IN a nondescript industrial area of Kampung Baru Ampang, past a sliding metal gate, sits a single-story building walled up with rich, wood cladding. Potted plants that dots the entrance to the folded glass door exudes a sense of serenity.
This is the Persada Gallery, the workstation and show gallery of carpenter Harith Ridzuan.
Harith’s exposure to woodwork started at a young age of 10, and being the eldest of ten siblings, he was groomed to take over the family’s furniture manufacturing business One Tech (M) Sdn Bhd.
“My father used to bring me to our factory in Kampung Merbau Sempak, Sungai Buloh, where I learn the basics of carpentry. I didn’t really like it back then, but now, I’m very grateful for those experiences,” says Harith, who is now the Director and CEO of the company.
People don’t come to me for simple things, they come to me for specific items
The former Petronas scholar and UK-graduate has worked on over 1000 designs and sold 10,000 pieces of furniture since taking over the business in 2013.
Harith, however, admits that carpentry was never his first choice of career.
“I’ve always wanted to be a scientist when I was younger but I also knew I had to take over the family business. I could not run away.” says Harith, slightly smiling while looking over at the display of homewares in the gallery.
Harith’s parents, Ridzuan Ismail and Huda Ikhwan started One Tech in 1993. They manufactured wood products and also supplied desks and chairs to government schools across the country - it being a bulk of the company's business for many years.
“I was 7-years-old when they started. We still supply to the government but not as much now because when I took over in 2013, I felt that the business model is outdated. We were relying too much on government projects and the furniture designs are too rigid."
“So, we changed direction. We now source for open projects, targeting corporates, retailers and food & beverage (projects). Some of our clients today include world-class hotels such as Mandarin Oriental, Alila and Ruma in Klang Valley.”
“We also work with cafes and restaurants, especially with the rising of hipster cafes, we have done a lot, including Souka, PS Tokyo and Mukha. We also collaborated with Ben’s Symphony by Chef Jo, and Jibby’s,” he says.
Since the business took on a new route, Harith has led to the procurement of more non-government projects, which makes up over 60 percent of the company's revenue stream.
I wondered how much did we contribute to the deforestation problem. We decided to make a proactive choice and be more sustainable.
Harith doesn’t see himself as just another carpenter; he is passionate about adopting sustainable practices in his craft. The same year he took over the business, Malaysia made headlines as one of the countries in the world with the highest deforestation rate, triggering Harith to go on the sustainability path.
“I was questioning myself. We work a lot with wood and we don’t know where the wood comes from, and I wondered how much did we contribute to the deforestation problem. We decided to make a proactive choice and be more sustainable."
“At the same, I realised there were a lot of wastes when we do our work – there are many excess woods from when we build big things. So, there were these small pieces of wood all over the facility. So, I knew there had to be a better way,” says Harith.
Hoping to make a change in the industry, Harith lead by example by introducing the ‘Harith Green Carpenter’ (HGC) brand, the company’s first series of sustainable furniture made from materials that can be upcycled.
With the brand’s tagline ‘Healing The World by Making it Beautiful’, HGC manufactures furniture, kitchenware and decor items, using reclaimed pallets, recycled metal, also Malaysian-grown bamboo planks.
“It is not only about (producing) green products, we also make sure our factory operations adopt green practices. For example, we harvest light; it means that we design the factory to ensure sunlight can enter. So, we use less electricity.
“We also harvest rainwater to be used for our plants and cleaning. We also adopt (sustainable) waste management,” says Harith while showing the 1,117 square feet factory space, located just beside the Persada Gallery.
The factory in Ampang, according to Harith is considered small in size, which only functions to build prototypes and cater to small-scale projects.
Here, Harith and his team also conduct classes for university-level students to allow them to get hands-on experience in carpentry.
The problem now is, there is this negative perception towards this industry. It is often associated with the 3Ds - which is dirty, dangerous, and demeaning.
“This is a teaching factory. Every six months, we train about 12 students. They work on projects, and they get exposure to the industry. We have come up with a programme called ‘Green Hammer’, where we go out and give talks in various universities and colleges, he explains.
"We also get involved the development of a module and curriculum on green and sustainability.”
A recent report by Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) indicated that Malaysia is the eight largest furniture exporter in the world last year, with over 80 percent of exports are wood-based furniture.
Harith hopes to play a bigger role in encouraging the younger generation to join the industry, whereby technical and vocational works are often viewed as a ‘second-choice career’.
“Our country has exported over RM20 billion worth of wood products in 2017. So, there is a huge opportunity and we must encourage the young."
“The problem now is, there is a negative perception towards this industry. It is often associated with the 3Ds - which is dirty, dangerous, and demeaning."
“Here in this factory, we make sure it is clean. We have systems that ensure safety, and we encourage visitors to come. Lately, we have been receiving visits from tourists, schools, even government agencies too!” says Harith.
Harith, who is only 34-years-old, has a 100-year succession plan to future-proof the family business.
“We want to grow organically and control our quality, not just for the sake of growing. We want sustainable growth. We also will focus on marketing and branding. There are a lot of manufacturers with excess capacity and they are our partners. So, we will work as a group."
“Within the next few years, I plan for the company to be listed, so that it can raise funds for expansions. At the same time, the company will run by professionals and we will have better corporate governance,” says Harith.
Besides the HGC brand, there are four other brands under One Tech focusing on various target markets.
For example, Dapo is a sustainable homeware brand while Nokta is a designer furniture range.
Meubelism is a home furnishing brand that incorporates Malaysian cultural elements and JORD Eco Interiors uses sustainable material like bamboo and recycled plastics in its designs.
“I do the designing mostly but I also work with local and international designers from Italy and Japan.
Within the next few years, I plan for the company to be listed
“Our products use three type of materials - wood, recycled wood. We also use certified timber from the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). This is a certification from Europe that ensures the wood is from a forest that is well-taken care - not taken from illegal logging."
“We have received great response from all over the world. Currently, we export to Europe, Russia, Australia, Korea and Thailand. We are now working with Good Design Company Japan and we hope to enter the Japan market, soon,” says Harith.
As we reach towards the end of the interview, Harith expresses his appreciation towards his parents for being a great role model and for continuously encouraging him to take over the family’s legacy.
“My parents are great. They started this business and they have successfully brought it to a certain standard, which my job now, is to make it better.
“My dad tells me to always be proactive. So today, I will have an urge to always try new things. I realise that’s what I’m good at. People don’t come to me for simple things, they come to me for specific items or special projects and I am their specialist,” says Harith with an air of modest confidence.