When it comes to furniture, Malaysia has an inherent advantage in its rich abundance of natural resources and its history in furniture making.
While the country has long been recognised for its original equipment manufacturing (OEM) furniture, the same cannot be said for independent local furniture brands, mostly owing to a lack of awareness.
But that’s exactly what the Tanggam Design Centre (TDC) is determined to change.
An initiative by the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB), TDC aims to live up to its name - tanggam means ‘wooden joint’ in Bahasa Malaysia - as a design hub to drive the future of Malaysian furniture, by linking designers, students and the industries related or connected to design with end-users who want to utilise the design facilities.
According to MTIB industry development division senior assistant director Nik Zuraihah Nik Mohammad, who is among those spearheading TDC, the way forward for the furniture industry is transforming the timber and timber-based industry from OEM to original design manufacturing (ODM) and original brand manufacturing (OBM), as outlined in the National Timber Industry Policy Roadmap for Furniture and Timber-based Products 2013 - 2020.
Part of this comprehensive plan to enhance the design aspect of Malaysian furniture, TDC has supported designers since 2015 by not only helping bridge the gap between designers and manufacturers, but also promoting and marketing these designers in both local and international trade shows.
“Normally, people feel that timber and furniture are sunset industries, but what the TDC initiative has helped in is raising the awareness of Malaysia’s local species to our young designers.
“This is good for long-term impact, since the goal is to shift from the OEM focus to ODM and OBM to raise the price point of value-added products for export,” she said.
Among the 17 local designers under TDC’s wing is Ruang Studio Sdn Bhd managing director Mohd Noor Ariffin, who notes that although acceptance of local designers is slowly increasing among end users, there’s still a long way to go, especially since furniture manufacturers are still in the process of moving away from OEM to ODM.
The MTIB Professional Designers Programme (PDP), working in collaboration with TDC designers, is one step in the right direction, said Mohd Noor.
He explained, “Acceptance of independent local designers still on the lower side. We have to be patient.
“The potential is there, but it’s really about raising awareness and that takes a lot of time. There must be sustained, continuous effort in raising awareness and the profile of Malaysian designers.”
What Malaysia has to do now, Mohd Noor said, is to build up the quality and design of local furniture, in order to change consumer perception and up the price point of such products.
“In terms of future plans, it’s a long-term one for five to 10 years before ODM can really gain a foothold. It takes five years just to build up the name to ensure awareness on design is more widespread,” he added.
Explaining that the aim is to bring Malaysian culture and traditions - such as wood carving - into the future, he noted that designers and manufacturers must go beyond production to marketing as well, by incorporating stories that people can relate to, thereby creating an emotional tie for stronger brand loyalty.
For Basicology LLP design director Lim Bo Qiang, he pointed out that effort should also be made to create a healthy ecosystem for the furniture industry, by encouraging sharing and collaboration.
He shared, “What we can do is to generate a healthy ecosystem by fostering a culture of sharing, in order to build a relationship of trust and pave the way for feedback for improvement and collaboration.
“We need to play to our strengths by adapting the blue ocean strategy. What we’re looking at is the ‘purple ocean’ as a new marketing strategy, where we create solutions to suit current market needs. That’s how the design business can sustain and have a healthy ecosystem.”