Founder and CEO of Earth Heir
For whatever reason should she ever have the need for it, Sasibai Kimis’ resume would read like a dream.
With a background in finance from a private Ivy League university – Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania – and a masters’ degree from Cambridge University, Sasibai had spent two years with a non-governmental organisation helping the poor in Ghana.
Back home, Sasibai had a short stint working with the sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, before she had an eye-opening moment that sent her on a journey to find more meaning in life.
“One day while I was driving home after work, I found that I was exhausted and falling asleep on the wheel. That shook me up and made me think about what I was doing with my life,” recalls Sasibai.
“If I had died that night, I wanted to know that I’ve led a life I choose to believe in, and that I would be leaving behind something good for the world.”
The quite literal wakeup call prompted her to travel to Hawaii, where she learned natural farming and then to Cambodia to teach English and help with building schools for the community.
It was on her travels that she met with a lot of people who were struggling with the handcrafted products that they were making and barely making a profit. Thinking she could help them, Sasibai took it upon herself to buy a number of their products and help them sell it at a higher price back home.
“That’s how Earth Heir first started. It was actually very much like a hobby in the beginning,” says Sasibai.
“I didn’t intend to start a business until I met an impact investor who said that if I really wanted to help these communities, I had to make it a business.”
Taking the leap to register Earth Heir as a company in 2013, Sasibai spent the next three years forming the foundation by travelling to meet artisans in the region, designing the products, making them and ensuring their quality.
After almost giving up from being a one-woman show and running out of her personal savings, 2015 was a good year for Earth Heir. The business won the prestigious British Council Social Enterprise Award and the Eisenhower Fellowship for Sasibai. This renewed encouragement from her peers pushed her to continue with the good work and shifted her gaze homeward to help Malaysian artisans.
“Initially I thought Malaysia had no artisans left or there were at least very few, but during my travels within the country, I found there were many left undiscovered and they needed help,” says Sasibai.
For now, Earth Heir strives to continually champion ‘Made in Malaysia’ artisanal products, but with that comes the responsibility of trying to change the perception of consumers.
“If we saw a ‘Made in Malaysia’ label, I wouldn’t necessarily be convinced that it was good quality, but we wouldn’t say the same if it was ‘Made in Italy’ or ‘Made in Japan’,” says Sasibai who is proud to showcase the beautifully woven bags and jewellery crafted by local artisans available at her store.
“Malaysians have to change and we have to realise that we can have good products too. We have to educate ourselves to support our local artisans and heritage.”
I didn’t intend to start a business until I met an impact investor who said that if I really wanted to help these communities, I had to make it a business.Sasibai Kimis
As Earth Heir continues with the importance of preserving our local crafts and artisans, another achievement they can be proud of is their Fair Trade certification received last year, after two years of being meticulously audited. This helps, says Sasibai, to show that they are truly sincere with their objectives and legitimately supporting the artisans.
“Being one of the only Fair Trade companies still active in Malaysia, it was a huge achievement for us,” says Sasibai.
“The whole idea of Earth Heir is that everyone on this planet is an heir of this Earth. So we have a responsibility to make sure that we are using the resources that involve humans, animals, and the Earth that is not damaging to anyone.”