WENDY & GUSTAVO
Forest & Whale
Forest and Whale LLP
Company Founded in
Name of Founders
Wendy Chua & Gustavo Maggio
Founder Birth Year (Wendy)
Founder Birth Year (Gustavo)
B.Arts, National University of S'pore, Industrial Design (2007)
M.Arts, Open Design, Humboldt University of Berlin / University of Buenos Aires (current)
B.Arts, University of Buenos Aires, Industrial Design (2005)
Previous Job (Wendy)
Adjunct Asst. Prof, National University of S'pore (2020 - 2021)
Previous Job (Wendy)
Adjunct Lecturer, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (2009 - 2020)
Previous Job (Wendy)
Co-founder, Creative Director / Outofstock design studio (2006 - 2015)
Previous Job (Wendy)
Design apprentice, Masayo Ave Creation, SED Lab, Berlin/Germany, (2012 - 2013)
Previous Job (Wendy)
Design Lecturer, Singapore Polytechnic Design School (2010 - 2012)
Previous Job (Wendy)
Design apprentice, Tomoko Azumi, TNA Design Studio, London (2008)
Previous Job (Wendy)
Design intern, Motorola Experience Design Studio, London (2008)
Previous Job (Gustavo)
Adjunct Lecturer, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (2011 - 2019)
Previous Job (Gustavo)
Co-founder, Creative Director / Outofstock design studio (2006 - 2015)
Previous Job (Gustavo)
Co-led Outofstock based in Buenos Aires (2008-2009)
Side Hustle (Both)
Reuse Lab (2020-current)
Side Hustle (Both)
The Machinist (workshops, exhibitions, publication), (2015 - 2017)
Waterloo Center (2009-2010)
Outofstock, 23 Hythe Road, (2010 - 2015)
Forest & Whale, Hive Vanguard Campus Singapore 339263, (2017-2018)
Forest & Whale, Hive, 36 Carpenter Street, (2019-2021)
Participated in Speculative design award, encountering Outofstock partners
Outofstock was founded as a 4-partner design studio
Winning Elle Decoration Award 2009, Spain and Furniture Design Grand Award 2009, Singapore, after 3 years of exhibiting in Milan Design Week
President’s Design Award 2010, Singapore, first local recognition
Asia Talents 2014, W Hotel Bangkok
Achieved several award-winning furniture designs
Commissioned to design the inaugural showcase of the centennial exhibition of Sori Yanagi’s works
Wendy & Gustavo founded Forest & Whale, Outofstock was dissolved
Started The Machinist to write and document crafts
Commissioned by Red Dot Museum to curate and design for the exhibitions
Museum curation, design and education work
Launch of Miss Ahus chair in Stockholm,
Curation and Mentorship of young emerging designers
Design research of Reuse Lab in the circular economy
Showcased in Venice Biennale Architecture,
Commissioned for installation works and workshops
Showcased curated works in Museum of Craft and Design, San Francisco
Ongoing project of inclusive social design practices and community engagement
Selected for the Business of Design Programme (DSG) to expand networks in Europe
Through the Lens of Design
By Elaine Chan, 30 April 2022
Good morning, Wendy and Gustavo. Thank you very much for joining me today. Thank you for your time and welcome to studio SML. I hear a little bit of a noise, a bit of chatter in the background.
Wendy Yes. Hello. Good morning. This is Wendy.
Gustavo Hi, Gustavo here. Yes, we are in a cafe in Berlin, so there's a bit of noise, but it's early in the morning. So there's almost no one inside here.
Are you having your morning coffee?
I'll just jump right in by asking you how did Forest & Whale come about?
Wendy Right. So we've actually known each other for a long time. Like I think we first met in 2005 and subsequently with two other friends, we were running, uh, a design collective for 10 years, and until 2015, when we decided to conclude that.
And that was also at the moment when we were recalibrating our lives and trying to find a way to align our design practice closer to the values that we have in our daily life. And that was how Forest & Whale came about because we wanted to create a studio that is very much centered around sustainability. Not just in terms of climate, but also in terms of communities, the sustainability of communities. And we wanted the words to represent nature as well. So we thought of a forest that represents the tropical forests of Singapore and the whales that we saw in Argentina.
We wanted to create a studio that is very much centered around sustainability. Not just in terms of climate, but also in terms of communities, the sustainability of communities. And we wanted the words to represent nature as well. So we thought of a forest that represents the tropical forests of Singapore and the whales that we saw in Argentina.
Right. You were talking about working together, with your collective, that's Outofstock [Design]?
Can you tell, tell us a little bit about that. Is it still ongoing?
Gustavo Yeah. We started Outofstock in 2006. And we work with a lot of European companies doing furniture and then some interior design in Singapore as well. We currently have some projects, some designs with companies still selling. So we have ongoing relationships, uh, with companies under our stock, but for new projects, we take them on separately.
So how does this work, the arrangement, it's a two-track setup that you have?
