If you have ever walked past Unplug in Bangsar Village, chances are that your curiosity would have drawn you in to browse some of the unconventional products and brands on display. Sisters Najmia Zulkarnain and Atiyya Zulkarnain run the conveniently located eco-concept shop that carries products from selected eco-conscious brands both locally and from around the world.
While Unplug is a fairly young venture launched in 2019, the sisters have had experience working with sustainability since 2015 as the founders of Real.m, short for Real Material, an ethical lifestyle brand dedicated to fabrics made from all-natural fibres.
“It was when we started Real.m, we realised that there wasn’t a space in the Malaysian market to sell our items under the sustainability banner,” says Najmia, the elder sister and interior design graduate who looks after all aspects of creativity in the business, including providing support to the brands under their umbrella.
“We had a hard time finding a viable commercial space to promote our values, so that really pushed us to start Unplug ourselves in order to promote sustainability.”
Starting off by housing just 11 brands, the collective now boasts more than 50 brands and is steadily growing. “While it is a fair mix of local and international brands, we are now supporting more local brands especially with the pandemic. We’re all about the #KitaJagaKita campaign,” says Atiyya, who looks after Unplug’s branding and communications, having gained invaluable experience working with agencies in the past.
A true haven for sustainability shoppers, Unplug carries a wide inventory of products like natural soaps, essential oils, skincare products, and even upcycled clothing, footwear and bags, amongst other things.
It was when we started Real.m, we realised that there wasn’t a space in the Malaysian market to sell our items under the sustainability banner.Najmia Zulkarnain and Atiyya Zulkarnain
“The values of our shop are around sustainability, so as a conscious-select shop, we have eight metrics we stand for. That way, we can ensure that every item on our shelves directly contributes back to the people and the planet,” says Najmia.
To be part of Unplug, a brand has to fulfil at least two out of eight metrics; using environmental-friendly materials, biodegradable packaging, involves zero-waste innovation, sustainable procurement and processes, making a social impact, supporting fair trade and local products, and preserving traditional skills.
Sustainably isn’t the only business concept for the sisters, as women in leadership roles, they also find it crucial to always have each other’s back and support other women-owned trades as they pave the way for more comparable businesses to bloom.
“I think in this time and age it is normal to see more women-led businesses. It’s a strong community to be around and we often get together to exchange our knowledge and challenges,” says Atiyya as Najmia adds: “It’s just a natural intention in everything we do, not just in business. It is how you live at home and how you treat others mentality. We have to be purposeful and intentional in everything we do.”
Principal CEO of Cell Biopeutics Resources & Co-founder of The Joke Factory