“Hi, I’m John. Welcome to my home!” he says with a big smile as we enter the John Erdos Showroom at Dempsey Hill. As he takes us through the showroom, he talks enthusiastically about the different pieces of furniture on display – you can see that he’s in his element here, full of energy and passion for the place.
Formerly the site of a British army barracks, Dempsey Hill is an up-and-coming part of Singapore, with trendy bars and restaurants, art galleries, antique stores and farmers markets. The area, which is very green, is dotted with refurbished colonial buildings, which give it an extra cool edge.
John Erdos already settled here 20 years ago. He had gone to Singapore as a twenty-something-year-old New Yorker, looking for a change of scenery. Back home he’d been working for an agency, but when an opportunity presented itself in Singapore, he took it, thinking it would be fun for a few years.
But now we’re in 2014 and he’s still here. “So what happened?” I ask John.
“Well, when I got here I wanted to decorate my home, but I didn’t really find what I was looking for. After some research, I ended up in Indonesia,” he tells us as we sit down on a set of sofas. “There I found everything I was looking for and more, so I bought a whole container’s worth of goods and had it shipped to Singapore. It turned out to be more than I needed, so I started hosting parties in my home where I sold the things I didn’t need. I served the wine, sold stuff at the same time and had a great time doing it! So I decided to go back to Indonesia and buy another container load, and another after that. One thing led to the next: first I only bought stuff, but I soon started finding that I wanted other things too, which I couldn’t find. So I started designing things myself and having them made in Indonesia, which soon led to the creation of a dedicated design atelier and workshop. And before I knew it, John Erdos had been created!”
“Ok,” I say, “so what’s the idea behind your designs though?”
“It’s pretty simple,” says John. “I design what I like, things I would want in my own home, and sell it.”
“And who is your main target audience?”
“Well, initially I sold mainly to friends and friends of friends,” says John. “Now we have this showroom here in Dempsey Hill, but it still feels like home really. I’m here every day, among my own stuff. I love it!”
“It really does feel very cosy, not at all like a store,” I say. “But what makes your brand different?”
“That’s a hard question,” says John. “I think it’s my approach to furniture… You know, I’m not a designer, I didn’t go to art school – my background lies in marketing and finance. So I approach furniture in a very personal way and there’s no formal training that gets in the way. I also make my designs on tracing paper, not on AutoCAD – that’s pretty rare these days.”
“And what about your materials? Where do you source them?” I ask. “We hear a lot about fair trade and sustainability as well as the use of natural materials and the importance of decent working conditions, also increasingly in the luxury brand sector. How do you deal with this?”
“I’ve been producing in Indonesia right from the beginning: we have an atelier and a workshop. We only use reclaimed teak wood for our designs. We don’t chop down any trees; instead we buy up used wood from demolished buildings. Most of our employees have been with us for a long time. We take good care of them: we give them an education, proper salaries… To me this is a given: I think it’s normal and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“That sounds like my kind of brand,” says Anouk. “Considering the triple bottom line of People Planet Profit, producing very cool furniture and creating this showroom, where the brand can be fully experienced.”
“Thanks!” says John, “good to hear you like it!”
“But hang on,” I say, “I want to understand the brand better: so you’re an American, you came to Singapore for a few years, stuck around, built a successful brand… but is John Erdos a Singaporean brand or a US brand?”
“Well of course I can’t deny that I’m of American origin, but to be honest I feel more like a citizen of the world, then wanting to belong to any specific nationality. But the John Erdos brand is definitely Singaporean, born and bred! If I hadn’t moved here, the brand probably wouldn’t exist, so I’m very grateful to Singapore for this experience.”
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