WE living — a New-York-based furniture brand recently launched by CEO, Co-founder, and fellow IVY member, Yifan Yang — creates unique designs by melding ancient Chinese woodworking techniques with the clean and simple look of modern Western sensibilities. “WE” stands for West & East, an acronym that manifests itself not only at the level of the company’s design approach, but also in their core philosophy: a belief that true inspiration comes from a community that openly shares its respective cultures, embraces different values, and strives to make an impact on its surroundings. Yifan sat down with IVY Magazine to share her thoughts on entrepreneurship and what makes for innovative design.
Q: What is your innovation, and why will it make a big impact?
We are unique in the way that, when melding both Western and Eastern designs in our products, we don’t approach the design at just a surface level. We strive to go much deeper than pure aesthetics. For example, when designing the Dovetail End Table (our signature piece), we studied ancient Chinese joineries. We found dovetail is a widely used technique in woodworking, and it has a place in both classic and modern design. However, in ancient China, the dovetail joints were usually hidden so the craftsmanship was unseen and unappreciated. During the table creation, we exposed the joints themselves as design element, and strengthened the table’s organic stableness through re-engineering. The hybrid West-East aesthetic is what differentiates our brand.
“We strive to go much deeper than pure aesthetics.”
Q: What characterizes Chinese design? What would outsiders not understand?
Good question. We conducted a survey, asking people: “What comes to mind when you think of Chinese furniture design?” Based on the responses, we realized there is a wide range of misinterpretations: that Chinese furniture is chunky, for instance, or that it is complicated and unpractical. In fact, traditional Chinese furniture is minimalistic and highly functional. If you look at the furniture pieces made during Ming dynasty (approximately 800 years ago), the aesthetics actually align with the contemporary design principle that “form follows function.” We want to change people’s perception and expose them to the true simplicity and elegance of Chinese design.
Q: How does the furniture we have in our homes and offices impact the way we think and behave?
Furniture is important. A piece of furniture serves a function, enabling us to behave properly and comfortably. We won’t feel homey without the sense of familiarity built up by our pieces of furniture. If you have a beautiful and solid furniture piece at home, you will be inspired to tell all your friends the stories behind it.
Q: What inspired you to start your own furniture brand?
A passion for cross-cultural communication. This is one of my strongest personality traits. When I was an undergrad, I volunteered in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) — I travelled to Poland to teach high schools students “how to break stereotypes.” I started my career in Belgium, later moving on to work in three different countries. Now, I am actively involved in cultural and artistic events hosted by IVY. At WE living, we are not only creating furniture — we are also sharing our culture and passion. And I hope we can attract like-minded people to join us in this amazing mission.
“We are not only creating furniture — we are also sharing our culture and passion.”
Q: What is your greatest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs?
There is no shortcut. Your products and services have to create true value to your customers. You can’t do it alone. Form a team in which your combined skills compliment each other, and ensure you can collaborate.
Q: What is the best lesson you’ve learned in your career?
There is not “one lesson,” but rather accumulative takeaways from my years of work experience. In my previous two jobs — with AB InBev and Bain — I was lucky enough to be exposed to two crucial perspectives: Think big, and make it happen. To manage a startup, you need to both have a vision and a long-term strategy, and to be sufficiently down-to-earth that you can make the push for execution.
“Think big, and make it happen.”
Q: How can members help support you?
Thank you IVY members. There are various ways you can make meaningful a impact to us: Visit our website, weliving.us, and share our beautiful creations with your community. Support us directly at our Indiegogo campaign! And give us feedback on our product designs — how do you interact with furniture in your home? How has an East-West fusion inspired you in the past? Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay up-to-date!