A few days ago, the Financial Times reported that by 2020 the Asian economy will surpass the economy of the rest of the world. Currently, out of 30 major world cities, 21 are in Asia; more than half of the world’s population lives in Asia, and it is estimated that, by 2020, half of the world’s middle class will be in Asia. The century of Asia, therefore, announced a long time ago, has actually already begun.
For the furniture industry, further opportunities will open up, given the very fast urbanization rate, and the growth of a middle class of young people living in urban areas with houses to furnish, featuring a contemporary taste and an average-price capacity. The real challenge will be to meet the needs of a very demanding population of young people with a moderate spending capacity, high education, and familiar with new technologies. One side of this challenge will concern products, the other – no less important – the way of selling, all to be invented.
Let’s start with the products, seen at the last trade shows in March. In general, there is an increasingly noticeable investment in contemporary products, where design is not just a make-over, but often reveals genuinely innovative ideas. In all Asian countries, designers and companies are starting to collaborate actively, developing products with new, more sustainable materials. Sustainability, recycling, rediscovery of local traditions are the keywords of the manufacturing of contemporary furniture in Asia, a production looking more and more at the markets of the surrounding area, and less and less at the other side of the world.
Malaysia: MIFF and EFE, more and more international
Malaysian furniture exports is growing again, after a couple of years of slight decline. In 2018, Malaysia exported furniture for a total of 9.83 billion MYR, thus confirming a growth of 4.8%, between 2014 and 2018. In the first months of 2019, exports are growing by about 9% compared to the previous year.
The growing trend is confirmed by MIFF, which recorded over a billion MYR of sales in the 4 days of the 2019 edition, March 8-11, up 3% over 2018. This result confirms that MIFF made the right choices in recent years, such as the new headquarters in MITEC, which allowed the exhibition area to be widened to 100,000 square metres. Thanks to these new investments, MIFF 2019 recorded the presence of 600 exhibitors from 14 countries, and welcomed over 20,000 professionals from 130 countries.
“Design Connects People” was the claim of the MIFF 2019, and the exhibition kept to the premises. The average product quality has really improved, and strong investments in design have been the main theme of this year’s exhibition. In the hall dedicated to the factories from Muar, a big space was dedicated to the new projects of PDP Muar, the new edition of PDP with the companies from the Muar area. PDP – Professional Designer Program, is a program for the improvement of Malaysian furniture products, developed in 2015 by MFPC – Malaysian Furniture Promotion Council, from an idea of Roberta Mutti and Franz Rivoira – Italian Consulting Pte Ltd., and then continued by MTIB – Malaysia Timber Industry Board. The 2019 edition, produced by some factories from Muar, involved some Malaysian designers, the Italian designer Giorgio Biscaro, and the Belgian designer Stefan Schöning. The area dedicated to this project shows that the attention to the development of design is now very high. A decisive turn towards an increasingly demanding market, such as the one that is developing rapidly in Asia.
Also EFE 2019, in the four days (9-12 March) of the 2019 edition, has welcomed more than 15,000 visitors from 140 countries. Now in its 15th edition, EFE reconfirms itself as a quality exhibition, starting with the first-class location, KLCC – Kuala Lumpur Convention Center. The intense networking work allows EFE to host delegations of buyers from 20 countries, including India, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Korea, Argentina and the United Kingdom. The quality of the products improved considerably, and a series of events highlighted how EFE is an important destination for international buyers. For 2020, EFE is planning to further expand its exhibition space, thus confirming its development potential.
Singapore IFFS: refocusing the target
IFFS – International Furniture Fair Singapore came to the 2019 edition totally redesigned. First of all, a new location. After almost forty years, IFFS has opened a brand new page in its history, leaving the Singapore Expo pavilions for Marina Bay Sands. A tremendously brave bet, which represents the first step in a new era. To keep the Singapore quality flag high, IFFS relies on a few very selected exhibitors, matching equally selected buyers. For the next four years, IFFS will be focusing on the concept of “urban living”, looking for contact points with buyers and customers from the new emerging middle class in Asia, the new hub of the world economy. A challenge which could lead to a niche fair, extremely selected, which is open to all professionals in architecture and interior design of ASEAN, and could be repositioned by attracting the right target.
CIFF Guangzhou: the expansion
The expansion of CIFF, now in its 43rd edition with CIFF Guangzhou 2019, knows no bounds. Divided into two phases, one focused on residential furniture, the other on office and contract furniture, CIFF covers more than 760,000 square meters of exhibition space, with 4,344 exhibitors and about 300,000 visitors. What distinguishes CIFF in recent editions, however, is not the quantity, but the quality, of its products, booths and visitors. Professional visitors are becoming more and more qualified, maybe also because the products are of a higher and higher level, with a strong content of design and research; the booths are becoming more and more carefully designed, with settings suggesting sceneries of domestic ambiences. The average quality of the Chinese product now meets perfectly the demands of international markets.
Two “cultural” (not commercial) exhibitions testify to the growing interest in original design. The first of this two ones was in the design halls, and it hosted icon-chairs belonging to the history of design, explained with great accuracy. The other, maybe even more unusual, was the setting for authentic high-end design products; the odd thing was that it was called the “Italian Design Concept Exhibition”, yet it did not only contain Italian products.
It is, however, an interesting proof of the growing interest of Chinese furniture towards original design, towards the ability to set up interior design, towards lifestyle, where Italy is the master.
CIFF is therefore becoming more and more a reference platform for furnishing in China, with an offer that is not only very wide, but also very qualified