival. We brought back all of our favorite coordinators and performers of Maximus Circus to produce “Maximus America,” which included a wide perspective of American history and the stunt artists to make the stories come to life. The finale kicked off the July 4 fireworks announce by Mayor McFarlane. With fire on the ground and in the air, we entertained thousands with local creative talent. Special thanks to Gamil’s Britt Freeman for stage management, and the incredibly organized and positive Kaci and Katie from Acroentertainment for fantastic talent management. It’s a thrill to work with great people – for a product or a circus!