PHOTOGRAPHY by Mike Perry
DESIGN by Gary Parker
I’m sure most of you have had an experience in which a particular item spoke to you in such a way that had you saying to yourself, it will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine. Furniture from the environmentally conscious Walk The Plank has this affect on even the most discerning customer and it’s hard not to be enamoured by the ever-growing range of pieces. Sourcing reclaimed and responsibly sourced new materials, WTP’s mission is to not only craft pieces that are designed to last a lifetime, but to change the way we perceive product made in Indonesia.
After going back and forth between emails for some time, it was great to finally chat with furniture designer and director, Mike Perry, about all things regarding his burgeoning company, which has steadily been gaining momentum over the last couple of years. Based in Jepara, along the north coast of Central Java, Indonesia, WTP was born out of his desire to start a label that would allow him to fulfill the vision he had in his mind to make an affordable product that “gets better with time.”
What Mike describes as “a collection of casual and wearable furniture for life”, WTP combines functionality with aesthetic appeal and provides an alternative option for those wishing to purchase something that goes against the trend to purchase goods that will need to be replaced in a few years’ time.
Mike’s introduction to the furniture business dates back to when he was fresh out of high school in Newcastle. After surfing one day, he returned to the car park where he was approached by a man who asked if he and his friends would be interested in helping to unload four 40-foot containers of furniture for an upcoming sale. This chance encounter turned into a 10 year working relationship with a leading Australian furniture company. Mike says, “I always had this creativity inside me and never really knew what I wanted to do”, but he dove into his new role and was involved in all aspects of the business, from warehousing to sales, to visual merchandising, design and buying as well. “That’s when I realised that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to travel the world buying furniture and beautiful things and sourcing materials to make things and it really just evolved from there.”
Despite having a close relationship with this company, after 10 years Mike reached a plateau and he says, “I was either going to become a key partner for the company, which was a family business, or go out and go out on my own…so I pursued that option.” Brimming with an array of ideas, Mike found himself it in a boatyard in Central Java, on the cusp of an exciting business venture. After stumbling across a “mother load” of salvaged timber, Mike phoned his potential financial backer who ended up pulling out at the last minute. With very little capital behind him, Mike said, “fuck it” and put everything he had into it. Walk The Plank was born. A fitting name that represents not only the products he was making and him literally walking across a pile of wooden planks that day, but Mike thinks his approach to business is also like walking the plank. “I don’t wanna do it the way everybody else does it. We’re in a time now where you can sell things a lot differently than you did before. So you don’t need to go through the traditional ways of running a business anymore.”
Apart from the fact that Mike was already familiar with this region of Central Java from his work with his previous company, it was the allure of other qualities that drew him towards operating out of Indonesia. “There are certain freedoms that the culture has here, and different areas that are off the track. The way that people look at things is really different and things that are important are really different as well.”
From its humble beginnings of “literally 2 guys in a dirt patch and a tin roof”, WTP has since upgraded to a factory that employs 35 labourers, with product stocked in Australia, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong.
While the positive reception is a great accomplishment, it is WTP’s environmental and community involvement that makes the product all the more appealing. Mike believes that “if everyone can make an effort to be more responsible with how we approach the environment, globally it can make a massive difference.” He puts his money where his mouth is by behaving as responsibly as possible in all aspects of business. Besides the fact that WTP’s products are made using almost 80% of reclaimed materials and all finishing materials are all water-based and low or 0% VOC, any wood offcuts become fuel for ovens and even metal offcuts are melted down into cast iron pieces, making sure that no waste makes its way to landfill.
“I’d like people to look at the way that people are making products in Indonesia differently. I’d like to make a product where people go, this was made in indo and look at how well it’s made.”
“I’m trying to show there are ways we can operate responsibly that will hopefully contribute to a big difference.” He has also continued to support the Trees4Tress initiative, which is a non-profit organisation that empowers local communities with reforestation initiatives and related education programs.
Mike is not another white guy coming in to the country to take advantage of the beautiful people, weather and culture of Indonesia and to personally benefit from his business endeavours. Since his time living in his Japara, Mike has been actively involved in the community, where he participates in education, by assisting students with their English, an opportunity to which he never says ‘no’.
But his support and belief in the people of Indonesia extends well beyond his community involvement. Mike works closely with his employees, speaking to them in their language, with no distinction between director and employee, while fostering their skill and encouraging them to be proud of what they are creating. Mike is striving to destigmatise the way people view goods made in Indonesia and believes that one day, Indonesian-made products will be synonymous with the quality associated with furniture made in Italy or Denmark. Mike says, “I’d like to try to create a movement. I’d like people to look at the way that people are making products in Indonesia differently. I’d like to make a product where people go, this was made in indo and look at how well it’s made.”
Mike doesn’t subscribe to current trends of what’s cool or what’s not cool, instead he prefers to create timeless pieces that designed and crafted to last a lifetime and will “always fit in somewhere.” He says, “I wanna make things for people that can be easily obtained at a reasonable price, that fits in their home and enriches their home and doesn’t make it look sophisticated or uptight.” The products truly speak for themselves—clean lines, unique characteristics in the wood, with an industrial aesthetic combined with a raw feel that is reminiscent of the past. WTP pieces reflect the Japanese philosophy, ‘wabi sabi’, a term used to describe the beauty found in imperfection and change.
It is Mike who is responsible for the subtle imperfections, as he gets in the factory for the finishing touches. “Usually where I come in is to get my hands on things in more of that process of banging them around. You know, if something looks too new, I need to be the one who makes it look the way it needs to be. I love it…I can hang out in the warehouse messing things up if you’ll let me!”
“To me, there is a fine line between the way something should be for it to look and feel authentic, or it looking completely wrong. So the finishing touches, the fine construction details, or shaping and profiling are really important.”
It has been a challenge operating in a foreign land, but the beauty of Indonesia and its people make the work seem worthwhile at the end of the day. Although he doesn’t get to surf as much as he’d like to these days, simply “being able to cleanse yourself in the ocean, even if it’s for a quick swim every other day or spending the afternoon by the shore watching the local fishermen and feeling the vibe is enough at this point.”
At this stage, Mike is a looking forward to continuing to evolve WTP and collaborate with his close childhood friends, who are all talented individuals in their own right. “My friends are one of my biggest inspirations, they’ve always been a huge inspiration on me because; 1) they’re great guys and they’re my friends and 2) they do awesome things. Subconsciously, I always wanna do something they can relate to a little bit.”
He also plans to continue his involvement with community and domestic endeavors, having more time to surf and making the product available to purchase online. We’re eager to see what this visionary will bring us in future.