Morgan Yeo, co-founder of homegrown carpentry company, Roger&Sons, produces bespoke furniture with a deep focus on sustainability by using locally and ethically-sourced materials
Few Singaporeans, let alone millennials, would be willing to forgo a cushy desk job and toil away in a humid warehouse filled with sawdust crafting fine pieces of wooden objects. But for Morgan Yeo, taking over his late father’s furniture business while working alongside his brothers was an opportunity he could not pass up.
“Nothing drives me more than family. I’m blessed that we work well together. What’s even more important is that we’re building a legacy together — to pride ourselves as better makers, better carpenters,” he enthuses.
A business graduate from Singapore Management University, 34-year-old Morgan is the oldest of three boys. He handles business strategy and development, while his youngest brother Ryan, 27, who studied logistics management, is the firm’s operational manager and carpenter. Their middle brother, Lincoln, 31, who is currently pursuing a career in filmmaking, will occasionally consult on branding and creative direction matters.
For the brothers, taking over the family business was not just filial duty; it was a chance to build a legacy out of their father’s work. Founded by Roger Yeo in 1999, the company was initially incorporated as JR & P Industries and started as a manufacturer of system furniture for offices. In 2014, their father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the brothers decided it was time to reinvigorate and reinvent the family business to keep up with the changing landscape.
To take the business into the future, the boys rebranded the company to Roger&Sons, as a tribute to the late Roger. They restructured their business model to focus on creating small-batch custom-made furniture. This allowed them to sustain the knowledge and experience of the older generation of craftsmen who have worked for the company for over two decades. Today, the company is an exciting blend of close to 20 old and new carpenters, with older artisans working alongside younger woodworkers, experimenting with modern techniques.
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Roger&Sons is about crafting customised, design-oriented pieces that are technically demanding — the result of spending time since they were children watching and learning from their father. Just by running your fingers along the smooth, burnish wood and looking and the flawless joining of wood grains, you know a high level of expertise, care and attention has gone into making every piece.
To achieve the smooth finishes, Roger&Sons works with a local beekeeper, Nutrinest, to make their beeswax for polishing. They are also looking into creating a range of children’s wooden toys using VOC-free paint from local company, Wild Dot, which uses natural plant dyes to make paint.
Among their expansive portfolio of clients — spanning furniture, industrial, and product design, as well as woodworking — Roger&Sons has crafted bespoke pieces for some of the largest companies, including Google, W Hotel, Marks & Spencer’s, KPMG, Audemars Piguet and Diageo, we well as a host of other local brands.
“Creating products for our commercial clients is rewarding because they value craftsmanship and understand that creating something well-made takes time. This is important because we need more time to make something nice,” he says. On average, one can expect to wait four to six weeks for their bespoke creation to be ready, and 30% longer if it is made with local timber.
Roger&Sons doesn’t come cheap, with custom furniture costing up to tens of thousands, but at its showroom, you can find a small selection of lifestyle items, like cheese boards, coasters and smartphone holders, from as little as $30.
“We are not that exorbitant compared to other furniture brands. We take the cost of material and manpower, which is high in Singapore, and then put in a small margin for us,” he adds.
Banking on local trees
At Roger&Sons, sustainability is one of their core guiding pillars. To use more local materials, they started The Local Tree Project in 2019, switching from imported materials to locally-felled trees — primarily Angsana, Khaya and Raintree — to reduce its carbon footprint and improve its production methods.
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“As a company, we want to be more responsible in our actions and our thoughtful products. It’s important, now more than ever, that we do what we can to address climate change,” says Morgan.
He adds: “In Singapore, unofficially, about 50 to 100 trees get cut down a day due to urban development. This results in thousands of logs in sawmills waiting to be turned into mulch or pallet wood. The good thing is that when one tree gets cut down, a new one will be planted somewhere else.”
Part of the reason why most local companies still prefer importing wood is that they come already pre-treated and are not expensive. For Roger&Sons to conduct their complete cycle of treatment in-house, it would take up to six months of drying time before work can even commence. Alternatively, they can also kiln-dry the wood, but processing costs are very high. According to Morgan, the electricity cost to kiln-dry a 20-foot container of wood costs $10,000 a month.
With 15,000 more trees slated to be felled over the next 15 years combined with throwaway culture, the project gives longevity to these abandoned logs by turning them into durable, future-proof objects.
When the project was first launched, the team worked with Mandai Park Development to create outdoor furniture such as benches, tables and bike racks from rain trees that were felled to make space for the new bird park.
