Breathing new life

Mr Yeoh with some of his handcrafted lamps on display at the Reborn: Think Green It’s Fabulous art exhibition in Capitol Piazza. He hopes that the exhibition will spread awareness about recycling and motivate people to do the same.
Mr Yeoh with some of his handcrafted lamps on display at the Reborn: Think Green It’s Fabulous art exhibition in Capitol Piazza. He hopes that the exhibition will spread awareness about recycling and motivate people to do the same. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

He makes lamps from old bottles and other trash and provides jobs for the disabled, less privileged

The handcrafted table lamps look expensive - luxurious almost. However, they are anything but.

Used glass bottles, sink taps, old Lego bricks and Christmas lights are among the materials Mr Dave Yeoh, 38, uses to create lavish-looking table lamps that he sells as part of his Think Green It's Fabulous (TGIF) environmental project.

The lamps, now on display at Capitol Piazza, stand on recycled blocks also made by Mr Yeoh, who was a graphic designer before spending the last 15 years as a property agent.

Mr Yeoh, who learnt to make the lamps on his own, started the project in late 2013 with the aim of spreading environmental awareness and providing jobs for the disabled and less privileged.

"The materials I use are very simple and I want to promote the idea that everyone can recycle using these everyday materials," he told The Straits Times.

His inspiration to create jobs for the less fortunate stemmed from a friend who had worries about how her daughter, who suffers from mental illness, would support herself in the future.

At the same time, he is concerned about the wastage of glass bottles after seeing that many were thrown out by pubs and clubs.

Mr Yeoh said that while he has been attempting to reach out to voluntary welfare organisations that help people with disabilities, he has been turned away by them as they fear the craftwork may be too demanding for their beneficiaries.

Mr Yeoh had the help of his friend initially, but the project later became a one-man show. He sources for glass bottles and sells the pieces on TGIF's website single-handedly. They are only sold online.

At first, it was tough finding the raw materials, said Mr Yeoh. The pubs and clubs he approached were not willing to keep the used bottles for him.

He also had problem getting discarded glass bottles that were in good condition - those thrown out were often broken.

"I had to go to big dustbins and junk areas to dig for bottles," he recounted with a laugh.

While searching for glass bottles may be tedious, he said his biggest obstacle at the moment is funding as he quit his job as a property agent last year to focus on TGIF.

The thought of quitting his job entered his mind last year, when he sold Christmas trees made of recycled bottles in a brief partnership with beneficiaries such as Clarity Singapore and Catholic Welfare Services Singapore (CWS).

He was installing a Christmas tree for CWS when he received a call to go for a house viewing.

"I knew then that I didn't want to be caught in a situation where I have to choose between closing a deal and earning a few thousand, or educating a group of people," said Mr Yeoh, who is single and currently works as an Uber driver.

In the past 1-1/2 years, Mr Yeoh has collected more than 5,000 glass bottles. He has sold about 250 out of some 3,000 uniquely decorated table lamps.

His lamps are priced from $45 to $240 depending on material cost and work hours clocked, but buyers can donate any amount, which can be below the listed price.

The piece Mr Yeoh is the proudest of is one made entirely of recycled materials - including the lampshade, which is usually provided brand new by a supplier.

While friends and family called him "crazy" for giving up his job, Mr Yeoh insisted he is on the right path. "I realised what I've been doing is meaningful, and people have been giving me positive feedback as well."

Besides selling lamps, he conducts craft workshops at a rented office in Ubi since January, charging $68 per hour for lessons of three to four hours.

"I had feedback from schools that are interested in my workshops, so I will start from there, but helping the less fortunate to get jobs will always be a part of my plan," he said.

• The lamps are on display at the Reborn: Think Green It's Fabulous art exhibition at Capitol Piazza (#B1-36). It will run till May 12, from 11am to 9pm daily. Admission is free.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Breathing new life'. Print Edition | Subscribe