Journey East is a Singapore-based furniture retailer and home accessories store with a soul: it specializes in recycled and reclaimed wood furniture. The store was set up in 1995 at Dempsy Hill and back then the collection comprised primarily of repurposed Dutch colonial and Javanese furniture. Over the years their repertoire has expanded to include brands and designers whose ethos resonates with that of Journey East: They are either Eco-friendly designer furniture or aesthetically designed reclaimed teak furniture and accessories. Today Journey East is located at a sprawling showroom in an 8600 square foot space on the third floor at Tan Boon Liat Building on Outram Road.
2015 has been a year of celebration for Journey East- A celebration of 20 yrs of success for the brand in a city where brands and people are often transient, and the launch of the in-house brand PLAYplay. Anuja and I went over to meet Ms Anita Sam – the founder of Journey East. We spoke about her inspiration, the challenges, the competition and most importantly the brands that Journey East collaborates with. We were struck by her passion and ingenuity in devising a primarily green furniture brand in 1995 when the world was just about waking up to the concept of “green”. The marketing wizard at Journey East, Terence Teh, also joined us and together they told us about the conceptualisation of PLAYplay along with the internationally known designers, Lanzavecchia + Wai– creating a collection that seeks to marry the “proper” and the “irreverent”- proper smart useful pieces of furniture for fun-loving playful people. Whether its the Hamburger range or the Ping pong dinner table range or the Accordian range, PLAYplay has something fun for the child in you. What is commendable is that Anita has not deviated from her green core in PLAYplay as well, the line primarily uses Indonesian Mahogany which is sustainable and native to the region.
In addition to PLAYplay, Journey East also showcases globally known green furniture and accessory manufacturers, some of which include:
dBodhi– This range comprises furniture made of reclaimed wood from Javanese homes which are over 100 yrs old and have been held over 3 generations. Every piece of furniture manufactured is one off, you will rarely find exact copies as every house is one off! The dBodhi team uses (as far as possible) every part of wood they acquire along with the homes even using the saw dust to make accessories! d-Bodhi: Old wood, new life: A video depicting the story of wood from start to finish.
District Eight Design – One of the leading industrial furniture design brands based out of Vietnam, District Eight stands out with the unique amalgamation of vintage material and reclaimed wood in its creations.
Vintage– The origins of Journey East in 1995 was with the Vintage range, restored colonial furniture made of Indonesian teak. It is still one of their more popular and fast moving ranges.
House Doctor – A Denmark based brand, House Doctor, as the name suggests creates stylish and funky home accessories which can effortlessly compliment the furniture in one’s home.
Without further ado, here are excerpts from our conversation with Anita;
1. Let’s start at the beginning. How and when did Journey East start its operations? What was your inspiration in setting it up?
Journey East started in 1995 after some drinks with a friend who had relocated to Indonesia and was eager to bring some of the furniture he loved to retail in Singapore. At the time, we specialized in restoring Javanese and Dutch Colonial solid teak original furniture. One of the main attractions was that we were restoring old furniture to their original condition, giving them a new lease on life.
2. Today, about 80% of your furniture is made from reclaimed teak, the rest being sustainably-sourced. Was eco-friendliness always a part of your plan since the time Journey East was set up? When and how did this philosophy become a part of the business goals? What inspired you to go the extra mile to be Earth-friendly?
Definitely yes since my family had always practiced recycling and my mom was always particular about buying good quality, well-made furniture that would last the test of time. As well, I seem to have had an ingrained appreciation for solid wood, the warmth and character of the natural material. It didn’t seem like an extra effort to be Earth-friendly, rather I seem to gravitate towards others who are like-minded, hence our partnership with d-Bodhi and District Eight Design, who are two brands that consciously use recycled materials in their design.
3. What challenges do you face in executing this ethos? Is it as difficult as we imagine – finding partners who walk the line, tying up sourcing at affordable price points, etc?
Not at all. As more consumers today put a value to the eco-friendly aspect of design, more designers and producers pay attention to their requirements. Initially, it was not an issue as I met two strong brands who were already of the same mind as I was.
