Special Report  

The 2018 Furniture shows in Southeast Asia

By Michael Buckleyclosing

There are at least six furniture shows in Southeast Asia each March that are increasingly scheduled on top of each other, so that one now has to be selective as to which to exhibit or visit. For the first time in almost a decade it has finally been impossible to visit all the March furniture fairs.

Mark Yong, President, SFIC, Minister for Trade and Industry Mr S Iswaran & Ong Kim Chuan, Haleywood

Mr Ha Cong Tuan, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Hanoi opening VIFA 2018 show
Steven Chew, Mark Yong & Ernie Koh, SFIC with Senior Minister Ms Sim Ann, designer Jarrod Lim & Sharon Shek, AHEC

The Singapore show (IFFS) is more than ever the main design event that attracts all those who set and follow design trends – and could be referred to as the ‘Milan’ of ASEAN. As a general comment the two conflicting Malaysian shows, MIFF and EFE, seem to attract a wide variety of buyers of certain types of highly competitive furniture. Indonesia’s IFEX appears heavily geared to teak and native wood furniture and attracts many buyers from Asia Pacific, but does not usually show much mass-produced contemporary furniture. Thailand’s TIFF show is rather small and held at short notice with Japan as one of its key markets. That leaves Vietnam.

The Saigon show VIFA-Expo is now a ‘must visit’ or ‘must exhibit’ show, reflecting the dramatic rise of its furniture industry, but the show still covers probably less than half the industry since the Taiwanese manufacturers in Vietnam, who represent at least half of production capacity, do not participate. What now is needed are improved exhibition facilities since much of VIFA remains under canvass. Opening with a spectacular cultural celebration in March in the presence of Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) Mr Ha Cong Tuan and Buckleyclosing with the ‘Hoa Mai’ furniture design awards presented every spring by HAWA, the show got off to an impressive start. The show is organised by the HAWA Corporation, part of the Handicraft and Wood Industry Association of Ho Chi Minh City. According to HAWA, furniture and wood materials accounted for 80%, handicrafts 3%, home decor 4% and supporting services 13% with a total of 392 exhibitors. There were 144 international exhibitors from Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Holland, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, UK and USA. Total visitors were 11,702, an increase of 19.76% compared with VIFAEXPO 2017 with 9,771 and the number of foreign visitors was estimated at 4,522. Growth has been continuous from 2008 when visitors totalled 3,132 with 1,710 coming from overseas.

In terms of trends one of the most discernible in both Singapore and Vietnam is the increasing use of pigments on wood in furniture, which means wood in not less used, but is less visible. Much of the wood furniture at the show was either wholly or partially painted in cream, white or grey - this year’s favourite colour again. Oak is still the dominant high-value species for the export industries of Southeast Asia. Walnut by value is not dominant but is strongly evident in the upper end of the market. Tulipwood (yellow poplar) has been making increasing gains with imports from the USA into Vietnam up 27% in value last year. Rubber wood and plantation acacia are also hugely important to the furniture industries throughout the region. But price volatility is the phrase that now describes the rubber wood raw material situation with prices fluctuating and governments throughout Asia in recent years intervening in supplies - in what up to now has been a free market. Today some manufacturers are worried about future supplies of rubber wood and others have no problem, depending on where they operate.

The next wood and furniture trade shows in Southeast Asia will doubtless all be crammed together again, with a nice gap to allow the Chinese exhibitors return to China with time to prepare for their own March shows; in which case they are the winners of this continual scheduling that many people question.

Pigmented hardwood furniture by Interwood, Vietnam (2)
TMT red oak furniture by Jarrod Lim

VIFA 2018 Opening Ceremony
American ash stools donated by AHEC for the seminar arena at IFFS