June 22, 2022
By Caroline Peni

Where bamboo and branding meet, will the market follow?

Bamboo might be having a ‘moment’. A viral photo of the President of Indonesia riding bamboo bikes with his Australian counterpart has put the spotlight on a material that is just as underappreciated as it holds market potential. Brands should take heed, but bringing back this ‘wonder grass’ to the Indonesian market is not straightforward. Here’s what brands should consider. 

A USD 53.28 billion industry with 5.7% expected growth by 2028, bamboo is also a durable and naturally renewable grass that  can be used to make anything from skyscrapers to toothbrushes.

Deep roots

In Indonesia, home to 160 types of bamboo, this grass species has been used as an affordable and accessible material by small businesses and households to make crafts since bamboo weaving took hold in the archipelago thousands of years ago. 

But as cheaper and more convenient alternative materials have flooded the market (hello plastic), bamboo’s reach and appeal has slipped in recent times. 

The right material at the right time

And here’s where the opportunity lies. According to research by KataData,  more than 50% of Indonesian millennials and Gen-z are willing to pay extra for products that support sustainability. This means that the generations with the most purchasing power today are looking at brands that do right by nature. This growing concern is in line with these generations’ increasing understanding of nature’s importance. 

Selling the sizzle

Meanwhile, brands are in a race to position themselves as sustainable in the eyes of consumers. Moreover, more and more of these are pushing sustainability through their products. But that’s not enough to win the consumer's heart. Here’s what branding can do to elevate a sustainable product’s presence:

  1. Create community
  2. Inspire the next influencers
  3. Embed it in the lifestyle 
  4. Build a strong narrative

Create community

From the early days of komunitas ontel to the urban cycling ‘craze’ that took hold of Indonesia during the peak of the pandemic, the country’s love for two-wheelers runs deep. This fact has not been lost to the founder of Spedagi, a bamboo-based bicycle brand with an elegant design. The brand has reached the hearts of cycling enthusiasts while promoting a green alternative to conventional bicycles. Spedagi has a strong community of cycling and greenlifestyle enthusiasts, creating a social movement that has expanded to inspire the revitalisation of villages in Indonesia. Great cause-related branding will attract like-minded people, a strong foundation for creating change. 

Inspire the next influencers

To help the next generation to promote sustainable lifestyles, information should be accessible and “open source”.  That is why movements like PlastikDetox, Zero Waste Indonesia, and other non-profits are helping their followers to be more sustainable through education. While education in architecture is almost always exclusive, Bamboo U, a project by architecture company IBUKU, offers courses or workshops in planning and executing bamboo-based architecture. People from around the world gather in Bali to join this course and learn about identifying different types of bamboo, creating models and then building them – it’s a complete experience. Strong brands create a culture and experiences that help the audience to be the agent of change. 

Embed in the lifestyle

Bamboo lost some of its appeal when the industrial era created affordable products out of plastics. To counter this trend, small- to middle-sized businesses such as Bambukeun and Bambusa are bringing back the value of bamboo through design. Bambukeun creates bamboo-based products that we use daily, such as bike helmets, tumblers, utensils, and furniture. While promoting bamboo crafts as the heritage of Sundanese (West Java) culture, the brand also demonstrates how bamboo can really be part of our lifestyle. Bambusa is a furniture brand that uses bamboo to create high-end furniture (lightning, decor, tablewares). With tasteful design, it elevates the value of bamboo in a luxury market. Branding helps elevate everyday products by infusing them with meaning that consumers can relate to.

Build a strong narrative

Building a strong brand is not only useful for external audiences, but also internally. Through a well-defined narrative, a brand crystallises the organisation’s mission and vision into words that can help brand ambassadors (founders, staff, employees) to communicate the brand consistently to a variety of audiences. Through Catalyze’s work with the Environmental Bamboo Foundation (EBF), a non-profit that aims to restore the village economy through the responsible production of bamboo, we helped to distil the essence of the organisation’s purpose and approach into a compelling narrative. Beyond being consistent, brands must also empower the consumer, elevating the act of buying a product made from naturally renewable, local material to much more than a simple transaction. In the case of bamboo, this becomes an act of support that ripples broadly to protect freshwater, keep vegetation cover and give people extra income. 

If smartly promoted, bamboo products that are professionally designed and crafted in Indonesia hold immense potential. Responsibly-grown bamboo can prop up livelihoods, village economies and ecosystems. That creates fodder for rich stories that can help build strong foundations for bamboo brands. This will allow businesses to not only do the right thing for nature, but also effectively influence the right audiences to do the same. 
And the target market will follow.

Content editor: Marc-Antoine

About the author

Caroline Peni,
User Researcher

Peni is a multidisciplinary designer and user researcher with focus in branding and digital communication. Through her projects she has been exposed to issues such as sustainable fisheries, waste management, coral reef conservation and sustainable palm oil among others.

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