Wendy Um, no, actually we are pretty much very focused on Forest & Whale now as our friends who have left Outofstock and also started running their own practices, Gabriel and Sebastian, I see they're all very much busy with their own practices. And you can say Outofstock is like a really good memory of 10 years of friends working together. And we still keep in contact. But we all have different kinds of visions for our practices for the future. And so for the two of us, it's very much focused around Forest & Whale.
And you can say Outofstock is like a really good memory of 10 years of friends working together. And we still keep in contact. But we all have different kinds of visions for our practices for the future.
So how has that design journey evolved for both of you from out of stock till Forest & Whale as designers? What kind of designers do you call yourselves?
Wendy That’s a difficult question.
Gustavo Yeah. We started doing with Outofstock, mainly with furniture design, and then in Singapore there is also a big market for interior design. So we did a bit of that as well later on, but it was mainly furniture for most of the years since 2006. Then what we realised is that a lot of practices in the furniture industry, same as fashion, is not so sustainable in the sense that they'll launch new products and new collections. And after, I don't know, 1, 2 years they will stop selling and then come up with new products that are trendy and stop selling and come up with new products again. And so there's a lot of rotation. That means there's a lot of ways and new things that companies are pushing people to buy.
And also as a designer, the time you spent working on a furniture piece, if after one, two years, it’s off the catalogue and it's not selling, it's not sustainable from the time-investment standpoint. So all of these together made us kind of decide on a shift into projects and products that have more longevity. And also in the last two years, we've been working on reuse. Which is a range of products that are meant for you to not dispose of, but reuse for a long time. So all this mindset of creating less waste and being more sustainable kind of drives us in these last few years of our practice.
As a designer, the time you spent working on a furniture piece, if after one, two years, it’s off the catalogue, it's not sustainable from the time-investment standpoint. So all of these together made us kind of decide on a shift into projects and products that have more longevity.
So sustainability now underpins the work that you do. What is your take on sustainability?
Wendy I think it's about how you can integrate it into your methodologies as a designer, because it's impossible to ignore it. I think we can no longer say that we belong to one part of the entire product lifecycle and there's very little autonomy on our side, but I think increasingly you need to look at full product lifecycle and think about how can you influence the other stakeholders that may not be in direct contact with you, right?
So for instance, if we design a product and really consider where the material sources come from, it may mean that the outcome of the project is more expensive in terms of product cost, because you're using more sustain-resource materials, but that also involves branding and communication to the consumers. But increasingly it's also about understanding how you can create circular systems – that you may even be sharing products that you don't actually own. And you are seeing a lot of that right? With… whether it is refurbished phones that you can buy rather than a new phone and reusable containers that are circulating in delivery platforms, for example.
If we design a product and really consider where the material sources come from, it may mean that the outcome of the project is more expensive in terms of product cost, because you're using more sustain-resource materials, but that also involves branding and communication to the consumers.
Right. When you first started Forest & Whale with the sustainability philosophy in mind, how has that changed then till now, in terms of market reception, and also the understanding from the broader audience?
Gustavo I think sustainability is a constantly changing and evolving idea. And what it means is also constantly changing – maybe a few years ago, it was a bit more centered on biomaterials, such as replacing if you're using plastic, just replace it with something that is biodegradable or made out of waste to a certain extent. That was the more direct way.
But from there to understanding the end-of-life of a product and how you can design a product whereby the end-of-life is considered, whether it's easy to take apart to fix or to recycle or circular models where you don't create waste; and not just to design a product, but to design the whole system, the whole ecosystem so that the product can circulate smoothly within, whether it's a foot port or whatever that is. So as we moved on the last few years, we have started to realise that it's more complex, and many ways you can think of sustainability when you redesign products and systems.
Wendy Yeah. I think there was that deepening for sure. Um, because in the beginning, when you start a studio, you're always thinking about, okay, what's my philosophy, what's our ethos, right? And so when we set out with even that, having the words from nature in our name, as a reminder to what we care about. It started from museums and education, which is a sphere that we are very much active in. We've done a lot of curated exhibitions for different museums, as well as our own exhibitions. And we are also thinking in terms of communication and education that can be done, you know, for museums that may be set in certain eco-reserve areas. So we are thinking more about that. But then the deeper we dig and we start to research more, we realised that it has to cut across every single thing that we do, right?
So if we're designing a product, we cannot say that this project doesn't come under sustainability, it has to kind of be aligned with everything that we do. So for example, we're designing for a brand that is in Singapore now... designing for a local manufacturer to revive local-making techniques. Actually, that's really great because then there's a lower carbon footprint in shipping or materials, products, and so that in itself is also about longevity. But you can design with the best material but if it doesn't last, versus, if you have a chair that's so well designed that it can be passed down from generation to generation. So this notion of longevity is, you really have to stretch it and think about how many ways you can really understand it. And we also, then began to look beyond the product, into the systems, the behaviours, the way people use things.
So if we're designing a product, we cannot say that this project doesn't come under sustainability, it has to kind of be aligned with everything that we do.
