Douglas Young Tells the Story of G.O.D., HK's Favourite Lifestyle Brand
November 02, 2023
Douglas Young has always been plagued with an identity issue of how Chinese he feels.
Caught between his adopted place of study in the U.K. and his hometown of Hong Kong, Douglas matured his British side in boarding school of England, later studying for a profession in architecture at the Architectural Association in London, before returning to Hong Kong in 1991.
Returning to pre-handover Hong Kong allowed Douglas to reconnect with his once-forgotten Cantonese spirit and identity. Trained in architecture, Douglas was obsessed with design. On his homecoming to kickstart his professional career, he joined creative agency Young and Associates working on interior projects.
Fuelled by a desire to create homeware with greater local awareness, Douglas teamed up with fellow architect and designer Benjamin Lau in October 1996 to create Goods of Desire (G.O.D.), a venerable Hong Kong lifestyle brand infamous for its tongue-in-cheek, sardonic, and real critique of Hong Kong culture.
“It’s about Hong Kong’s identity and my identity,” says Douglas on the founding of G.O.D., imagined as a revival of Hong Kong’s design image and self-exploration of how the Hong Konger assimilated back into his city. “G.O.D. is both a personal quest, as well as a business model.”
“When I returned to Hong Kong, I realised it is such a special place and has a style of its own. Nobody has really tried to define it or put a finger to it. [Hong Kong] is just a feeling, and I wanted to turn this feeling into something concrete.”
Goods of Desire opened its first store in Ap Lei Chau in 1996, fuelling Douglas’ natural love for the living space and liveable furniture. “The thing about furniture is that you can't inject too much cultural identity into [it], because furniture is things that people keep for a long time.”
The brand pivoted to sell household accessories, smaller Hong Kong trinkets, and clothing. Douglas and Benjamin named the brand “住好D” in Cantonese, translating to “better life,” an effort to become "very unashamedly Hong Kong.”
Two more G.O.D. locations opened in 1998 in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, and in 2001, G.O.D. opened an expansive flagship store in Causeway Bay at Leighton Centre.
Without a central theme of what Goods of Desire sold in its stores, each item was united to promote the culture and language of Hong Kong identity. “I think it does not matter how you express [Hong Kong], you can express it through food, clothing, houseware, or art.”
“The fact that Hong Kong people tend to have this underlying kind of naughtiness, a need to be subversive,” catalysed the popularity of the local brand in design circles, and later, the public. The household name of G.O.D. translated to in-house and brand-collaborated products that both pay homage and mock Cantonese culture.
In 2009, G.O.D. teamed up with Starbucks to open the “Bing Sutt Corner” café outlet in Central to elevate the traditional roots of Hong Kong coffeehouse culture. In 2012, Cathay Pacific introduced a range of amenity kits for passengers designed by G.O.D. with ancient religious Chinese iconography, fusing the new and old of the Chinese world.
And when Ho Lee Fook, Black Sheep’s cheeky Chinese restaurant, opened in 2014, Douglas joined the design process to advise on the restaurants’ logo, branding, menus, and graphics. The name of the restaurant was reportedly his idea.
Stocking t-shirts mocking drinking haunt Wan Chai, cheongsams embracing new modern styles, lucky cats fixed with a middle finger instead of a waving hand, and pillows with quirky Cantonese wordplay in their physical locations and online stores, G.O.D. does not hold back on its embrace of wacky Hong Kong.
“I do not think Hong Kong culture necessarily sells worldwide,” Douglas says. Western brands have long been embraced in the city, but the Hong Kong story rarely leaves the city. "I hope to play a part to help Hong Kong and Chinese culture become more appealing to young people.”
“Even in Hong Kong, many people say Cantonese culture is dying. What you can do is make Cantonese or Cantonese culture as attractive as possible, like how Korea and Korean are sexy now.”
After three years of the pandemic, Hong Kong has seen the rush of new and familiar tourists enter the city to scope out trendy spots. G.O.D. reopened their two locations at Hong Kong International Airport and bolstered support for their original location on Hollywood Road in Central.
In March 2023, the brand opened their new flagship store on D’Aguilar Street at the front of Lan Kwai Fong, with the aim of attracting locals and travellers to experience what makes Hong Kong special through a new line of books, homeware, clothes, games, and widgets stocked at the Central location.
When asked about his favourite products, Douglas concedes that without classical training as a fashion designer, he is fixed on his clothing line. “There are many unknowns and variables [creating clothes], which makes it interesting. It has been a learning process, and I am still experimenting. Chinese clothing is comfortable, and we want to present that at G.O.D.”
Since the border opened for Hong Kong in early 2023, Douglas has noticed shifts in the business model and what type of people shop at his stores.
“We are still recovering, but noticing the demographics are different. We don’t just have Westerners shopping at our stores, but many people from the Greater Bay Area coming down.”
“I think it is a good thing. I see myself operating within the Greater Bay Area in the next 10 to 20 years. I wish to be more amalgamated with Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Macau.”
Entering their 28th year of operation in Hong Kong, Douglas is rearing ahead with might to keep Goods of Desire engaging, relevant, and a sardonic critic of Cantonese culture.
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