He Started By Stealing Cement From Foreign Workers, And Now Creates Amazing Concrete Pieces

He Started By Stealing Cement From Foreign Workers, And Now Creates Amazing Concrete Pieces

Mention the word “craft” and you’ll immediately think of beautiful papers, intricate fabrics, vibrant gems and ink. Concrete is the last thing that comes to our minds. However, this is definitely not the case for Alvin Chan – the founder of Concrete Everything.

Having been into creative designing since childhood, he eventually turned his passion into his profession.”I was always actively creating things, my entire school life I took the Design & Technology subjects, studied architecture and design,” Alvin explains.

However, there are so many “conventional” materials for people who are into crafts – what made him choose concrete? Alvin begins to tell me his interesting story.

Credit: Kamal Tung

“I was exploring various materials to work with. I was considering many materials (wood, metals, etc) but being in Singapore, having access to these materials and the tools was way out of my reach. I chanced upon concrete when I saw foreign workers repaving the corridor at my HDB void deck, and conveniently stole a small amount of concrete to cast my very first lamp.”

The Other Experiments

Today, at the age of 32, Alvin has a family of 4, a corporate job and runs Concrete Everything. It is difficult to juggle between all three but he seems to be managing fairly well.

However, it took a lot of experimentation and exploration before he discovered what he wanted. “Since the beginning, I was actively looking for problems to solve. Using my limited life experiences, I started a delivery service, then a wedding props business, and later a smart home business,” he exclaims.

Those never lifted off for various reasons. “I started Concrete Everything when I was 28 and I knew that this was it.”

When Alvin decided to establish Concrete Everything, he was sure of the fact that he enjoyed playing with the material to make fun stuff.

Credit: Kamal Tung

“Concrete was much easier to play with. The properties of the material allowed me to explore what it is capable of becoming. I am still exploring and pushing the boundaries of what concrete can do is what I find most fun.”

Learning Through Experience

At this point, I wonder if Alvin has a favourite creation – he tells me about his very first creation, which is also his most memorable one – a concrete lamp cast out from a milk carton.

“I wanted to create something that would contrast nicely with the industrial look of concrete. I wanted to accentuate the beauty of it and what could have been better than an industrial lamp.” 

He tells me that when he first casted the lamp, it wasn’t to the level of the holder. He did another cast on top of it, which eventually had chips in it. Safe to say, he’s learnt from his mistakes – today, lamps are amongst the bestsellers.

Alvin confesses that he never feels like he is an artist.

“I am a practical person and I never felt that I was capable of art. Truth be told, I was never very good at sketching, never had any natural artistic flair.” He thinks of himself as more of a designer; he has always been rooted to design theories.

“Something that really caught my attention was the Japanese idea of beauty in transience and imperfections, Wabi Sabi. I am deeply influenced,” he explains.

This piece created by Alvin Chan in collaboration with James Lewis was exhibited at a gallery in the US/Source

Alvin fondly remembers posting the first lamp on Facebook for sale. It did not get many responses and he later decided to list it on Etsy. He managed to make a sale to some customers overseas and this was the beginning of a new chapter in his life. He joined flea markets and eventually, set up his own company.

Star Wars characters created at Concrete Everything/Source

Challenges And Highlights

Beyond being the founder of the business, Alvin is also focused on his family. To him, family precedes everything else.

“As much as being an entrepreneur is important, I also want to be successful in my family. For the longest time, I have been juggling being an employee, father, husband, son and on top of that a founder. It is not easy for sure, but everyone has a hobby and mine is a business.”

The Chan Family New Year’s Card/Source

According to Alvin, the best part is when the business gets recognized. Another highlight is when people show interest in his success story. “With Concrete Everything, I am on a journey of self discovery,” he muses.

Alvin says that starting young gives him an edge in the business. “Being blessed with some good time and a supportive family, I have decided to take Concrete Everything as a full time gig.” He explains that he finds more joy in running his own business and eventually plans to quit the 9 to 5 job.

“I am very much a millennial and I think that having a fulfilling career is an important aspect in my life. I know that my journey will teach me things that I wouldn’t otherwise get out of a corporate job. Whether it fails or not, I think I will gain much more.”

Alvin wants to share his passion and joy in this entrepreneurial journey with others and is open to meeting people for the same. He believes that if he is able to inspire even one person, his job as a young, driven businessman is done.

“I owe it to the craft and to the people,” he says while signing off.

To know more about Concrete Everything, click here.

Have an interesting story to tell or know someone who does? We’d love to hear it. Drop us an email at editorial@yellowpages.com.sg

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