Updated: Jul 10
WCF Mates is a segment where we feature and showcase the lives of those who have collaborated with WOMENCANFLY.CO. (Commonly used by Australians, ‘mate’ refers to a friend or someone you are close to.)
In Vol. 8, we meet Margaret Hwang, a visual designer who has extensive experience with graphic, branding, exhibition, industrial and product design in Taiwan and Australia. She’s been running Overdue Studio for over eight years and is currently in the middle of founding another company.
Who is Margaret?
Margaret has over 15 years of experience as a designer for agencies, educational organisations and start-ups turned scale-ups. She also runs her own studio where she focuses on creating sustainable designs. Through her appreciation of handmade crafts, she wants to contribute her skillset to not only create new designs but also, advocate for sustainable options.
She is currently working on creating a central hub for artists and makers of handmade crafts and homewares to connect them to potential buyers and customers. This stemmed from a pain point she’s personally felt from having difficulty sourcing handmade ornaments from the world. The existing platforms for communication were not trustworthy and she spent a lot of time digging deeply through hundreds if not thousands of people.
Margaret worked in Taiwan as a designer for about seven years. There, it was highly competitive and the client was always right. No matter what the client wanted, she had to make it happen, even if it meant constantly working overtime.
In Australia, Margaret feels more respected as a designer. Clients propose projects, negotiate a fee, and are happy to provide more time. You finish one project and everyone celebrates. They really appreciate your hard work in Australia and rarely do they say bad things about you. People tend to forgive you easily. They care about your feelings more but the downside is she feels like she wants to put higher standards on her potential.
When Margaret seeks feedback, Australians will care about her feelings for her designs. When she feels she could improve, people will tell her to relax. She usually has her Taiwanese mindset of wanting to do more because something isn’t good enough. She’s always finding ways to improve and deep down, she’s still very Taiwanese.
Margaret first came to Australia for a working holiday and saw it as an opportunity before she turned 30. She didn’t have money and that was the only way she could live overseas at the time. She only planned to come for a year but got a job offer, made friends and decided to stay. Her company sponsored her for a visa and she’s now a citizen.
It wasn’t all smooth though. Her first job in Australia was at a cafe because she thought that’d be the easiest job to start with but she was wrong. She had no idea how things worked in Australia, especially the names of the ingredients like avocado, zucchini or haloumi. She was on trial and felt depressed after she wasn’t offered the job. After three months, she spent all her savings and had $600 left. She could either use the money to buy a ticket back to Taiwan or keep trying. She chose the latter and found a job doing what she knows best—graphic design.
What Taiwan and Australia can learn from each other
Margaret wants Taiwanese people to realise that they have a lot of talent and to give things a go. That’s partly why she’s working on creating a platform for people for creatives to connect as she feels Australia needs more creativity and culture. For Taiwanese people she feels they could be more active and confident to find opportunities overseas and not only look at what they have already in a narrow-minded way.
Margaret interviewed over 1500 people around the world and asked, “What does sustainable design mean to you?” She realised that sustainable design can be a vague and broad concept where there has been a lot of greenwashing involved.
She turned to history to find a more realistic solution where in Asia, before the industrial revolution, objects were handmade by craftspeople with the intention for them to last thousands of years. That was the most sustainable design to them—having one item to be passed down from generation to generation and to be used for as long as possible.
The most sustainable way she found was to have one item and to use it for as long as possible and pass it generation by generation. She’s trying to connect all the craftspeople from around the world on one platform.
Objects that are made to last are the most sustainable. If you create one new thing, it’s going to be a waste so instead of looking into recyclable options, we could create something that can last for years that we cherish. Nowadays, we’ve seen the rise of throwaway culture where modern society has turned to cheap and easily-replaceable alternatives that can be bought over and over again without much intention. You can buy something for a few dollars, then chuck it away after a month. This is one way to kill the environment. The other popular option today is designer brand homewares with giant marketing campaigns and sales at least once a month. Questioning why we’re using the utensils we use isn’t something we do anymore.
When serving Chinese tea for example, there is a subtle difference in taste if you brew it for even one more second where the taste can change. For five people to taste the same taste you’d pour the tea into one bigger cup and distribute it to them so that the temperature remains the same. The more we try to understand tea from a cultural perspective, the more people might slow down and appreciate life more, especially in this messy world with endless technological distractions. That’s why in modern life we have stress and mental health issues. Sometimes, it can feel like nothing makes sense today, it’s all mass production and consumerism but in the past, everything had a reason and made sense.
The intertwining of culture, craft and lifestyle
One of the reasons why Margaret chose to combine the exhibition with workshops is so that people can be exposed to the cultural traditions that come from drinking tea. For Chinese, Japanese and Korean people it’s not just about drinking tea, it’s how you drink it, appreciate it and the design and shape of the cup you drink from. If we look into why our ancestors did what they did, everything makes sense but right now nothing makes sense. We gravitate towards the cheapest item on sale and buy it. It’s been a journey for Margaret herself. She’s spoken to tea masters and realised how much she doesn’t know about her own culture. That’s why she feels like it’s her responsibility to share her findings to the Asian community here in Australia.
Margaret has collected artisan works and homewares from around the world through her travels. When she invites friends over for dinner, they always ask her where gets her homewares from. That was part of her motivation because people don’t know where they can get them from and travelling isn’t always accessible.
“If we support these artists, there would be more handmade items and handmade to me creates values. We’d use less energy by not using machines, have more traditions to pass on and spark more conversations. It’s an opportunity for educational conversations like, “Why do you drink tea this way? Or “Why is the tea cup shaped this way?” Every country has their own traditions and the more we learn, the more we can appreciate.”
There is a Chinese concept called ‘xi wu’ (‘xi’ means cherish and ‘wu’ means item). It means cherishing what you have and not throwing it away. Similarly, the Japanese concept of ‘kintsugi’ is the process of repairing broken pottery with gold powder. Margaret programmed a Kintsugi workshop to share this practice because when she received some artists’ work, it broke on the way but she was able to fix it. Kintsugi can test your patience. One chip on a plate can take four hours to fix and you need to wait for five days altogether. It’s so delicate and makes you think how much you can cherish the things if you have one item you that you have fond memories of, you can pass down to your children.
Collaborating with WCF
Margaret first met Kimiyo (Founder of WCF) at a startup incubator, The
Studio’s, accelerator program in Sydney Startup Hub. Nearly two years after participating in the program, she mentioned to Kimiyo that she was promoting an Asian craft and culture exhibition including a program of workshops with all-female instructors for tea and kintsugi. They were working towards the same goal as women promoting culture and collaboration.
The motivation behind curating ‘Thirst’ was for Margaret to connect people. She felt like the best way was to create an excuse for people to participate so this exhibition and workshop was to do exactly that. The process was also a way to validate her business idea. By working with the artists from South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, she’s learned about their processes and their pain points. She learned how to gain their trust on payments and shipping and wants to use those challenges to strengthen her future business. She’s managed to connect shops and craftspeople in Asia where they didn’t have the chance to do this before.
Through endless searching for these artists, Margaret found her gap in the market. Finding artists was challenging and the existing platforms didn’t cater to her communication and connection needs. Imagine if you could browse through owners, galleries, artists, interior designers or architects where your messages don’t linger in someone’s spam inbox on Instagram. That’s the kind of platform Margaret is working towards creating.
is a visual designer with extensive experience in graphics, experience, exhibition, industrial and product design in Taiwan and Australia. She’s been running Overdue Studio for over eight years and is currently establishing another company.
See below for information on each event and how to register for the exhibition.
Overdue Studio (@overduestudio)
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