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Interviews

Interview w/Shai Levy

by , December 12, 2011

Well its time for another question time. Like the last session, we are speaking with another bag designer based in Hong Kong. Shai has some amazing experience, and one of the most interesting accolades available in bag design, few can say that they have designed a bag that was presented to POTUS (President of the United States).

As bag designers, it is inevitable that we will deal with the far east. Some of us will be offered positions there and its amazing what can arise from taking the red pill. Read Shai’s story to find out more…

– What are you up to now and how did you get here?

I live in Hong Kong and run my own brand, called Seventy Eight Percent. We make high- end bags and accessories for urban professionals. I moved here eight years ago following an interesting job offer, to start up a product development center for a Hong Kong based OEM manufacturer of high-end outdoor bags and sewn accessories.

I studied product design in Israel and in Berlin and worked as a freelance designer in Tel- Aviv after my graduation. One of my customers was Source-Vagabond, an Israeli manufacturer of high end outdoor gear. They are known for their Sandals and Hydration packs. One day I got a phone call from them regarding a new project. They wanted me to fly to China and develop it in the factory of their producer.

This was my first visit to China and I was very excited about it. I spent about a month in the factory, developing a collection of ski bags, and just before I left back to Israel I was asked by the owner to move to Hong Kong and work for them. Two weeks later I landed in Hong Kong again, ready for a new adventure.

I worked for them for about three and a half years, in which I learned a lot, worked with some of the best brands in the category and was involved in the design, development and manufacturing of hundreds of products. I spent 4-5 days a week in the factory in China. As a product designer, working in the world’s industrial zone is a very special experience. Everything is possible and every sketch can be turned into a prototype within days.

I left them to start Seventy Eight Percent. I wanted to run my own brand and felt that there is a lot of place for improvement within the urban / fashion bag industry. I thought that it can be done well by adopting concepts from the outdoor bag industry.

– How long have/had you been based in the far east? Do you plan to stay/return?

I have been in the far east for almost eight years. I met my wife here, my kids were born here. Seventy Eight Percent, my brand, is based here. I will probably move somewhere else one day, but for now, Hong Kong is my home. I am happy here.

– What is the biggest opportunity from being abroad?

As a designer and entrepreneur, being in Hong Kong and China expanded my horizons and opened my eyes. People here are very energetic and have a very unique can-do mentality. I was fortunate to work with so many people and brands, and to develop so many products. I do not think that would have been possible anywhere else. In addition, spending so many hours in sample rooms and on the production floors gained me experience and knowledge that designers do not get to acquire anywhere else.

– What is the biggest challenge with being abroad?

The biggest challenge was to build a life in a new place that is so different from where I came from. Adapting to a new culture was hard. Not understanding the language is frustrating. The hardest thing was being away from my family and friends. Meeting people is easy but it takes time to develop deep and meaningful friendships like the ones I have back in Israel. And food, as well. Finding a decent Hummus in Asia is impossible. I have to make it myself.

– What is your preference Backpack or Messenger?

I love minimalistic bags.

For a backpack I would have to choose two. One is the AK47 from Crux. I used to work with them and I love their philosophy and products. The other is the Naos 85 from Arc’Teryx. I think that they did an amazing job with their seam welded range. They used what back then was a new technology and created a collection that was very innovative from an aesthetic and functional point of view. It might not be the most functional or the most comfortable backpack out there, but it is beautiful and unique.

As for a messenger bag – I love our Gustav bag. I would choose it over any other messenger out there.

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