It's been three years since a ragtag bunch of graduates interested in "upcycling" discarded materials formed the Cave Creative Workshop. Now the seven-member collective is a regular fixture on Hong Kong's design scene, with its furniture pieces stocked by local store Signed-By and its giant wood installations taking centre stage at the Detour art and design festival for the past two years. Cave co-founder Brandon Chan Pak-kin, 26, tells us about the collective's evolution.
How did you all get together? "We started the Cave Creative Workshop in 2010, which is the year we graduated from college. Six of us were classmates at the Caritas Bianchi College of Careers. We all studied design - interior design, fashion design and graphic design. We said, 'Hey, let's do something,' but we didn't have any plans. We just found a space in Kwun Tong and rented it."
Why furniture? "The reason we started doing furniture and upcycling is that we needed some tables and chairs [for the office] but we didn't have any money. So we looked around Kwun Tong, where there is a lot of waste from the industrial area; we gathered all of it and tried to use it; wooden pallets, tables with broken legs, that sort of thing. We found this process interesting so we kept doing it."
What are you doing now? "We're working on a lot of different projects. Lots of furniture, but also music video production, installation art, booth design for exhibitions. RTHK is filming a documentary on us. We also have regular workshops where people can come, pay a little money and we'll help them make chairs, stools or boxes with recycled material."
How has your work evolved? "In the beginning we were material-oriented. What we made depended mostly on the materials we could find, and they were very experimental because sometimes we didn't even know how to use the tools we needed. We tried and tried again, making everything by hand. We learned a lot from those experiences. Now we try to connect with some professionals to help us make better quality products with nicer finishings. That way we can focus more on design instead of just production. In 2011, when we joined Detour for the first time, we were asked to make installation art. We created a staircase along the wall using some wood. Everything was re-used - almost 10,000 pieces of 5cm by 5cm wood joined together like Lego. At the time all seven of us considered this our milestone piece."
How are you connected to the design scene in Kwun Tong? "There are so many artists, designers, companies and workshops there. We know tattoo artists, graffiti artists and design houses such as HK Farm, which built a vegetable and bee farm on top of our building. It's a community. Everyone knows everyone. Any time there's a project or event we discuss how to co-operate."
What's the idea behind one of your latest pieces, the Boltie Bench (sold at Signed-By)? "It was designed by one of our partners, Angus Ting. The initial idea was to make a bench that is easy to assemble, that looks very simple. It's like the old benches that Chinese people like to sit on, but more contemporary."
Signed-By is at 43 Tung Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 2517 8900.