Ceramics artist Adil Ghani’s business RAAQUU may only be three years old, but the Malaysian has been a ceramicist for the past 20 years, specialising in a Japanese firing technique known as Raku.
Hailing from Perak, he pursued the arts at University Technologi Mara, and was offered ceramic design. However, Adil wasn’t actually interested in ceramics at all at the time.
Rather, he struggled to even foster interest for it until his third year of undergraduate studies, when he ended up falling in love with the artform. He credits his interest to his lecturer, Dr Salwa Ayob, for encouraging him to stay motivated.
His passion for ceramics would be revamped when in 2006, he was invited to undergo training in porcelain technology in Japan, thanks to a collaboration between the Perak State Development Agency and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.
It was then that Adil got his first brush with Raku pottery.
The Raku technique involves putting glazed ceramics in extremely hot kilns, and removing them when they’re still red-hot or molten. The piece will then be placed in a reduction chamber filled with flammable material such as sawdust or newspaper.
The extreme heat from the ceramic piece then ignites the combustible material in the reduction chamber, starving the piece of oxygen, and creating colourful art within the glaze.
Adil was fascinated by the results of such a firing technique, and as he put it, “Since then, there was no turning back.”
Putting his own spin
After being introduced to Raku firing techniques, Adil began experimenting with it and grew particularly fascinated by the results produced by copper matte raku, so much so that it triggered a shift in his work from traditional Japanese Raku to a more contemporary style.
Copper matte Raku involves using a special glaze that contains copper, which reacts with the carbon in the smoke during the firing process to create a distinctive matte finish.
“There was a lot of experimentation, trial and error while I fine-tuned my technique in Raku ceramics,” he said. “The process of raku firing is unpredictable and has a tiny window of success to ensure that the finish is bright and full of colour.”
But, it’s also the unpredictability of the firing technique that makes Raku ceramics so special. Still, Adil shared that there’s about a 50% rate of failure involved, as many creations may not fit his standard of quality and design.
Every RAAQUU piece is handmade by Adil and his team in Malaysia, using a unique clay called Mukim Sayong Clay or Tanah Liat Mukim Sayong which is specific to the country.
Raku requires a specific kind of earthenware clay that is thermal shock resistant, and Adil shared that this particular clay from Perak happens to be exceptionally suitable.
Creating a synergetic partnership
Adil has been honing his Raku crafts for over 15 years, but it wasn’t until 2020 that he started RAAQUU.
Before RAAQUU, he had been creating Raku vases under the label of Benchmark Ceramic. Based out of a studio in Kraftangan Terengganu, he often participated in exhibitions such as Hari Kraftangan in Kuala Lumpur.
It was during one of his exhibitions where he met his would-be business partner, Jo.
“He was intrigued with the colour and the finish of the pieces and proposed a collaboration where he would run an export market test,” Adil recalled. “I was not convinced at that time but he managed to pique my curiosity.”
And so, led by his curiosity, they embarked on a collaboration, and Adil said it was clear that they had something. He ended up committing to working together with Jo to build what we know to be RAAQUU today.
Although Adil has experienced running a business, the years he’s spent working with Jo and his company, Everpeaks, have deepened the meaning of entrepreneurship for him.
“Our first year working together grew my business from RM60,000 per year to RM221,000 with four months of scaling,” he pointed out.
Then, in 2022 alone, Adil sold 3,000 pieces, generating RM1.28 million in annual sales.
It just goes to show what the right partnerships and channels can do.
Fostering a local and global audience
Through the collaboration with Everpeaks, RAAQUU’s creations were able to reach audiences from around the globe.
“At first, being a craftsman and artist, I did not have the tools, expertise, and experience to reach this market,” Adil explained. “I was focused on my craft. It is challenging to figure out digital workload while being a specialist in my craft.”
Leveraging Everpeaks’ team and know-how, though, RAAQUU was able to get its pieces in front of a global crowd.
From there, they studied the data and found that Raku ceramics greatly resonate with the population from countries that have great familiarity and maturity in the ceramic world such as the United States, the UK, Germany, and Australia.
“95% of our customers are from overseas with more than 90% of that population being from the USA,”
“Mind you, it took us two years to figure out our pricing, position, market, and scale-up strategy,” Adil added.
The ceramicist shared that his customers range from those who just happen to like his crafts to Raku ceramics enthusiasts or art collectors. There’s also an emerging demographic of business and corporate buyers.
“This group tends to buy in volume for reselling, interior décor projects, or even as corporate gifts,” he said. “It was very intriguing when I just got a 53-vase order from UAE just last week!”
In three years, Adil has grown his business from a one-man show to now a nine-person team.
RAAQUU’s pieces can be purchased on global marketplaces like Amazon, 1stDibs, Lazada, eBay, and Etsy.
Locally, RAAQUU has also established retail partnerships with the Datai Langkawi, Fern Batik, Gudang, Craftiviti, and Karya by MGB.
“With a successful model in place, we are looking to partner with more hotels and fashion brands in 2024,” Adil shared.
Upping the ante
For Adil, creating the art isn’t the most challenging part. It’s running and scaling a company that can be a roadblock.
“There is just so much to know,” Adil said. “You cannot help but to feel overwhelmed when you begin this journey.”
Keeping an open mind, continually learning, and having a trusted mentor such as Jo was something that helped him overcome these struggles.
Still, though, even with a mentor by his side, Adil said that everything that could have failed did. There were issues with supply chain limitations and, of course, a lack of funding.
“It’s rather funny when you look back at it and realise that there were many moments where we got past issues by the skin of our teeth,” Adil mused.
They say that failure is the mother of success, though, and that seems to be the case for RAAQUU. Despite all the challenges, Adil proudly shared that last year, he exhibited his works at the world pottery forum in Uzbekistan and even received 2nd place for the best potter award.
RAAQUU certainly seems to have found much success abroad, but Adil isn’t neglecting his home country either.
On January 13, 2024, he will be launching his very first Raku solo sculptural exhibition at ZHAN Art | Space. Titled Life: Magnified, the exhibition will feature 15 sculptures and one installation.
Right now, RAAQUU is looking to establish its first fundraising round. The company has been entirely bootstrapped, but Adil and his team are now ready to scale in a sustainable and consistent manner.
- Learn more about RAAQUU here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: RAAQUU