Kenneth Cobonpue's furniture have earned him an enviable place in modern design. His name is synonymous for bold pieces that use native materials such as rattan, abaca and buri. Cobonpue creations have earned him accolades from prestigious bodies like the Design For Asia Award, generally given to industrial giants such as Nokia, Sony and Samsung. At the recent SoFA Speaks lecture series, "From Idea to Icon: How to Succeed as an Artist in Business," Kenneth talked about his roots and how his unique culture gave him an edge as a designer.
In this last of FemaleNetwork's four-part SoFA series, Kenneth Cobonpue talks about the seven things that anchor his design and business principles.
1. FIND BEAUTY IN EVERYDAY THINGS
Beauty is hidden in everyday things and ordinary people, so find it. "Design is really a lot like life. We have to see people and places always with new eyes so that every day becomes something new and fresh."
2. CONNECT WITH YOUR CULTURE
"When I make furniture, I'm not actually competing with other manufacturers from here, I'm actually competing with the world. I exhibit alongside B&B Italia, Moroso, and other big names. When a designer from New York specifies furniture, it's a choice between them, or us. So I always think, what makes me unique, how can I compete globally? It's really what we have, what we're good at as Filipinos, which is our skills--I think we're second to none in Asia when it comes to working, and I know because I've visited a lot of factories. We have an edge with our use of natural materials."
3. DO WHAT YOU'RE GOOD AT
"All my designs always have some degree of highly skilled workmanship needed to produce it--what looks very simple is actually very complex. The beauty of [the furniture] is that shows our dexterity in weaving."
4. DON'T LET REJECTION DISCOURAGE YOU
"My father wanted me to take up business, so I enrolled here in UP, studied business for two years, then I found it wasn't for me. I went to apply in the fine arts program. I failed their entrance exam because I couldn't draw. That semester I took off one whole year just to learn how to draw. Two years ago, I got my sweetest revenge when they invited me to be their commencement speaker!"
5. PLAY AND EXPERIMENT
"I do other things aside from furniture to keep me sane," says Kenneth. He has dabbled in a host of other things, such as stage design for the Cultural Center of the Philippines; a previous collaboration with Ed Calma to design a bar; and the production of pet beds, among others. "Now we're designing a car made out of bamboo and carbon fiber, which we hope to present in Milan next year."
6. LET YOUR BRAND TELL A STORY
"I don't sell furniture, I sell dreams. I broke away from the traditional furniture company model. Ninety-seven percent of all the furniture companies in the Philippines only make furniture for other brands outside... I decided to sell under my name, showing a sense of who I was as a designer and brand. A brand is a story that you tell and retell over and over again."
7. BUILD YOUR LEGACY
"Every day, I ask myself what [legacy I will leave]. Right now, I teach at UP, and I opened an industrial design program, the first of its kind in Cebu. We also manufacture designs made by my students. I made this brand called Hive, a design collective, where I collaborate with a lot of other designers who make pieces for this brand. I also speak all around the world about Filipino and Southeast Asian design."
Read about other successful entrepreneurs in Female Network's SoFa series:
- Interior Designers Cynthia and Ivy Almario's 8 Tips on Making a Lasting Impression
- Raymund Isaac's Take On How To Shoot For The Stars
- Rajo Laurel Teaches You How to Mix Your Passion with Business Smarts
(Kenneth Cobonpue profile photo and Lolah chair courtesy of Kenneth Cobonpue)