TMS Features –

The Beauty of Locally-Sourced Materials through Sustainable Design

#InConversationsWith Director of Roger&Sons, Morgan Yeo. 

Image: Roger&Sons

Established in 2014, Roger&Sons is a team of ethical makers and mavericks who craft fine furniture and thoughtful objects. Their work is driven by inquiry, and spans disciplines: furniture, industrial, and product design, as well as woodworking. The team also spearheads The Local Tree Project—an initiative that salvages trees that have been felled for urban development. It rehabilitates these abandoned logs by turning them into durable, future-proof objects and furniture.

Let us start from The Local Tree Project which began as an ethical furniture initiative to salvage trees that have been felled for urban development in Singapore. Might you tell us a bit more about the idea behind it?

Years after dipping our toes into the industry, we wanted to push our skills and move the company to focus on being more sustainable and responsible. We know that Singapore has been cutting down a large number of trees for urban development over the years. This resulted in thousands of logs that are currently sitting in the sawmills, waiting to be turned into mulch or pallet wood. This was not a known fact to Singaporeans.

These beautiful logs were going to waste. We wanted to change the situation and maximise their full potential. Instead of always opting for imports, why not utilise what we have in our backyard?

The Local Tree Project was then started in early 2019, to spread awareness and tackle this issue. It is in our hopes that this initiative will change how the industry works sustainably and positively as well as to educate Singaporeans, especially those of our future generation. The processes we have witnessed along the way when working with timber in Singapore, compared to the rest of the world, are lagging behind and seldom improved.

Being the younger generation within the industry, we believe that it's our responsibility to take good care and respect the materials we use, especially these trees that take decades to flourish. We believe that it is important for us to take a look at the current processes and make improvements to them that are eco-friendly and sustainable. These steps are important for the longevity of the sunset industry and most importantly, our earth.

We are currently focusing on doing research and development on three fronts: timber–to better understand its properties for additional applications of the material, adhesives and finishes. The commonly available products from the latter categories usually contain high VOC-content. The long-term goal for our company is to have our processes, at every step of the way, to be entirely sustainable and carbon-neutral/negative. This includes every furniture piece or smaller ticket item we produce along the way, with the considerations of packaging as well.

Apart from the technical aspects mentioned above, education is another key approach to LTP. We conduct workshops, talks and tours catered to members of the public, students and relevant industry professionals. Topics such as processing our local timber, methods of utilisation as well as industry standards in Singapore are common discussions held.

With The Local Tree Project, we strongly believe that this initiative is larger than us. We hope that with every individual we converse, interact and work with, they can further influence more about the importance of utilising our local timber and truly achieving sustainability that’s not of face-value. We are also constantly looking for partnerships and collaborations to try to bring even more value to our community.

The Local Tree Project
Image: Roger&Sons

What inspires your approach to sourcing materials for your products, workshops and projects?

We like to ensure that we can source for local suppliers first before sourcing it overseas always. For example, we use a local beekeeper who provides us with raw beeswax, which we then turn into our own concoction of wood finish that’s food safe.

Sometimes we’d also get old wood from people that we also try to clean up and reuse for ourselves, giving these pieces another life. You’d be surprised to find that some of them are still in pretty good shape.

Apart from wood, we also use offcuts of other materials like leather, aluminium and  to work into our projects when applicable. Recently, we crafted an award trophy for the Global Green Economic Forum, and it's made entirely of upcycled materials. We designed the aluminium nameplate to sit onto the recycled HDPE (high-density polyethylene), which was provided to us by a local partner. This HDPE was made from milk bottles, bottle caps and plastic bags.

By keeping the chain local, we can help boost our local community and businesses. We can also reduce our carbon footprint that stems from import and export.

What happens to all the offcut/scrap pieces after every project/workshop is completed at R&S?

For every project we embark on, it is important that during our design process, we take into consideration material wastage. From making the right calls on what dimensions of raw materials we order to deciding what methods of preparing these materials (e.g. how we cut the wood).

After completed projects, the offcuts are then used for the workshops, creating finer objects, used for research and development and even prototyping. They can even be used as a simple bookend if you wanted to. The ways for upcycling them are quite limitless as there are always opportunities to utilise them both internally and externally.

For example, we were recently approached by Wild Dot, a small local team that is experimenting with creating natural ink/paint derived from botanical origins. We provided them with wood shavings and chips that were byproducts from our projects. These wood shavings are often treated as waste but by having opportunities to work with individuals and teams like them, we further reduce waste. 

We also sell our off-cuts at our store. As the avenues for purchasing small quantities or sizes of wood is very limited in our city, we commonly have design students purchasing these offcuts from us for their school projects.

Do you believe upcycled pieces should allow for further revamping in the future?

Definitely, especially so in a city where natural resources are scarce. We have to respect and take responsibility for what we use and create.

     Regardless of how small the impact an individual makes, collectively that is still substantial. As people become more educated and informed about how their choices affect the planet, we think people do seek for products that give them better value in this aspect.

What does becoming circular mean for Roger&Sons? Can you give us a preview of what is in the pipeline for 2021?

Being circular means constantly improving our products, services and developing better circular processes within our operations. We want to extend a product’s lifespan so they wouldn’t be thrown away so easily. In the long term, we would also like to provide opportunities to teach people basic woodworking skills they can use on their own to do simple repairs on their furniture and items.

By having conversations along the way through the people we meet, we can empower them as well to think about reusing or repairing or refurbishing their items.

We are known as being designers and woodworkers that focused on creating custom pieces for people’s homes, their businesses and corporate offices. What we want to do right now, is to translate these knowledge and skills we’ve gathered into creating our very own line of products.

For the upcoming months, we will be launching our line of ready-made items, done locally and using local materials. These products range from home and living to lifestyle items to F&B related paraphernalias.

We have also embarked on our research and development into Singapore wood since the mid of last year. The ongoing R&D at the moment is focused on finding out how we can strengthen and improve these timber by using sustainable mediums. This also tackles the processes we need to improve on.

A short term goal is to explore thinner wood profiles on products without losing its structural integrity, giving more creative alternatives in terms of shapes and forms. A long term goal is to ensure that when these furniture and products disintegrate, they can return to the environment without reintroducing harming elements back.

⑥ Last two questions. First, what message would you send to young entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting a circular start-up?

Just like any other business, one should always have an open heart and mind, to be bold and constantly push boundaries. It’s important to challenge and disrupt current processes and standards that an industry has, whilst respecting and acknowledging the reasons and methods behind them.

By doing so, one can not only add value through proper research, but who knows, new ideas and creations could even kickstart a new wave for their respective industry!

⑦ What does your ‘ideal’ circular economy of the future look like?

The ideal circular economy is when people, companies and organisations take the conscious effort to be responsible for their actions and stay connected to the community and environment.

We’d like to see the community of like-minded people grow bigger and bigger, and continue working together to love and protect what we have in Singapore. When people are actively conscious about their actions and behaviours, it is bound to impact the environment and the different communities within our society in a positive way.

This includes better utilisation of our limited resources, minimising waste, providing more alternatives and platforms to upcycling and recycling.

Apart from tangible items, we think it’s also important to provide different communities, like young students or persons with disabilities, more opportunities and platforms to refine our social economy.

About Roger&Sons

A team of ethical makers and mavericks who craft fine furniture and thoughtful objects. Their work is driven by inquiry, and spans disciplines: furniture, industrial, and product design, as well as woodworking