What are the first words that come to mind when you’re told a product is made in Asia? That’s the premise of a recent Tiger Beer project aiming to redefine and challenge some of the stereotypical answers fueled by decades of cheap goods.
In the first week of June, the brand opened The Tiger Trading Co. on Canal St. in New York City, arguably the heart of cheap, Asian-made knock-off goods. But this store was a bit different in more ways than one.
First, as opposed to the discount stores surrounding it, the shop featured more than 700 one-of-a-kind items from Asia-based artists, brands, and designers like Opening Ceremony, Singapore’s Mightyjaxx, Hong Kong’s Pomch, Mekong++ of Vietnam, Decoster of Shanghai, and many more, with goods ranging from art prints and limited-edition sneakers to digital tech and Asian street food.
And secondly, everything was free. All you needed to get in was a Tiger Beer coaster from a New York City bar. For the shop’s three days, lines stretched around the block, with people camping out for up to 12 hours to get in, and the store ran out of stuff just one hour after opening each night.
The space was designed by James Dive, an artist and designer with the Glue Society and who worked with the brand and agency Marcel to make it happen. No stranger to creating unique experiences for brands–including the award-winning GAYTM for ANZ bank in New Zealand–Dive says the design approach here was to create visual tension within the walls of the store, which included a floor made up of encased discount goods.
“I wanted the space to provide a direct comparison between the outdated view of Asian creativity and goods, compared to the energized and bold creative scene happening right now in Asia,” says Dive. “So the design solution was to bring the cheap stereotypical Asian goods and the bespoke designs into the same space. And, given our opinion of these cheap goods, the floor seemed like an ideal place to put them. I liked the idea that to experience what real Asian design is, you had to walk over what real Asian design isn’t.”
The biggest challenge for Dive was sourcing more than 700 creative items from Asia that would successfully represent the depth of creativity coming out of the region. “Even after exploring so many corners of Asia, I feel we only skimmed the surface when it comes to Asian creativity,” says Dive. “Everywhere we visited, every door we knocked on, seemed to have a neighbor who was doing equally fascinating work.”
Part of the draw, in addition to the products and items themselves, was through a brand creating a unique yet ephemeral space for people to experience IRL. Dive says the key to success comes down to good old-fashioned elbow grease.
“I believe the power of this type of project, and the success of these types of projects I undertake, is a direct product of effort,” he says. “To create a store like this, or indeed a GAYTM, requires a huge amount of effort. Every surface communicates human man-hours and time spent creating something physical. And to put in this type of effort you need to genuinely believe in what you are saying. So, for me, amazing builds and environments are the direct result of a client truly believing in what they are saying. And that belief ultimately oozes out of every surface of the project.”