So what kind of projects are you working on right now? Just brief descriptions. We don't have to really go into details… in which areas are you looking at? I know that you are furthering your studies Wendy, but apart from that?
Gustavo We are doing some projects around product design. One of them is this company in Singapore where it's gonna be this design and manufacturing project in Singapore, which is always interesting and nice because that's where our home is. So some part design, some furniture design. Then we're also working on a project, it's more towards community and service design. Which is looking at a Kopitiam (coffee shop), the coffee shops that are in almost every neighborhood in Singapore, and trying to find ways in which seniors can be more engaged because that's a place that already draws them to on a daily basis. It's probably the only place where they go regularly. So it's a perfect kind of platform for us to reach out to them and see what they need and how we can engage them further. So that their last years are better taken care of.
Wendy Yeah. So what Gustavo is talking about is the other sphere of sustainability that we deal with, which is a community engagement and part space redesign where you look at – how can communities be sustainable in terms of how it can be more inclusive; how can it take care of the real needs of people, especially marginalised groups. So for the last few years - especially the last two years and the next two years - we're going to be working on projects that deal with people with disabilities and isolated seniors with dementia, specifically speaking, in local heartlands. And that really comes from our heart because in fact this community that we're working with is where we live in.
For the last two years and the next two years, we're going to be working on projects that deal with people with disabilities and isolated seniors with dementia, specifically speaking, in local heartlands. And that really comes from our heart because in fact this community that we're working with is where we live in.
Can you tell me a little bit more about that Kopitiam project that you just mentioned?
Wendy So… we're gonna embark on this… we can't say too much, but I would say… you know, there are so many senior daycare centres and senior activity centres, and one of the ways to attract seniors to go to these places is to turn them into a sort of cafe style, like another kopitiam; they look like a kopitiam, but still, you will still have seniors who don’t wanna go because it's associated to certain social care and healthcare services.
And so what we are trying to do is to flip that and to, instead of thinking about bringing the seniors to the centre and making it look like one of those neighbourhood places. To make them feel like they are going to one of the neighbourhood places and from there, try to insert services there, in a way that is not so like, “we're coming here to help you”. Because seniors don't necessarily need our help, you know, and it's about how they can flourish in their golden years, and still be contributing all the wisdom and experiences that they have. So it's in some ways a project about redefining ageing.
Very lifestyle prone. It seems.
Wendy Yeah. It's about hacking the urban spaces that are around us, and making it work for the community.
How long do you think this project will take to reach fruition?
Wendy I would say one to two years. Yeah. Because we are gonna be working closely with the seniors and we'll co-create solutions with them and it's really gonna go in the direction that they will be co-driving because in the end, this is something that is community-driven and the community kind of, should lead. Yeah. So we will let their voices lead us.
I would say that we started entering the community-related sort of design sphere where there's a lot co-creative placemaking and, and participatory methodology ever since we started working with Drama Box and Artswok Collaborative, who are community arts, theater practitioners on a project called “Both Sides Now”, which was also selected for Venice Biennale, this year currently on show at URA. So that is a project that we've been involved in for three years, but the project actually has lasted for a decade. And it's about entering heartlands to make conversation about end of life issues, no longer taboo. And we were involved in that as a spatial designer, and that really opened our mind to how design can engage with people to talk about really, really important things that can help everyone to kind of make sense of, you know, topics that can be so difficult to grasp.
I was gonna say, taking on community-related projects from the design perspective – has that got to do with your adherence to designing for sustainability? Is that how the pivot or the extension came about?
Wendy Well, actually we started, well, with that in mind already, because we were already doing community-related work from the beginning. And so when we talk about the word sustainability, it was always multi-prong. It's not just about nature and natural places and environments and how to maintain them, but it's also about human habitats and communities. And the truth is if you look at the world, there's always this tension, you know, like if people cannot live well enough, in a good environment, and for sure the environment around them is also gonna be, like polluted and not taken care of. You can't quite look at one without looking at the other. And so if you look at the SDG goals of the UN, they are often looked at together.
And so when we talk about the word sustainability, it was always multi-prong. It's not just about nature and natural places and environments and how to maintain them, but it's also about human habitats and communities.
Sustainability is such a broad issue and topic, and it's a vast universe. Are there certain areas of focus that you have a greater passion about?
Gustavo I think it somehow, for many projects, starts from a product design point of view when it's about the material and environment side of it. So we think from products, and the last few projects we did is, uh, a product that then becomes a system. So it goes from a product to a system, and at the end of the day, it's a whole experience for customers. So you really realise that as much as you care about material uses and, you know, longevity, you still need the products to be nice and appealing and beautiful for people to experience, to be better for people to buy into. These are the few things that we always have in mind, when we approach a new project, in sustainability.
