Up Close & Personal
Goni Room – Where One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Cash
Goni Room – Where One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Cash
Long before recycling was both the politically correct and socially responsible thing to do, there was the karung guni (rag-and-bone) man. Tooting his horn as he went from door to door calling out “karung guni!”, literally “gunny sack”, he would collect all things unwanted from homes. Newspapers, old books and magazines, broken electronics, used clothes – anything and everything that could be reused, recycled or re-purposed could be acquired. 
The karung guni clan has been on the decline for years. Never a glamourous job to begin with, the weather-beaten and wizened men have been harder and harder to spot. Until now.
Meet 24-year-old Soufi A’aliyah and 33-year-old Afiq Ayub. The Millennials are unlikely successors of the karung guni men. Just this year, they started a local collective called Goni Room, reviving the recycling efforts from Singapore’s past. They pick up what people normally toss out – unwanted furniture, kitchenware, cutlery, vases, old cameras, sepia-toned photos of eras past, classic board games. Every piece in their collection evokes nostalgia.  
Like the karung guni men of old, they have no shopfront. Like them, they scour for discards. But unlike them, they have technology on their side. Using the Instagram account goni_room, the duo showcases their vintage collectibles which they promise have not been repaired or retouched in any way because they want their items to remain authentic.
“We both agree Instagram was the easiest platform to reach out to people. It’s visual; you can just scroll through and follow what you like,” says Afiq.
Bringing Out the Best 
The pair has not always been friends, though. In fact, their partnership is the result of chance.
“We used to hang out at our friend’s record store. At first, we didn’t really talk much. But as we got to know each other better and exchanged views about our perspectives in life, we realised we enjoyed each other’s company and our friendship brought out the best in the both of us,” said Afiq.
Part of that best is Goni Room. 
“We were collectors to begin with. We collect things that speak to us through our many travels. It got to a point where our rooms were literally like a karung guni room,” shares Soufi.
Added Afiq: “Then friends and families started asking about buying our collection of things. We sensed that there was a demand [for these collectibles] and decided to go with this gut feeling. That’s how Goni Room came to be.”
Taking the road less travelled had not always been their career path of choice.
“We did go the typical route of getting a job after school,” says Soufi who also works as a freelance graphic designer. 
“But it got boringly repetitive, at least for us.”  
Afiq agrees: “Not everyone wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, just like not everyone wants to be a karung guni man. It’s all about perspective.”
What pushed them to take the leap towards the unconventional was their myriad interests.
“We had so many ideas and so little time to make them happen. It felt natural for us to pursue the things we love,” says Afiq.
Afiq is a woodworker on the side and the pair also have a label under which they sell music merchandise and records.
Treasures from Trash 
Because we live in a world of instant gratification where it is easier to replace than repair, finding cast-offs has not been difficult. Dumpster diving, trawling void decks, visiting thrift stores and travelling the world are some of the ways Soufi and Afiq increase their stock.
“To us everything has been so interesting to find. There are stories behind every item. It’s precious enough for us to bring back and now to be able to share with everyone too,” says Afiq.
What they do not sell, though, are old clothes because Soufi is developing her own clothing line
“Whatever we sell in Goni Room are things that we would have in our home,” says Soufi.  
Meanwhile, Goni Room is growing from strength to strength. Through pop-up markets, social media and word-of-mouth, more have come to know about them. Soon, their items will be carried in some retail shops and they are opening a studio in Kuala Lumpur. 
“We still operate as an online business but visitors can browse our collection at the Kuala Lumpur studio,” explains Afiq. “We are also working on our website.” 
Turning passion into an enterprise, honouring the past with present innovations, giving old recycling practices a new spin – these youths are visionaries creating a better Singapore, a better world.