New Straits Times - - Flair -

WHEN it was set up four years ago, Earth Heir was fo­cused on as­sist­ing artisans from var­i­ous coun­tries to market their prod­ucts.

It has worked with 500 artisans, mainly from marginalised groups in coun­tries in­clud­ing Cam­bo­dia, Thai­land, In­dia and In­done­sia.

The so­cial en­ter­prise sells hand­made items such as scarves, pash­mi­nas and clutch bags pro­duced by the artisans to help them achieve a sus­tain­able liveli­hood.

How­ever, in 2015, Earth Heir changed its di­rec­tion and started work­ing with lo­cal artisans af­ter win­ning the Bri­tish Coun­cil So­cial En­ter­prise Award.


It was an eye opener for manag­ing part­ner Sa­si­bai Kimis, who ad­mits that her knowl­edge of Malaysian tra­di­tional prod­ucts — at that time — was limited to batik and songket. Even then, she thought peo­ple only wore them at events and wed­dings.

“When we won the award, we were asked to cre­ate five new Malaysian prod­ucts. It was then I re­alised there are many tal­ents in the coun­try. This year, we plan to go to ev­ery state and find artisans’ cre­ations that we can sell. Of course, you can find some of th­ese crafts al­ready in the market but we are of­ten told the de­signs are hit-and-miss. We work with artisans to cre­ate crafts that are well-de­signed and well-made.”

Earth Heir is work­ing with three women groups in Tereng­ganu and one in Se­lan­gor. It is also work­ing with in­di­vid­ual artisans in Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak.

Sa­si­bai says, ideally, there would be a so­cial cause re­lated to th­ese artisans. In ad­di­tion to help­ing them make a liv­ing, Earth Heir wants peo­ple to be aware of the sto­ries be­hind the prod­ucts.


“It is a way of pre­serv­ing the Malaysian her­itage. Most of the time Malaysians don’t ap­pre­ci­ate their own crafts. When I vis­ited mu­se­ums dur­ing my trav­els abroad, I didn’t see any­thing from Malaysia on dis­play. The art and cul­ture of this coun­try is largely un­known be­cause we don’t talk about our her­itage.

“Earth Heir wants to share with the world the beauty and di­ver­sity of lo­cal craft. We also hope that even­tu­ally the artisans are able to sell their prod­ucts with­out go­ing through us. If they make money from the craft, it may boost the in­ter­ests of the younger gen­er­a­tion. Now, the young think that they can­not make a liv­ing from mak­ing hand­i­craft.

Sa­si­bai says it is a chal­lenge to get Malaysians to buy lo­cal crafts be­cause they al­ways com­plain about the price, say­ing that it is too ex­pen­sive.

“It takes an ar­ti­san two weeks to make a mengkuang bag. Buy­ers have to pay a fair price for the ar­ti­san’s ef­fort, skill and time. They should think about th­ese fac­tors when they buy hand­made crafts.”

Rais­ing aware­ness on the so­cial cause of each prod­uct has not been easy for Sa­si­bai. She al­most gave up due to crit­i­cisms of Earth Heir’s mis­sion.


“We did get a lot of me­dia pub­lic­ity, but not a lot of sales. I have worked for three years with­out a salary. We ploughed back what­ever money we had into the com­pany. It was only last year that I earned a salary since we had large or­ders from com­pa­nies.

“My fam­ily mem­bers think I’m wast­ing my life. They said I should get a reg­u­lar job and do­nate to th­ese causes. But I want to help th­ese com­mu­ni­ties and do­na­tions are not enough. I hope to em­power them to man­age on their own.”

She is also frus­trated that Malaysians are will­ing to buy ex­pen­sive im­ported goods with­out know­ing the sto­ries of the peo­ple who make them. How­ever, they are not ea­ger to do the same for lo­cal prod­ucts.

“Some ex­pen­sive im­ported prod­ucts are made by those work­ing in an un­safe en­vi­ron­ment,” adds Sa­si­bai, cit­ing the col­lapse of Rana Plaza build­ing in Dhaka, Bangladesh four years ago as an ex­am­ple.

More than 1,100 peo­ple died when the build­ing that housed five fac­to­ries man­u­fac­tur­ing US, Cana­dian and Euro­pean cloth­ing la­bels col­lapsed. Un­til to­day, more than 300 are still miss­ing.

Hand­made crafts are Eath Heir’s busi­ness crux.

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