"A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people"
-Mahatma Ghandi
Susanna Pang — Founder of SOIL
August 2017

Susanna Pang, founder of SOIL, talks to us about how her passion for handicrafts came to be, and providing an educational experience for people when they view traditional arts.

Designer Chau So-hing (left) and Founder of SOIL Susanna Pang (right). Photo by Annie Yeung.
Can you share with us why you had the idea to establish SOIL?

We established in 2011. Before, I was not involved in the handicraft industry full-time., and was actually in a job that was related to design promotion. I realized that there are many opportunities to develop design, creativity and art in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an international city where East and West mix. It has the advantage of connecting different languages and cultures. At that time, I made ceramics in my spare time. And then I had the opportunity to travel to Myanmar and come in contact with local lacquerware art. I discovered that unlike ceramics that can be made by one person, lacquerware involves different industries, different villages, and people with different skills, and the production time is also longer.

SOIL located at PMQ.
This trip aroused my interest in lacquerware and so I started to learn more about it. I found out that lacquerware originated from China. I was surprised that such a traditional art from China had passed to Japan and Southeast Asia, but then that some of the styles or techniques seem to have disappeared in today's China. I also thought of other traditional arts that may be in a similar situation as lacquerware. I started to think that I could use my knowledge and professional skills to do something about this. So I established SOIL. At first, I just wanted to use SOIL as a platform to promote traditional arts to more people, hoping that customers and the audience can see the handicrafts from cultural, historical, and humanist perspectives, so that the arts can have a better chance of developing better, of becoming more popular.

The name of SOIL means that we want to cultivate a piece of soil in which traditional handicrafts can grow and propagate, helping more people to appreciate these traditional arts. Lacquerware is a starting point.

In April of 2012, we opened our first pop-up shop, in the ceramic studio of my friend, to sell some handicrafts. Lacquerwares were the main products, and we also had some ceramic arts by local artist. The goal wasn’t just retail, but we also hoped that the customers will learn the history and culture behind the pieces, and so we held an exhibition to go along with products being sold. We emphasized showing the production processes of these handicrafts. There were artists making ceramics at the other side of the studio. Customers could have a look on the clay and pottery wheels used for making ceramics or porcelain. We also put some books besides the products that people could read. The response was good. The most unexpected and satisfying part was how much of an interest people had towards the exhibition and products. We thought that maybe it would mostly be those who are more artistic in background who would be interested, but people of different backgrounds came to the shop, including travelers from different countries, and foreigners who lived in Hong Kong and who were interested in traditional handicrafts from the East. They also shared with us their own knowledge, and told us about pieces that they had already collected. There was a father who brought his son to the shop, explaining to his son how these handicrafts were made. All these things were very encouraging.

Hong Kong is a place where eastern and western cultures meet. We hope our store would be a small kaleidoscope, showing local handicrafts, and at the same time those from surrounding countries too. There is no culture in any place that is completely isolated—cultures mutually influence each other, and when you put handicrafts from different places together, it can bring a new experience for viewers. We concluded our experience of pop-up shops, and in 2014 we moved to PMQ. We hope to display our products with contextual information about the traditional arts, giving an educational angle to the viewier experience.
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About SOIL:
Located at PMQ, and found in 2012, SOIL aims to offer a new perspective and experience to traditional crafts through design research projects and collaboration with creators across different cultures. Through collaborations with designers and craftsmen across different disciplines, SOIL aims to create better craft designs exposed to alternative methods and materials, believing that collaboration spreads the sphere of influence for designs, and breaks down walls with new approaches.

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