Author’s Blurb: The only time I’ve joined the moss hype train was years ago when Marimo moss balls were popular. I paid (read: was ripped off) RM20 for something the size of a boba pearl from some random shop in a mall, was led to believe that it would grow (real ones do, fake ones don’t), and all these years later, the best memory I have from it is that every adult I told about it would mishear me and exclaim, “You paid RM20 for a mothball?!”
Founded in 2015, TerraLiving is a Malaysian startup that specialises in designing moss terrariums. Its founders are Raymond, Ming Hui and Evonne.
Raymond and Ming Hui majored in Biology and worked as scientists in plant and molecular research laboratories prior to this, while Evonne majored in Accounting and now takes care of the company’s financials, supply chain, and logistics.
Since young, Raymond has been enamoured by moss. He would collect and take macro-pictures of them, as well as run experiments.
On the other hand, Ming Hui’s artistic side was what started the ball rolling. One day, he approached Raymond with a terrarium he made from moss harvested along the drain below their office and told him that he wanted to give it to a girl as a gift.
He then asked Raymond if it was possible to actually sell them as well, since he could make a few extras.
With Raymond on board, Ming Hui started the initial concept sketch and artwork before they sourced for materials together, and Raymond handled the final R&D.
Today, their terrariums sell for no cheaper than RM800, and the price can go over RM9,000, depending on a bunch of factors.
Is your jaw dropping yet?
But before you incredulously exclaim, “For goodness’ sake, it’s just moss, longkang also got!” here’s why these terrariums are priced as such.
1. There’s An Entire Design Process, Team & Years Of Experience Behind It All
From the initial design impression to the materialisation of it and the possibility of shipping the terrarium across the globe, it usually involves the whole team.
“Just purely creating the design and aesthetic of a single piece will take about 9-12 hours, without considering the cultivation, preparation and preservation steps,” Raymond told Vulcan Post.
“What we are able to craft today is a culmination of experience and process over the years.”
With a team consisting of people from diverse fields, Raymond shared, “[We have] plenty of good brainstorming sessions and in-depth understandings across different fields such as bio- architecture, bio-mimicry, human psychology, and cell biology.”
2. Not Simply Sourced Mosses
Despite how their business idea humbly came about, rest assured that the mosses TerraLiving uses in their premium terrariums aren’t harvested from the longkang.
“We grow a number of them in-house, especially rare species and variants at different growth stages as these are usually more expensive,” Raymond shared.
“We also source mosses from all over the world from countries like Denmark, Japan and the Netherlands, to name a few.”
They source some from Malaysia too, from privately owned lands of their associates.
3. One Terrarium, A Variety Of Mosses
“There are about 3-5 species which we use predominantly,” Raymond said, “Some mosses are tougher and provide better structural support for softer species.”
He gave a few examples. “The bun moss has a very dense and fluffy dome sort of aesthetic which can look like miniature rolling grassy hills whereas other species like the fern moss and feather moss are less compact and have more elongated branched structures, which bring variation to the overall look and feel when designing our work.”
4. More Than Just Moss In Glass Vessels
TerraLiving carries two main series of moss terrariums, the Live Moss and ZERO Moss. Live Moss is pretty self-explanatory; it’s alive with a slow growth rate and still requires some sort of light and watering to grow.
On the other hand, ZERO Moss is something that I (and I’m willing to bet you as well) have never heard of.
A ZERO Moss terrarium is a preserved botanical arrangement that has had every single cellular activity deactivated, allowing it to stay fresh and alive for more than 10 years (and up to forever, I quote TerraLiving’s website), depending on the way it’s kept.
It will need no watering, and a lighting setup is optional.
5. Preservation Takes Time
For the moss used in the ZERO Moss Series, it can take anywhere between 2 to 8 weeks or more to preserve, depending on the species and final quality.
And that duration doesn’t even take into account the initial cultivation period. This make the ZERO series roughly 3 times more expensive due to the process that ensures they look good for as long as possible.
“That being said, high quality live moss cultivated for more than a year is equally expensive,” Raymond added.
6. The Glass Vessels Aren’t Your Basic Store-Bought Ones
TerraLiving develops most of their customised designs in-house, though they will also work with individual freelancers across the globe.
Some design inspirations they use are open source or available in the public domain such as Johnson solids, schlegel diagrams, crystal systemics, natural occurring molecular structures, architect 3D renders, and many more.
7. Some Designs Are Limited Edition
“These artworks are not mass produced at an industrial scale by the hundreds. Rather, they are meticulously handcrafted from the ground up and it takes quite some time to make them,” Raymond said.
“Rare and more sophisticated pieces were planned months ahead which requires us to analyse the feasibility of making them in terms of material sourcing, production, and shipping capability.”
Those are the main reasons for their work being limited edition, but some other reasons are:
- Some designs are released as one-offs with a particular moss species within that season as mosses grow differently depending on their incubation period,
- Some look more special than others within that particular week,
- Some glass shapes are released quarterly or yearly.
There’s also quality control from start to end, as TerraLiving handles all sales of their limited editions and exclusive releases without going through a distribution channel.
8. They Come With Authenticity Cards
For limited edition releases, each piece will be coded with a number that’s associated only to that particular piece of work.
“Besides naming each of our design, the authenticity coding adds a better sense of connection to that particular work,” Raymond shared.
Overall, the pricing breakdown of a terrarium is based on the entire R&D cost for a particular design: a longevity test, workmanship, material costs (for things like moss and glass), and then there are post-production costs too like packaging, regulations, and the ease of transport.
There’s definitely a lot of work that goes into making a single terrarium and it’s immediately obvious when you set your eyes upon TerraLiving’s designs.
Sure the pricing shocked us at first too, but in the end, we were all admiring the undeniable aesthetics of each one on their website.
Bottom Line: You’ve probably already assumed this, but yes, my moss ball died within a week. Of course, RM20 is a very small price to pay compared to the minimum RM800 of these terrariums. The world of premium moss terrariums is still one that’s absolutely fascinating to me, and since I can’t afford a unit right now, I welcome anyone who wants to get me one as a gift. But maybe buy one that’s from the ZERO Moss series.
- You can check out more of TerraLiving’s designs on their Etsy shop here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: TerraLiving