Six years ago, information technology service engineer Adesh Zaini, 39, came across beautiful designs of concrete planter boxes on social media platform, Pinterest. She was smitten by them and persuaded her husband, Shahfiq Abd Manap, 39, to buy something similar for their home in Cyberjaya.
The couple visited malls all around Kuala Lumpur, hunting high and low for the concrete planters but came up short. Unperturbed, they decided to make the planter themselves, with some help from YouTube.
“As Adesh and I aren’t strangers to do-it-yourself projects, we decided to try to make a geometric concrete planter box by following a few YouTube tutorials. It seemed simple enough, but our end product wasn’t anything like how it appeared on the videos, ” said Shahfiq.
“It was a struggle at the beginning with many disappointments. But we were determined to perfect it, despite our initial challenges like adding the wrong concrete mix ratio (of cement, water and sand), and cracks in our products. “In some instances, we couldn’t remove the final product from the moulds. Thankfully, after many attempts, we nailed it, ” he said.
Since then, the couple have made numerous planter boxes and then some. Shahfiq and Adesh co-run BentukBentuk, a business specialising in artisanal concrete home decorative items like planters, coasters, trays and even lighting. Their Cyberjaya-based set-up is five years old and have garnered a sizeable following on and off social media.
Shahfiq manages the company’s operations and production. Adesh is still working full time as an engineer while acting as the brand’s creative designer.
“We don’t have any other people working for us. It’s just the two of us as we are particular about the quality of our products.
“Sometimes, we have had to decline orders as we cannot cope, ” said Shahfiq, who quit his job as a customer relations executive in 2019 to focus on the company. Shahfiq credits the tutorials on concrete-making that he followed on YouTube for his skills in the craft, which eventually led him and Adesh to launch their own concrete business.
“We’ve never received any formal education on concrete or product design. Our experiments took place over six months.
“We experimented with different raw materials until we formulated the right ‘recipe’ that had the most suitable mix ratio. “We were so happy when we finally had a tangible product that we could own, ” he said.
Demand for their artisanal products has been consistent, and Adesh reckons it is due to the industrial interior trend and appreciation for handmade items.
“People want meaningful and thoughtful items for their home. Many customers are more appreciative of handmade art.
“While concrete decorative pieces are heavier and breakable, they are edgy and exude a feeling of rawness and boldness, ” she said.
Shahfiq loves designing with concrete because of the vast spectrum of alternatives it offers.
“No other modern construction material can readily assume so many forms, colours and textures that we can get from concrete, ” explained Shahfiq, who has organised concrete workshops prior to the pandemic.
Like many homegrown labels, BentukBentuk was affected by the pandemic too.
To keep afloat, the couple started selling DIY Concrete Kits on their website.
Each kit comprises ingredients required to create a concrete tray as well as an online tutorial on how to go about making the product.
“Since the start of the first movement control order, we chose not to conduct face-to-face workshops.
“As an alternative, we promoted our DIY kits which allowed customers to make their own concrete tray at home. So far, we have received positive feedback from the 100 kits sold.”
Adesh encourages Malaysians to pursue their dreams, especially as the country adapts and recovers from the pandemic.
“Covid-19 has impacted everyone where some businesses have been hit harder.
“It is vital to constantly explore new lines of work and remain flexible in our endeavours.
“We should learn new skills and offer our services to budding businesses.
“Everyone should have this mentality and should work towards being agile and adaptable to change.”
It’s been an interesting journey for Shahfiq and Adesh who have immersed themselves in building a business from a hobby - from creating products to setting up their website to handling sales and promotions.
“We didn’t attend any marketing courses to run our business. Adesh has a degree in Computer Science while I studied Multimedia Technology. It’s been a learning curve for us.
“We believe that with passion, we can grow our brand bigger despite all the failures that we have experienced along the way.”
Who knew that a hobby would lead them this far.