Rozana Musa and Imaya Wong, the partners behind Bendang Artisan, are big fans of Uniqlo. Wong has gone so far as to call Rozana the “Queen of Uniqlo”, as her wardrobe holds a fair number of the brand’s collection. So when the Japanese casual wear designer contacted them to work on a collaboration, they were ecstatic.
Over the years, Uniqlo has collaborated with world renowned designers and artists such as JW Anderson, Jil Sander and Marimekko to create special collections that marry its LifeWear with different style aesthetics. More recently, Uniqlo has been working with Malaysian artists and businesses for the UTme app — a service available at its Fahrenheit 88 branch that allows customers to customise their own T-shirt or tote bag. “You can actually create or customise your own design based on different stickers that are available using the UTme app. Then, have it printed onto a shirt or tote bag at Fahrenheit 88 Uniqlo. So, whatever you design is truly yours,” explains Wong.
Malaysian businesses and artists who have so far been part of UTme include The Alphabet Press, Nala Designs, Bingka, Sabahan visual artist Kenji Chai and the Malaysian-focused type design practice Hrf Type. Unlike all these brands, whose designs are mostly created in a two-dimensional form, Bendang had to find a way to translate its ceramic creations onto a flat canvas. “Actually, we were a bit stuck at first, because going from 3D to 2D is quite challenging. We asked Uniqlo if we could meet and discuss, and things became clearer after that,” says Rozana.
Bendang Artisan designed 15 plate designs (narrowed down from 40), which will be available as stickers on the UTme app. “When you draw or express on a flat sheet of paper, there is no border and it is easy to etch out or trace out the design. In this case, I had the plates photographed, and then we etched out the designs, each individual stroke, which is very difficult and takes time,” explains Wong. This process allows customers to layer any of the 15 designs on top of each other to make a whole new creation.
Wong quotes Roland Barthes, “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author”, adding that customers will finally have the chance to make their own Bendang designs. “Our customers, followers and fans come to us and say that they want to be able to do a Bendang plate themselves. They think it is very straightforward, as though you just brush paint on a plate. But these are glazes, not paint, and the process is far more complicated. There are only certain colours and patterns you can achieve through the firing and glazing process. So when Uniqlo suggested going beyond with technology, we said yes, so anyone can recreate a Bendang design,” says Rozana.
The ladies add that customers can layer as many stickers on top of each other as they want to create exciting and new variations which are not always possible to be recreated on an actual plate with glazes because each colour or pattern requires different techniques. It can be 3D printed, but that would be expensive and takes away the handmade feel that fans love about Bendang Artisan. “We are really looking forward to other people’s designs. We want to see how creative people are with our designs and maybe it might inspire something new for us,” says Wong.
The Uniqlo x Bendang collaboration does not end with UTme. Rozana and Wong are also launching a limited collection of plates in three sizes that takes inspiration from Uniqlo’s logo and The Great Wave by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai. Again, the two friends decided to challenge themselves to create something new and innovative.
While Rozana’s background in sculpting makes her more comfortable with three-dimensional pieces, Wong’s training in graphic design gives her an aptitude for two-dimensional drawings. In a way, the Uniqlo collaboration made the partners find a more cohesive combination of their disciplines. “I’m always thinking about something spontaneous and freehand. So, we discussed a lot and Imaya said, ‘Let’s try to do something inside the box’. Of course, I needed to do some R&D first,” explains Rozana.
Bendang Artisan’s design entailed confining Rozana’s expressive brushstrokes within a square (which mimics the square Uniqlo logo). “Normally, Rozana would do something spontaneous and freehand, with a flow. But for Uniqlo x Bendang, we have a very sharp lined box, which is juxtaposed by the freehand strokes. So, there’s geometry and freehand, which is something new,” says Wong. Experimenting with stencils and glazes, the partners created a range of tableware that really stands out from their previous works and fully encapsulates Bendang’s and Uniqlo’s aesthetic.
Bendang Artisan’s special stickers for the UTme app experience will be available at Uniqlo’s Fahrenheit 88 branch from Oct 30. The limited-edition plates will be released on the same day at Bendang Artisan’s shop at The Linc KL. This Uniqlo x Bendang collaboration proved to be a challenging yet fruitful exercise and the friends would not have had it any other way. “For this, we have created new designs that are unique and something we have never explored before. Each collaboration we undertake really allows us to break new ground, and we only agree on collaborations that let us do that,” says Wong.
This article first appeared on Oct 12, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.