Five minutes with Dom Chan, founder of Start From Zero

Having left its days as a cheap manufacturing hub far in the past, Hong Kong and its inhabitants would sooner occupy their hands tapping away at a keyboard than engaging in the more sensuous pursuit of handicraft.

Hoping to turn that around is Dom Chan, the founder of counter-culture woodworking outfit Start From Zero (SFZ) and the de facto face of the homegrown artisanal movement among the city’s millennials for his frequent furniture collaborations and interior designs for the trendiest local brands and cultural spaces.

Expressing an interest in applying his graffiti background to homewares in recent years, Dom’s latest partnership with bulthaup’s b Solitaire Collection saw his works presented along the theme of Shelter, with a range of household designs rendered in his signature up-cycled aesthetic on display. We caught up with Dom to discuss the importance of working with your hands and waking up early in this digital age.

Has SFZ changed over the years?

We’ve definitely changed, but we’ve always stuck with street culture. 10 years ago, we were making street art with markers, stencils and wheat paste, then we moved onto streetwear. After that we got into woodworking, using wood we found off the streets to create installations about Hong Kong culture.

Eventually we started printing our logo onto wood using screen-printing techniques that we used previously to create our T-shirt designs. We’ve stopped making T-shirts for the past five years, but we started again this year. So we’ve gone from stencilling to furniture to interior décor to fashion.

Would you want to teach more people how to do woodworking?

Throwing something out that’s broken and buying a new replacement ends up being even more expensive. People in Hong Kong also move homes a lot and they prefer to buy all-new furniture because it’s cheaper than paying for a moving company to move their old one.

That’s why there’s not much of a woodworking scene in Hong Kong, and the ones who are sticking around tend to be quite old. It’s also quite tough for our generation of woodworkers because we need to pay lots of rent for a workshop space. These days, most household fittings are pre-fabricated on the mainland and sent here for the builders to assemble. It’s rare for an entire piece to be created from scratch on-site.

Woodworking is really simple, even an idiot could do it. You just need a place, the right tools and the motivation, but rent is really expensive.

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Most people in Hong Kong don’t have a studio space to create things in. What tips can you give on how they can start small?

When I was small, I didn’t have a place to spray-paint my posters either. I had to go to the fire escape to spray them. Since I lived in a housing estate, people would get angry at me and threaten me with demerits. So I went to the forest behind my estate’s car park to spray my posters. There’s always a place to create, but it depends on whether you’re willing to spend more time to get there. If you’re not up for it, you should just go home and sleep.

What advice do you have for young people looking to get into handicraft?

It’s the same with anything: if you think too much about it, it’s a waste of time. Since I first started doing street art, eight out of every ten people I knew have stopped because they got involved with girlfriends, or couldn’t make enough money, or wasted their time, or gave up after being chased by the cops.

Don’t be too concerned with things. If your family can support you, then you don’t have to worry. If they can’t, then you’ll have to work really hard. Wake up earlier, it helps a lot. And drink more alcohol because it will help you relax. But don’t forget to wake up early either [chuckles].

Start From Zero
7/F, Yat Sang Industrial Building
13 Tai Yip St, Ngau Tau Kok