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A City Living at the Speed of Business

“Hong Kong has definitely helped us build our company and my design career. One of the key reasons for this is the proximity of everything in Hong Kong. How close everything is. And the speed at which things are happening in Hong Kong. How fast you can build your company, but also how fast you can go from an opportunity to a really interesting project.”

Katarina Ivarsson
Co-founder of Already Tomorrow and Head of Asia, Boris Design Studio

From student to founder of an international design studio, a Swedish designer has gone through an extraordinary career journey in Hong Kong.

Originally from Sweden, Katarina Ivarsson studied design there and in Italy before coming to Hong Kong in 2005 to further her education at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. At first she was almost overwhelmed by the pace of the city, its sounds and smells, but Hong Kong’s contrasts are now something she adores. “Everything co-exists, the high and the low, the big and the small, the old and the new.” she says. She stayed in Asia after graduation and returned to make Hong Kong her home.

From Intern to Entrepreneur

In the beginning, she set her sights on Mainland China and Taiwan, travelling back and forth while living in Hong Kong. As the concept of ‘business of design’ became a focal point in the market, she took action, returning to Hong Kong to join a Swedish design agency as design manager. The city has shaped her career ever since.

In 2009, Ivarsson established her own design studio together with fellow Swede Anna Karlsson. As an award-winning business leader and designer, she still speaks with gratitude about Hong Kong’s support for businesses, and her industry in particular, such as through the Hong Kong Design Centre’s Design Incubation Programme (DIP). As Ivarsson points out, since a lot of the world’s products are produced next door to Hong Kong, across the border in the Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong has been a hub for design for a very long time. This proximity has also allowed her to fearlessly explore production opportunities for her clients and to meet local factory owners wanting to create their own brands throughout the Greater Bay Area.

Hong Kong’s business efficiency also amazes her. “When you meet a new business client here in Hong Kong, you might be discussing a new project already tomorrow. In Europe, it can take a bit longer to get to that,” she says. “When you design a physical product, you will be able to receive and review the samples in a short period of time as the full production is approaching. For digital products, the maturity and speed of technology adoption across Asia is really astonishing.”

Catching the Unique Urban Vibe

Ivarsson speaks passionately about working in Hong Kong, but that’s not all she loves about it. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time by the ocean or walking through the city. “One of my favourite walks is to start in Sham Shui Po, maybe with curry fish balls, and then walk all the way down to Tsim Sha Tsui and take the Star Ferry over to Central,” she says, noting the sheer variety of street vendors, shopping areas and restaurants she passes. This dynamic diversity is something she’s eager to share with her son, observing how the city’s fusion of Eastern and Western cultures cultivates his open-mindedness.

To those considering a career in Hong Kong, Ivarsson recommends action, whether going long-term with a job application, or short-term with an exchange semester or working holiday visa. “Make use of the programmes to come here, explore opportunities to learn something new, to both gain and provide new perspectives.”

Fast facts:

  • After finishing her studies in Sweden and Italy, Katarina Ivarsson obtained a Master of Design in Advances Practices from the School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
  • In 2009, Ivarsson founded her own studio Boris Design Studio with fellow Swede Anna Karlsson. Through the years the studio has partnered with other global design agencies and now has emerged as Already Tomorrow, a strategic design agency headquartered in Hong Kong, with offices in Asia and Europe.
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