Asia’s design dispatch: Publisher Suzy Annetta

Suzy Annetta made the move from Melbourne to Hong Kong 11 years ago, originally brought over by work opportunities and her heartstrings. Now the publisher of burgeoning bible to the local design sector, Design Anthology, Annetta has truly found her rhythm. She recently sat down with Aerostorie near her Wong Chuk Hang office.

 Suzy Annetta's office in Wong Chuk Hang. (Jeremy Smart for  Aerostorie )

Suzy Annetta's office in Wong Chuk Hang. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

“My story is kind of a long one. I was in Melbourne originally and I moved a little bit around country Victoria. From Melbourne I followed a boy, who I ended up marrying, but is also my business partner. We’re not married anymore, but we still run the magazine together. We’ve known each other since we were 15, so we have a very nice relationship, but we can be very honest with each other. I think it’s a good basis to be running a business together. He’s the publishing person; I’m the design person. We thought it was a nice combination of our talents.

He moved to Japan. I’d never been overseas before. I was 24, 25, and always had the travel bug. I think the only person I knew that had traveled was my grandmother and she was quite adventurous. I think I kind of always knew that I wanted to get out of Australia and see the big wide world. But I didn’t really know how it was going to happen, so I followed him.

No one really tells you about the reverse culture shock of going home. It’s almost harder.

We stayed there for three years and I was originally working in textiles. I worked for a company there for three years to begin with, and we did the whole ‘get married, bought a house’, all that.

Then, the company that I worked for said, ‘Do you want to come back?’ I was getting itchy feet, and having had that experience in Japan, we were kind of like, we love Australia, but it just felt so provincial all of a sudden.

No one really tells you about the reverse culture shock of going home. It’s almost harder, actually. It’s a shock to the system. So we were kind of like, ‘My god, we need to get the hell out of here. It’s not what we signed up for’.

The offer for me to come here with the same company came up. I did that, and they brought me over; I was with them for two years. It was textiles, so it was mostly product development. It was around about that time I started writing a blog called Studio Annetta, which then evolved into a design studio.

 Issue 13 of  Design Anthology . (Jeremy Smart for  Aerostorie )

Issue 13 of Design Anthology. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

It was really just an online platform; a diary. It was just a way for me to record things that I could go back and look at, and over about seven years, it slowly grew. The readership expanded internationally very organically. It was never something that I pushed; it was never a business idea or a business plan.

I noticed that the subscribers were growing. It was the subscribers that were interesting, because they were all from big design firms around the world. Big names that people know, and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, this is sort of interesting’.

I had gone from working in a textile company — I’d worked for two different design firms here — and then left to start my own studio, which was again under the Studio Annetta name. I just had this, I don’t know if it was a mid-life crisis, but I was like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’. I’ve been in Hong Kong now for 11 years. I didn’t plan on that at all.

When we were in Tokyo, almost from day one, we said, ‘Alright, we’re going to be here for this number of years’. It’s a very transitory city and we were only in our 20s, so everyone was just teaching English. No one was ever really going to settle, so we always knew there was an end date. But when we came here it was quite different.

I was actually in my 20s when I moved here, and I just turned 40 this year, so I’ve had two major, major birthdays since living here. It’s kind of crazy. But now it’s people having children, they’re buying property and they’re settling here and it’s got a very different feel about it. I think the expat community really, sort of, sticks together; they look after each other. It’s very supportive, and obviously the antipodeans; we tend to stick together.

I think one of the beauties of Hong Kong is that it is so international. You’re learning about Hong Kong culture, and the accessibility to all the countries around, and how easy it is to travel, but then obviously having friends from weird and wonderful exotic places. It really adds to the experience of being here. But Hong Kong can be draining. All the things that you love about this city, like the fact that it’s noisy; that it’s fast — it doesn’t stop.

 Suzy Annetta near her office in Wong Chuk Hang. (Jeremy Smart for  Aerostorie )

Suzy Annetta near her office in Wong Chuk Hang. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

Because you can be somewhere so quickly, having a social life is very accessible. Even people with children can have a social life here, more than what they would, say, in Australia where you have to drive and you can’t drink. There’s just this constant energy and on a good day there is probably nowhere else I would rather be than in this city because it just makes you feel so alive. But on a bad day it’s all those exact same things that drive me insane. So it’s all about balance.

This neighbourhood particularly, that’s what I love about this area — its community.

There’s a couple of places in the neighbourhood that I always see someone that I know. It’s very friendly, and very down to earth. It’s nice. There are architects down here; there are interior designers...

It’s kind of funny for me now because I’ve been here so long, but when you first move overseas, for me at least, particularly to somewhere like Asia where you physically look different from the local people — I think other expats do it here — you’ll see another foreigner, a Westerner or whatever, and you sort of catch each other’s eye and smile. It happens a lot to begin with. It’s sort of like ‘Yep, OK, I’ve seen you, I recognise you, we’re both in the same boat.’ You don’t even have to say anything and obviously I’ve stopped doing that over the years because I just kind of feel like I fit in.

But I find the reverse is happening to me now. In Europe or Australia, with Asians, I do the same thing. And they must be looking at me going ‘What are you doing? Who is this crazy person?’

So, I guess I identify with this being home now, which is nice.”