Goods Of Desire Founder Douglas Young On Preserving Hong Kong's Culture
From a small furniture shop to a well-known lifestyle brand bridging East and West, Douglas Young's Goods of Desire (GOD) captures the essence of Hong Kong and celebrates its creativity. Born in Hong Kong in the Sixties, Young moved to the UK aged 14 to attend boarding school and studied architecture at university before returning to his home city in 1991.
In 1996, he and his business partner Benjamin Lau originally sold furniture in Ap Lei Chau until they began focusing on homewares, clothing and souvenirs. Today, GOD, which has six stores and three shop-in-shops, is known for its quintessentially Hong Kong collectibles that reflect the city’s grassroots culture. Here, Young discusses his love of cars, the novel he is working on and why he’ll always be a proud Hongkonger.
You’ve spent your whole career trying to push the culture of Hong Kong forward. Why is this so important to you?
When I returned from university in the UK, I had been out of Hong Kong for 15 years. I suddenly rediscovered Hong Kong: what I thought was ordinary before became special. I also saw our unique culture being eroded by globalisation. Hong Kong was becoming more westernised at the expense of local culture, in terms of food, fashion, music and architecture. When I was young, things were more of a hybrid between East and West. I am determined to help preserve our culture for the next generation. All brands—whether Apple, Louis Vuitton, Ikea, Mercedes-Benz or Muji—are to a certain extent a reflection of their national identity. I believe that a Hong Kong-based brand needs to have Hong Kongness too.
What does your brand represent to Hong Kong?
We have made grassroots Hong Kong style a trend. From our naughty slogan T-shirts to our 2009 renovation of Starbucks’ Duddell Street branch using a very local bing sutt [traditional teahouse] aesthetic, we have defined contemporary Hong Kong style. We represent Hong Kong street style and celebrate irreverent Cantonese humour. Canto humour is very caustic and direct, and its swear words make their English equivalents sound polite by comparison.
How has the pandemic affected the business?
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Where do you draw inspiration from?
From everyday things. I have a particular mindset that allows me to see things that are commonplace to other people. GOD famously made prints inspired by the tenement buildings of Yau Ma Tei and Sham Shui Po, bringing them into people’s consciousness. Being able to be inspired by prosaic things is an essential skill for a creative person.
What are some of your hobbies?
I love cars—both to drive and to look at. I have more than 20 cars of various ages and makes. Some are vastly more valuable than others, but I treat them all the same. They all get equally driven and are parked on the street.
What are other ways you like to unwind?
I’ve started writing a romance novel about my experiences as a creative person in Hong Kong. I have a lot of admiration for writers. One of the things I would like to do in the second part of my life is to pursue writing more. There are similarities between writing a novel and creating architecture: both are ways to transport your audience into a new imaginary realm. That’s the part I like best: allowing others to have a slice of my life. Hopefully, it will turn into a movie one day.
Where do you get your sense of humour from?
From watching British sitcoms like Yes Minister and Little Britain.
My hope for Hong Kong is that we truly develop into a cultural hub for Asia— Douglas Young
You wear many hats. Which is your favourite?
The only thing I truly love is variety. I like food, fashion and furniture, as long as I get equal doses of each.
What are you most excited about in a post-pandemic world?
I have rediscovered Hong Kong during the pandemic. There’s a lot on my doorstep that I previously overlooked because I used to travel so much. I discovered pristine and historic villages, lush islands and many new outdoor activities, such as bicycle trails and kayaking spots. I have also found many new, independently run dining places. These are all the things I look for when I go abroad and I discovered they are all here too. I am excited to see how much more there is nearby in mainland China and Asia as a whole.
What new projects do you have in the pipeline?
I bought a holiday home in Lantau, which I am renovating. It will also serve as a retreat for friends.
In a 2015 interview with Tatler, you said Hongkongers “have to assert ourselves against our competitive neighbours, otherwise we’ll get lost”. Six years on, do you think we’ve achieved that?
My hope for Hong Kong is that we develop into a cultural hub for Asia for the rest of the world. I would most like to see a sense of local pride. From local governments and businesses to our citizens, we should all support local ventures as Hong Kong’s patrons. We need to build a self-supporting community; that is the only way we can gain the respect of the rest of the world.