Wendy Yeah. I would say circular design methods would be one area that we're very focused on and that goes back to understanding the entire product life cycle of products. So it is still rooted in our industrial design background, even though our practice has become very interdisciplinary. There's also one part of our interests that lies in material research, and how we can work with material labs, to, you know, design products from the latest materials and try to understand more about how those materials even work. Yeah. So those are our interests because of our product design background.
I would say circular design methods would be one area that we're very focused on and that goes back to understanding the entire product life cycle of products.
Do all your designs involve one or a few kinds of new materials?
Wendy We're always searching for new materials to play with.
Gustavo Oh, sometimes it's existing materials. I know plastic, for example, is almost like a forbidden word in sustainability, but if it is used well, and if it's made in a way that ensures that it will not be disposed of before the end of life or before it degrades, then some plastic is fine. It's not bad. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be all new materials or all biomaterials. It's about understanding the context they need, and whether it's longevity or whether it's durability. And there's a lot of variables that we have to take into consideration.
Wendy Yeah. It's like our user behaviour and psychology, right. So when we did this one year class, almost two years of research on food delivery, what really interests us is how do you form habits that are more sustainable… we did a survey and almost 90% of the people would prefer to have a more sustainable lifestyle and less disposable. But, you know, they would often forget.
And, then the next question was about, why don't they bring their bottles and forgetting to bring was one of the top reasons. Even just thinking about putting a container near the front entrance, or instead of being in your pantry, may be one way to remind yourself to bring it. And in terms of reuse systems, it's also interesting to understand what makes people return the containers that are supposed to cycle within the system. Because it only works if you remember to return it. And so it goes back to user psychology and behaviour that goes beyond the product itself. That is also super interesting for us.
So most of your projects would have undergone that kind of deep research before you embark on them?
Wendy Yeah. Ideally. I mean, in this case, because it's a very new area that we were venturing into. So we need to put in the time to do the research. For many of the community-centric projects, the client also understands that ethnographic research is necessary to even understand what the real needs are.
I guess you have been fortunate enough to be given that kind of space and time to put in that investment into the research? Because this is a fast-food nation…
Gustavo Yeah. And now and then we take our time to do projects we believe in and do them in a way that we think is meaningful. So you can skip the research stage for this kind of project because at the end of the day, you wouldn't have the data to validate or to move forward with if you have to manufacture something or produce something at scale or convince that that change is necessary to other stakeholders. So that – the design phase is critical to get that data.
Wendy Yeah. So actually going back to one of the earlier questions about how we have evolved since we started Forest & Whale in 2016 – I mean, when you start out and say, okay, I'm gonna be doing this, this is what I'm about, then it's different from what you were practicing before. It's not like immediately you're gonna have clients … (thunder in the background) there was a loud sound...
That was thunder…
Wendy Oh really? Is it raining heavily?
No, no, brewing, trying to rain...
Wendy Wow. That was really loud.
So going back to one of the first questions you asked, which is how we have evolved since 2016 and the truth is when you recalibrate and you decide, okay, this is what we are about. It's a bit different from what we were doing before and this is the kind of new projects that we wanna attract, clients that we’ve not worked with before that we wanna attract. It's not gonna happen immediately. You're gonna have to put in the time, the resources for a couple of years, to do it yourself first so that you can prove that, okay, this is something that we can do before clients will start knocking at your door. And that's how it is. We always see it as... when you run a practice, you need your bread and butter projects, but you will always need to put in time for the projects that you really care about as well.
And I think when we recalibrate our studio, the idea was to make the gap between these two smaller so that the bread butter is also the project that we care about, you know, and not to have such a big disparity between the two.
We always see it as... when you run a practice, you need your bread and butter projects, but you will always need to put in time for the projects that you really care about as well.
What were the first initial years like, were they challenging as a design practice?
Wendy I think we were very fortunate. Like there were a lot of projects that just kind of came in that we were able to pivot them to work where we would like to go. And one of them was… museum work that we were doing. Because museum work, with curation, you can really bring in a lot of ideas. So all the research that we were already doing, we were able to pour into the exhibitions that we were curating. And the museum director that we're working with was also very open to hear what we can, what we would like to craft in terms of the narrative. So that was a really good transition period, I would say.
Can you tell me a little bit about your museum work, your curating and the educational part of it? You sound very passionate about that.
Wendy It's something that we love a lot… we work a lot with the Red Dot Design Museum, which as you know, is a museum of products, right? Industrial products, also communication design. And so we're dealing with the content of the exhibition, which are products that we love. We love to design such products and we love to study them and understand why they are admired for their industrial [strengths], like function and form. And a lot of our work involves curating the narratives for people who come to the museum to understand why these products are good designs, and what kind of future they paint for people.
So one of the exhibitions we designed for the Singapore Art Museum, for example, is called “Human-Nature”, where we looked at all the collections of robotics – robots and AI-related products, products related to big data such as your Fitbit, you know, and we created an exhibition, which is about how humans have to coexist, with all these… in this computer age.
