Cafuné - pronounced ka.fu.nay is not just a beautiful Brazilian-Portuguese word meaning the act of playing with a lover's hair but one of the luxury market's most recently established accessories brand. Founded in 2015 by childhood friends Day Lau and Queenie Fan, the company is making it's mark on an industry that is slowly but surely finding it's worth in more niche markets and tightly directed and curated design. After a lifelong love affair with arts and culture in general and a fondness for minimalist design, the duo pay close attention to strong construction in their collections and the finer details in each piece. With Cafuné, an immense weight is also placed in craftsmanship and the materials used to bring to life modern yet timeless creations that have found themselves in the style stores of consumers around the world.
In such a short space of time, we've seen them grow vastly with front row presence on the arms of some of the most influential bloggers and editors in the world and are stocked in some of the most notable retailers in Asia. Here we chat to Day about realising the dram of setting up Cafuné, the challenges faced and what's next for the brand..
Day, would you kindly tell us about your career thus far and what brought you to the point of creating Cafuné?
After graduating from LSE, I moved back to Hong Kong and worked in Giant Communications, a boutique communications agency that specialises in property and architecture. They specialise in strategy, marketing and PR work for clients in the real estate sector, e.g. Swire Properties, SOM and Heatherwick Studios. During that period, I also helped with the setting up of Very Hong Kong, an independent art and culture programme with a strong community focus; and Event Horizon by Antony Gormley, the most extensive public art installation in HK.
Around 2014, Queenie (who used to work in New York as a handbag designer) and I started to discuss the idea of creating our own brand together. When she relocated back to Hong Kong in mid 2015, we started Cafuné.
What is the philosophy behind the brand?
Cafuné’s accessories portrays the beauty of shapes and forms. Our accessories are minimal and timeless with well-considered details. Carefully crafted with Italian leather, offering superb quality that does not cost a fortune. Our brand is not trend focus, and instead we focus on the purity of design and construction; creating accessories with quiet elegance.
What roll do you play in the everyday running of the company?
As Managing Director of Cafuné, I oversee the operations, finance, sales and marketing of the company. Day to day work varies a lot, since we are still a small team, Queenie (our Creative Director) and I share all the work between ourselves. For example, I still have to pack the goods and deal with shipping and logistics! All in all though I think my biggest responsibility is to ensure that Cafuné has a solid business foundation so that Queenie can have a stress-free environment to design without worry.
How would you describe yourself professionally?
Motivated, organised and meticulous.
When in the concept and design phase of creating a new product, what or who inspires you guys?
Queenie does all the design work, but as a brand, we are often inspired by sculptures and architecture, the play of positive and negative spaces in relation to form.
Seeing a gap in the market for a simplified but high-quality luxury accessories brand, Cafuné is really making a mark on the industry but how difficult is it in reality to break into that kind of a niche market?
I think there is opportunity for us in the luxury sector now because it has shifted focus to the mass market. To me, luxury is not just the price tag, but the design, the quality and exclusivity. Yet, many brands are now introducing second line with more ‘affordable' prices and subpar quality for a wider market, which to me, dilutes luxury. So what we are trying to do is to stay focused (it is so easy to lose sight of your own path in such a fast pace ever changing industry) on our aesthetic and quality, to slowly build a reputation and position in our targeted market.
Starting any new business is a huge risk and comes with many complications, what advice would you impart to those at the beginning of such a process?
Do research - we took a year to research and save up, before launching Cafuné. It is quite important to understand the industry and business environment you are going to be in.
And don’t be afraid to ask questions - at the beginning there will be a thousand questions in your head because there is no rule book on how to start a new business, so we would often just ask experts in the field for advice. It is a great learning process to meet with people who have more experience than you.
The collections are minimalist in nature - endlessly elegant and empowering, how do you set yourselves apart from the masses of new brands emerging?
You are certainly right about MASSES of new brands! There are so many brands out there nowadays, and customers are exposed to new information, fresh visuals so frequently it is hard to stand out. Being able to ride out trend-based waves, and offer customers a strong modern design that speaks quietly of luxury is how we set ourselves apart.
Where are your products produced and how does the process unfold from concept to consumer?
We are produced in China, with a factory partner that has always worked with European and American contemporary labels. They have been a great partner, their team has a great sense and understanding of our brand, so our designs can be fully realised through their workmanship.
Often times our inspirations come from nature, sculptural forms, and architectural structures. It’s always a fun challenge to implement these ideas into a functional everyday product. Hence, it’s important to convey our ideas through materials, colors and details. We source from across the world (leather from Italy, trimmings from South East Asia, fabric from Europe etc), and our materials really strengthen the concept and complete the product.
Season by season, 'influencers' are taking their positions front row alongside high-powered editors and season after season are becoming more and more powerful in the industry, what are your thoughts on the digital age and the rise of the ‘influencer’?
There is no doubt how big a role influencers play in the fashion industry now. I think the main reason is their ‘closeness’ to ordinary customers who feel they can strongly relate to them. Brands nowadays have to be really agile, to respond to new digital trends so not to lose touch with their audience, and influencers is one such channel to stay connected to our audience now.
Where do you see you relationship as a brand sit in terms of collaborating with influencers?
As a brand, it is up to us to find creative collaborations and partnerships with influencers, to offer our customers and future customers a fresh take of our products in new contexts.
What do you look for when teaming up? Is it all about the number of followers or the quality of content created by an individual and perhaps the direct link to your exact client?
We look for influencers’ sense of style and aesthetics, whether it aligns with our brand and if they represent our customers well. Also, we look at an influencer’s quality of content and his/her engagement rate with followers. I believe the better the engagement rate, the better the result. We would also look for individuals that have a strong regional reach, so we can tap into new audiences in places that we aren’t exposed to or stocked at.
Your pieces are stocked in both bricks-and-mortar stores in Asia and online at Shopbop and LUISAVIAROMA - are there plans to expand into Europe and North America?
Certainly, Europe is our major focus now so we go to Premiere Classe every season to showcase our collection and meet buyers. There is a lot of potential in the market despite great competition!
Do you have a personal motto that you live by?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing where might we find you?
I might still be in the property marketing field since it was actually really exciting work. I used to work on projects from scratch - from naming, to branding, strategy planning, wayfinding design, marketing angles etc. There was also chance to meet with really talented architects (e.g. Thomas Heatherwick)!