Hong Kong state of mind

douglas young

Douglas Young loves Lego. “I used to play with a lot of Lego,” he tells me. The primary coloured blocks were Young’s tool of choice for the first ever creation he made that he was proud of. Fittingly for the trained architect, it was a house. Young’s architecture training was done at Sheffield University but he never became a qualified architect, rather he tells me he became “a shopkeeper”. The humble, self-deprecating description contradicts the fact that he co-founded one of Hong Kong’s most popular and well-known homegrown homeware brands, Goods of Desire, otherwise known as G.O.D..

GOD letterboxes

It also points to the fact that Young has spent half of his life in the UK and the other half in Hong Kong with his pre-teen years spent growing up in a cul-de-sac on Cornwall Road in Kowloon Tong. Riding bikes on the road as commercial planes flew low and loudly into Kai Tak were part of the course of his youth, “You’d see the undercarriage and all that. It was quite spectacular!” he smiles. Young went to a local school, and on Sundays his father would take him for dim sum breakfast and a walk around the hawker stalls outside the then fully alive Kowloon Walled City. At 14, as a family tradition, he was whisked off to boarding school in the UK, which would shape the person he has become and the brand he has built. “I’m half Hong Kong, half Western… [so] I’m able to have this dual way of looking at things.” 

The brand was born from a partnership with Benjamin Lau, who has a similar background to Young, and agreed that in the nineties there was a niche for high quality home furnishings that weren’t ludicrously priced, so they began designing. When the imitators arrived, they searched for a way to set themselves apart and this is where “the Hong Kong thing” came from. 

GOD unbrellas

If you haven’t seen G.O.D. products, you will know when you do. Contemporary and cool, the homeware, lifestyle and fashion lines embody the culture and history of Hong Kong, while exuding a tongue-in-cheek play on the East-West dichotomy. The fashion line named, Delay No More, is actually a play on an expletive Cantonese phrase that’s easy to miss unless you can tap into the duality Young talks about. 

The cheekiness Young tells me comes from high school in Hong Kong, “Cantonese people can be really funny,” he laughs. Though he also picked up British humour from his time in the UK, “I see the Cantonese language and the English language sharing a lot in common… the cruelty of the humour is really similar, it’s just really good.” Though a powerful tool, he realises that his humour isn’t for everyone but thinks it’s a risk worth taking. His target audience, he says, is someone like him. “It’s a state of mind,” he explains, “We are a brand that cuts across boundaries; class, race, gender and age.” 

GOD chopsticks

For Young, the purpose of the business is to popularise the idea of Hong Kong and to help define a new Hong Kong identity he explains, “Had I been in Hong Kong this whole time, I may not have been conscious of all our characteristics [and] of the things that make us special.” Young finds inspiration in Hong Kong’s unique, dense cultural diversity and he wants to share his love for it by giving people more to celebrate Hong Kong with than an ornamental junk or an image of Bruce Lee. 

GOD douglas young team

Though popular, the business has had its challenges. In addition to major events like economic downturns and SARS, G.O.D. also had to overcome ever increasing rents, the onslaught of the internet and global competition. However, the 52-year-old is still grateful that after 21 years of business, he is able to sustain himself and, the company through what he calls his “hobby”. Clearly, a labour of love, Young’s aim was never to open a store in every city, rather his focus has been on being creative and edgy, although he admits that being edgy doesn’t necessarily translate to mass market profits. When we touch on the possibility of a successor, Young says they don’t need to be a clone of him but he does have one very specific requirement: they must have a genuine understanding of what Hong Kong is about. 

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