And, it's already happening around us. You know, you already have robots… we can outsource parenting too. They read books to the child; you have a crib that can rock the baby to sleep. So you don't have to wake up in the middle of the night to cuddle. So there're so many very intrinsic abilities of humans that we are outsourcing to robots. And when you can see in the exhibition setting, then you can really understand that. Okay, do I wanna outsource those things? And as we outsource more of those skills, what, where, where will we go? You know, what kind of future are we gonna be working towards?
You know, you already have robots… we can outsource parenting too. They read books to the child; you have a crib that can rock the baby to sleep. So you don't have to wake up in the middle of the night to cuddle. So there're so many very intrinsic abilities of humans that we are outsourcing to robots... but do I wanna outsource those things?
Wendy Yeah. And yeah, it's, it's super interesting to kind of have one foot looking at more speculated futures.
Okay, so I'm gonna go back a little bit and ask you, um, why did you become a designer? Um, both of you
Wendy Okay. Gustavo, you can go.
Gustavo I think for me when I was young, there was one thing I was really passionate about… cars. So initially I wanted to be a car designer. This was when I was, I dunno, around 10 to 12. I wanted to be a car designer. So I was always designing from that standpoint later on.
I realised that cars are a bit limiting. So I found industrial design as a career. That gave me the opportunity to be creative and, and solve problems, not just within cars, but you know, other spheres. Yeah, I think that's how I… that's the initial interest I had in design, from cars, and…
Wendy Vehicles. And, and until today you're still passionate about cars.
Wendy I don't know… actually, sometimes I wonder why… my mum is a seamstress so I grew up going with her to People’s Park, choosing materials for the clothes that she has to sew. So I've had a childhood where I'm very closely associated with rituals of craft and materials, but I didn't choose fashion, somehow I think product design interests me more.
But now, I mean, I'm, again back in the university and for me, I really see design as a lens. So I'm doing a Masters that is interdisciplinary, cutting across natural science, humanities and media technologies, through the lens of design. And that for me is actually what the definition of design is. You know, it is almost like a lens to look at all the other fields and that's why it's so exciting. Right. Because you kind of can study the other fields and then look at it through the lens of design to see how you can make it meaningful and relevant to people. So that's why I still enjoy being a designer today.
I'm doing a Masters that is interdisciplinary, cutting across natural science, humanities and media technologies, through the lens of design. And that for me is actually what the definition of design is. You look at things through the lens of design to see how you can make it meaningful and relevant to people. So that's why I still enjoy being a designer today.
What do you think going back to school would mean for you as a designer at this stage in your career?
Wendy Well, it means I can be, like a young learner again, asking a lot of questions that may be naïve. But it's always the naive questions that lead to very interesting discoveries.
For example, I'll be taking a laboratory lesson on microbiology. And from there, we are looking at different ways, different proteins and enzymes, enzymes are proteins… so nowadays I talk about these things to Gustavo and he's like, uh, what are you talking about? And so then I start to understand how to read scientific publications, you know, because before that when I look at them online, I have no idea what I was reading. So then I was reading one, for example, on PETase, which is an enzyme that they have discovered that can actually break down PET plastic. And then Gustavo, at the same time, he wasn't looking at this, but he was telling me that… there's been this podcast that he’s been listening to where they're talking about the future of plastic – is not to avoid plastic, but to actually use plastic that can be digested. And I was like, oh yeah, I was just reading this scientific problem, you know, and to be able connect the dots like that is just incredible. That you go beyond design to make those connections.
I was reading something about mushrooms and plastics as well, I think.
Wendy Yeah. A lot of exploration, once you can look at it from a biological way of understanding, how actually the cellular breakdown happens or how the material can grow like mushrooms. And yeah, super interesting.
So you'll be away from Singapore for a year?
Wendy Yeah. We're gonna be based in Berlin. And I think Gustavo is also very excited because of being here, the hub of, you know, a lot of sustainable practices and startups.
Gustavo Yeah. We have some projects that’s going on in Singapore, so we may fly back and forth a few times, but yeah, I think…to stay until, I don't know, maybe middle of next year, at least in Europe.
How would you see the European experience for you? If you speculate into the future when you return as designers in Singapore?
Gustavo Well, Europe is very interesting for us, especially when it comes to sustainability because they are probably at the forefront in terms of regulation, but also in terms of general awareness, and how they are used to, whether it's separating rubbish or how keen they are into buying products with no packaging or less packaging. So they are, I think they're years ahead, not just to Singapore, but most of the countries.
And that's very interesting to see how a society works at the forefront of sustainability practices, and also see all the new trends developing in terms of material. There's a lot of funding from the EU to try new materials for packaging and for products. So in that sense, it's very interesting, and at the same time, there's also a very good design, you know, awareness in general. So it's gonna be a very exciting year here. I think there's a lot of things we can still learn or bring back to Singapore and vice versa.
