The Collective Interview book

The Collective is an ongoing interview publication project that began in January 2016. I wanted to share the stories of young creatives from around the world and the paths they took in building their businesses and reputations. In the interviews we touch on not only the lives of these artists, photographers, and musicians, but also on the cities that nurtured their growth as well as their thoughts of the ever-changing creative scene.


Mads Westendahl of Yawn Studio, Hong Kong {2016}

Kettle stitch linen hardcover
Laser print on matte paper



Mads Westendahl was born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark but moved to Hong Kong in 2011. Mads has always harboured a love for Asia ever since he landed an internship in Beijing some years ago. Therefore it seemed natural for him to move and base his business in Hong Kong. With a background in business management under his belt, Mads has established himself as a talented entrepreneur in Asia.


Tell us about how Yawn Studio started

Well I met a girl a while back and I wanted to move to Hong Kong to stay with her but I always knew I didn’t want to find a job here but create my own thing because I did my corporate thing before and I knew for a while I wanted to go my own way because it somehow runs in my family to have our own businesses. My father always had his own business, my sisters, my grandparents as well – so it’s just a part of the family. When I came to Hong Kong I wanted to set up a company where I wanted to bring the best of Scandinavia to Asia, and I think some of the best things we can contribute from Scandinavia is design. So I wanted to make a studio where we bring both products and concepts here, but along the way we figured out that it’s tough to create your own notion of design and identity while selling other people’s products. That’s why now Yawn Studio is only creativity. 

What does the name Yawn Studio stand for? 

I wanted a name that was easy to remember and would stand out from the crowd—a little quirky and weird and also simple and easy to spell at the same time. And I think the letters in “Yawn” are very pretty. Before I decided on "Yawn" I had different names to choose from, I did different logos for each name to let the aesthetic decide for me. Second, yawning its something we all do but actually no one have been able to come up with an explanation to why. Is it due to lack of oxygen in the brain? Is it just a way to show you’re tired? Also its clear to every one that it is super contagious and you can actually spot sociopaths from their lack of yawning –because people with empathy will yawn if they see other people yawn. So it’s this double meaning, which I like, and it also represents Yawn Studio in many ways because we represent two worlds –Scandinavia, but in Asia and let that be the headline for everything that we do. 


Your work seems to be inspired by Danish Design. So how would you describe the Nordic aesthetics?

It’s clear that simplicity and high quality is what really describe Danish design in a few words. I think we are very influenced by the weather and the nature and I think that’s what we bring into our design. In many ways Danish design is just a translation of our surroundings from Denmark. We have nature and have nice architecture, and I think we are very influenced by that. Another thing about the surroundings, we have these very long winters that are very dark and cold and grey, and I think that is also an influence because it enables us to find time to think about how we want to live and it also makes us very focused on our home and identity. It is also how the functionality comes in too, because it comes from just using our own design and figuring out the best ways to use things. So functionality, simplicity, and high quality.

Please tell us about one of your posters 

Graphia was the first project that I worked on. When I came to Hong Kong I sat down and tried find a project to start things up with. I wanted to create a product that would explain, very simply, what Yawn Studio is about. So from the get go, Graphia has been the way to introduce myself to the Hong Kong market. It’s a mix of that an I love HK. I wanted to show different parts of Hong Kong and I wanted to go explore Hong Kong myself and this was a good opportunity to do that. Nowadays I can tell you exactly where streets are, like in Central or Sheung Wan, because I work so many hours on each of these maps. There are a little bit different compared to what else you see around because they are very simple, minimalistic, they are based on Scandinavian design so they stand out from everything else you see around. But also at the same time, I didn’t want it to be fine art. I wanted it to be something that reaches out to everyone so I price them in a way that every one can afford it. 


You’ve lived in different countries and cities, what does home mean to you?

I think home will always be Copenhagen. Home is where my family is. I feel safe in Hong Kong but you have to learn how to adapt and make the place you are at, home. You have to stay in the present because if you start thinking too much about that you miss people or a place other than where you are, then you can’t focus on your work. I know Hong kong is not my home per se, but I make it my home by saying “I’m here now and this is where I work and where I make my living”. But Denmark will always be my safe haven.  

What are some of your favourite places in Hong Kong? 

I live in Sai Ying pun. That’s where I moved to first so I have a lot of room in my heart for Sai Yin Pun because it is a very unique place in Hong Kong. You can still see the old Hong Kong and there is a lot of older people here, which I think is very charming. But it is definitely, day-by-day, getting more gentrified. I like to see these changes but I also like how you can still feel the original Hong Kong around there. Besides that place, I really like to escape the city life and go hiking. For example, I like to go to the peak and visit the peak garden, it is a little further up and there’s a beautiful garden with a really nice view and in the summer it is just incredible. And it feels like not a lot of people know about it, besides wedding photographers.


Do you prefer to work in an open space or closed, quiet studio? 

When I started the company not having a place to work. I first worked in Common Ground Café and then in Ethos—just various cafes and coffee shops around the city. But along the way, I realized I did need to focus, so nowadays I try to do a mix. I do out for meetings, but if I have to do work sessions I would either go one of my regular cafes or I would go to our office and work. It depends on the task. Somehow, if I need to be creative, I work better in a café and if I need to be more business minded, I work better if I am in a more closed off environment.

You seem to be juggling several creative projects at the same time. How do you organise your schedule? 

It is super tough sometimes. Honestly I wish I had the ability to limit myself sometimes. But I am the way I am, and I accepted that, along the way, that I have many projects going on at the same time. When I made this discovery, I realise that I need to create systems around me. Create an order of things so I don’t mix things up and be productive and make sure that things get done. Everything is divided into different projects. To do list is a very big part of that. I divide my days into very strict time slots. For example, Monday would be email 10-12, then I have a lunch break from 12-1, then I have a think session where I sit down and do nothing but think of new ideas, then from 2-8 I would focus on work for one company. So for Monday it would be our product design company, One Brand Project. Tuesdays would be Roomwerk, and Thursdays would be purely Yawn Studio. So every day is dedicated to different projects that I work on. Keeping that in mind, there is room for flexibility.


What else are you working on at the moment? 

We are working on expanding the Graphia project; creating new maps of Hong Kong but also new cities. We’ve also done some special maps for other clients, for example, WONTONMEEN, we did a special map for them but with their details of the map. And later on we will also do a functional map that they will give out to all their guests. 

Actually Yawn Studio is just a sidekick to my other business. Together with my partner Vivian, we have a company called Roomwerk, where we distribute Danish/Scandinavian furniture in Asia. And then I have another company with my dear friend Jackie, who owns Ethos as well, and we will do product design where I will be more or less in charge for the branding and he will be on the product development side. Right now we are working on a speaker made of unconventional materials, and we are working on a watch as well where the functionality and design will be very unique from what you’ll find in the market.