Virginie Fournier: Founder of Shanghai Trio

by Kate Andrews | April 11, 2011

Founded in 1998 by Virginie Fournier, Shanghai Trio combines traditional Chinese craftwork with a modern Western touch for its innovative products. The brand makes use of both refined and rough materials, from bamboo and organic cotton to modern plasticized cloth and yak down, to revive simple products inspired by everyday Chinese life. Shanghai Trio is also a workshop committed to employing both men and women under stable working conditions and seeks to improve Chinese living standards via sustainable trade. We spoke to Virginie this month to find out more.

Notes on Design: Where are you originally from, and what brought you to China?

Virginie: I am originally from Lyon, France but came to Shanghai (for personal reasons) in 1995. When I first arrived in China, I had many expectations of what I would find here: the finest silk, for example, and craftsmen working in the streets. This dream was instantly dashed, but I did decide that I wanted to make beautiful products with the local community here. This is how Shanghai Trio was born.

Notes on Design: What is the main concept behind Shanghai Trio?

Virginie: To create beautiful things for everyday life! Shanghai Trio crosses traditional know-how with modern design. We like combining natural fabrics, like silk, linen and cotton, with raw materials and subtle colours. We have a multi-cultural team, with members based in Shanghai, Paris, Beijing, Hong Kong and Tokyo, all working, creating and producing together. Shanghai Trio also has a commitment towards people: we have existed for over 10 years now, and this is driven by the will to act socially responsibly.

Notes on Design: Where did the name “Shanghai Trio” come from?

Virginie: For us, Shanghai evokes a mixture of cultures, whilst the word “trio” has a lot of power. The name was also a play on “Shanghai Triad”, the name of a popular film by Zhang Yi Mou.

Photo by Lionel Derimais of Nicely Made in China.

Notes on Design: Who designs your products?

Virginie: Our global team works on product design, drawing inspiration from everyday objects found in the streets of China. We like to think of ourselves as reconstructing Chinese history: our ideas transpire from personal memories and wandering around China. Our bag collection(s), for instance, are inspired by Chinese post office bags and electricians’ bags; we focus on colour, shape and texture to make the design our own. As for the materials, we scour China to find the best cottons and silks. When designing the postmen bags, for example, it was important for us to utilize the same cotton as the original. We were unable to find it for a very long time, until we discovered the actual factory supplying the Chinese post office. The fabric is great, as it is really thick, yet it is so tightly knitted that it’s waterproof.

Notes on Design: Can you tell us more about your workshop and how your products are made?

Virginie: All of our collections are made in our workshop, which is based in Kunshan (about 30km from Suzhou). We have around 30 people working on embroidery, patterns and sewing, and adding finishing touches by hand. Some of the embroiderers and trimmers have worked with us since the year 2000. This loyalty is invaluable to our sustainable model and the way we operate. I have had great joy in seeing the quality of the relationships we have created and built up over time.

Notes on Design: Who is your target market?

Virginie: Our target market is comprised of customers looking for expressive, individual products, as well as artists and designers, and energetic and successful women.

Notes on Design: What is your biggest achievement to date?

Virginie: Our biggest achievement to date is starting a small brand in Shanghai, and slowly developing internationally to become well-known oversees. This has been a huge challenge, as the Western market is much more competitive and mature; however, we have always strived to illustrate that beautiful, elegant products can be made even here in China!

Photo by Lionel Derimais of Nicely Made in China.


Find out more about Shanghai Trio and their products at www.shanghaitrio.com.

Designer and writer Kate Andrews was the original editor of Notes on Design blog, founded in 2007.

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