Meet May Chatdaroon, (@ma_____y) the 26-year-old designer and founder of KAOI.
Being honored at the 2020 Best of Year Awards by Interior Design magazine and featured in global magazines like Designboom and Dezeen, KAOI’s EBBA chair has proven that functional art deserves a place on the stage. Now, sit back and relax as May shares EBBA’s journey from a simple sketch to MoMa in New York.
|| How It All Began ||
Can you tell us your background?
I studied Communication Design at Chulalongkorn University, then worked as a graphic designer for almost 2 years before starting KAOI. Now, I consider myself a “functional art designer.”
Define “product design.”
I like to think of it as functional art. Unlike the popular design principle of “FORM follows FUNCTION”, I believe that function should follow form.
“KAOI” — what does it mean?
It’s how the word “chair” is pronounced in Thai. It literally means chair. [smiles]
When I first started, I didn’t see myself coming this far so the name was like my little inside joke. I was being sarcastic! I totally dismissed the possibility that I could be producing other items in the future like tables or glassware. [laughs]
To give myself a bit of credit, I did like the shape of the word when it's drawn out. The “K” looks like a chair.
How did EBBA’s design come about?
I wanted to explore ways to make the “impossible” possible. When you start picturing things in 2D, anything goes. There’s no limit to your imagination.
One day, the image of a chair with graphic elements just popped into my head, so I sketched it out. It was really out of the blue.
The true challenge is transforming that 2D vision into 3D. How can I make this crazy abstract idea tangible, something I can actually sit on?
When did you decide to make EBBA a reality?
One year later, I still couldn’t stop thinking about that sketch. What’s so special about EBBA is that it’s like a big canvas for me to play around with. It’s constantly evolving and I wanted to see it come to life.
After several nights of tossing and turning, I quit my full-time job. The best part was my boss was incredibly supportive.
“Hey Mark, remember the chair sketch I showed you last year?”
“I’m going to make it. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
And that was that. I was officially unemployed with just that one sketch ... I had no connections in the industry or back up plan whatsoever. I guess it was pretty wild. [laughs]
|| EBBA’s Adventure ||
What made you reach out to THINKK Studio?
I knew I needed to consult some experts because I had no idea where to start. So I simply Googled “top product studio bangkok” and their name was the first one to come up. [laughs]
I really liked their works, so I gave them a call:
“Hello, I don’t know how to make products but I have a sketch. Can you help me make a chair?”
“Why a chair? There’s a lot of details involved if you want to sell it.”
“I don’t know if I’m going to sell it yet. Can we discuss this later?”
I only found out much later that I was on the phone with P’Day, one of the biggest names in the industry! And now I’m a huge fan. [laughs]
What was the working process like with THINKK Studio?
First, I prepared a super detailed pitch deck because I was worried they wouldn’t buy my idea and help me make my chair. That’s all I was worried about. I wasn’t thinking about the costs, profits or sales. [laughs]
As experts, they also knew all the right proportions, materials, and suppliers to transform my sketch into a real chair. They played a huge part in materializing my vision.
Why the name “EBBA”?
It’s a random Scandinavian name I saw on Instagram and really liked it.
What got you serious about commercializing EBBA?
By chance, my first prototype was completed just in time for THINKK Studio’s exhibition called “Why do we need another chair?” Throughout the exhibition, a couple of people asked if EBBA was for sale.
Next, global magazines like Designboom and Dezeen started to contact me about featuring EBBA in their content.
MoMa is one of the largest & most influential art museums in New York, in fact, the world! Tell us how MoMa reached out to you.
It was the best surprise ever. They saw EBBA through Instagram and found it interesting, so they sent me an email asking for more details like:
What are the popular colour combinations?
How is it assembled?
Which countries do you want to sell it in?
What’s your packaging like?
And of course, the most important question:
Can we sell this at the MoMa Design Store?
I ran out to the car park and screamed. [laughs]
From the moment I received their email, to the moment I shipped out the chairs to New York, it took around 6 months … It was really hectic, but so worth it!
They were incredibly professional and supportive, even though I was some nobody without even a business license.
Check out EBBA at the MoMa Design Store here.
Any upcoming projects?
The first one is “Melt” which is a series of scented candles I co-created with my girlfriend. The line-up includes Scarlet, Rose, Olivia and Sand. Each candle has its own character that revolves around the memory of a certain time and place.
The second one is a special project featuring marble trays. I happened to meet a few local experts in Saraburi who made me realize how marble can be crafted in various ways. Marble is often viewed as a mature, or perhaps old-fashioned material, but I’d like to challenge that thought. I want to show how it can be reshaped into something fresh and modern.
|| Up Close & Personal ||
How would you describe your style of work?
Unconventional yet functional.
It needs to have that X factor so when you tell someone else about it, they immediately recognize it as something by May. Kind of like Charades, the word guessing game. [laughs]
Do you ever feel insecure since you don’t have any product design credentials
I think not knowing the rules gives me freedom to create my own rules and offer something entirely new.
For those who are afraid to take the leap, what do you want to share?
I understand. By nature, I’m not very spontaneous. I like to plan.
However, if it’s something you really believe in, it’s worth a shot. So, start today! Ditch the fear, put in the work and figure it out along the way.
It’s important to set certain milestones, but you don’t need to know all the fine details at this very moment.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t stop now. Many will start, but only few will finish.
In your own words, what is love?
To me, there are 4 stages of love. In the beginning, it’s all about feelings. Then you start to learn about one another and start to understand each other’s imperfections. And that leads you to acceptance.