Two years into their marriage, Fazli Shah Simpon and his wife Ilmi Shukri Khodori, got into a huge fight. The main point of contention was whether to retain their custom handcrafted furniture business, or wedding decoration business. The two college sweethearts established two enterprises as soon as they tied the knot. Although they were joint businesses, Fazli’s passion lies in woodcraft while Ilmi’s heart was in wedding planning.
“The two businesses were inter-related as we were required to build our own wooden structures in wedding decorations. I was unwilling to let go of my dream but in the end, I understood that custom furniture is a more sustainable and profitable business,” Ilmi said.
“We operated our businesses from home, or more precisely, the backyard of our home, and we had only a few workers, yet we all had to divide our time and skills. As both businesses progressed, we had to make the painful decision to let go one,” Fazli explained.
It has been three years since then and it appears to be a wise decision, seeing how FS Design Furniture, named after Fazli himself, is fast gaining a name for itself as a maker of handcrafted commercial-grade, eco-friendly high quality furniture for homes, offices and commercial spaces.
Most of the furniture is made from solid hardwood of Nyatoh, Meranti and Merbau species as well as the imported Douglas fir. Although still considered a young company, a number of FS Design Furniture products are already exported to Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and even the United States of America, albeit in limited quantities.
FS Design Furniture was established with only a capital of RM2,000. The bulk of the money was used to purchase simple woodwork tools and materials. “We did not want to get bogged down with a heavy debt. With the little cash that we had left after buying the tools, I went all over Selangor to source for used timbers,” said Fazli, who first picked up wood making in Living Skills classes in secondary school. He then brushed up on his skills by watching video tutorials on the internet. The first commercial product that Fazli made using re-purposed wood was an easel.
Fazli, who has always loved drawing and designing, found joy to be able to create something from scratch. Finding a buyer for his first product spurred him on to not only design different items but also to evolve from wood to metal and natural stone like marble. “It is very difficult to source for recycled wood at a good price as it gets more popular and in demand, so I rather just buy new timber. Wood will always be my primary raw material as I am fascinated by the grain patterns and textures.”
Knowing that his limited carpentry skills would not take him far, Fazli became an apprentice to two masters. Although both his ‘sifus’ are into different forms of woodcraft, Fazli believed that he managed to learn new things that he could incorporate into his own business to improve on it.
After two years, Fazli and Ilmi, who have two children, moved their workshop from their backyard to a 12,000-square-foot production facility in Sungai Tekali, Hulu Langat. It was also around this time that Fazli gave up his full-time employment as an auto dealership marketer to concentrate on the business.
With Fazli as Managing Director and Ilmi as Admin and Account Director, they now oversee the entire operations of the business, as the production of custom-designed furniture pieces are produced by a small team of highly experienced craftsmen and welders, staying true to their furniture being handcrafted.
FS Design Furniture also receives custom orders, where the client already has a design in mind. Meanwhile, limited-edition ready-made furniture under the label ‘Katta Kayu’ is displayed at their studio in nearby Taman Seri Mas, Hulu Langat, which is also home to the couple’s new line of home decor range of products.
For Fazli and Ilmi, FS Design Furniture is a great reminder that there is no shortcut to success. “We suffered a RM41,000 loss when we fell victim to a multilevel marketing scheme which turned out to be a scam. It was a painful lesson to learn, so now it is pure hard work all the way,” Ilmi shared.
As wooden furniture is one of the largest contributors to Malaysia’s export earnings, Fazli and Ilmi have big dreams to create a larger international market for their premium handcrafted furniture. “We target Europe and Japan but the biggest market is China, where the second generation of billionaires are migrating to the city, and they need quality furniture for their new homes,” Fazli analysed.
Note: An edited version of this article [Handcrafted furniture gaining popularity] was published on 11th November 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.