Sanchia Tan, co-founder of Tanchen Studio with Amber Chen, creates functional and artful objects, decor and accessories based on textiles and weave
WHAT DOES THE TERM “GAME CHANGER” MEAN TO YOU?
A game changer is someone who shakes things up, and who crosses boundaries and disciplines. She brings a new perspective to a field and redefines the metrics of success. I think of game changers as people who make a difference by staying true to themselves, instead of changing themselves to play the game.
HOW WOULD YOU SAY YOU’VE PLAYED YOUR PART TO BE ONE IN THE INDUSTRY YOU’RE IN?
I think we’re still trying to change the game. As a design studio, we definitely feel that there’s pressure to put out new products regularly in order to maintain people’s interest. But we try to resist feeling as if we have to constantly get ahead of the next new thing and compete with everyone else. To us, that isn’t innovation—it’s capitalism. Instead, we’re learning how to insist on slow design, especially since our textile work is spread across different applications, from bags to homeware to installation pieces and art.
We’re wary of burning out, and we don’t want to waste resources, either. Operating on our own terms and our own time—working small and slow—allows us to offer thoughtful products and interesting design propositions that are ever-evolving in tiny increments. We don’t put out new items every season, or on any kind of set schedule. We try not to participate in trend cycles, and we give our ideas as long as they need to take shape. This translates to our extensive research and prototyping process as well. Because everything is made by hand, we always design, make, and prove our ideas in-house before we decide on a final product for manufacture.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE HIGHLIGHTS AND MAJOR CHALLENGES OF THAT JOURNEY? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME EACH HURDLE?
Tanchen Studio is very much in the midst of its journey, and we’re learning and growing with every new experience we take on. One highlight of doing what we do is getting the opportunity to collaborate with interesting studios and learn from their expertise. For example, collaborating with Amass Studio to create the Mazha Stool taught us about using aluminium as a design component alongside weaving.
It’s also been gratifying to see how well-received our products have been both at home and internationally, and to know that people out there appreciate our perspective. Once in a while we hear from people whose work we really admire—people who are game changers in our book—and to know that they like what we do is a great feeling—we have to pinch ourselves!
Challenges include time and distance. We’re a small team, and our design and production process tends to be on the leisurely side, because we believe in taking our time to produce things that feel considered and not rushed. But that doesn’t always work so well in an era of instant gratification and hyper-speed production. The fact that Amber and I live in different countries also remains a challenge, as much as it is an advantage in other ways. We’ve had to be flexible and adaptable. But it’s also been important for us to remain self-assured about who we are as a design studio, and to incorporate these qualities into what Tanchen is and how we work.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF, YOUR MOTIVATIONS AND YOUR FIELD THROUGH YOUR JOURNEY?
We’ve learned that our attitude is process-driven and more focused on the long-term, rather than commercial and pitched towards short-term profit. Taste Buds, the Noma Projects R&D subscription programme launched by Restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, is an interesting model to us because it gives customers a taste of what the restaurant is working on in real time. We don’t offer a subscription like Noma Projects, but we do see our products as experiments in a similar way. We started Tanchen Studio primarily because we wanted to explore materials and push ourselves. We let these explorations lead us somewhere, and sometimes it results in an end product that we like enough to sell. It’s very fulfilling to see people use and wear these experiments, because our products are so deeply personal to our tastes and the techniques that we find fascinating. But we rarely ever begin our research with a specific product in mind, and we don’t see any one product as representative of TANCHEN’s identity in a way that makes or breaks us.
This has helped a lot when it comes to taking on different projects. We try to have a “can is can” attitude, rather than saying no when we’re uncertain or feel intimidated by unfamiliar materials. Instead, we just say, “Let’s do it and see how it goes.” Failure is part of experimentation, and we see every project as an opportunity to challenge ourselves, learn new knowledge, and refine our design language. The goal is always to expand what we can do with textiles and weave.
WHAT ARE SOME CHANGES YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN YOUR INDUSTRY AND HOW WOULD YOU SEE YOUR ROLE IN INFLUENCING IT?
Two main changes come to mind: firstly, the design industry—us included—needs to make a concerted effort to cut down on waste, whether it’s by slowing down, streamlining offerings, or upcycling and reusing scrap materials. There are so many ways to practise sustainability, and it may not be possible to do them all, but it’s important to engage in at least one or two, sincerely and with intention. We don’t think we’re influential in this regard, but we hope that we’re helping to make a change by being part of the upcycling movement that’s currently happening.
Secondly, we would love to see customers become more willing to pay the same prices for local products that they would for overseas brands. This applies not just to the design industry, but to the arts in general, and even to food. We’ve found that people can be in the habit of undervaluing local creativity, which is often discouraging. We hope that when we conduct weaving workshops, people who participate can learn more intimately about what it takes to create textiles.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE?
We aim to be experimental, to have courage, and to grow creatively as a result. Tanchen Studio is a design laboratory first and foremost; it’s a vehicle for us to expand our field of knowledge, and to bring new ideas, techniques, and sources of inspiration into what we create. We think of ourselves as a perpetual work in progress. Everything we do is meant to push us to innovate, broaden our worldview, and zero in on our design vocabulary as we go along. As we gather information, we’re also so grateful to have Tanchen as a medium to express our developing interests and skills. Our hope is that if you look at the trajectory of our studio and what we produce over time, you’ll be able to see the inflection points of where we’ve happened to pause along the way.
WHAT SHOULD THE NEXT GENERATION OF GAME CHANGERS ASPIRE TO BE?
Game changers should be brave, and they should be willing to just create in a way that feels honest. Your unique perspective is your biggest asset, so cultivate it. Don’t hold back just because you’re pre-empting the judgemental voices in your head. And don’t be afraid of failure! Remember that with everything you do, you’re building up an invaluable set of references that will be useful to you for the rest of your career. And finally, be kind to yourself. We aspire to follow all of this advice ourselves!
PHOTOGRAPHY ZANTZ HAN
STYLING GREGORY WOO
ART DIRECTION MARISA XIN
HAIR AND MAKEUP SHA SHAMSI, USING KMS AND CHANEL BEAUTY
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS DENNIS ER AND MICHELLE YAP
STYLING ASSISTANTS YULIA SEE AND VANESSA GRACE NG
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