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[Lil’Laoban]: Oway Lau of Si6Do1

“It’s really good to stop and think and feel things..."
2022-10-28 12:00:00
Lil’Laoban is a column series that shines the spotlight on independent entrepreneurs in Shanghai. We’re talking to them about their journey, wildest ambitions and how they’ve carved their niche in this city. The Lil’Laoban series is part of SHANG!, a grass-roots initiative founded by friends and businesses to celebrate the always-looking-up spirit of the city and everyone that calls Shanghai home.

Featured in Elle, TimeOut, Asteria, Mars, and more, Si6Do1 sells ordinary objects reimagined in thoughtful, beautiful, and funny ways with the purposed of bringing people joy when they receive them as gifts or just buy them for themselves. For the wide range of random-but-not-random creations of Hong Kong native Oway Lau, inspiration comes from a deep and considered encounter with yoga, the differences of women's boobs, and what would a "slutty" candle smell like — among other things. Her brick and mortar store opened in 2017 and ran for three years before she moved the business to a by-appointment-only studio space on Julu Lu, wherein she still caters to a loyal community of customers and people looking to workshop a little joy into their lives. Her bits and bobs are always available online right here on Taobao and you can find her on Xiaohongshu.

SmartShanghai talked to Oway Lau about the importance of the little things in life.

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SmSh: Let's get started. Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? How long have you lived in Shanghai and what brought you here?

Oway Lau: I'm from Hong Kong but I lived in London for many years. I've been in Shanghai for almost 10 years now. I came here originally for work for a project from my job in London. I loved it so ended up staying...

SmSh: Can you introduce Si6Do1 to people who might not have heard of the venue before? What's the inspiration behind the venue?

Oway Lau: Well, I started the shop because, basically, I just wanted to quit corporate life. I was in broadcasting in London and I left that. At first, in Shanghai, I didn't really know what industry I fit in, so I went into business for myself. We're a design shop — a mindful design shop. Being mindful is behind everything. I loved finding yoga, and having yoga in my life inspired creating design based on that...

We have a motto in my business: We sell simple things. We sell beautiful things. We sell small, little things that I find pretty. And if you do too then you can buy them and put them in your life. Very simple. Right now, we all have like really busy lives, but it's really good to stop and think and feel things.

When we first started out, we were stocking different items — just stuff I would find traveling — but now it's me designing everything. When we first started out, we weren't trying to "be" anything. I just wanted to have a small shop selling small simple things... and it's still like that. Everything is on a small scale and we have our own community.

SmSh: Nice. "Si6Do1" literally means "small shop" in Cantonese, right?

Oway Lau: When you pronounce it, it sounds like the English word "store". The sixth tone on "Si" and the first tone on "Do".

But, yes, we have lots of SiDo in Hong Kong — small corner stores or grocery stores.

SmSh: So, tell us more about your designs. I know you mentioned it's stuff that you like. But can you highlight a few items and tell us about them?

Oway Lau: I've been building my own collections and I have three categories. And, ummm, I'd like to stress that the categories are all really random. So, we have an aromatherapy line. I went to the New York School of Aromatherapy to study for the summer in 2018, and then I came back and developed my collection. And I have ceramics. I met a girl randomly in Jingdezhen and then that's how we started. And I've started doing jewelry. This is new to me. I'm trying to focus on doing little things that people can carry around because now my business is slowly changing from offline to online.

So, like, i'm also learning how to do business like trying to like do small little things that people can carry around and travel with.

But all these collections they have all, as I said, come from the idea of mindfulness (正念). It's not random – it's random, but it's not random. There's an idea behind them even if it's all different things.

As an example, one collection that sells very well is my yoga collection. I started going crazy on yoga, and drawing asanas, which is the poses. And then I was sharing on social media and people really liked it. And that's how I started doing, like, canvas bags and then started doing ceramics with them and eventually also jewelry as well.

So, like, yoga gives me joy, yoga gives me strength, it gives me confidence, it teaches me how to relax. There are lots of things that I learn from yoga and I put all this learning into my products.

It's not actually about yoga, it's about mindfulness. I think everybody goes through some shitty time in life. And when I first opened my shop, I was going through a bad time in my life. And then somehow I found yoga. Slowly, I learned how to appreciate the things in life by putting energy into that. So being mindful is more about searching for the little things in life and doing them to make yourself happy.

Another popular one is the bookmark collection. I wanted to celebrate the differences of women. So, we created seven different styles of boobs drawings. That was also very, very popular among the products.

SmSh: Which are your most popular candles?

Oway Lau: For aromatherapy, the most popular ones are the "Slutty" candles and the "Hangover Cure" mists. Because if you get it, you get it. If you don't get it, I can't help you, right? "Slutty" candles and then a hangover cure mist — they make for great gifts for the right people.

But that's how we've been able to build a community. Just fun and personal gifts. So that's how, I guess, we got popular.

SmSh: You've really built your audience...

Oway Lau: It's a lot of word of mouth. Especially now because the shop is by appointment only and not facing the street. It's word of mouth really.

When my shop was open, it was in the middle of town on Yongkang Lu so people would pass by. So, that was three years of my life. But since then my new customers come from people telling people.

Now, I have my studio which is much better. People come for workshops and bring their friends and stuff. I'm very thankful. It's not like before. People don't pass by. People have to come intentionally to me. But I'm slowly learning how to do Chinese social media It's been great. Recently, it's been good.

And that's the core of the brand. I think. You want a joyful life and you want your friends to have joyful lives. So, you share these very genuine feelings for your friends with gifts and people treasure them — this is how, I think, the community is still linked together. Yeah. Actually, am I answering your questions?

SmSh: Of course! How has the switch from running a shop to running a private studio been?

Oway Lau: It's a mix. So i'm a very honest person and I think we're with all these changes of government policies, nobody knows what's gonna happen...

I was very thankful that I didn't have my physical shop on the street for which I have to pay the rent [during lockdown]. About a year ago, we found this huge space. After three years of being in the shop myself, I feel very, very tired, basically, although it was like the best time of my life, but it really was time consuming...

Now, I can do my own thing and have my own space. And when I want to do workshops, I can do workshops. And with appointments, it means I can talk to people in depth. It's interesting. One thing I, really again, thankful about is that people seem to know a lot about my life and my shop.

SmSh: What vision do you have for Si6Do1 going forward? Like, are you optimistic towards the future?

Oway Lau: i'm still quite lost in business. I don't know how to do business because that wasn't why I opened my shop. I just wanted to share stuff. With Covid, lots of people left, and many of my customers left, so we are having, like, a very challenging time.

And i'm hoping that now i'm learning how to do social media we can find like new group of customers...

SmSh: And final question, what's your favorite thing about living in Shanghai?

Oway Lau: I think living shanghai is great. You have the best of everything. People are very energetic and hopeful — very cute. I think people are still hopeful even though everyone is going through challenges. Even if it's been a difficult last few years everyone is still out doing stuff, which is really impressive...

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