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Founder of Wood Culture, Jacob George discusses a bespoke approach to furniture and pushing your boundaries

What do your first 30 mins of the day look like, your morning routine?

We just opened a new branch in India, so due to the time difference, my mornings usually involve answering a lot of messages from our team based there. I also try to go for a run before the working day starts. Finally, I attempt to plan for all the things I should start doing in 2021 but sometimes I procrastinate.

What is at the heart of Wood Culture’s DNA as a brand?

Wood Culture is an amalgamation of the arts and crafts I’ve encountered over decades of travelling off the beaten path. We strive on being recognized as a boutique-sized workshop emphasising on custom and bespoke products.  

You come from a family in the wood business. What ignited the idea to branch into furniture design?

My father has just crossed 50 years as a timber merchant. Having worked in the same business, I was based in various parts of the world like Romania and Malaysia, importing timber from other sources which basically summed up the components of furniture production. We started off Wood Culture as a little side project whereby we produced furniture from offcuts of wood and the positive response led me to go all in.

What has been the biggest hurdle since launching and how did you overcome it?

Definitely the Pandemic has been one of the most unique and difficult hurdles faced in recent times. Thankfully, our early investment in an e-commerce website was timed well to launch around the lock-down period last year. We are a young brand and a relative newcomer to the Industry. I do not come from a design background so every day is a challenge in reinventing yourself and staying ahead of the competition.

You travel to source wood and for inspiration. Where has been the most interesting for you to date?

Definitely my trip to Panama 2 years ago. It is one of the few parts of the world where one can source logs that have been lying underwater since the canal was excavated about 80 years ago. Apart from being surrounded by the beautiful landscape of Central America, the whole process of obtaining these logs involves air, road and a final push on a very questionably maintained fishing boat.

 What’s your favourite piece to date and why?

Close to when we started, we were commissioned to create a few custom one-off furniture items for one of the local Palace majlis. Back then, we were one of the few workshops in UAE doing resin work but the scale of the job was definitely beyond our capacity. I guess every single piece of furniture we made for that job is a favourite, as apart from the end result, it just showed our resolve to find a solution for new concepts along the way and really made us push beyond our boundaries.

How do you think last year affected the growth in popularity of people investing into their homes?

To be honest, we did not exist in our current form two years ago so there isn’t much data to compare to but despite all the challenges we went past even our most conservative forecasts. On a more Industry scale, I believe it has been a positive uptick in all areas encompassing furniture and home décor. We also see more demand for bespoke furniture as well as an increase in vendors providing the same service.

The price point is accessible – was this a key factor from the outset?

Yes, yes and yes. I did not study design or any related field. I was someone who traded in the raw material and moved up the value chain. My expertise is and will always be sourcing the raw materials cheaper than the competition and this reflects in my pricing. We stay away from the ‘luxury’ tagline. We want our furniture to be affordable regardless of where you’re based. Everyone deserves to be able to showcase a well-designed and executed piece of furniture in their respective homes.

Do you have any mentors or guides and how does this help navigate the right path?

I take what I can gather from those with more experience than me in various aspects of life. I don’t think there is a pre-determined right or wrong path but only the path that makes you truly happy. Find what brings this happiness to your own life and eventually this feeling feeds into all other aspects of your life.

Where do you produce the pieces and how challenging was the process to refine this process?

We have our own workshop in Jebel Ali where all our production is done. Over the past 6-8 months, we have also started production in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brazil. So currently, the split between local and overseas production is 60-40. Production, no matter what the industry, is a very complicated process. We are a young company so still fine-tuning various aspects of the business where we fall below par.

 As a young brand, what is your approach to scaling the business?

Scaling up doesn’t just mean an increase in everything but sometimes getting rid of systems that are not working. As a young brand, we sometimes make more mistakes than gains on a particular day but these are priceless lessons on improving and growing as a brand. The more ambitious the goals are, the higher the risk of everything going upside down but I personally thrive on these situations. For me, the combination of all this leads to scaling the business.

Which designs have been most popular to date and was this as you predicted?

We started during the time when the demand for resin was driving the market and this still stands strong. Of late, we see a similar demand for rattan and wicker and we have been one of the first vendors to have a larger collection to accommodate this. In both cases, we were early adopters of the local trends and in our case, this has definitely paid off. New trends will come and Wood Culture will deliver as always.

 You have clients the globe over – do you see any buying patterns based on regions or countries?

Buying patterns within the GCC remain largely the same. We receive a more diverse enquiry catalogue from our European customers. The only similarity between all the regions is the demand for these items going up.

How do you approach client engagement and retention?

We let our quality do the talking. We deal with numerous interior designers who have always come back for their next project. We actively showcase our work on our website as well as social media platforms.

How has social media affected building Woodculture?

We are a brand that has completely gained traction due to word of mouth tracking. To date, we have avoided paid campaigns although we love doing collaborations with individuals who approach us for their personal projects. Social media definitely is our preferred channel for sales and marketing.

Which Instagram accounts do you follow for inspiration?

@watersandacland, @overgaard_dyrman and @ibukubali

What advice would you give to your younger self, starting out? 

Don’t waste time asking everyone for advice. Trust your instincts, no one can reconstruct the vision in your head except yourself. Things will not be smooth, things will go upside down but always know your purpose and goal. Everything will fall in place along the way.

If you had not launched the brand, which other role would you choose career-wise?

Owning a beach bar or restaurant, meeting travellers from across the world and for a moment each day, living their lives through their tales.

This issue is ‘The Love Issue’ – what is love to you?

As long as love exists, the world will continue to move forward for the better. It’s our love for people, the things we do, the places we visit, food we eat and a lot more that keeps enabling us forward in the right direction. Love will distract us. Love will engage us. Love will spoil us. But, in the end, this beautiful planet deserves nothing less.

February’s – ‘The Love Issue’ – Download Now

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