The beginning is always the hardest. This is especially true for those working in the creative industry such as designers. Aesthetic judgement can be very subjective. Sometimes there is just a fine line between an ingenious piece of work and a ho-hum cliché. Designers looking to start their own business sure have to put in way more work and effort than others. Anyhow, the road to entrepreneurship is always easier when you have the support and encouragement from like-minded people. And No Paper Studio is a case in point that manifests the importance of companionship and comradeship.
Famous overnight thanks to a mock-vintage poster
Speaking of No Paper Studio, most people would recall those Hong Kong style retro movie posters circa 1960s or 70s. It was the brainchild of Ka-hang Lam, a dyslexic designer in his early 20s who has been expressing himself through oil and acrylic paintings since little. In 2016, during his last semester at Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI), he started uploading his works on his Facebook page. The first three months went by without much of a response, but Ka-hang did not give up. He kept on exploring different painting style on his tablet and started imitating the retro movie posters by the famous Hong Kong commercial artist Yuen Tai-yung whom he had always loved. The first of the series was a humorous re-interpretation of the movie “Wonder Woman”. The painting was uploaded to his Facebook page while the movie was showing in cinema and it caused quite a stir. His post went viral and Ka-hang became famous overnight, keenly sought-after by various brands and companies for his charismatic illustrations. As soon as he graduated from HKDI, he also kick-started his own studio known as No Paper Studio.
Opposites attract and complement each other
Starting a business is never easy. Luckily Ka-hang got much help from others all along. He is most indebted to his wife Yankee, the co-founder of No Paper Studio. Yes, you read that correctly. Ka-hang is 22 and Yankee 21 this year. They got married in 2016 right after graduation and launching their studio. They met in secondary school and have been getting along well because of their opposite personalities. Ka-hang is an introvert, quiet and shy. Yankee is an extrovert, fun and bubbly. They complement each other in many ways and are surprisingly competent in their relationship.
They were enrolled in the Diploma of Foundation Studies programme at IVE (Kwun Tong) at first and then admitted together to the Higher Diploma in Visual Communication programme at HKDI. Yankee confessed that she has a passion for singing, but she still chose to study design at last. She said, “I was a bit influenced by him to be honest. Drawing and painting are good ways to kill time and I get to enjoy depicting things that I like. Studying design helps me understand different visual styles and how they work with the content. I found that especially interesting.” Ka-hang then added, “We used to study and work together, offering help and critiques to each other.” Yankee describes her relationship with Ka-hang as lasting and stable, just like a best friend for life.
Hand-in-hand on the road to entrepreneurship
After the couple graduated from HKDI, they both got a full-time job and they’d meet at No Paper Studio after work. “At first, I had to do all the work by myself, including researching for images, planning the page layout, sketching, colouring, typesetting… I had a day-time job as a graphic designer and I found it hard to cope as the workload grew heavier at No Paper Studio. Then Yankee started to share part of my workload, such as researching, sketching and typesetting,” explained Ka-hang. The two of them work hand in hand in both their private and professional spheres, supporting and complementing each other. Right now, their studio has a steady stream of work from many well-known clients, such as the poster illustration for the well-acclaimed local movie Man on the Dragon, lai-see envelopes for HK Movie, and a poster for Hong Kong Repertory Theatre.
The mentor who goes the extra mile
On Ka-hang’s startup journey, there is another indispensable figure – VTC alumnus Eric Ng. A graduate from IVE (Kwun Tong) with a Diploma in Fashion (Merchandising) in 1998, Eric is currently the chairman of VTC Design Alumni Association (VTCDAA), while owning a company that manufactures fashion accessories and offers consultancy services. He met Ka-hang last year because of an event celebrating the 40th birthday of the cartoon character Garfield. The organiser was looking for 40 artists in the Asia-Pacific region to create unique gifts for Garfield’s creator Jim Davis. When the organiser approached VTCDAA, Eric recommended a few alumni and two were chosen to partake in the event, including Ka-hang. Consequently, Ka-hang’s retro East-meets-West rendition of Garfield earned great acclaim and his Studio gained much exposure.
After the occasion, Eric got to understand Ka-hang better and was deeply touched by his passion. “His passion is unswerving. There is only one thing on his mind – to do the job well. That’s why I took him under my wing,” he said. They then moved on to become mentor and protégé in an unofficial manner. Whenever Ka-hang had any problem regarding his business operation, he would not hesitate to seek advice from Eric who was always there to help. Eric even thinks ahead for the couple. He registered the domain name nopaper.studio for them because they do not have a website yet. “You’ll need your own domain name to project a professional image. They have their say on the studio’s business plan, but they’ll have that option when they want a website later on.”
In Ka-hang’s own word, Eric has been the one they could rely on. “He is an excellent mentor and spares no efforts in helping fresh graduates like us kick-start their career,” he said. On the other hand, Eric does not mind paving the roads for others. As the chairman of VTCDAA, it is his job to serve the alumni.
Uniting alumni against all odds
When Eric assumed office as the chairman of VTCDAA, things were not all smooth sailing. He had to run the association on a tight budget and designers are more used to working independently than sticking together. He found it hard to unite the members. As a business owner, designer and chartered marketer, Eric then started running the alumni association from a branding perspective to attract attention. He also made use of his personal network to seek joint promotion opportunities for alumni to gain media exposure. He even advised alumni on all sorts of business tactics, such as pricing strategy and points to note when forming a partnership. Eric does not mind getting hands-on, from applying for technology voucher to cover the cost of equipment in a startup and advising the procedures of business registration, to hosting business matching sessions, and promoting alumni’s work among companies, brands and media.
“As a marketer, it’s my job to do the most with limited resources, and to turn the shortcomings around to our advantage. I care more about quality than quantity. I don’t host many events, but each of them has to make a splash.” VTCDAA invites alumni to run all kinds of workshops which become hugely popular, and the fee collected helps keep the association afloat financially. When asked about the most unforgettable moments within his tenure, Eric named the two alumni shortlisted to participate in the Garfield 40th birthday event and his successful attempt to line up 32 celebrated designers to raise fund for VTC with 32 handmade teddy bears.
Joining forces for the common good
On the night of this interview, VTCDAA was running an election for the first Outstanding VTC Design Alumni Award and hosting an annual general meeting. Be they designers, photographers or video editors, all alumni pitched in with the preparatory work on all levels. “All our alumni have busy schedule. They don’t just happen to be here tonight. It’s all because of our work in the past that makes them feel like a part of this family. We are just reaping the seeds we sowed.”
Right now, Eric has assembled a group of active and enthusiastic committee members and he has also galvanised the next generation of successors. He hopes the new term of VTCDAA committee will gather the power of more alumni from different streams of practices. The achievements of the association so far not only depend on the generous support from alumni, but also hinge on Eric’s hands-on approach. “I hope to show others that I am sparing no efforts. That would have a rippling effect on other members in devoting to the association.” If VTCDAA is a boat, Eric is the captain who steers it in the right way and supports alumni unconditionally. We wish No Paper Studio and VTCDAA all the best, garnering more success with their boundless creativity.