Craft­ing her­itage and so­cial causes

So­cial en­ter­prise Earth Heir helps marginalised ar­ti­san com­mu­ni­ties in the coun­try to make a liv­ing, writes Kas­miah Mustapha

New Straits Times - - Flair - kas­miah@nst.com.my

SINCE early this year, the man has been sell­ing bags to make a liv­ing. De­pend­ing on cus­tomers’ or­ders, he can make two back­packs a day as well as sev­eral pouches. While the num­ber may be small, he is happy be­cause it is the only way for him to sup­port his wife and their baby.

He is an asy­lum seeker and has been liv­ing in the coun­try for three years, while wait­ing to be re­lo­cated to an­other coun­try. He had to leave his home­land due to threats against him and his fam­ily.

Due to his sta­tus, he can­not work here legally. Des­per­ate, the man had ap­proached Earth Heir, through the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner For Refugees, for help.

Earth Heir manag­ing part­ner Sa­si­bai Kimis says the 30-year-old man had a fam­ily-owned busi­ness mak­ing leather bags in his coun­try. He had been stitch­ing leather bags since he was 7 years old.

“He gave a sam­ple of his work and asked for our help to sell the bags. He is hard­work­ing, re­li­able and an hon­est per­son

We are a so­cial en­ter­prise and our mis­sion is to help the marginalised ar­ti­san com­mu­nity

in Malaysia.

Sa­si­bai Kimis

who is in a sit­u­a­tion that is not of his choice. We helped im­prove the de­sign, change the ma­te­ri­als, mea­sure­ments and func­tion­al­ity,” says Sa­si­bai.

“We have posted pic­tures of the bags on In­sta­gram to en­cour­age peo­ple to buy his en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly bags. So far we have or­ders from friends but I am try­ing to get large com­pa­nies to buy, to boost his earn­ings.”

As or­ders are still in the sin­gle digit, the man pro­vides the ma­te­rial him­self and stitches the bags us­ing a do­nated sewing ma­chine.

Even­tu­ally, Sa­si­bai plans to buy an in­dus­trial sewing ma­chine and pro­vide him with ma­te­ri­als. The back­pack is priced at RM298 of which 26 per cent of the pro­ceeds is paid to the man.

The re­main­ing cov­ers de­sign cost and mar­gin (30 per cent), op­er­a­tions (20 per cent), mar­ket­ing (five per cent), trans­port (five per cent), batik de­sign (two per cent) and pack­ag­ing (two per cent).

This year, Earth Heir is do­nat­ing 10 per cent of its sales to the plant­ing of trees and a tiger con­ser­va­tion cam­paign. Pre­vi­ously, the pro­ceeds were for an or­gan­i­sa­tion which works with sex traf­fick­ing sur­vivors.

Sa­si­bai says the goal is to make sure the man earns a fair income from his work. The price is based on Earth Heir’s market re­search and what it feels is a fair price.

“We want peo­ple to buy his prod­ucts and know the story be­hind them. When you buy the bags, you help change his life.”

Earth Heir is also as­sist­ing a group of ar­ti­san refugees to market their prod­ucts at the in­ter­na­tional level, as re­quested by UNHCR. Earth Heir is work­ing with a group of Chin refugees from Myan­mar and an­other group from Iran, Iraq, Pak­istan, Afghanistan and Syria.

“We are in the process of find­ing out their skills be­cause it is not just about mak­ing one prod­uct by one refugee. We can only work with them if they can come up with prod­ucts that peo­ple want to buy. The is­sue is not about work­ing with them but get­ting de­mand.

“Some of the Chin refugees can stitch sleep­ing bags and baby slings as well as make back­packs from fabrics. They can also make ac­ces­sories. Those from the Mid­dle East can cro­chet, cre­ate jew­ellery and ac­ces­sories.”

UNHCR wants more peo­ple to en­gage with the refugees but it is hard to con­vince com­pa­nies to get in­volved. They are not al­lowed to work or earn a liv­ing in the coun­try, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for them to take care of their fam­ily.

Some of them do odd jobs but are cheated or don’t get paid but they can’t com­plain or make a re­port be­cause they are work­ing il­le­gally.

“We are a so­cial en­ter­prise and our mis­sion is to help the marginalised ar­ti­san com­mu­nity in Malaysia. The refugees are a marginalised com­mu­nity in this coun­try just like dis­abled peo­ple or sin­gle moth­ers.

“We are not a bene­fac­tor. They are skilled peo­ple and we are pay­ing them for the ser­vice. The prod­ucts speak for them­selves. You are buy­ing qual­ity prod­ucts that have a so­cial cause.”

Home ac­ces­sories from Earth Heir.

Mengkuang bags that each take days to weave. Small mengkuang items made by hand.

Pouches and ac­ces­sories in mengkuang and fabrics. Bags made by asy­lum seek­ers.

PIC­TURES BY NAZRAN JAMEL

Earth Heir head of busi­ness Xiao Cheng Wong (left) and Sa­si­bai. Both are bound to­gether by a pas­sion to help marginalised com­mu­ni­ties.

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