Myanmar furniture, once well-known for its quality and craftsmanship, is seemingly losing lustre in domestic and international markets. Local demand has declined quite drastically due to soaring prices, while overseas interest has waned due to weakening quality over the past few years.
Recognising the struggles of the industry, Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein has met with the Myanmar Furniture Industrial Association to offer support by setting up a furniture factory to develop the industry.
The government is planning to subsidise the land for the factory and work with businesses to set up the factory, reported by Myanmar Times.
Meanwhile, households and offices have been increasingly importing furniture from countries like China. Even as exports collapsed, some US$300 million worth of furniture is imported annually, said U Kyaw Kyaw Win, chair of the Myanmar Furniture Industrial Association.
“The local furniture market has been declining rapidly. Only essential office furniture is being sold,” he said.
The current situation differs tremendously from the recent past, when furniture made from Myanmar teak dominated the market.
“Previously, teak furniture was easily available and affordably priced but since the new government took office, large volumes of illegally processed timber have been seized, making teak furniture less readily available and therefore more expensive,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Win.
Surging raw material costs are not the only contributing factor for higher teak furniture prices, the rising costs of rental space for furniture display furniture is a cause too.
To display one sofa set in Yangon, it costs approximately K200,000 per month and sales are not guaranteed, while the number of buyers is falling and demand has collapsed, said U Tin Myo, a furniture salesman.
Also, there is a lack of skill and modern equipment needed to produce high quality furniture efficiently on a sustainable scale. “The Myanmar furniture industry needs investments in factories so that furniture can be manufactured affordably and sustainably,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Win.
He added that while design and quality are important In foreign countries, sadly people in Myanmar choose products that cost the cheapest. Manufacturers face difficulties expanding because they do not have access to equipment to help them scale and lower their prices.
Unfortunately, Myanmar teak furniture designs are now perceived as being old-fashioned, said U Tin Myo. He also pointed out that since teak furniture are heavy and difficult to move around, they are discarded as soon as the owners move house. The industry needs an injection of new ideas and modernise designs in order to generate interest and demand for teak furniture once again.
Currently, Myanmar consumers prefer rubber and PVC-based furniture. “Currently, furniture made from rubber or PVC are widely preferred in the market and being used by businesses such as cafes, restaurants and hotels,” U Kyaw Kyaw Win said.
International demand for Myanmar teak furniture is declining too. “The machines used for manufacturing are inadequate so we cannot export because the quality and design of our products are not good enough,” U Kyaw Kyaw Win said.
Lack of skill, quality
The quality of furniture and other household decorative products made from other Myanmar-based raw materials, such as bamboo, has been declining as well.
Despite Myanmar being the world’s third largest country exporting bamboo goods, income generated from this trade is far cry from neighbouring countries due to the lack of labour, technology and access to modern designs, said U Zaw Lwin Oo, a bamboo craftsman.