Wendy I think what's amazing is to be able to understand and observe because we are living here now. Everything from the policy changes that were made, because they are so much at the forefront to how that triggers down to the way consumers behave and what you actually find in run-of-the-mill pharmacy stores. So for example, I walk in and I see a lot of solid soaps because they're trying to face out plastic bottles for liquid soaps. And so just seeing that wide variety and spectrum of solid soaps I could choose from is really interesting. And I think these are trends that will eventually proliferate across the world. I think in Singapore, we tend to be a bit more conservative in terms of policy change. You know, it takes a while for certain policies to take effect. But then for us, it’s really interesting to see, like when those policies take place, what is the huge transformation you would see happening in society.
I think in Singapore, we tend to be a bit more conservative in terms of policy change. It takes a while for certain policies to take effect. But then for us, it’s really interesting to see how when those policies take place, what is the huge transformation you would see happening in society.
It's also interesting when you mentioned soap bars, because so many years ago, soap bars were the main thing we used, right?
So yeah, when we were doing our research for Reuse Lab, we realised that the circular economy being such a new word that was coined in Europe is not Western at all. You know, you can find many local examples, back from the Kampong days. And they were practicing circular economy back then.
Yeah. Actually I think it's just the modern day conveniences that have changed our behaviour.
Wendy Right. So then what is interesting for us is to see how those ideas - when we take them back to Asia - be translated in ways that take on the local tradition, local wisdom that already existed. It is not just a direct transplant, but to actually excavate it in our own path and memories, how we used to do things that were very sustainable.
How do you see that kind of reception from the Asian audience perspective? These are not totally new and super creative things like soap bars, but kind of come a full cycle if you will.
What do you think it will be like if something like that is pushed in our part of the world?
Gustavo I think, especially in Singapore, these solutions have to cater for the way we live there, which is with higher – maybe – standards of hygiene, and convenience, as that’s probably the main deciding factor when you buy something, or when you choose how to use a product. So that – bridging that gap between what people use in Europe as sustainable and how we are used to living in Singapore, I think that's the challenge. And that's where design can be handy and play a role.
Wendy Yeah. Because I would say that, for example, in Europe, maybe people are willing to take on a little bit of inconvenience for something they believe in.
But I would say in Asia, especially in Singapore where productivity and convenience is so prized and things move so fast. You're not gonna wanna go back to a bar of soap that is gonna slip out your hands every time you bathe, haha. Yeah. So how can we design in a way that is still gonna be, you can still take a quick shower and you're not gonna be cursing and swearing in the bathroom and I’m sure that's where design can come in. To look at the whole bathing experience as a ritual – like from making the bar soap yourself. So it may not be just about the product, but also getting people to go back to how things are made. And I think for that, that's actually a lot of interest in Singapore because we're so used to having everything imported. And in this pandemic, I think people see how important it is to be able to make things ourselves as well.
Bridging that gap between what people use in Europe as sustainable and how we are used to living in Singapore, I think that's the challenge. And that's where design can be handy and play a role.
The pandemic has become an awakening call.
Wendy Yeah for sure. I think we are seeing that in Europe too. Like there's a lot of discussion about going back to local manufacture and what are some local productions that are essential.
You mentioned earlier that you're working with some local projects and it's going to be something that's made in Singapore, designed and manufactured in Singapore. That sounds very exciting.
Wendy Yeah. Actually that's a project curated by Studio Juju, so you probably will hear more from them.
Oh, I think they did mention that. I spoke to them a few weeks ago.
Wendy So you probably know about the brand that they are creating and they brought in a few local designers to work with the local manufacturers. So we're really excited with what they're doing and we're happy to be part of the first collection.
So how do you see the design community in Singapore? How do you view the quality of design from Singapore?
Wendy Maybe we should ask the outsider (referring to Gustavo). Hahaha, no, no, he's been here for 10 years. He's almost half Singaporean… hahaha…
He's pointing his finger at me. Um, well I think that we have evolved a lot for sure. I mean, when I was a student back then, we were quite aware that in terms of design, we were like a couple of decades behind Taiwan and a couple more decades behind Japan. And everyone was thinking about going to Europe to study or to work because we want greater exposure. We want to go back to where the history of design took place, like in Germany, where Bauhaus came from.
But today I see among my students that many of them are very happy to stay in Singapore. I'm not so sure if there's always a good thing, but you know, the thing is there are so many more opportunities back home that many people are coming back and so I think that is good because it really helps to create a more flourishing industry and scene.
Today I see among my students that many of them are very happy to stay in Singapore. I'm not so sure if there's always a good thing, but the thing is there are so many more opportunities back home that many people are coming back and so I think that is good because it really helps to create a more flourishing industry and scene.
What does Gustavo think?
Gustavo I think design has, from the time that I arrived in Singapore in 2010, till now, it has changed a bit in Singapore. And eventually, generally speaking, design will always, develop to service the industry and Singapore being a place where there's no manufacturing or very little manufacturing compared to Taiwan, Japan, China, Europe, US, most countries, it’s natural that in this, especially since design became more relevant maybe 10, 15 years ago. It has developed in a way that is servicing or is more pointed towards the service industry more than the manufacturing. So you see less furniture designers or less product designers and more experience designers – UX, more interaction designers; a lot of designers going into, to work with banks or financial services or hospitals, because that's where the industry is funding creativity.
