Jed Yabut is one of those people who seized the moment when the pandemic seemed to have pushed his options towards a blank wall. Rather than stay in his workplace in Japan when the coronavirus struck globally last year, the Filipino architect opted to go back to his roots in the Philippines and pursue a dream. It was the right time, he believed.
And the perfect timing it was indeed despite the struggles of setting up an enterprise in the midst of ever-changing quarantine regulations. He had a dream after all, to set up his own furniture business and elevate the appreciation for rattan as a sturdy and agile material for functional yet stylish home and office furnishings.
A graduate of the University of the Philipines and an MBA graduate of the Waseda University in Tokyo, Yabut had always wanted to design furniture and to give something back to his motherland by way of working with communities.
Thus was born his Jed Yabut Furniture and Design company during the last quarter of 2020. Showcasing his thoughtfully designed furniture virtually for now — his atelier in Poblacion, Makati City has yet to open due to MECQ policies — one can see the designer’s pride in featuring 100 percent all-natural materials sourced locally and with the seasoned artistry of Filipino craftsmen who work with him.
The names of his first collection alone are quite whimsical and poetic — labels that can only be made straight from the heart of its passionate Filipino creator: think of Bunot, side tables with a rattan base shaped like the local coconut husk; Tinikling, for the criss-crossed rattan legs on a console table, the pattern reminiscent of the bamboos used for the native dance; and Kometa (Comet) for the rattan shade of a lamp with a tripod stand, to name a few.
In a recent interview for Daily Tribune’s Pairfect, the vibrant designer shared his inspiring insights on how to thrive as a creative entrepreneur, how to persist pursuing one’s dream, in the midst of uncertain times:
Daily Tribune (DT): How did you start your business amid the pandemic?
Jed Yabut (JY): I was about to snatch another job in Singapore for nearly five years and moved to Tokyo and then went back to Singapore. I was supposed to have a job there but the pandemic happened. For about three months, I was doing creative things and suddenly, I thought that I had to do something that involves interiors and architecture, something that I can do as a business, so I thought of a furniture business.
DT: What kind of work did you do in Singapore and Tokyo?
JY: I was a project manager. Most of the projects we did there were high-rise buildings and luxury hotels.
DT: It’s very different from what you are doing now.
JY: It’s a different ball game but what’s interesting here is I can make use of my entrepreneurial skills. I used to be a salary man and I wanted to feel the thrill of becoming an entrepreneur who grinds from mornings to evenings. Everyone has their own pandemic story and mine is about the months of boredom that led me to become an entrepreneur. At that point, I said to myself, “I don’t want another job and be salary man again.”
DT: What are your thoughts on the local furniture industry?
JY: There is a bigger influence now of cheap and quick manufacturing. Now that IKEA is coming in, all the small enterprises will have more competitors. I took all of those into consideration so I try to differentiate myself from those mass market kinds of furniture. I branded it by using local materials. I also put my name the brand. I was hesitant to do so because there’s a lot of responsibility when you’re putting your name in the brand. But my friends pushed me to do it.
DT: Have you always had this green philosophy?
JY: It all came together in the pandemic because I realized that the economy needs to be saved and one of the best things to do so is to create a brand that is saving the local economies of the country. It’s also part of continuing the tradition of preserving the culture.
DT: Was it hard to go around and source your workers?
JY: I actually collaborated with workshops. It grew and we asked around and made a promise that this will gonna be big.
DT: How did you get into designing?
JY: In my 10 years of being an architect, I never designed. I thought I was good with designing ever since college but even when you have it in you, you still need the proper channel so I thought maybe this was the right time. My designs were influenced by what I saw abroad.
DT: Take us back to the time when you were conceptualizing your brand.
JY: I learned first about rattan. From there, I thought of doing different silhouettes and design inspirations based on the looks and textures based on local icons. That’s why I named my designs after local icons and geographies. Every piece has a story.
DT: How do you come up with collections?
JY: I make sure that when a client commissions my work, the designs should be patterned from the current collection. I really didn’t want to add new elements because I don’t think it’s good for the business. Right now, we are still brainstorming for the next collection. We haven’t really reached the market yet.
DT: Do you have clients abroad?
JY: There are a lot of Filipinos abroad asking me if I ship. I wish I knew how to but we don’t have the volume yet.
DT: What’s a Jed Yabut trademark?
JY: It’s very simple and clean. A lot of them are very random in patterns. I give the workers the liberty to do it to give them the artistic ownership. I use blacks and whites at the moment. It needs to look unique and fresh. I see a lot of rattan furniture and I made sure that my pieces look nothing like it.
DT: You were in Tokyo, Japan and you were mentioning minimalist, very clean-like, so have you been influenced by the Japanese?
JY: So much. The influence of Japan on my design aesthetics is huge. It’s really part of me; being Japanese is a big part of me now. I consider myself Japanese to be honest with you. I can speak the language. Every time I travel around Japan I take snaps of the beautiful things that I see. You know sometimes when I’m designing I scroll all the through photos that I have in Japan and then the architecture sometimes of Japan is like ‘Oh this looks good!’ ‘This might look nice!’ And then I put a Pinoy twist to it most of the time. That’s what I do, as a designer, you keep on evolving in terms of your design philosophies and putting all your inspirations, all the past experiences that you have had — put them all together and then bottle them up, put them in a piece of paper, that’s how you succeed as a very good designer. All the best practices, all the beautiful things that you see, put them all together. I think that’s how you become a good designer.
DT: What about your upbringing Jed? Do you come from a creative family?
JY: Actually, I don’t know. But I think my mom would know. As far as I know, I’m the first architect in the family.
My mom is a nurse and my dad works at LRT — all government employees. My brother is an entrepreneur.
We’re three in the family; my sister is an interior designer.
Speaking of interior designer, I think a part of the portfolio diversification of Jed Yabut Furniture and Design, sooner or later, will be becoming a design company.
DT: Why did you choose rattan in the first place? Were you considering other materials?
JY: I was considering wood, bamboo, but I think rattan is very, very particularly Filipino. In terms of the aesthetics, and it being a very tropical species of plants — I think it’s very Pinoy. I could’ve chosen bamboo, but bamboo sometimes is very difficult to work with. And bamboo is actually all over the world, so there’s not much of a differentiation. Rattan, on the other hand, is very tropical. We were a huge exporter of rattan furniture back in the 80s, the Philippines and Indonesia were huge huge exporters of rattan and then China came in, the labor was very cheap. In fact, the Chinese furniture designers of rattan actually got hold of rattan raw materials in the Philippines. Kaya nagkakaubusan ng rattan ngayon sa Philippines because we basically export raw rattan material to China. I just capitalize on the fact that it’s just very, very Pinoy.
DT: Is it easy to maintain rattan?
JY: It’s actually very easy. Contrary to popular opinion about rattan being difficult to maintain, they’re not as durable as people might think because it’s still flexible, right. It’s actually a very strong material. That’s why a lot of rattan, they could go on for decades. In fact yung mga solihiya natin are all rattan. They’re just the skin of the rattan.
I think the campaign of love local, support local is a big boost to the local furniture companies and for me as well. I’m partly benefiting from that.
DT: Aside from Japan and your travels, what else inspires you?
JY: I would term that as motivation. What motivates me is to elevate Filipino craftsmanship and to push more Filipino rattan or native products to the global stage. That’s one of my biggest motivations. That’s why I make sure that the designs are not just appealing to the local taste but also the the international taste.
With Francine Marquez, Care Balleras and