As a child, Lyn Ng was her dad’s little assistant handyman.
“Whenever he was home, he’d be fixing things and assembling furniture,” she recalls.
“I thought it was so fascinating; I loved studying the manuals and figuring out how the pieces came together!”
She was especially attracted to wood for its tactile quality; she enjoyed visiting stores such as Ikea and Muji to check out wooden furniture. As she puts it, “Wood is so soothing to the touch!”
So in 2016, after leaving her job as a marketing executive in the F&B industry, Ng signed up for a woodworking course in Taiwan. Over the next six months, she learnt to design and produce various items such as tissue boxes and stools with wood. As it turned out, she was relatively good at it so after returning to Singapore, she got a job with an upcycling studio that made furniture out of old wooden pallets.
The carpenters she worked with tried to discourage her from pursuing woodwork as a profession, because it was “too much hard work for a girl; the wooden planks were too heavy for me to carry and the machines too big for me to handle”. Ng eventually left, not due to the physical demands of producing wooden furniture but rather because her passion was in producing wooden handbags and earrings.
In September 2018, she launched Studio Mu Yu (which translates to “language of wood” in Mandarin) with a collection of bags.
“I love structured bags so I’ve always wanted to make them with wood,” she says. “People have this perception that wood is heavier than leather but that isn’t necessarily so. And I hope to offer bigger-sized carriers like totes in the future.”
Unlike bags, which require up to four months from design to production, it takes comparatively less time — three hours, which is also how long Studio Mu Yu’s Ikigai jewellery making workshop lasts — to complete two pairs of earrings. These are well loved by customers; several designs from the recent Tropical collection such as Ladybug and Bee have sold out.
As often as possible, Ng tries to use recycled wood for her designs, using wood discarded by carpenters — pine for bags and walnut and mahogany for earrings. Occasionally, when the wood she receives is too small, she’s had to buy her own.
And when she points out that sustainability requires creativity, she is referring, in particular, to crisis management.
Shares Ng: “Once, I received a lovely piece of wood, and excitedly cut it open, only to find that termites had eaten away its inside! I’ve also had wood suddenly break apart during workshops! So working with wood has taught me to chill.”
Ng is supported by a team of part-timers — all five are women aged 22 or younger. She speaks fondly of them, clearly astonished by their energy and enthusiasm.
“They inspired my latest collection Tutti Frutti, which features motifs such as the watermelon and orange. I was initially quite meh but the response from customers has been pleasantly surprising!”
And even though Ng herself is only 29, she says Gen Z has taught her to think out of the box.
“They want to achieve their dreams. They want to be out there. Perhaps that’s why they enjoy woodworking — they enjoy the satisfaction of creating something tangible, and look forward to whatever comes next. Sometimes I ask myself, how do I keep up?”