Hong Kong Economic Times features Lil Nika

Posted On: 2015-04-12 22:28:03 ;

Architect Mom
Eco-Friendly Furniture Design
Have you ever thought of folding a funny animal light for your kids?  Children's furniture designer Akin decided to develop a cozy night light when she performed shadow play and bedtime storytelling with her children.  After giving birth to her daughter, she wanted to take care of her kids and quitted her job as an architect.  She works at home to design children's furniture, and her kids are the first users of her maiden work.
Akin, a Malaysian by origin, studied in architecture in England and worked in London and Shanghai for 10 years.  She is currently living in a village house in Clearwater Bay with her Irish husband.  They moved to Hong Kong 6 years ago, bringing with them their 3 months old baby daughter Nika.  She said they had then bought a lot of baby products which are costly and temporary, and now they think it’s such a waste.  As a full-time mom and ex-architect, she began to think about starting her own business with the use of eco-friendly materials, with an aim of reducing the consumption of natural resources.  In 2010, she set up her own brand name Lil Nika Ltd, which is named after her daughter, to design durable and eco-friendly furniture for all families.  Her first product Red-Safari series is an origami-inspired night light for kids and their parents to make and play together.  Her second work Treehouse is a multi-functional tunnel and tent.  Based on the concept of caterpillars, it is telescopic and easy for storage.
Environmental-friendly plastic
Both products are made of recycled plastic imported from Japan.  The plastic sheets are in warm colours, having a soft and comfortable texture.  The light bulb is lukewarm, which is completely safe for toddlers to touch.  The most interesting is the size of the lampshade is adjustable to fit the head, so that children can use it as a hat for role-play.
She recalled that one night when she was working, her husband came home and put her animal designs on his head to play with her daughter, which inspired her to design a light that can also be used as a toy.  Developing the night light takes time.  She smiled and said she has never thought that developing a single product would take three years.  "I started from scratch.  Product design, production, packaging, delivery…I did them all by myself, and I learnt by doing.  The most time-consuming task is looking for a factory which is willing to produce plastic sheets from recycled plastic pellets.  I finally found one in Dongguan after 6 months.  It’s painstaking and I had thought of giving up!  Now all the manufacturers were chosen within one district which is in Dongguan, aiming to reduce carbon footprint during transportation.  Application for safety certification also takes time.  I needed to explore the market needs during the product development process, which was a good lesson for me. "
She spent half a year to get her products into local retail stores, but most of them said DIY lights take up too much space.  Moreover, Hong Kong parents prefer ready-made lights to spending time on DIY crafts, which made her surprised.  "Eventually there are two foreign furniture stores agree with my thoughts.  Hong Kong parents are probably too busy, so the DIY culture is not so popular.  However, I learn it from Nika that if children try to make handcraft with parents, they will cherish it when they see the finished product.  Parents can also assess their children's ability. "
Creating a children’s dream home
Akin smiled and said working from home is more fulfilling than being an architect.  She learnt from her busy mom that women can balance work and family life.  "My mother had to take care of five daughters, but she still managed to make good use of her creativity and developed her own business.  As I am now also a working mother, I learnt to be multitasking.  I will try my best to participate in my children's school activities, and do homework with them.  After sending them to school in the morning, I go home and do my work.  When they go to bed at 20:00, I continue to work until midnight.  I have set a weekly timetable for my kids, with a different theme for each afternoon playing session.  Some of the games are designed by us."  They do not have many ready-made toys or story books.  They like to make puppets with waste paper and popsicles sticks, and play shadow theatre on the wall.  Akin’s Treehouse design is the best playing corner for her little boy.  Though her kids are young, she does not overprotect them.  They can climb freely and do handstands on the bunk bed, while Akin would just ask them to be aware of their own safety.  "I have some basic rules, such as no climbing the window, saying thank you and goodbye to everyone, sitting properly while eating, cleaning up their dishes......  They basically have a lot of freedom."
Organizing playdates in the village
Growing up in Malaysia, she said there were also not many restrictions in her childhood.  Being an architect has been her dream since she was a little girl.  She started to draw the gorgeous buildings around her at 7, so she also encourages her children to draw anything they like.  She made a chalkboard with waste wood on their rooftop so that the kids can draw all day long.  When they first came to Hong Kong five years ago, they had no family members or friends living here.  Therefore, she put a “Free Playgroup” notice outside her house in order to establish a social network in the village.  She designed games for the kids, so that she could make friends with the neighbours.  "Today, several families in the village take turns to run a playgroup every week to look after each other’s children.  Once I tried to set up a pirate area at home, so the children could play treasure hunt with a homemade map and pirate masks.  We also tried princess dress-up party.  I like changing my home design.  As there are a lot of waste wood planks, I painted them with chalkboard paint to make an outdoor bench where the kids can draw on it."
She has a boyish character, so she also wants her kids to be lively and think out of the box.  "I like kids keeping their naturally playful self, and learn in a different way.  For example when my little boy learns to count, in addition to showing him the numbers, I number my staircase so that he can count while he goes up/down the stairs.  He can also write on the sand, or use card games or clay to learn math.  I also like playing ‘Dixit’ with my girl, which combines riddles and story-telling elements.  She needs to use her own words to describe the card, but must be vague enough.  This can develop Nika’s ability to express herself."  Akin is now selling her designs via her online shop, see http://www.lilnika.com/red-safari.
The elephant light on Nika’s head is her best friend.
  1. Akin’s Treehouse design, which looks like a caterpillar, can be played on the beach, while the holes at the bottom can be used for planting on the rooftop.  The night light in the middle is one of the three animal designs.
  2. The kids can climb freely and do handstands on the bunk bed while Akin does not overprotect them. 
  3. There is a drop curtain at the end of Nika’s bed where they can use it for a shadow puppet theatre. 
  4. 3-year-old Eric is very concentrated on playing Katamino, which is designed for children aged 3+.
  5. Akin painted a waste wooden board into black to test the light effect.
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