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UPDATED: February 7, 2013 NO. 7 FEBRUARY 14, 2013
Kitsch & Kaboodle
Chinese designers fit their crafty ideas back in the box
By Yuan Yuan

VIVID EFFORT: Visitors are invited to paint busts at the idea-Mart flea market in Hefei on January 19 (COURTESY OF FENGGUO)

For video please click here

For less than 400 yuan ($64), a designer can demonstrate and sell his or her own products in the most popular shopping malls in Beijing.

This is the maximum monthly rent for an area of shelf space the size of an old television set. Intrepid designers may decorate a 0.125-square-meter "box" with their merchandise—usually stationery and other miscellaneous tchotchkes—and it will be displayed at one of seven Fengguo Box boutiques around the city. Fengguo pockets a commission of sales, and designers can gain brand visibility without resorting to costly ad agencies to market their goods.

Fengguo literally means "crazy ideas, totally different." The founder, Wang Sanshi, is an oil painter. Having been a designer for quite a few years, Wang noted the uptight lifestyle of contemporary designers. "Many designers are very talented, but they do not have a chance to show their creative products to more people," he said. Before opening real shops, Wang set up a website, Fengguo.com.cn, for designers to exchange creative ideas and sell products online.

Wang later learned designers prefer dealing with customers face to face. In early 2007, he opened a prototype business, a kiosk in the Zhongguancun Plaza in a bustling area for IT companies and universities in west Beijing's Haidian District, called idea-Mart.

"It is more like a flea market and designers can come and sell their gizmos freely. The response was overwhelming," said Li Longyi, pen name Da Shuaner, who joined the Fengguo online community in 2006. "Within two days, sales volume exceeded 500,000 yuan ($80,379). The baubles of some designers sold very well and most importantly, it created a platform for participants to make friends with each other and know more about the market by communicating with customers."

Ideas in boxes

Li, 35, had been working as a designer for six years before joining Fengguo. "I have many designer friends and most of them do not live a good life," Li said. "Even though they might have very creative ideas, they do not know how to push them into the market."

The idea-Mart then became a regular monthly event, but designers wanted more. "The designers came to me, expressing their will to attend such events more frequently," said Wang, who decided to set up a real shop, turning this event into a regular business. "We hope talented designers can live a good life through Fengguo."

The first Fengguo Box shop opened in the Zhongguancun Plaza in September 2007, selling gewgaws such as keyrings, cellphone cozies, purses, handbags, dolls, scarves and hats. It soon became a hit among young consumers.

The shop has about 300 boxes. The rent for a box varies from 200 yuan ($32) to 400 yuan ($64) according to its location. "It is very low cost for resident designers and largely reduced the risks of setting up their own shops. Fengguo's profit comes from the 20-35 percent commission on sales," Wang said. Within two weeks, vendors rented more than 200 boxes.

"Our target consumers are mostly young girls and white-collar workers," Li said. "Designers come from many different fields."

"Anybody can be a designer. Many put restrictions on themselves and retreat with the excuse that they are not professionally trained. But there are no excuses, as long as you want to do it, you can make it," Li said. Li revealed that Fengguo's designers include teachers, housewives, drivers and even scientists.

In May 2008, Fengguo opened its second shop in the Joy City mall in Xidan, a major shopping area in Beijing. Now Fengguo has seven outlets in Beijing and its annual sales volume in the city has rocketed from 1.7 million yuan ($273,290) in 2007 to more than 20 million yuan ($3.22 million) in 2012.

"It's growing much faster than I expected," Wang said. "We are very surprised to see plenty of excellent designs here and the potential of this market will be huge."

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