BBA Trophies: Designed in the UK, made in Japan

Written by BCCJ
August 8, 2017


Written by BCCJ
August 8, 2017

BBA awards symbolise best of bilateral collaboration

A glamourous trophy, conceived by award-winning British designer Sebastian Conran and handcrafted by traditional artisans in Gifu Prefecture, awaits each winner of the 2017 British Business Awards (BBA).

Run by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan, the BBA celebrate outstanding contributions to the UK–Japan commercial relationship while recognising success and promoting innovation across all industries. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the event, prompting organisers to commission an award that is itself symbolic of UK–Japan ties.

Creative teams in both countries are now working to finalise the handmade trophies in time for the red-carpet evening at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo on 2nd November. From the scrapbook of Mr Conran to the kiln of a specialist potter, to the workshop of a master woodworker, the manufacture of each of the special awards reflects the unique collaboration possible between the two countries.

Japan links

Thanks to a 30-year relationship with Japan through projects for Nissan Japan, NTT Docomo and Mori Building as well as six branches of The Conran Shop nationwide, Mr Conran seemed a natural choice for the project. But it was his recent innovative project to collaborate with artisans in the beautiful natural surroundings of Gifu—entitled The Gifu Collection—that sealed the deal. Some 50 items that draw on the area’s diverse craft heritage dating back 1,300 years have been made as part of the project, which was launched at Maison & Objet in January 2017. Two of the 10 artisans involved are now using their skills to craft the BBA prizes.

‘For the BBA awards we had an idea to combine the work of the Gifu artisans with my designs,’ said Mr Conran, adding that it’s ‘very appropriate’ to choose a potter and a carpenter because ‘Japan is known throughout the world for fine ceramics and woodwork.’

Gifu, he explained, is a paradise of mountain streams, abundant forests, and minerals, which feed the materials and processes required for high-quality monozukuri (craftsmanship).

With experience leading the work of the Gifu Collection since 2015, Mr Conran was confident of which artisans he would ask to bring to life the UK–Japan inspired designs he created.

Inside story

Hiroyasu Ando, who works under the company name jyusengama, was tasked with producing the glazed ceramic sculpture while Hiroyuki Ohashi of Ohashi Ryoki Ltd. was assigned the role of making the wooden base.

For over 60 years, Ohashi has been the leading manufacturer of traditional hand-crafted masu, the square wooden box used to measure rice in Japan during the feudal period. Today it is used as a vessel for serving sake as well as a symbol of good luck, given its association with prosperity and happiness. Jyusengama pottery meanwhile has won both domestic and international acclaim for its crystalline glaze, which gives the ceramic surface an innovative texture.

‘My inspiration was to create something beautiful that would stand out and that the winners would treasure. I also wanted to design a symbol of UK–Japan partnerships, of Japan’s strength in craftsmanship and the UK’s strength in lifestyle products,’ explained Mr Conran. ‘The secret of good design is keeping it simple and making it straightforward to make.’

According to Jonny Freeman, design director of Sebastian Conran Associates, the final pieces will incorporate a spherical ceramic sculpture with vivid blue glaze and a hinoki (Japanese cypress) masu box etched with each award’s details. Both artisans have mastered their crafts over many years to become leading makers, who are keen to preserve their skills for future generations.

Join the ceremony

From November, the stunning result of those artisans’ combined skills will be presented to the BBA winners by British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden CMG. As in each of the nine previous years, the trophies will not only celebrate UK–Japan ties but also acclaim the important social contributions made by organisations through their commitment to community, ethical behaviour and environmental sustainability.

The BBA gala is the highlight in the UK–Japan calendar, featuring a British black-tie gourmet experience, top British entertainment and a chance to further your business connections. Other highlights include a fabulous selection of luxury door prizes and raffle prizes.

Over two thirds of the 300 seats available for the BBA have been sold. To secure your seats now, visit


The Gifu Collection

At the request of Gifu Prefecture, Mr Conran first visited some 40 artisans in the area in 2015, to understand the history and culture of Gifu’s craft industry.

‘The idea was to form a collaboration that combines our design, expertise, technology and retail experience as a design studio with the remarkable craftmanship of the Gifu region,’ explained company design director Mr Freeman.

Once Mr Conran understood the manufacturing process, including those to make swords, washi paper and items using indigenous wood, Mr Conran chose 10 artisans for the project. That was the beginning of a painstaking and long-term operation with the artisans involving scoping, sketching ideas, receiving feedback, making prototypes, refining the items and developing marketing material.

Since the project’s inception, The Gifu Collection has launched 40–50 products, with many exciting addtions launching in January 2018.

‘We were keen to celebrate the history and specialist expertise of each maker and to bring this to the forefront of the design. It is important that we give such industries the recognition they deserve to ensure that they do not die out,’ says Mr Freeman. ‘We want to build international connections.’

Thanks to what Mr Freeman describes as ‘an extremely positive reception of the products,’ Sebastian Conran Associations will relaunch the latest collection in January 2018. Mr Conran, who is a huge fan of working in Japan, is excited to return to Japan in November to further develop and promote the Gifu Collection.