Company built on chop-sticks

Danish designer in Chiang Mai sells his in many countries – and in shops in Bangkok

Not many business people have anything nice to say about the crisis in 97. Or about their competitors. The exception is Hans B. Christensen, owner of “Rice” in Chiang Mai and co-owner of the three “Cocoon” shops in Bangkok.
“The crisis released a lot a creativity. Staff from advertising and marketing agencies were suddenly made redundant, and many of them started to design home decor and furniture. At the same time most Thais were aware, that increased export was the only way out of the crisis, and soon after some of the big buyers from abroad started to come to Thailand”.
Hans B. Christensen had founded his company a few months earlier. He had designed beautiful chopsticks and rented a small stand at an export fair in Bangkok. It was definitely a niche-production considering chopsticks are not frequently used in neither Thailand nor in Hans B. Christensen`s homeland Denmark.
But he hit an new market with an emerging interest in Asian food and design.
He sold all his stock, filled the order book, and founded “Rice”. The first year 80 pct. of the income came from chopsticks.
Today, four years later, he has more than 35 employees and “Rice” produces a wide range of decors from nice gift-boxes to rose shaped candles, from small scented animal shaped bags to coconut shell with gold. And pottery. In fact, this is was he has become famous for, his design of bowls shaped as unfolding leaves from a lotus-flower.
Hans B. Christensen and his design has been featured in the book “Contemporary Thai” and in Asian Wall Street Journal, where he was portrayed as a designer who manage to combine East and West.
His ceramic bowls were recently on a full-page photo in Sawasdee magazine from Thai Airways described as “avant garde design with vivid colours and modern shapes” and a few months later, he and his designer colleagues from “Cocoon” were featured as “style-gurus”, no less.
“Rice” exports to a number of shops in Denmark through a company in Odense with the same name, whereas the three “Cocoon” shops in Bangkok – and a 4th recently opened in Amsterdam – is a joint venture with a Swiss furniture designer and a Thai textile designer.
The inspiration is from back home. Hans B. Christensen`s parents were farmers in Vester Skjerninge on Funen, but his father has always been very interested in Danish furniture design, so as a child, Hans and his father travelled to exhibitions and auctions around the country.
“I always knew I would work with design or architecture” he says.
After college in Denmark he went to London and studied for three years at a private school. Later he worked for Morris Angels & Son, producing costumes for movies.
But he wanted to live in Asia and he moved here working for a Danish and later a Malaysian company, before he started his own with the chopsticks in Chiang Mai.
He sits on the floor and gives a hand packing, when the containers needs to be shipped to USA or Europe, and he is obviously a popular and relaxed boss.
“Yes, I hope so. I have never run a company in Denmark, but the Danish mentality about giving people responsibility and let them grow and develop in the company, is something I have brought with me, and it works well. Apart from that, I think the big difference between running a company in Thailand and at home is, that there are fewer rules and regulations, costs and taxes here. With the limited capital I had to start, I would never have managed to establish a company in Denmark”.

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