In 2000, when I first arrived in Paris, there were limited French products seen on the Chinese market, and vice versa. Fourteen years later, when I started Bonjour Brand, French products had deeply penetrated the Chinese high-end market. As an organizer, volunteer or visitor, I’ve participated in many initiatives to promote Chinese culture in France. These include activities involving calligraphy, painting, Chinese opera facial makeup, embroidery, and paper-cutting, all of which are excellent art forms from China. However, despite these cultural promotion attempts, when you ask a French person what comes to mind when they think of China, the answer is invariably the Great Wall, made-in-China products, kung fu and pandas.
However, this is not the case with Chinese urbanites. Several years ago, “coffee” was still an exotic word signifying a lifestyle out of reach of many, while today, words like espresso, macchiato, latte and cappuccino roll off the tongues of Chinese city dwellers and are firm favorite beverages found in numerous local coffee shops.
Similar things happen almost every day with other international brands in China. Even my four-year-old son, when standing in front of a Disney counter, can name every toy, their origins and their friends. In his eyes, they are not commodities, but cultural icons.
Culturally, products from Japan show the world how the Japanese make full use of their limited natural resources; products from Germany reveal the German’s rigorous work ethic; products from France embody the French’s pursuit of quality; while those from America show the American’s efficient way of life. As Chinese, we are eager to introduce the unique culture of China to other countries, and we should be aware that along with money transactions, something deeper about culture is also exchanged.
I’ve been living in Paris for over a decade. Every time I go home in China, I discover new perspectives on how to view China and to view France. I’ve always wanted to do more for bilateral communication.
Earlier this year, a French friend of mine developed some interesting hardware. He contacted a German manufacturer, an Israeli component maker, and a tech team from the U.S.; he also got investment from Singapore. I was so inspired as it showed me just what a globalized world we are now living in. Recently, he asked me how to enter the Chinese market.
Former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin (standing in the center with grey hair) leads over 50 designers to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to participate in the second Bonjour Brand forum in May, 2016.
How to Present China to the World?
One of my preoccupations as a designer from China is to find a way to showcase China on a global scale, in a meaningful way. When I was a student at the Creapole École de Creation Management in Paris in 2000, I always tried to include Chinese elements into each of my assignments. I would design a house with bamboo, paint with ink, and choose red as my priority color. One day, Professor Bruno Coispel, one of the best illustrators in France, told me, “You don’t need to mention your own culture all the time, as whatever you do will be in the Chinese way. We want to learn about your country through your visions instead of pure tools and raw materials.”
After graduation in 2006, I worked in a 4A advertising company in France for seven years. During this period, the Chinese luxury market gradually matured. As a Chinese designer, I participated in many projects for international brands to enter China. They needed Chinese designers to help inject Chinese attitudes and views into their brands.
Professor Coispel was right. Through the visions of designers from different backgrounds, the world will see different things. French people could have a better understanding of China through Chinese designs, and vice versa. I had an epiphany and decided to find a way to bridge the designs and ideas of French designers and Chinese brands.
You may wonder what exactly are the charms of French design. A small example will explain it all. In many railway stations in France, there are vending machines selling stories. Passengers could press the button of such a machine to print short stories contributed by ordinary people. These beautiful stories would make their journey less boring, and here commercial exchanges are just a by-product, never the core of the transaction.
These romantic creations are what we lack in China. We hope that French designers could lead Chinese enterprises in such a way as to help them create their own brand value. It is said that designers are the bridge between modern consumers and industries. If this is true, then it is our mission to build the bridge between made-in-China products and French designers. French designers may not be the only channel, but they would make a good starting point.
Bonjour Brand launches more than 200 new products jointly created by China and France in the Pompidou Center in 2019.
French Design + Chinese Manufacturing = ?
In my determination to create the bridge I envisioned I founded Bonjour Shanghai in Paris in 2011, to help Chinese companies in France; in 2014, a group of us initiated the Bonjour Brand forum for the face-to-face exchanges of ideas between Chinese and French designers; and in May 2016, former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin led more than 50 designers to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to participate in the second Bonjour Brand forum, and exchanged ideas with over 200 Chinese companies.
Currently, we’ve launched bonjourbrand.com, a platform for Sino-French online cooperation and a community of French designers. As the first business platform to provide overseas design services to China, and to link designers from China and France, it now has more than 1,000 registered quality French designers. Through this platform, Chinese clients sitting in their offices 9,000 kilometers away could find their dream French designers. The website has also transformed us into a start-up company.
In 2017, Bonjour Brand forum was held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. In 2018 it was held at the Paris City Hall. In 2019, it cooperated with Alibaba to launch Bonjour Tmall. In addition, Bonjour Brand has launched more than 200 new products in the Pompidou Center, which were jointly created by China and France.
While bringing new ideas to Chinese companies, we also want to demonstrate China’s desire to communicate with different cultures. I’m looking forward to seeing how Chinese brands can help our culture and ideas blossom in the world.
YANG JING is a founding member of Bonjour Brand and Bonjour Shanghai.