Recently, Roger&Sons also worked with the Tanjong Pagar district to design playground furniture using trees cut down to pave the way for new residential developments in the area.
Morgan has recently become a bit of a tree expert, having received a research grant from DesignSingapore Council to further his knowledge of tree varieties. He shares that the Khaya tree from Africa, which is lauded for its deep red African mahogany, proliferates in Singapore due to our wet and hot weather. But its roots do not grow deep and are prone to falling. With the funding, he’s studying ways to densify and stabilise the wood.
One of his greatest dreams is to take a fallen tree, turn it into a beautiful piece of furniture, and, when its lifespan ends, return it to nature and let it decompose naturally. “I always like to say we kill trees for a living as carpenters. So, we need to be able to take care of them forever, from the cradle to the grave.”
As an ethical maker, Morgan believes that looking at the whole supply chain is integral to making the furniture industry circular. “Throughout the entire chain, we must be responsible and answerable to the environment, our suppliers, our stakeholders and customers, ensuring that everything and everybody is well taken care of. That also means paying our suppliers well and not working with those who don’t share the same values.”
His hope for the furniture industry is for companies to stop using bad materials and undervaluing their goods. “The price of furniture, pegged at $240 per foot, has not changed since my dad’s time. And right now, Malaysia is coming in at $180. With the rising cost of material and manpower, I have no idea how anyone is still charging at this price. There must be undercutting somewhere. The key is to be responsible and ethical. Be proud of what you do, and don’t cheat.”
Hoping to elevate carpentry to an art form, Roger&Sons conducts regular workshops to educate and teach the community about woodworking. Besides corporate workshops and those for the general public, Morgan shares that the team conducts classes for students and has held free sessions for voluntary organisations such as SG Enable and St Andrew’s Autism School.
“We spend a lot of time on education because it’s important to have basic life skills, such as properly holding a power drill or sawing a piece of wood. Many people from my generation would pay someone else to fix their leaky faucets. But if you had the know-how to do it yourself, wouldn’t you be better for it?”
Considered a sunset industry, carpentry is growing extinct, with only about 4,000 carpenters left in Singapore. To keep this craft alive, Morgan hopes to open a carpentry school and create a curriculum for anyone keen to learn about woodworking, including ex-offenders and the disabled.
As mavericks of their trade, Roger&Sons wish to break out of the mould of being just a wood artisan. Shortly, the team hopes to craft furniture with other recyclable materials. Morgan gives an example of an upcycling project for the ice cream company Creamier, where he melted down discarded milk bottles and caps and turned them into marble-like stool tops. He shares that they also created a prototype for a lampshade made entirely of compacted sawdust.
“We are not just carpenters; we are makers. We try to be innovative in what we do and try to push the envelope.”
Driven by dreams
Roger& Sons have undoubtedly received its fair share of media attention for a brand that has yet to win any design awards. This, in turn, has also brought on several meaningful collaborations.
A Made With Passion brand, selected by the Singapore Brand Office, Singapore Tourism Board and Enterprise Singapore, Roger&Sons partnered with Singapore Airlines to upcycle old seats and galley carts from retired Airbus A380 planes.
They are now in a development phase with Banyan Tree Mandai to create furniture made out of locally-felled trees. They will also be consulting and judging a furniture-making competition using tembusu trees cut down to pave the way for the new One Holland Village Residences.
More recently, Morgan and Ryan appeared in Porsche’s global campaign called “Dreamers. On.” which recognises trailblazers who demonstrate immense courage, passion and dedication in pursuing their dreams.
The campaign, rooted in the pioneering spirit of the brand’s founder, Ferry Porsche, and how he brought the vision of his dream car to life, now in its second year, has featured world-class golfer Paul Casey and female racing driver Simona de Silvestro, amongst others.
Anchored on the brand purpose, “Driven by Dreams”, the campaign explores the topic of dreams through inspiring and educational stories of the past and present. Roger&Sons have stayed true to themselves and challenged the expectations of success in our modern world. Their dreams are synonymous with embodying Ferry Porsche’s enduring spirit of believing in oneself to bring a dream to fruition, regardless of the challenges they face.
“The Porsche partnership is very meaningful to us. I’m very much a dreamer. I know it's wishful thinking, but hopefully, when people think about fine craftsmanship and artistry in this lifetime, Singapore is up there along with Japan, Germany, Italy and Scandinavia,” says Morgan.
“I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in our work ethic and sustainability goals. We’re not there yet, nor are we making tons of money, but our heart is in the right place.”