HK Magazine: What inspired you to make your own stationery? Benedict Leung: Stationery has always generated a powerful emotional response in me. I love the raw, retro variety, especially with exercise books. I grew up in the 70s, and there were two main types of stationery. One was made in Japan and the other was made in China. I always preferred the China-made ones because they didn’t have the same level ofquality control as the Japanese brands. It was the flaws that gave the stationery a sense of modesty and a human touch. I remember that I would always flip through a whole stack of exercise books and deliberately pick the one with a misprint. I later graduated with a Fine Arts degree and tried to find a job, working as a freelance writer and even a furniture salesman. But in my spare time, I continued to make stationery. I turned my hobby into a career and began working on it full-time two years ago. HK: What made you decide to quit your full-time job? BL: Quality. It’s really time-consuming to make just one notebook. You need to do everything, from chopping up paper to stitching pages and printing. I have to repeat that process 100 to 300 times to make a batch. I was doing other projects and writing a book, but this takes up all my time now. I also have to try out every design that I create. I put it in my bag for months to see how it wears out. If I don’t try it, I will never know if it’s good enough for other people to use. HK: What difficulties are involved when you hand-make every single book on your own? BL: Actually, I’m not completely on my own. I ask cleaning ladies to come up and help me to count pages when they’re on their lunch break. But I guess the difficulties include getting the right kind of paper and finding a way to do the printing. Hong Kong actually doesn’t have many choices when it comes paper. The market is dominated by the few popular types and it’s hard to find alternatives. Plus, their supplies always fluctuate; a good type of paper can be out of stock few months later. Printing can be a problem. My office cannot accommodate a big enough machine, so I have to ask printing factories to let me in and use theirs. HK: Is this like some sort of art project for you? BL: I don’t want to define it as an “art” project. But I try to put in a story or a theme for each stationery line I create. For instance, there’s a line of notebooks called “Disenchanted.” The cover says: “I don’t know the answer so I write a story instead.” It’s for the people who didn’t like school and studying so they made up stories in their notebooks instead. Yes, that’s me as well. I knew that conventional schooling was not for me since I was in Form 1 so I devoted myself to cinema, theater and magazines instead. HK: Hong Kong is a city that’s all about mass production. Can craftsmanship survive? BL: Everything is ready-made nowadays, so no one has high standards or pays attention to detail anymore. But I think because of the overflow of mass production, people actually cherish and better appreciate hand-made stuff. It’s a process, like when we’re fed up with big chain stores; we can start appreciating what small shops have to offer again. Interesting things always happen when the majority becomes so overpowering that it forces creative people to rebel.