By Design: An Interview with Daniel Boey, on Ahmedabad Design Week

Daniel Boey, wearing Bodybound, paired with a scarf he bought from a local crafts market

Necessity is the mother of invention, and in a world where you can’t go anywhere without a screen in sight, anyone without a digital presence is in dire need of reinvention. That’s what creative director, producer and ‘godfather of Singapore fashion’ Daniel Boey has been busy doing for the last few years since the pandemic hit, as he and his team explore the possibilities going digital and the infinite realm of cyberspace and tech has to offer.

Since the death of his “BC” (Before COVID-19) era, and the dawn of his ‘AD’ (After Digital) era, Daniel has been recognised for his efforts in going digital. Not only has he pioneered the annual The Front Row fashion show, starting out as a virtual fashion show during the height of the pandemic and still going strong with core digital elements even after coming back to live, but also integrating digital engagement across his shows and productions. Most recently, Daniel was even invited to Ahmedabad Design Week in India, where he spoke to attendees on ‘technology revolutionizing across paradigms’, speaking on his work across various industries.

Taking place from 27th to 29th January 2023, at the Karnavati University campus in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, Ahmedabad Design Week is an international event that brings together global design experts, researchers, thinkers and stalwarts for a single festival, from the inventor of the QR code, to high-ranking Tupperware executives, to award-winning designers for Red Dot Design, the Design Intelligence Award. All this, while being surrounded by a flurry of art installations, engaging panel discussions, hands on workshops and entertainment.

On his experience at Ahmedabad Design Week, Daniel explains: “Things were quite hectic at the airport when I arrived, but that changed after I met my first friendly face – the young person who took my COVID-19 test, and it just kept getting better from there. The hospitality especially, was amazing. I’ve visited plenty of universities where it felt like there was an invisible barrier between the academic staff and students, but here, the barriers didn’t seem to exist at all, and they were working cohesively as a team and always ready to help each other.”

“More importantly, the staff always encouraged discussion and for students to ask questions. I had a couple of important conversations with the lecturers, and it was refreshing to hear that they were also asking me about ways to encourage more active discussion in their students, which I think lays the groundwork for students to grow up to be really fantastic, responsible, intelligent, ego-less creatives, all within this safe space to ask questions and learn as they exchanged experiences, bridged gaps and gained knowledge.”

Being the unorthodox person he is, Daniel refused to deliver a stuffy speech, and instead went for a more ‘fun’ approach, blowing others’ expectations out of the water. “I think that even in booking the venue, you want a more intimate room, not a big lecture theatre, and really encourage more informal discussion and conversation. I titled my talk ‘Last Night A Tech Guy Saved My Life’, and when people came into the room, they would hear ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’, and if you listened to the lyrics, you might see a connection between the song and my talk. When people settled down, they were completely relaxed,” says Daniel. “That’s the tone I wanted to set, and wanted to establish that I was this ordinary person who knew nothing, but went out there to surround myself with experts, and learnt how to integrate tech into my life.”

“So my talk was really about accessibility, and showed them two sites – my own personal website, and my company website. It showed them how tech permeated every part of my life, whether it’s as an eczema warrior, an animal activist, a producer, or a ‘godfather of Singapore fashion’,” he continues. “Whether it’s marketing on social media, or amping up a website, if you use it intelligently and surround yourself with the right people.”

“I was going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the company, but rather than having a party, I thought about the legacy I wanted to leave behind,” muses Daniel, on how The Front Row was created. “That really was the starting point, and how it brought all my interests together, whether it’s putting rescue animals in my shows, or how the media have been giving us support despite the fact it was an online festival, enabling us to grow. Even now, it still contains digital elements.”

In India, Daniel was also involved in a fashion design competition that featured eight teams from various universities in the region, each presenting a fashion collection, and judged on presentation, concept and design. “It was quite interesting how despite not having met, all eight managed to come up with distinct, unique themes,” says Daniel. “Given a choice, it would have been a four-way tie, but ultimately, one team pulled through above the rest because it had a perfect blend of visuals, aesthetics, choreography, and storyline. And what was also interesting was that while it had a theme of sustainability, it wasn’t just simply upcycling, but really told a story about the lifeline of the Earth in a meaningful way.”

From left: Rasesh T, Dr David Kusuma, Tovi S, Daniel Boey, Masahiro Hara (inventor of the QR code), film director Ketan Mehta, and Surojit from Karnavati University

“Later on, when I got a chance to interact with some students in a more intimate setting, I received some intelligent questions and had a great, creative conversation with them, especially with regards to producing shows and choreography, or even how to write a press kit, things they would only learn from experience and not their lessons in class,” says Daniel, on the good impression students left on him. “There was so much forward-thinking, and so many student-led initiatives, like how there were students working together with local craftsmen to create merchandise for Design Week. All this is only possible because of the environment they’re in, from the guidance of the staff to the safe space of the university to explore, to experiment, and to fail and learn from it.”

“Unlike some other events I’ve attended that are very formal, I’m glad that this experience really showed me it was possible to break down barriers and welcome people in to design and learn, to network and forge new connections, and put the snobbery aside,” says Daniel. “Coming from Singapore, I’m also glad my first experience in India wasn’t in another metropolis. The hospitality here is top notch, our chaperones were always three steps ahead and anticipating what we needed, with the first and last texts of the day from them.”

(From left) Daniel Boey with his chaperones, Trisha Bhatt and Divyani

“And you know what? I wanted to give something back, and started to engage them in conversations about deep thinking and design thinking as well, and together with the the city tours, seeing Gandhi’s house or simply encountering a stray dog, it felt like I had experienced a side of India normal people wouldn’t have seen,” Daniel concludes. “There’s so much to learn from Ahmedabad Design Week, not just in terms of design but even the way we treat others. It’s never about efficiency, and I can safely say that this was one of my best Design Week experiences because it came from the heart, it had a lot of soul and truth, and that’s what makes it a world class event.”

Ahmedabad Design Week 4.0 took place from 27th to 29th January 2023 at the Karnavati University campus in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. More information available here

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