From a small workshop on the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Mohamad Hafiz Johari works with wood, metal and basic tools to build custom furniture pieces.
Having no formal training in carpentry, welding or woodwork, the 35-year-old carefully measures out his materials and puts together shelves and tables constructed to an “industrial style”, having left behind his former profession as a photographer in a Malaysian newspaper.
“Woodwork is my hobby, usually at home, I would try to build a bed or chairs for my children. So I had some basic experience from this,” Mohamad said.
Mohamad Hafiz, together with two other former photographers Abdul Razak Abdul Latif and Noor Adzrene Mohd Noor, came together to set up Kawood, a combination of the Malay word kawan (friend) and wood, with all three having lost their source of income due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Undeterred, they brainstormed some means of making a living, ultimately deciding on putting their enthusiasm for construction into building and selling unique and affordable furniture pieces.
“The newspaper reopened this year, I had an offer but I decided not to continue as a photographer. I have stopped that and I want to try different things,” Mohamad said.
The trio realized that they could put their other skills to use to generate income, turning their hobby into a business, and developing skills other than what they were formally trained in.
Noor Adzrene himself had run a food business since last year after the newspaper closed but was forced to close due to strict movement control restrictions implemented by the government to stop the spread of the disease earlier this year.
Despite the difficulties he initially encountered, he expressed hope for the future, having found satisfaction in working at his own business, encouraging others to build up their own skills as a means of personal security and growth.”Even if you are employed, you should have an additional skill.
If you are an accountant, maybe you should learn how to make cakes. At least if you lose your job, you can still have an income.” “To those who have lost their jobs, don’t be so stressed.
You will have to find something else to do and to focus on and be disciplined with your new work. You will succeed,” he said.
Abdul Razak who looks after the marketing and promotion of the business said the response had been good with the trio having successfully found many interested customers through social media who were drawn to their low prices and high quality.
“While being a photographer I was interested in social media, online work and other things. I don’t have carpentry skills.
My two friends do have that skill,” he said, adding that he instead handled the promotion, delivery of products and the logistics of the business.
All three agreed that there is no time to waste after having lost their previous sources of income, taking their difficulties in stride and seeking to make a better life through hard work and determination.
Having gone from a dozen orders to producing hundreds of pieces a month, they said any business that would survive COVID-19 would definitely flourish after the pandemic is over.
“Losing your job is not the end but it is a new start,” they said, expressing hope that with the good sales they had achieved so far, it would be possible to move to a bigger workshop by next year to expand their business.