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Growth & Jobs | The Original Bamboo Factory creates employment

Published:Tuesday | February 12, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Bamboo shoots

Watching the new bamboo shoots emerge in the early spring and summer is a phenomenon unlike any other. Over the years, bamboo has attracted the attention of eco-aware contractors and furniture designers because it is considered to be one of our most sustainable resources.

There are many great uses for bamboo around the house, and John Hamilton and his friends several years started The Original Bamboo Factory, after realising the furniture pieces that could be made from the plant.

Hamilton’s first discovery came when he travelled to England and read an article in the local newspaper on the many uses of the plant including how it could be used to make furniture. Several years later when he travelled to Thailand, he stayed in a bamboo cottage and it stuck in the back of his mind that he could start a furniture making industry from the plant in Jamaica.

“When I returned to Jamaica, I wanted to get into running a guest house, and the property was surrounded by bamboo. This just had to be another clue that this was an area of business that we should get into,” Hamilton said.

“On the Caymanas Estate, we started in the back of the garage and experimented on how we could treat the bamboo effectively for preservation. Afterwards, we recruited one of the key persons in our business then we built the first prototypes in the garage,” he added.

Here began a vibrant bamboo furniture making industry with just three employees. Having outgrown the garage, the team located to an old overseers house, behind the Old Sugar Estate, where a workshop was built, and the residence was turned into an office and showroom.

“Our business grew significantly in the 1990s and 2000s and by then, we had moved back to the original farm building. Initially, we searched for the best bamboo plants, but now with advanced technology, people will call us and say they have bamboo and we would determine based on the products we supply if they are suitable for our production,” Hamilton said.

Some of the furniture pieces that the company has made over the years, include chairs, beds, tables, nightstands or headboards and also a lot of accent pieces such as mirror frames, backsplashes, wallpaper and other things. Bamboo flooring is also quite popular, offering spaces a casual, warm and inviting look.

“We have even had the odd request of a bamboo coffin, and right now we are working on a prototype using bamboo for persons who want to plant a garden and do not have the space for backyard gardening,” Hamilton said.

Although sometimes sold for outdoor use, bamboo furniture can't tolerate prolonged exposure to the elements or direct sunlight. Hamilton said this is because the bamboo plant is technically a type of grass. It is, in fact, the largest member of the grass family and it grows in pretty much any type of climate, from cold mountain regions to hot tropical areas.

He said with more than 1,000 different species of bamboo and the larger types are tree-like in appearance, the stems of the bamboo plant can vary from a few cm to 40 metres in height.

The key he said is that the bamboo must be properly treated and dried and the best ones selected to make the furniture.

Hamilton said they continue to supply the local and international market, although on a smaller scale with recent changes in operation. Most of the clients now include boutique hotels in Jamaica and persons locally and overseas that request custom-made items.

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