Jirawat Tangkijngamwong, deputy managing director of Deesawat Industries Co. Ltd., of Bangkok, Thailand, oversees purchasing of U.S. hardwoods for his family’s furniture manufacturing business.
Deesawat Industries, Thailand: Moving Forward With American Hardwoods
By Michael Buckley
Bangkok, Thailand–Jirawat Tangkijngamwong, or ‘Jiro’ as he is fondly called, is a man of many abilities. This extrovert and gregarious Thai is one of the remarkable characters of the Southeast Asian furniture industry – rarely absent from attending any related event in the region. He didn’t mean to be in furniture, but when his father passed away in 1991, he decided that his place was in Deesawat Industries Co. Ltd., the family furniture business that originally specialized in Rosewood inlay.
Founded in 1972, Deesawat Industries is located on the outskirts of Bangkok and employs anywhere between 200-300 people, depending on market conditions. It became one of the leading manufacturers of Thai Teak furniture, but is now gradually and strategically moving towards other materials, such as American hardwoods. The company has 30,000 square meters of production space and is known for its sawmilling skills and furniture manufacturing craftsmanship. Its products range from contemporary wooden furniture for private residences to custom-made furniture for leisure, hospitality projects and for open spaces. As its brochure says: “At work, at noon and at night our Boston Curves, Boston Leaf, Bottle and Cubic, Diva and Dune models, as well as many more, are more fun.” Deesawat Industries’ ‘Nest’, ‘Saki’ and ‘Star’ collections for the exterior have been particularly successful.
Deesawat Industries is developing a new range of paneling. Shown here is the North American White Oak product.
With the passing of the ‘golden age of Thai furniture’ at the onset of serious competition from Vietnam and China, Jirawat realized that the business of Deesawat Industries was being challenged. He has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), having participated in many of its activities, “from which I learned a great deal,” he said. “For educational purposes, AHEC is the best in their field and can’t be beaten.”
His Swedish scholarship to study forest management, together with his Italian design training at the Italia Academia and an MBA from the University of Hawaii, has stood him in good stead. So did his year in Japan and his experience and extended periods in San Francisco and Hong Kong. He speaks Thai, English, Mandarin, some Cantonese and some Japanese. In fact the world was his oyster, but it was the arts – studying caricature – design and hypnotherapy that had first attracted him. After deciding on the family business, he accepted the position of deputy managing director for, to this day, his mother is still the managing director.
Now, as a leading light in the Thai Furniture Industries Association (TFA), Jirawat is secretary general. He also represents the TFA as organizing partner to the annual Thai International Furniture Fair (TIFF), as a board member of the organizing committee. Additionally, he is chairman of the Thai Timber Association, which takes care of imported timbers and is a passionate member of the International Wood Culture Society. He is chairman of the ASEAN Forestry Products Industry Council, as well as a host of other organizations.
Deesawat Industries employs between 200-300 people, depending on market conditions, whose craftsmanship makes each Deesawat piece of furniture unique.
Recently Thailand became the number two market in Southeast Asia, after Vietnam, for American hardwood lumber. Increasingly for Deesawat Industries, U.S. hardwoods are accounting for more and more of the company’s raw material, presently 20 percent – with momentum being taken at a measured pace. Being specialists in exterior furniture made in Teak, the company realized that American hardwoods are not good outside and needed to address unfamiliar, interior markets.
“We have to use the wood as it is,” Jirawat said. “We want our furniture to be rustic, but funky. So we are working on a strategic plan to refine our designs.”
Deesawat Industries has half a dozen in-house designers and, under his direction, looking to Japan for inspiration. “We cannot compete with the rustic from Indonesia, so we have to change to the Japanese style,” he said, “for the Japanese are the masters in how to select and cut wood.”
He adds further, “I don’t want only best performance; I want performance and best-looking furniture – and the workmanship has to be top notch.”
Currently, the company still uses 70 percent Teak and of the balance, White Oak represents the majority. Deesawat
Deesawat purchases and inventories a variety of hardwoods from the U.S., including Black Walnut, Ash, Hard Maple, Hickory and Yellow Poplar. The company has 30,000 square meters of production space.
Industries is currently experimenting with special effects on Oak paneling and rustic flooring, as well as furniture. In fact the company is securing markets far and wide, from the U.S. to Japan, and recently hotel projects were built for the London Olympics. Over time Black Walnut, Ash, Hard Maple, Hickory and Yellow Poplar (Tulipwood) have been used for different products. The company has also experimented with heat treatment in species such as Ash, but found the loss of natural color in the process too dark and unacceptable. Each year new collections are unveiled at the TIFF show in Bangkok, where Jirawat takes a strong role in working with the Thai Government, which now strongly supports the event.
He is not afraid of being copied, “for while we are leading, we would like our many friends in the industry to progress too. In fact we have been trying to persuade some of them to consider American species, which is all part of our (TFA) work with the U.S. Embassy and AHEC in the annual American Hardwood Design Camp in Bangkok, since 2009, to inspire young designers.”
This year, Deesawat Industries unveiled at TIFF several new flooring and paneling products using a range of species, including American White Oak to create some innovative surfaces. “The key to success for Deesawat Industries,” said Jirawat, “is to be highly responsive to market changes. Definitely, our future plans will involve a lot more American hardwood.”