4. We had no idea of the extent to which your collections were sustainably sourced till we spoke to you! How useful (or not!) do you find it to incorporate a green image into your brand? Do you think Singapore appreciates and pays premium for a green brand?
We try as much as possible to choose products that match our vision. Being green doesn’t necessarily mean that customers need to pay premium prices. But they are happy to pay a little bit more for good quality, design and service.
5. Do, tell us more about your eco lines – especially vintage, D-Bodhi and play-play? Our readers would like to know how you go about the process – how do you select pieces, source them, verify the certifications, etc.
We source the vintage pieces personally by traveling to Indonesia regularly to collect the unique pieces. We are currently stocking retro pieces which date back to the 1920s through to the 1960s. Indonesia’s Dutch Colonial history, combined with its rich history of craftsmanship and abundance of valuable solid teak are the reasons why we are able to find so many of the beloved art deco and retro pieces that you find at Journey East today. We have a restoration workshop with 10-12 skilled and highly specialised craftsmen who have decades of experience under their belts, and have been working with us since 1995.
d-Bodhi first started in 2007, but we met the people behind d-Bodhi in 2005. There was no question that I wanted their collections for Journey East as they were already collecting recycled teak wood from Day One to build their furniture. Over the years, d-Bodhi has grown not only in the number of collections they offer, but they have also diversified the recycled materials they use: from recycled teak to recycled fishing boat wood, recycled rubber from tires, recycled license plates and iron and steel, and now even recycled magazine paper. Today they now distribute to over 30 markets around the world, Journey East representing them in Singapore and Kota Kinabalu.
District Eight Design, based in Vietnam, started designing furniture to suit their L’Usine cafe that was housed in a conservation building. Their Australian-Singaporean founder, Darren, used to collect old machine parts and reassemble them into furniture. As these parts are scarce, he now keeps the original as part of his resource, and creates molds for them to built the parts for his Foosball table, Lift Press dining tables and Le Loi tables to name a couple of the more popular pieces. Over the years, the District 8 design team is also looking a more modern influences for inspiration in their new designs. District Eight Design is sophisticated and is an exciting brand to watch as they continually strive to evolve.
PLAYplay (our very first Journey East collection) came about as we wanted to do something to celebrate our 20 year anniversary. It took us 2 years to complete the collection, and we were very fortunate to be able to collaborate with the talented design duo Lanzavecchia + Wai. PLAYplay celebrates the Journey East journey. We choose to use Mahogany, a wood that is native to the region and very sustainable. This was a brave but intentional decision as we wanted to show Mahogany (which is traditionally associated with old fashioned antiques) in a modern context. The collection also reflects our Vintage roots as the pencil legs in our Hamburger Tables mimic the retro pencil legs of the furniture of that period. The colors of PLAYplay were inspired by the rich colors of South East Asia from the flora and fauna to the architecture. The colors we chose are rich and vibrant, worthy of the culture of the region.
6. Are there other furniture stores in Singapore who you admire for their style and philosophy? Do you have a message for brands out there who are yet to commit to a green ethos in their sourcing / manufacturing?
I’m a workaholic who is tied 7 days a week to my showroom in Tan Boon Liat, I confess I don’t make the effort to explore outside of my own 4 walls. I do think that awareness of the value of a green ethos no longer needs to be promoted as consumers today are more savvy and committed to a greener lifestyle. Brands always need to be aware of consumer demand.
7. On a parting note is there anything you would like to tell our readers?
Journey East has been a curator of good design for 20 years, we hope that our showroom can inspire visitors to good design. The customers who walk in may not necessarily want a green theme for their home, but it certainly is a big plus when they find out that what they’re buying has a good story.
Check the Journey East home page for their entire range of offerings. Better still just walk into their store, you will be greeted by Mr Ginger, the too cool for anything ambassador-at-large for the brand and the warmest smiles of the staff on the ground. If you are lucky you will meet Anita and Terence. PS: Both make wonderful coffee, are passionate about what they do and are engaging conversationalists!