Meet the Singaporean - Brillyn Toh

Meet the Singaporean - Brillyn Toh
Brillyn Toh was fresh out of university with a business degree in 2011. While her peers were scaling the corporate ladder, the new graduate chose to dive into her family’s second-hand goods business – after all, it’s one she’s most familiar with. 

Growing up, Brillyn saw how their second-hand furniture store, Hock Siong and Co. was built from scratch by her father, Mr Toh Chin Siong. Mr Toh had started out collecting used newspapers as a karung guni (rag-and-bone man), but opportunity came knocking when a hotel undergoing renovation wanted to sell off their used furniture. It was the stepping stone for him to branch into reselling second-hand furniture. 

Brillyn dad inspired her

(Photo by Type A)


Unwanted, but still useful 

As a young girl, Brillyn would help her father collect used goods. This was a memory that greatly influenced her decision to help out with the family business. “My dad and the other senior staff inspire me — they saw the potential to inject new life to old items that we could have easily thrown away,” she recalls.

Now a managing partner of Hock Siong, the 35-year old continues to source for furniture from all across Singapore. Brillyn regularly carries out site visits at places like hotels and even dilapidated bungalows to collect unwanted furniture. 

“Some of the furniture we collect may appear worn out, but we will assess the sturdiness of their structure to decide if they can be refurbished,” she explains. “Through our business, we hope to promote conscious consumerism, to counter today’s buy-and-throw culture.”

Brillyn hopes to promote conscious consumerism

(Photo by Type A)


Giving new life to old furniture 

Hock Siong and Co.’s specialty lies in refurbishing wooden furniture pieces, thanks to their team of skilled carpenters. An eclectic mix of furniture comes through their doors every day, and restoring these pieces to their former glory is both an art and a science. However, not every piece would be reinstated to serve their original function. 

During our visit to Hock Siong, Brillyn points out an intricately-designed Peranakan storage cabinet that was previously a wardrobe, which was then repurposed by removing the mirror and replacing it with glass. The reason for doing so is a practical one: with people preferring bigger wardrobes these days, turning it into a storage cabinet would make it more marketable and ideally, sellable. 

In another instance, the team converted an old dressing table into a telephone bench by removing the mirror, adding a seat, and reinforcing its overall structure. Such benches are popular as they are multi-functional and do not take up much space.

Living out a zero-waste mindset 

Having worked at Hock Siong for close to a decade, Brillyn applies her family business’ ethos in her daily life. She tells us about a sofa that her family had purchased for their home years ago – which they continue to use today – and how they have reupholstered it twice since then. “The frame is still good, so all we did was to give it a new look,” she says matter-of-factly.

This mindset extends to her hobbies too. An avid reader, Brillyn often sells or gives her used books away – in fact, many of them can be seen on the bookshelves at their store. 

Brillyn sells used book

(Photo by Type A)


“I think upcycling and recycling is about cherishing an item,” she muses. “If you really cherish an item, you will find a new use for it, or give it to someone who may appreciate it more, instead of just throwing it away.” 

A changing clientele

When Brillyn first joined Hock Siong, Singaporeans were still largely unfamiliar with the idea of upcycling and thrifting. “Back then, selling second-hand goods was considered a sunset industry. There weren’t many e-commerce platforms that people could resell their items on, and Singaporeans were generally unwilling to buy things that had been used or owned before,” she explains. 

In recent years, Brillyn has seen this perception change, especially with her diverse customer base, which includes young working professionals looking to get more bang for their buck. 

Brillyn saw change in perception

(Photo by Type A)


The idea of what is typically considered “beautiful” is also shifting, Brillyn points out. She gave an example of a restored teak cabinet that still had some visible burnt marks on it, and could not be removed. “But we have customers who can accept these kinds of blemishes,” she says. “To them, the piece they buy doesn’t have to be perfect; in fact, they would even find it unique. And it’s thanks to them that our furniture can find a new home.” 

With the convenience of online shopping, Brillyn notices that people are more prone to rash shopping decisions. 

“I’ve had people contacting me to say they want to sell a piece of furniture they’d bought just five days before!” she exclaims. “[Buying furniture] is not like buying a piece of clothing online. If you don’t like it, you can’t just hide it or put it away!” 

And what’s one tip Brillyn would give to those looking to stretch their purchasing dollar? “Look into the functions more than the aesthetics. Assess the value of an item per usage, not just in a monetary sense.”  

“Value is also subjective,” she adds. “Some things can be value-for-money because it’s cheaper than the original, but it can also be value-for-money in terms of its quality and longevity. You have to research and make an informed decision, and see what meets your needs.”


– Brillyn Toh, 35, managing partner of Hock Siong and Co