Though still practiced by artists and traditionalists, classic Chinese calligraphy done with a brush pen and black ink has mostly fallen into disuse.
Once it was a required course for all elementary-school students in Taiwan, but Chinese calligraphy is now seen as quaint and outdated.
These days, it is practiced as a relaxation exercise and for introspection, because traditional Confucian thought holds that it is good for “cultivating the moral character and moderating one’s temperament.”
Lin Chang-lung (林昌隆), whose family has been in the brush pen and calligraphy stationery business for more than 100 years, had to confront this situation when he began operating the Lamsamyick Brush Pen and Ink Expert Shop in Taipei.
Despite the declining demand for traditional brush pens over the years, the fourth-generation operator of the family business decided to make a go of it.
Lin said he dreamed of making a transformation and breaking through the bottleneck the trade was experiencing.
He has revitalized the old store by injecting new blood and fresh ideas, and by prodding it into a market to which it seemed to have no connection at all — the cosmetics industry.
Lin said that his main focus was still on sustaining the brush pen market, but by getting into cosmetics, he has given the family business a higher profile. On taking over the family store a few years ago, he started with overhauling the business fundamentals of sales and marketing.
“Doing sales had only one major task: to go around and contact all the shops and people in the industry. As I traveled throughout Taiwan from north to south, I found the brush pen market was shrinking,” he said.
Once, while passing through a nail-painting salon, Lin noticed the brush used for applying decorative coloring on nails was similar to the traditional brush pen.
“Gathering up my nerve, I walked in to talk with the owner and handed her my business card,” Lin said.
At first, she rejected his sales pitch, but Lin did not give up and after visiting the owner three times, he was able to convince her to give his product a try.
“That opportunity opened other doors. Because I initiated the contact with nail-painting shops, I helped to change the traditional brush-pen industry,” he said.
However, it was not all smooth sailing.
“Transforming the traditional brush pens into brushes for applying cosmetics and coloring, I had to overcome many problems. The brush configurations are different and I had to find the right hair materials for the brush. As problems arise, you just have to find ways to solve them. By trial and error, I also learned a lot along the way,” Lin said.
He added that when you look at the brushes used for applying cosmetics and coloring from another perspective, they are also pens with tufts of hair on them.
Lin said he got to know the brush-pen hair materials really well, then shifted into the cosmetics industry, but “the essence was the same, only the styling and configuration had changed to keep up with the times,” he said.
Cosmetic brushes apply makeup and nail polish to the face and body, while the pen brush writes on paper, so Lin had to get consumers to identify the relevant differences to ensure quality control in the materials.
“After building more business with nail-painting salons, at first I had to subcontract out to other manufacturers, and got to know the cosmetic-brush market better. Then, in the next stage, I had the idea of creating my own branded products,” Lin said.
The process took a while, because Lin first had to rent a counter in a major department store to gradually develop brand recognition and build up consumers’ trust in his products.
Throughout the process there were obstacles to overcome.
“I had to maintain good quality and fortunately was able to link up with one of the top cosmetic brand companies,” he said. “We began to manufacture and introduce product lines with our joint brand names. Even TV soap operas with celebrity actors and actresses collaborated with us.”
Now, Lin not only has a store for brush pens and traditional calligraphy, but also his own well-recognized cosmetic brush brand.
Lin advised young people to pursue their dreams and achieve them through a lot of hard work and dedication.
“I did not give up my dream, but kept working at it,” he said.
“That was how I got into the cosmetics industry. One must have a discerning eye and mind the details, as there is a lot of knowledge out there to learn. To become successful, one must ask lots of questions and learn from the answers,” Lin added.