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Once in high demand, Myanmar-made furniture faces imminent decline

Myanmar furniture, once renowned for its quality and craftsmanship, appears to have lost its appeal in domestic and international markets. Local demand has plummeted owing to soaring prices, while overseas interest has dwindled due to declining quality over the past few years.

Meanwhile, a rising number of households and offices have instead been importing furniture from countries like China. Even as exports collapsed, some $300 million worth of furniture is imported yearly, according to 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 is a far cry 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.

Soaring raw material costs aren’t the only reasons teak furniture is getting more expensive. The costs of renting space to display furniture have been on the rise too.

In order to display one sofa set in Yangon, it costs around K200,000 per month and sales are not guaranteed. At the same time, the number of buyers is decreasing and demand has collapsed, said U Tin Myo, a furniture salesman.

Then, there is a lack of skill and modern equipment needed to efficiently produce high quality furniture on a viable scale. “The Myanmar furniture industry needs investments in factories so that furniture can be manufactured affordably and sustainably,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Win.

“In foreign countries, design and quality are important. But in Myanmar, people choose products which are the cheapest. Manufacturers face difficulties expanding because they do not have access to tools that allow them to scale and lower their price,” he said.

Furthermore, Myanmar teak furniture is now perceived as being cumbersome and old-fashioned, said U Tin Myo. ““Products made from teak are difficult to move around. As they are not easy to move, they are discarded as soon as the owners need to move house. The industry needs fresh ideas and access to modern designs to generate interest and demand for teak furniture,” he said.

Now, consumers are opting for rubber and PVC-based furniture instead. “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.

Meanwhile, international demand for Myanmar teak furniture is falling 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 dropping, too.

Despite Myanmar being the third largest country for bamboo goods in the world, income generated from this trade is far less than neighbouring countries due to the lack of labour, technology and access to modern designs, said U Zaw Lwin Oo, a bamboo craftsman.

“Although we have started running bamboo handicraft industry since 1996, we now lack access to the latest techniques,” said U Zaw Lwin Oo.

Similar to the teak market, bamboo product traders are unable to scale their businesses due to the lack equipment and machinery. Meanwhile, demand is dropping and costs are rising.

“Deforestation is happening at a rapid scale, which is choking supply of readily available bamboo, thus driving prices up and demand down,” UZaw Lwin Oo said.

While demand for lacquered bamboo products has gained traction among tourists, it also costs a lot of to hire workmen and use good quality chemicals and paints. As a result, many businesses are using cheaper chemicals which lowers the quality, and hence demand for their ware.

Recognising the struggles of the industry, Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein has met with the Myanmar Furniture Industrial Association to provide support in the form of 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, The Myanmar Times understands.

Source : Myanmar Times

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