So in that sense, it is evolving. And that the design is a bit different from what we were doing some time ago. But it's good to see that design is taking over, taking on and more, there are more courses of design than from 10 years… It's helping society at the end of the day.
The fact that Singapore isn't really a manufacturing hub of any sort, is that a challenge for design to flourish even more, or is manufacturing also slowly coming back?
Gustavo I don't think design manufacturing is gonna come back at scale in a significant way. But again, design has many ways, many forms. Service design will continue to grow because that's what the real economy does. And design has to adapt to what the real economy and the real market needs. For people like us who are old school and we like to design physical objects and furniture, maybe it's not great, but there's still niches of smaller manufacturing, whether it's in Singapore or nearby that requires this kind of product design.
Wendy Yeah. But it's an interesting question because I always felt that it makes a difference when you can see manufacturers in your own country, you can just visit them, you can see a craftsman. And that was how I practiced, you know, when I got out of school, I was visiting craftsmen in Defu Lane and Sungei Kadut, to understand how things are made. And I learned a lot, as much from them, or even more than I learned in a university. And there's a lot of that pass-down knowledge that is gone if you're just emailing someone in a factory in China. And also, what is your unique selling point? Like what would make it unique as a design culture if you don't actually make things locally with certain locally sourced materials or locally found skills, right? So that's on one level.
On another level is the consumer consciousness of the material and how things are made. And I would say like, you know, in Europe and in Japan, where… Europe is too big a word, but you know, if I was living in, Germany or Italy where they have a lot of manufacturers, or Finland, for example, consumers appreciate things that are made in those countries, in their own countries, because they can understand the craft behind it.
For them, it's not just a dollar and cent gig. Because it's not just like, I pay more or less for something like that. Do I get a bargain, but I actually know what I'm paying for. I'm paying for a better piece of wood. I'm paying for a better-crafted object that is supposed to last till the next generation. So I think it's this consumer mindset that is more critical for society because when it's all dollars and cents, then it's really just a use and throw away consumer risk culture. And that's what we see in this pandemic with the rise of e-commerce. The problems that you can create.
I think it's this consumer mindset that is more critical for society because when it's all dollars and cents, then it's really just a use and throw away consumer risk culture. And that's what we see in this pandemic with the rise of e-commerce. The problems that you can create.
You're so right. I guess it's all about convenience – we use it for a few years. If it doesn't last beyond five years, that's fine. We'll just throw it out and get a new one.
Wendy Yeah. But again, as you said before in the past, it wasn't like that. Like our grandparents probably had cabinets that they pass on to the next, to their children and they're like, don't throw this away, it is really good wood…
Wendy Yeah, yeah.
I'm hoping that that kind of mindset is changing a bit and maybe the pandemic has really brought home some useful messages.
Wendy Yeah. I hope so. Yeah. Right. Definitely.
So did you both first become partners at work and then become partners in life or the other way around?
Wendy So we get to the gossip part now.
Haha… Question needs to be asked to the husband-and-wife team..
Wendy We met as friends and then we decided to work together with other friends and then we got together cause we were hanging out so much at work, I guess. Design does that to you. Cause you worked so long hours that you can only end up with the person that you are working with... Hahaha…
Design does that to you. Cause you worked so long hours that you can only end up with the person that you are working with... Hahaha…
How do you work together? Do you have a tried and tested success formula?
Wendy I think it is to give a lot of respect for space and for each other. Yeah. Not just in terms of time, but in terms of creative space in a project. Yeah.
Right. And Gustavo would concur to that I assume haha, a hundred percent? He's so quiet.
Gustavo Yeah. Wife is always right. Haha.
Haha. So what inspires you?
Gustavo Um, I don't know. It can be, uh, anything from, from small daily experience to bigger mankind of achievements. When you see things like this revival of the space industry, so many companies spending so much time and effort trying to go back to the moon, or go to mars, this pushing of civilisation forward is inspiring at a certain level.
But then on a daily basis, to see for example here in Germany, how much sustainability there is around, how widespread that is, that’s also very inspiring, to see that it can be achieved, actually happening in many places. I guess, at least for me, coming from Argentina and then living in Europe and Singapore, and having been in many other countries in Asia as well, each society has its own way of living… you will always find small things that are inspiring, that you’ve never seen before, ways of life, types of food, packaging products. It’s a mix of all these things.
Wendy Yeah, I agree with him. Anything that expands the understanding of the world, beyond our lifespan, you know like going far back in history, into the future. I’m super, super, super inspired by all these news about space exploration, because then you really understand our age and time on earth is really so insignificant in the lifespan of the planet and universe.
