We had been called to Shanghai to film a project that required us to map out the rapidly-growing city’s independent design scene, and we stumbled upon Sherry Poon’s company, Wobaby Basics, in the midst of the search. We were struck by Sherry’s background: a Canadian architect who decided to apply her design sensibilities to making eco-friendly clothing for children. But it wasn’t just her story that brought the film together; it was the way her everyday life reflected that story, and the fortune of being in the right place at the right time to capture a brief moment on film.
When we went to meet her at her workspace, her children were bouncing off the walls. We watched as she played with them, corralled them, and quieted them. The inspiration for her work was clear, and this clarity allowed us to connect with her as designers before any formal words were exchanged. We let the cameras roll, even though there was some concern that the children’s antics would interrupt the shoot. In retrospect, it’s no surprise to us that the kids’ impromptu participation actually had the opposite effect: it revealed the soul of Sherry’s work.
Sherry didn’t tap into the children’s clothing market as a businessperson. She fell into it as a designer when she started making tailored clothes for her babies. People would come up to her on the street and ask her where she’d bought them. So she began making more clothes, and the company was born.
Although we wished we had more time with Sherry, the brief experience (and the footage that came out of it) became the unanticipated anchor of our time in Shanghai. We discovered how her story fit into a greater narrative of the city’s emerging design landscape. What we found exciting about the community is something that Sherry repeatedly stressed when discussing her approach to her work: the close relationship that she maintains with the site of production, and the confidence in production standards that comes from this relationship. For Sherry and other designers in Shanghai, the phrase “Made in China” does not carry its familiar negative connotation. For them, it’s a statement of pride. We were excited by Shanghai designers’ devotion to every stage of the creative process, and they felt this energy flowing throughout the city. As Jamie observes, “Shanghai is in its infancy in a lot of ways and still defining itself through its work. We sense a little insecurity among the creatives there; they have an edge and a desire to prove themselves and put Shanghai on the design map.”
For us, the experience in Shanghai has helped shape Rustic's focus on design-related subject matter that reflects our own sensibilities as filmmakers. It has also opened the door for more extensive collaboration with Chinese brands. The goal, as Jamie puts it, is “to humanize [these brands]: make them relatable to global audiences and share their energy and optimism for what is coming from China.”