Cover photo above was from an interview by RTM.
I was never into art or upcycling or anything creative before this. I took art classes in primary school but only a few lessons. I worked as a marine biologist before I started upcycling with JF Production.
I graduated from a local university (UMS) in marine biology. I worked for a few years with the university where I did lots of underwater diving. We wound find lots of rubbish in the sea – some have sunk down, some washed up on the beach. I think this was where my interest in upcycling began. I’m also from the Boys’ Brigade and we have a lot of passion towards the environment and the community. Being in the Boys’ Brigade has taught me a lot about the willingness to try new things. It makes me interested to try out anything new.
Mr Moai. Design based on Easter Island statues.
So where did I get my crafting skills from? It was from my time working as a marine biologist. I was a research officer and we did research on seaweed. I was posted in Semporna where we had to work with local communities, teaching them how to grow seaweed faster and with better quality. In our research we often have to make our own prototypes of seaweed harvesting systems, so my work is really hands on. Besides that, we also helped to build houses and set up the electrical wiring. That’s where I got my skills from.
I was inspired by artwork and products like lamps that are made from upcycled products. I decided to give upcycling a try since I had quite a lot of junk at home. I thought to myself, why not convert them into something nice to beautify the house? At that time it was only an idea.
My first project was Robolamp. When my friends came over to my house, they thought my Robolamps were really good. They suggested I try to sell my products at a Sunday morning market (Gaya Street) to see what the public’s perception of upcycled products was like. So that’s what we did. We took up a booth during the 2014 Christmas carnival and the reception was really good. It was a four-day event, and by the second day we had sold everything out! We had to rush to make more for the last two days.
Robolamp. One of my first projects made with pipes, joints and wires.
We’ve since set up our group JF Production and currently we have 7 active members. All of them are part-timers except me. Our team consists of a photographer, a make up artist, two engineers – one of which is good at doodling (she designed the giraffe sculpture), a teacher who’s really great at coffee art, and a banker. Everyone in the team contributes in terms of giving ideas and connections, while I do most of the making. Some of them are good in drawing and sketching, while others have a good eye for scaling and proportions. I am a trained marine biologist so naturally these are my weaker areas, but my work has taught me to be very hands on.
Giraffe at Riverson – The Walk
JF Production started with the Christmas carnival, and from then on we have received lots of support from our friends. At the beginning we were not paid for our work. People have approached us with an idea to beautify an empty space they had. Our first project was for a restaurant, Mad Ben, where we were given the opportunity to decorate the place. The second project was for Lucky Bean, where we made lamp shades and other various small decorative items. Soon after, we were making products for another shop, and another and so on.
Wine bottle lamp shades at Lucky Bean, Imago shopping mall.
Sometimes we had to do work for free so the next time our clients would have the confidence in us. When the word got out, and now that we are quite established, we do get customers who keep coming back to us.
I’ve only been doing this full time for about a year. Before that I was doing this part time while I still had my full time job. I worked mostly during the weekends and weekday nights. I did not have kids yet then. We were working from my garage so it was pretty convenient for me. After work I would just go home and work on these projects. It was only a hobby back then. We were still testing out the market, trying to solve any problems we encountered, and deciding if this is something that we wanted to do in the long run.
After working on this full time for one year, I can say that the business is doing well – better than I expected it to be. I can still manage to pay the bills! However, since I am the only full time member, I am the one who does most of the marketing and making. After a discussion with my team, we have decided to hire a couple more people to help out with the manufacturing, so I can concentrate more on marketing. With more people, we can take on more projects.
Oil drum table top at Vape Bah
Initially my family was quite worried, especially my dad. He often asked me how I can make money from junk, and if so, how much would I be able to make? My parents encouraged me to get a full time job which is more secure, because my work now is on contract basis and my contracts are very short. However, I do find it challenging but it gives me the opportunity to meet more people this way. Right now my dad still worries a lot but my mum is okay. After all, when I was younger, she was always trying to pull me into the arts! She’s very happy now that I am doing this, I’m doing something related to art while earning money from it.
One strategy on how we grew so fast is the fact that we go out collecting junk from people. Some even contact me to take their junk away. They are supportive because we are doing this for the environment. We’ve already been to most of the hotels to collect their waste.
My advice to people who want to start upcycling, or anything that they have an interest in, is to just do it. If you don’t start you won’t realise your talents. Look at me, I just noticed mine two years ago! I believe there’s a lot of hidden talent especially in Sabahans. Maybe some people just don’t have the platform to explore their talents. Whatever it may be, don’t wait for a platform to come – create your own!
Do support JF Production and the upcycling movement by liking their Facebook page.
© All photos courtesy of JF Production.