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Interview: Alchemist Creations and the soda can watch

Alchemist Creations

The team at Alchemist Creations

For three young Hong Kong-based designers the pop of a soft drink can tab means so much more than a refreshing gulp of fizz. For them, it is a means to socially responsible design.

And the creation of the Can-Watch.

Alchemist watches

Alchemist Can-Watches

The face and body of this funky wrist watch is made from the bottom of unwanted soda cans sourced from local restaurants; the wristband from discarded leather off-cuts. Once the materials have been collected, processed and modified, the watches are put together by people with disabilities in sheltered workshops.

Who’d have thought?

Well, you wouldn’t if you saw it. And that’s what’s so great about learning the story behind any design creation. What you see is not even half of what you get.

With the Can-Watch it’s got the aesthetics: bold, minimal design; the functionality: lightweight and easy to use; as well as the eco-creds and social innovation to make it one all-rounded timepiece. I’ts no wonder if won the Red Dot Design Award Best of the Best in 2013.

I recently asked the Alchemist Creation design team a few questions to learn more about them and their work …

Explain the premise behind Alchemist?

Our motto is:  ‘turn neglect into shine’. We believe in discovering the beauty of the mundane and turning it into elegant goods. Alchemist is all about combining handcraft production with social innovation. 

Why did you decide to start your own business?

We wanted to utilise social resources and create innovative sustainable product designs.

What challenges, if any, have you faced along the way?

The main challenges were making a production line in local sheltered workshops and teaching the members to manufacture our product.

Why soda cans and why watches?

We think from the basic and design from the basic. We wanted to take readily available materials – hence soda cans – and maximise the possibilities and make them design features. We ensure every product design is a seamless integration of sustainability and innovation. CAN Series is the very first product line we produced.  [They have also designed a range of wallets and bags using soda can elements, such as the pop tabs, as design features].

The Alchemist Creations Watch

Explain why upcycling and sustainability is important to you?

In our opinion, we think sustainability is like a Chinese philosophy: balance. Everything has to be balanced in all aspects and human factor is the key to make that happen. We think defects and variations in production are, in fact, a good representation of handcraftsmanship. Handcraftsmanship reflects human factors. We hope to reclaim humans as the leading role in production and ensure every product made from human hands is a seamless combination of quality and variations.

I love the fact you are using people in sheltered workshops to help make the watches. Tell me more about this.

All procedures, especially handcraft productions, are handled by the under-privileged. They are often neglected by society. They lack confidence and respect. Alchemist is willing to cooperate with them, offering them job opportunities. Through this cooperation, they are re-integrated into society. We hope customers appreciate the members’ sophisticated workmanship.

Fai from Alchemist Creations workshop

Fai from the sheltered workshop, who specialises in professionally polishing the soda cans

What are your plans for the future?

We would like to continue placing importance on our design system. We’d like to set up an appropriate manufacturing process with members and tutors from a Hong Kong sheltered workshop.

 Have you had any ‘who’d have thought’ moments?

When we first started working with the sheltered workshop, we wanted to help the members gain confidence and skills. However, during those years, it was the workers who often helped us to deal with difficult situations. Who’d have thought we would be helped by them! These members are the key to our success and we will always treasure this valuable cooperation.

What a fantastic discovery! Well done the Alchemist team for their success so far. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next …

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