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Though worlds apart, design duo finds a way

After lecturing about and working in the design field on three continents, Quebec-born Nadine Ouellet found herself moving to Asia to raise her newborn son.

In search of stimulating yet meaningful ways to spend time with Aiden, she realized that what she was looking for was not readily available in the market. So in classic entrepreneur style, Ms. Ouellet decided to make them herself.

Ms. Ouellet, who earned her MFA in design at Yale University, decided to partner with Quebec City-based designer Maxime Rheault, a friend she met in her student days. The result was a contemporary design venture called OR Play, named after their initials and "inspired by childhood and tradition."

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In the last few months, OR Play officially launched in both Hong Kong, where she lives, and Montreal, where he's based. And while Ms. Ouellet always knew she would someday team up with Rheault, she didn't think it would be while they were living half a world apart.

"At first I was skeptical to have a partner in Quebec because of the time difference and long distance. But we are a good team and it's the best's like we work 24 hours. I get his e-mails when I wake up and I work on it, so before I go to sleep it's ready for him," she says.

At the moment, they have five items ready, with more to follow. One of their most popular designs is The Snowball Project, a set of soft cotton toys hand-knitted in Bolivia by a women's collective, inspired by the childhood winter games the designers used to play. She found the collective by searching online and was impressed with their professionalism, ability to work remotely by following her design and quality of the final product.

Though Ms. Ouellet lives on the doorstep of China, the world's factory as it is sometimes called, OR Play has made the conscious decision to choose manufacturing partners based on more than just price.

"At OR Play, we are going in direction of handmade and natural materials. I want my son to develop a sense of touch and interact with natural materials. I grew up in a small town and our games were about nature," she says. "When I was a child, we didn't play with very complicated toys."

Special to the Globe and Mail

Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.

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