And then to pick up a book… Recently I was reading a book by Buckminister Fuller that he wrote in the 1970s and he was already talking about earth as a spaceship and why are we still using the words sunrise and sunset, it doesn’t make any sense. If you understand the solar system, sunset should be sunclipse and sunrise should be sunsite. Even playing words like that to redefine our world, I found was super, super inspiring, and it really expands your mind to a longer time continuum.
You will always find small things that are inspiring, that you’ve never seen before, ways of life, types of food, packaging products. It’s a mix of all these things.
What do you do for fun?
Gustavo Not much lately…
Wendy Nowadays we are thinking of what would be fun for Lila (daughter). Like hanging out a lot at a playground.
And also you’ve been moving around a bit lately.
Wendy Yeah, I think that’s what we do for fun, huh. We always find ways to live a dual life. We’re always one foot in Singapore and one foot somewhere else. And that keeps us very agile.
Gustavo Yeah, we do like to spend time in nature. Recently we spent a few months in Argentina, in Patagonia, so we’d go kayaking… horse-riding… this deeper connection with nature is fun, is enriching and relaxing at the same time.
Wendy Yeah, you can talk all you want but in the end, you need to be immersed in nature.
We always find ways to live a dual life. We’re always one foot in Singapore and one foot somewhere else. And that keeps us very agile.
You have also been teaching, sharing your experience and expertise with younger designers and students. What’s that like? Is that going to be put on hold now that you’re in Berlin?
Wendy For me that’s been on hold and I think Gustavo too. I was still teaching last year.
I’ve been teaching for as long as I’ve been practising. So I started teaching in 2009 and I graduated in 2007. I worked for a year and I was put back into teaching. That was how young the industry was then, because there were so many new designing schools popping up that many graduates were pulled back to help, to teach. And it was incredible; I would say that being able to always have one foot in academia is very important to remain mentally and creatively agile because there’s always a limit to how far you can go with industry projects. When we are teaching, we can really speculate futures and we can really be more far off, it’s really fun and I really enjoy it. Also, I learn a lot from my students as well. I do enjoy the process of teaching and how to create creative pedagogy.
I would say that being able to always have one foot in academia is very important to remain mentally and creatively agile because there’s always a limit to how far you can go with industry projects. When we are teaching, we can really speculate futures and we can really be more far off, it’s really fun and I really enjoy it.
Can you elaborate a bit when you say when you teach you can speculate better about the future?
Wendy Well, that’s because there’s no limits to the possibility of what you bring to the classroom. So if you were to set a brief on how we are going to live in the future and if you were to speculate 20, 30 years down the road, there’s going to be rising sea levels, could you imagine that we might be living in pods, living underwater, or that you’d be floating. That’s where you can really design habitats, objects and products we’d use that may not even exist today.
Gustavo For me teaching is interesting because, especially when we get older, it kind of keeps me in touch with the new generation and the way they think. I feel that the last few years, with technology and social media and devices, the way people think changes very fast. Whether it is the attention span kids have these days compared to when we were studying… So being in contact with the new generation, 18, 19 year-olds kind of helps you understand and see how their character is changing, what their interests are, adjust the profession to make it in a way that they can accept and understand it.
Wendy Actually in many countries, the connection between academic institutes and the industry is very, very tight. There’s a strong connection, and also government and policy-makers. You see this flow of ideas running through these three spheres and I realised that this is something to be harnessed.
For example, during the pandemic, I was very much in the circle of the museum curators and a lot of the museums were affected. Ten percent were to be completely closed down and all museums were closed, so basically they were suffering in terms of income and traffic. And I thought this was a good moment for designers to come in and say how we can rethink the museum space. So we did that as a project at NUS with my students and we were able to so quickly reinvent what a museum should even be. Who decides what kind of content should be showcased, who deserves a voice – should migrant workers also be able to have a narrative in a public museum space. With the outcome of that project, I was able to share with some people in the museum sphere. They were so inspired by what they saw from the students and they were so interested to support some of those ideas. But what’s more important, for them to see for themselves, how we can pivot and evolve if we are able to jump out of the box. And that’s something you can only do within the platform of academia.
Actually in many countries, the connection between academic institutes, the industry and the government and policy-makers is very strong. You see this flow of ideas running through these three spheres and I realised that this is something to be harnessed.
Where do you see Forest & Whale moving towards in the next few years? What’s the vision? As a practice and a business.
Wendy For me, after Outofstock, or when we were growing Outofstock, it was more of a traditional design studio where we were thinking about growing a team.
But when we started Forest & Whale, it became clearer that it’s about how we can stick as close as possible to what is meaningful and what we care about, and that can become part of our practice. And so as a model of a studio, it has become more of being part of a network of various people we work with. So in all of our projects, that’s what’s happening. It’s almost like mapping out a constellation of various creative workers, as well as social workers, as well as theatre practitioners. We basically work with different people as we do different projects and that’s really how I think we see ourselves going forward. As we enter different industries, we will be working with more diverse stakeholders, and how can we create this larger and wider constellation of creatives and non-creatives who we can work closely with towards our vision of what we care about.