My first ever encounter with a real life lightsaber duel was at the very unassuming Liang Court around 2 years ago.
Right smack in the atrium of the usually quiet mall was a crowd gathered around 2 people battling it out…with lightsabers.
Definitely a first for myself (and most members of the audience as well), I was dazzled by the glow of the lightsabers, and how gracefully their wielders maneuvered them.
But mostly, I was wondering how the lightsabers didn’t seem to break in spite of the countless blows that were dealt.
Rather than selling lightsaber replicas for display, their lightsabers were promoted as ones suited for combat.
And then it all clicked – they were creating combat-ready weapons to cater to the growing (but still relatively niche) trend of sparring with lightsabers.
I got in touch with the SaberMach team to find out more about how 2 Singaporeans went from Star Wars fans to building a business from it.
2 Star Wars Fans Joined Forces And Started Up
Founded by Master Sabersmith Jay (34) and Expert Sabersmith/Creative Director Kit (38), the beginnings of SaberMach is one that sees two enthusiasts combining their forces (no pun intended) and experience to start up a “100% Made-in-Singapore” lightsaber company.
Speaking to Jay, he revealed that his interest in lightsabers started around 17 years ago, when he was an ardent toy collector and occasional seller.
However, he soon realised that the toy industry was getting oversaturated, and “it came to a point of time where toys were no longer collected, but sold for profit”.
“I was disgusted by that, and decided to look for other collectibles that could not be found or sold easily,” he recalled.
It was then that he stumbled upon his first metal lightsaber on eBay.
I was mesmerised by the quality and finishing of a shiny aluminium body.
“As a result, I went deeper in search of the original prop used in the movie – it opened up to a whole new world of opportunities and discovery.”
During his research, he also found out that at that point of time, the only licensed lightsaber with a certificate of authenticity was by a company called Icons.
“But at that time, they were going through bankruptcy, and getting hold of one of these product was near impossible or expensive. So the next best thing I could think of was to make my own.”
After completing his National Service, Jay bought a mini lathe machine so that he could make lightsaber parts at home, eventually building his first metal lightsaber from plumbing tubes and hardware parts.
It was then that he also realised that he wasn’t alone in his passion – “there were many people on the internet who, like me, can’t find a decent prop replica to buy”.
Using his machine, he produced more of these lightsaber parts and sold them to fellow enthusiasts.
Co-founder Kit, then still unacquainted with Jay, was also making waves with his own lightsaber creations.
An engineer by training, he made a few prototypes “for fun” using PVC pipes and put them in a friend’s shop to sell.
“Amazingly, people bought them and that’s when I realised there was some business potential here,” he revealed to The Straits Times in a 2016 interview.
This spurred him on to turn it into a part-time business, making lightsabers in his free time and selling them under the brand Kit Sabers.
Separately, they have built and sold “hundreds of customised lightsabers” to both local and overseas clients.
By a twist of fate, the duo crossed paths at a Star Wars fan event and bonded over their frustration with low quality, poorly-made lightsabers in the market.
Shared Jay, “There was also no reputable saber company in Singapore, so we decided to put our heads together to offer a product that is made 100% in Singapore by Singaporeans.”
WIth that, SaberMach was born.
“Having No Salary For That Long Is Scary”
But being a first-mover isn’t as glamorous as it sounds in theory.
“It was not easy at first,” sighed Jay.
The banks would not loan us money, and we had no investors. We had to start everything from scratch.
Just like many startups, money was their biggest issue, as overheads began piling up.
“It took us 14 months for R&D, so we had to do side jobs like making parts for the oil and gas industry, or custom parts just to sustain. Having no salary for that long is scary, but we managed to scrape through.”
Rushing through the design and production process wasn’t an option for them, either.
Just designing a lightsaber can take weeks, and following that is the tedious procedure of processing the metal and aluminium bits for the hilt, creating the polycarbonate blade, installing the electrical components, and then assembling all of that together by hand.
Even until now, with all their skills and machines well-polished and running, the average lead time for a lightsaber is around 4 to 6 weeks.
SaberMach officially debuted at STGCC in September 2015, with 6 designs at launch.
Fans Aged 11 To 65
A company that ships their lightsabers both locally and internationally, Jay shared that most of their business comes from their webstore.
“We do a lot of digital and internet marketing through Facebook and Youtubers, most recently with Tan Jian Hao and team.”
However, they still keep to their toy/collector industry roots, and have been a mainstay at ‘geek’ conventions like the annual STGCC and GameStart events since 2015.
Their beautiful creations have also proven to have an age-transcending appeal, with SaberMach fans ranging from 11 to 65-years-old!
“Our Sabers Don’t Have Actual Laserbeams Coming Out”
When asked about their future plans for SaberMach, Jay shared that they’re intending to work more with martial arts schools and saber duelling clubs around the world.
“We have since worked with 2 schools and developed a product that is specific for them in terms of style and requirements.”
We want to bring combat sabers to as many fans as possible.
They’ve also started a new service called SaberMach Custom, which lets customers completely customise their lightsabers.
“These are not standard SaberMach products and they can be the customer’s own design. So if a customer wants a one-of-a-kind saber, we can do that.”
To end off, I asked if there were any misconceptions about lightsabers that he wanted to dispel.
“They are not plastic toys – they are highly collectible art pieces and should be treated as such,” he quipped.
Oh, and our sabers don’t have actual laser beams coming out of them!
SaberMach’s cheapest offering is their Ergotron line, starting at $349 – check out more of their products here! If you’d like to try out their lightsabers in action, you can also visit their booth at STGCC 2018, happening 8-9 September.
9 Yishun Industrial Street 1
North Spring Bizhub, #03-86
*Viewing of sabers is by appointment only