One Small Voice: Bynd Artisan

Published on 26 August 2017

James Quan, the co-founder of bookbinding atelier Bynd Artisan, insists artisanal craft is thriving in the digital age.

Interview By Daphne Ong

PHOTO: Bynd Artisan

Whole lifetimes are spent learning and honing traditional craftsmanship and artisanal skills — skills that will be lost to the digital age if we do not rekindle interest in them. Through the years, the business of bookbinding has moved progressively with technology. Yet, at its heart, each product has its beginning much like in the old days — designed and hand-made by craftsmen who grew up in, and with, the trade.

When I co-founded Bynd Artisan with Winnie Chan, most of our senior staff — we call them our founding craftsmen — had worked on the paper and leather production floor. They were initially apprehensive about moving from the confines of the factory to the retail frontline. Many were afraid of speaking to customers and handling computers. Training and encouragement helped them embrace new skills and become ambassadors of the brand. They also became trainers to new colleagues, both young and old.

In recent years, there has been more support for local crafts and an increased interest from the younger generation in becoming craftsmen. More and more Singaporeans are opening up to the idea of learning traditional techniques passed on by the older generation as they start to understand and appreciate craftsmanship.

 

At Bynd Artisan, our older employees share their knowledge of, and expertise on, bookbinding and leather crafting with our younger employees, whilst our younger employees teach them social media and technology. The senior craftsmen learn about social media like Instagram so that they can stay relevant and up-to-date, allowing them to better interact and communicate with our customers by sharing Instagram videos.

We run workshops for the public that are built on our brand ethos: “Something’s Worth Sharing”. As a repository of traditional skill sets, we share our bookbinding and leather-making expertise with hobbyists and aspiring craftsmen. The beauty of making things by hand is the involvement of people and ideas. When they begin, some customers are unsure about the workshops, deeming them difficult. However, by the end, they realise that simple crafting is achievable with patient instructions.

Collaborations with local artistic talents transform Bynd Artisan into a platform that allows them to showcase their aptitude whilst highlighting the coexistence of modern artistry and traditional craftsmanship. Talents like Joanne from The Letter J Supply, Erwin Lian and Cherin Sim hold workshops that explore various techniques in watercolouring, calligraphy and leather painting. We also work with several of Singapore’s notable design and art personalities to launch designer capsule collections, including restaurateur Ignatius Chan, photographer John Clang, and Joel Tan of local band, Gentle Bones.

Crafting is definitely here to stay as consumers start to recognise and appreciate the beauty in mastering artisanal skills. At Bynd Artisan, we continually seek to inspire and share the skills of a dying trade, impart new skill sets through our workshops, and bring our offerings to the internet.

PHOTO: Bynd Artisan

Tips from an expert

Two reasons why recreational activities like leatherwork and bookbinding are balm for the soul:

– You get to take a break from your hectic work schedule and unwind. Bonus: You pick up a new skill in the process.

– Gifting loved ones with a handmade present is far more meaningful than something bought off-the-shelf.

An alumnus of California State University at Fresno in Communication, James Quan is chairman and co-founder of Bynd Artisan. Having worked in the advertising and corporate gifting industry, he has over twenty years of sales experience for high net-worth clients in local and export markets. At Bynd Artisan, he spearheads strategic development, sales and marketing and product design. His knowledge and understanding of the gifting industry, paired with the belief that functionality must work with design, has led to rapid growth in the company’s retail and corporate segments.

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