Alden Boon

From ITE Graduate to Self-made Entrepreneur – Littlebotany Founder Fendi Sani on His Love for Plants and Overcoming Insecurities



Why do you say there’s elitism and toxicity in the gardening community? I’d imagine it’s one abounding in love and caring.

It’s just like any other hobby community. Take for example trading cards. A rare card that costs a few thousand dollars gives you a sense of power and clout. Others start to think they need to lay their hands on something equally expensive to be just as important. Not all hobbyists can afford to shell out one or two hundred dollars for a plant. And they shouldn’t have to. For those who still want the experience of adding an exotic or rare plant to their collections, they can pay a fraction of the usual price to get the root cuttings at Pasar Plants. No one gets left out.

Since Littlebotany currently has three branches in different parts of Singapore, do you have a team of full-time staff to help you run operations?

When the shipments of plants come in from Thailand, they need to be potted and treated. I will get my brother, who is a member of the deaf community, to help. He will also rally his peers from the same community. People with disabilities don’t get a lot of job opportunities. And even when they do, they are paid lower than the market rate — the ‘handicapped’ rate — even when they are doing the same amount of work. I hate that practice; it doesn’t sit right with me. I also roped in friends who couldn’t find jobs as they were recovering from injuries. Carrying the heavy plants became their physiotherapy. I could simply employ a team of full-timers and I could then take a hands-off approach, but I think being able to provide opportunities to people who really need it, to people who don’t get equal work job opportunities, is more fulfilling.

You mentioned earlier you have colour deficiency. Does that affect the way you see plants?

I’m blind to red, brown and green colours. When sets of colours, such as purple and blue, or pink and grey, are near each other, I cannot differentiate them. Do I see the plants differently? I know that there are different colours due to the variegations. I know that a plant is red in colour or has pink edges when I read about it, and I confirm it with my customers, friends or other plant enthusiasts. So, I am not helpless in that sense.

You’ve inspired me to start my own gardening journey. Is there anything I should take note of?

Gardening in itself is not an eco-friendly activity. There is a lot of wastage. Wastage is a global problem. When I was working as a flight attendant, I saw how much wastage the industry generated. We were throwing away food, plastic and everything in between — nothing could be reused. Being a witness to this amount of wastage affected me deeply. But I couldn’t do anything about it. With Littlebotany, I saw how many plastic pots were being wasted. It’s a habit for customers to throw away the plastic pots after they have transferred their plants to pretty ones. Plastic pots take a long time to break down. Discarded plastic pots go to landfills. Burning them pollutes the air. Broken pieces trickle into the sea and they poison fishes.

This time, I could take action. I went around Singapore picking up plastic pots from void decks as well as other nurseries, and reused them.

That goes back to your time foraging for the green club to make the outfits.

Exactly. I also tell my network of Thai farmers not to put their plants in plastic pots. I get them to wrap the plants in newspaper for shipping. We also got in touch with a local architectural student who specialises in 3D printing. He used biodegradable materials, which are better alternatives to plastic, to manufacture a few pots for us. We began offering incentives for our customers to return their plastic pots to us — slowly it became a habit for them to do so.

To date, Littlebotany has sold over fifteen thousand plants, all of which were potted in recycled or biodegradable materials. And I’m only one person. Imagine the change we can achieve if we were to multiply that by a hundred or a thousand.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.