Made With Passion: Husband and wife team behind Bynd Artisan carries on 80-year home-grown legacy

Ms Winnie Chan and Mr James Quan have worked together as co-founders and brand owners since 2012. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - For husband and wife Ms Winnie Chan and Mr James Quan, their brand Bynd Artisan is not only a labour of love, but also part of a long legacy that has spanned close to 80 years.

The duo - who have worked together as co-founders and brand owners since 2012 - started the business as an experiential retail concept. But while customers might know the brand for its sleek, personalised notebooks and customised leather goods, few might know just how intertwined the company's brand is with a traditional craft business whose history spans decades.

"It started with my grandfather, Mr Chan Koon Seng, who founded a small bindery workshop back in 1942. We've since drawn inspiration from the hand-designed, traditional book making methods and machinery we used back in the day, with the skills of our older craftsmen really taking centre stage (in our products)," Ms Chan said.

Bynd Artisan was on Friday (Nov 20) one of the 48 pioneer recipients of the "Made With Passion" Singapore brand mark. The mark has been awarded to a selection of local lifestyle brands to highlight their strong connection to Singapore, as well as cast a spotlight on the stories behind these brands.

For Bynd Artisan, leveraging on a rich, home-grown tradition has most definitely paid off. Business has since flourished: it now has a flagship atelier in Holland Village, which opened in 2015. In 2017 and 2018, Bynd Artisan also opened retail stores in shopping malls such as Ion Orchard, Takashimaya and Raffles City.

But to this day, Ms Chan recalls fondly a small, open-concept counter the company set up at Tangs Shopping Centre in Orchard Road, where it showcased a fledgling range of products. The brand's offerings have since grown to an impressive range of items that go beyond personalised, leather-bound notebooks. Their product range now includes leather bags, card holders, pouches and key trays.

Ms Chan added that the brand still very much involves the older craftsmen from her grandfather's business in the creative process.

A third of Bynd Artisan's staff are above the age of 50, and many of the men and women who have mastered the tricks of the leatherworking and crafting trade still hone their skills at the brand's ateliers.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, customers who order personalised notebooks can work with the craftsmen to select the materials for their books and watch how the craftsmen put the notebooks together too.

"We are advocates of active ageing, and our craftsmen have so much enthusiasm for their work," Ms Chan said. "They love interacting with customers, and providing a comfortable, one-of-a-kind experience to everyone who steps through the doors of our atelier. This personalised process is part of how we truly engage with our clients, and make sure that our customers come back."

Said Mr Quan: "Our creative core is, essentially, our selling point. We revolve our production process around the customisation and personalisation of these items, and I think we've managed to stay abreast of trends."

What started as a small brand has since grown into an award-winning company, but the couple have their sights set on bigger things.

"I would say that our growth as a brand has involved a series of continual pivots," said Mr Quan. "We've had to keep moving and evolving, while staying true to our ethos: to continually create, with great passion at the core of what we do."

The couple's willingness to adapt is apparent from how the brand has quickly pushed out products and programmes that specially cater to customers in the midst of the pandemic: like customised and sleek leather hand sanitiser holders. Bynd Artisan also offers live virtual workshops for its clients, by shipping tools and kits out to participants and live-streaming the process from its atelier.

"We saw the Covid-19 pandemic not only as a challenge, but as an accelerator. We have great optimism for the Singapore retail scene, and are so honoured to be one of the first brands to receive the brand mark. It is now on us to do better, and to make it work," Mr Quan said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.