A personal reflection of craftsmanship, family and protecting the environment

“This horn shape is very difficult to make in the size you want,” were his first words when I presented Mr Goh Koik Sheng with my design for a 1.20-meter long hanging cornucopia to be made out of rattan. 

In Hak Sheng & Co.’s 60 years in business, he says that he’s never made this complex shape before due to its uptick and angles. He believes that it’s the biggest rattan horn ever made in Singapore and quite possibly the world.

After staring at it for what felt like ten minutes, he turns to his son, Mr Patrick Goh and says, we can make it for you. “This is something very unique and we’re very enthusiastic to create this challenging product,” Patrick says, after letting them know that it would hang 3.50-meters high in the whimsical new Floral Fantasy dome at Gardens by the Bay for their Autumn display. 

After providing them with all the dimensions and requirements, we waited with bated breath for almost 3 weeks until the final rattan cornucopia was completed. It was spot on! 

Not only did Hak Sheng & Co. deliver a visually stunning cornucopia for our Plentifall botanic installation, the rattan they used was the right colour, thickness and strength in order to sustain being suspended for three months. Dimensionally and structurally, they followed the brief perfectly, and the extra cherry on top was that they delivered three days before the deadline.

This is a personal testament to how they value their customers, requests and how they see themselves as business operators. 

Patrick impressed upon me a high level of flexibility, trustworthiness and service that I haven’t experienced in a very long time. He believes in “going the extra mile” with services such as detailed needs consulting, sourcing and personally delivering products to customers doors. 

These days, only 5-10% of Hak Sheng & Co.’s business comes from customised requests like our Plentifall rattan cornucopia. Typically, they opt for faster moving items that are ready-made from their exporters in Indonesia as customised request typically take much longer to produce with more requirements.

Rattan’s Perennial Comeback

When deciding on material to create the cornucopia for our Floral Fantasy installation, I knew it had to be earthy, symbolic of the botanical surroundings of Gardens by the Bay and most of all, sustainable since our installation will be hanging for a quarter of the year. 

Moreover, I’ve always loved this chameleon material which expresses itself as relaxed, cool, colonial, retro, natural and unpretentious. 

Earlier this year, I remembered coming across this article about rattan making a comeback and all the pieces fell into place. 

Rattan is emerging as a “trendy newcomer in the upmarket collections of contemporary American and European interior and furniture designers as a sustainable and durable alternative to traditional wood,” according to the luxury lifestyle experts at Buro247.

Image Source: Athropologie

However, the main selling point to use rattan was its lower impact on the environment as a construction material.

Not only is rattan a perennial beauty, it’s a naturally renewable palm that continues to be an invaluable part of rural people’s livelihoods in South and Southeast Asia, in line with the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF)’s Sustainable Solutions publication.

There’s “no killing” involved as rattan is a root that weaves through the forest floor. It doesn’t hurt the tree structures when taken away moderately and sustainably. This is unlike using woods and timbres which require you to cut down the whole tree, endorses Patrick on why his family business continues to trade rattan.

The History of Hak Sheng & Co.

Hak Sheng & Co.’s humble beginnings started in 1969 out of a small shop in Lavender street. Now, its retail store located at 66 Kallang Bahru, #01-523 looks quite frankly like a beautiful explosion of rattan – floor to ceiling of chairs, kitchen organisers, stools and hula hoops. It is a real treasure trove of items that is a true feast for your eyes. 

This third generation business was established by Patrick’s grandfather who brought in some of the first rattan products into Singapore.

However it was Patrick’s father who really forged business relationships with vendors and customers near and far and has brought the business to where it is today.

From trudging through the Indonesian rainforests to find rattan producers, constantly thinking of how they can diversify their business and remain relevant, Mr Goh senior has made it his life’s work. 

“This business is my father’s life,” says Patrick. Now 80 years old, Mr Goh senior still wakes up every day, enjoying what he does and meeting new people and open to more challenging projects. 

There has been a massive consolidation in the market, where eight rattan craftsmen weaved through Singapore, only two remain now. 

The main reasons for this decline is clearly highlighted by the rising rents, cost of labour, the e-commerce boom and more products and materials in general for consumers to choose from.

For them, what’s keeping them afloat is their ability to stay agile, diversify their products and customer lines as well as having the foresight many years ago to buy the properties in which they operate. Having less overheads has helped ease the monthly pressures from landlords.

Succession of their business

Patrick’s 16 year old son has also shown early signs of entrepreneurship and interest in their family business. However, like most parents he advises his son to “study first” then find what excites him, and along the way, challenges and opportunities will flow. 

At the end of the day, he says, whether it’s making big bespoke cornucopias or connecting with customers and suppliers, both father and son enjoy their days. 

“This business is not about the dollars and cents,” enlightening me.

“I help my dad with this business to ease his burden and it makes me happy. This time with him is important and worth it” says Patrick.

Having had the privilege to work with this father and son team to create this rattan cornucopia, I can sense that it’s not just rattan that bonds these two together. 

It’s the sense of love, admiration and connection that has been nurtured through Hak Sheng & Co. and after a long day at work, two bottles of Heineken and a good cheers reminds us of what is important, says Patrick. 

Want to know more about Hak Sheng & Co.’s rich history and their use of rattan? Watch this The National Heritage Board’s Heritage’s Episode titled “The Last Rattan Weaver”.

Or visit their website at http://www.haksheng.com.

Written by Min Yong, Beverly’s Blooms