This 25-year-old got together with his friends to start Singapore’s first tufting studio
People always say don’t start a business with your friends. But sometimes, it really does work out.
The pandemic birthed a burgeoning number of indoor-friendly passion projects. From crocheting sun hats to baking sourdough from scratch, there’s virtually nothing we didn’t try while locked in our homes.
For 25-year-old Carl Teh and his close friends Izac and Zoey, one of the greatest gifts from the pandemic was the rise of rug tufting, a textile craft where you can use a tufting gun to weave yarn through monk’s cloth.
Like most “pandemic hobbies”, rug tufting started out as a temporary fad on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
Instead of letting it fade away, the trio jumped at the opportunity to turn the hype into a business.
Aptly named Tuft Club, the team runs a tufting studio at Boat Quay where they hold workshops for people to come over and try out the craft. They can create things like rugs, murals, and decorative pieces. Each workshop costs $195 and lasts around four to five hours.
The workshops start with customers deciding on a design to tuft and from there, the team will help to see what yarn would best suit the design.
At Tuft Club, there are two types of yarn, namely cotton workshop yarn which is a 16-strand soft yarn that comes in 25 colours and wool yarn which is a premium grade, single-strand coarse yarn that comes in 50 colours. The former is suitable for ornamental pieces given its natural texture while the latter is better for utility pieces as it’s more durable.
Thereafter, the chosen design is projected onto the monk’s cloth for the customer to trace the lines.
Once the rug is tufted, the piece will undergo two stages of glueing. After applying the first layer of glue, a mesh is added so as to hold all the loose yarn loops together. A second round of glue is then applied before a secondary layer of fabric backing is placed.
The team then shapes the rug through a process of trimming and shearing where they level out all the yarn loops and trim the sides to shape the rug according to the customer’s liking.
As with most businesses, starting Tuft Club was challenging.
Getting into the business, the team was unsure of how receptive the local community would be to tufting. They wondered if Singaporeans would even be interested in learning how to make a rug.
Along with this uncertainty, there was also the art’s obscurity and unconventionality which made things much harder for the three friends.
“Tufting used to be an industrial craft that was turned into a consumer craft during the pandemic. People were doing these crazy rugs at home and we took inspiration from that.
“The difficult part was that there were no other tufting workshops readily available at all, not just in Singapore, but in the whole world. Even learning how to properly tuft the rug, how to finish the rug, was a difficulty for us because there’s actually very limited resources you can learn from.”
To solve this problem, they spoke to industry experts such as people who have experience tufting in an industrial setting. They learnt the various tufting techniques and the types of yarns to use before adapting it to their workshop plans to be more customer-friendly.
The team also had to figure out how to localise their workshops. They referenced other woodworking studios and homeware brands like SUPERMAMA to find ways they could blend design and textile craft together.
Beyond these technical difficulties, there were also the internal conflicts the three friends have.
While their friendship is undeniably strong, they do have their ups and downs as business partners.
“People always say don’t start a business with your friends and that does hold true sometimes because we do constantly have conflicts.
“We might see the same problem but we’re coming at it from different ways – Zoey from the perspective of the arts, Izac from the perspective of the business, and myself from the perspective of marketing,” admits Carl.
However, they’ve come to realise that they’re not fighting each other but are rather fighting the problem together. It simply requires communication and compromise for things to work.
In fact, Tuft Club is actually the second business they’re starting together. Initially, they ran a similar art jamming studio in a small unit at Kovan where they taught customers punch needling – an art somewhat similar to tufting.
Since then, they’ve crossed several milestones together, with the most recent being a commissioned project for H&M’s 10th anniversary where their rugs were displayed for public viewing.
Moving forward, Tuft Club has plans to collaborate with other artists to do a series of pop culture-inspired rugs.
To all aspiring entrepreneurs, here’s some advice from Carl:
“The reality of things is that now more than ever, there are many many different ways to earn a living. It’s not constricted to your nine to five…You can do basically anything that makes you money. But it’s not all roses.
“There’s a lot of stress that comes with this kind of uncertainty. Where do I get my customers from? How long can I sustain this for? With rent ongoing, it’s stressful.
“Even though setting up Tuft Club was quite a painful process for us, it was very worth it in the end.”