All in wood time

  • Focus
  • Sunday, 04 Dec 2016

Watches with wooden straps designed and assembled by Project Woodworks.

Imagine having a watch made from renewable sources! That’s a first for Malaysia, and three young guys are behind the revolution, reports JOY LEE.

WATCH-MAKING is often associated with refined craftsmanship and complex movements, exquisite artistry and stylish displays, lavish affairs with all the right blings and big advertising dollars.

Well, not for Project Woodworks. The local wooden watchmaker is more concerned about sustainability and social impact than actual time-telling masterpieces, and all the perceived class that comes with watch-making.

Project Woodworks was founded by three 23-year-olds – Zac Tan, Wallace Fong and Bryan Chang – about a year ago. And the trio, friends since primary school, is clear about their mission: to push forward a movement to utilise wood as a material. Why wood? Because it is a renewable resource. And one way of using wood fashionably is to make watches from it.

The product foundation is simple. Make use of wood waste from Forest Stewardship Council-certified providers, and fashion it into wooden watch straps. Currently, the watches are available in maple, dark hardwood and black sandal wood variations.

Their watches use the Citizen Miyota Quartz movement with a square face encased in scratch-proof hardened mineral glass. The watches are priced at RM469 apiece.

Project Woodworks has also partnered Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Center (TRCRC) to donate a portion of its revenue to tree-planting efforts. Fong noted that consumers will be updated on the tree-planting efforts that their purchases have gone towards.

“This is an opportunity to also educate consumers through our products. People tend to be more environmentally-conscious when they get something back from giving,” said Fong.

“We want people to also be part of the movement and not just buy the product,” added Tan.

The founders of Project Woodworks: (from left) Fong, Chang and Tan.
The founders of Project Woodworks: (from left) Fong, Chang and Tan.

The trio’s woodwork project started out with Tan’s experience in growing up in his father’s wooden furniture workshop. His father scaled back operations when the economy wasn’t doing too well in 2008. But Tan, by then, was already quite taken up by wood. Tan went on to study architecture, with focus on sustainable designs.

But Tan wanted to venture into something that enabled him to give back to the community and environment. And when Tan decided on wooden watches, Chang, who had explored social enterprise as a viable business model during his final year of study in finance, joined him. Fong then left his environmental consultancy job and also join them.

“When Zac suggested the idea, I developed the business model on how to incorporate social impact into the business. I think profits, sustainability and social impact can be aligned for sustainable businesses. We believe this is the way the world should work,” said Chang.

They then went about sourcing for the right materials and manufacturer and participated in an accelerator programme under Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Center (MaGIC) to get guidance on how to kick-start their venture.

Project Woodworks finally rolled out the brand in the market last September and managed to sell about 50 watches in the first two months. The wooden timepieces are available online and at selected retail stores.

Currently, the watches are designed by Tan and outsourced to manufacturers in China before they are brought into his father’s workshop in Puchong to be assembled into finished products.

Tan said the brand may also explore the possibility of producing other wood-based accessories in the future.

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