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Updated: 2011-07-22 12:10
By Alexandra Leyton Espinoza (China Daily European Weekly)
Eva Molina Biorck's home decor designs are a mix between Scandinavian simplicity and Asian flair. Alexandra Leyton Espionza / for China Daily
Entrepreneur starts award-winning decor company in bustling Beijing
Sixteen years ago, Eva Molina Biorck phoned home to family and friends in Sweden crying tears of joy. She had just scored her dream job in the sales and marketing department for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) after just landing in Beijing. "I was confused, happy and sad," she says. "I didn't know if I was going to enjoy living in Beijing. Everything was so different from the life I had back in Sweden."
Despite the differences, Biorck rose to the China challenge and for the past decade and a half has left her mark in one of the world's most exciting cities.
Today, she is the co-owner of Biorck & Co, a business partner in two restaurants and the very proud mother of a one-year-old daughter, Edda.
Biorck is a true entrepreneur in a city which welcomes new ideas.
"Beijing is such an international city and rich in different cultures," she says. "It has an energy that doesn't appear in many places and that's one of the reasons why I decided to stay and build my life here."
Biorck can remember her first impressions of the Middle Kingdom that she gathered from the book Butterfly Girl. She used to fantasize about amazing Chinese landscapes, brightly colored gazebo houses and dazzling sunsets that were all featured in the book. It was the picture of a romantic city that was exciting and magical.
But in 1996, after graduating from an East Asian studies program in Stockholm, she moved to Beijing and discovered a very different picture.
"The Beijing I saw when I first arrived was not the inspiration for whoever wrote that book," she says with a smile.
"I had never imagined it so big, with millions of people riding their bikes on the streets. The city was so gray."
During her time at SAS, she had the opportunity to travel, mostly to Thailand, where the company had its regional office.
During these excursions her interest in Asian home decor grew and after nearly eight years working for the airline, she resigned in order to start her own business with one of her oldest friends, India Chang from Denmark.
"I noticed how fast things were changing in China," she says. "It was such an inspirational environment and I knew many others who had started their own companies.
"My interest in starting something on my own had grown bigger and I felt it was now or never."
Together with her business partner, she visited different home interior stores both in Sweden and Denmark and held meetings with fabric manufacturers in China.
"We both liked the Scandinavian simplicity and form. But this can sometimes turn out to be a bit boring," she says.
"So we decided to add a twist and include Asian elements and vibrant colors to our products."
The Biorck&Co brand was born and three well-respected Swedish designers were hired to create new products.
Joining the team were Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg, who creates the fabrics and patterns in most of the designs; Marie Louise Hellgren, who gives Biorck&Co ceramic products their forms and unique designs and Sara Odman, who is the creative mind behind Biorck&Co Kids collection.
The company raced off to an impressive start and in 2003, set up a stall at the Stockholm Design Fair. The young company surprised everybody, including itself, by winning a prize for best textile display.
A mini-media boom followed and today Biorck&Co has established its name as a small but upmarket home furnishing brand on the rise.
It now has a retail store in Beijing and a steady stream of exports to Europe.
"Our products are a perfect fit for the Swedish market both with clean design lines with an Asian touch," she says.
The brand has gained fame in the capital and is also getting more popular among Chinese clients, who are a growing middle class, which can afford their products.
To satisfy market demand, many of Biorck&Co's home furnishings are made from environmentally friendly materials.
For example, it uses organic cotton to make children's clothes and low-impact dye in its product prints.
In a country with a one-child policy, children's interior furnishing and clothes have become big business.
According to Biorck, the biggest challenge as a smaller company compared to giants, such as H&M and IKEA, is to produce smaller quantities making sure they deliver to high standards.
"It can be an incredible challenge to produce orders in a small amount. If you don't get what you ask for, they will try to convince you to still have it," she says.
As Biorck developed her business in China, she also became more versed in the art of developing the all-important guanxi, or relationships.
She attributes her experience of dealing with Chinese customers for SAS and with Biorck&Co as well as her restaurants Mosto and Modo, getting closer to understand the Chinese business culture.
The key to developing guanxi was learning to be patient.
Compared to Scandinavia, where the business process is streamlined and potential clients expect to get to the point much sooner, China operates in a different way.
"In China, you have to take customers for dinner multiple times before you can actually talk about business," she says.
Biorck discovered the power of guanxi after she opened Mosto and Modo.
"With the restaurants, it was the first time I really understood the value of guanxi and what it meant to do business here," she says.
"You can't learn it until you experience it yourself."
Her future plan is to open new stores in Beijing and later down the track, set up shop in other China hot spots.
She definitely believes that China is the place to be if you are an entrepreneur with something unique on the market.
"I remember when I was studying at university and I had a scrapbook in which I collected news from China, which was not very often," she says.
"Today, you are flooded with it."
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