Category: Sustainability

Sasibai Kimis

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.”

Claire Sancelot

As children, how often had we been lovingly persuaded or failing that, scolded to finish the food on our plates instead of letting it go to waste? While only a few of us still nostalgically albeit guiltily carry that lesson to adulthood, for Claire Sancelot it is a mantra by which she lives her entire life as the founder and CEO of The Hive Bulk Foods, Malaysia’s largest zero-waste chain of stores.

But what exactly does zero waste mean? Growing your own edible produce, wearing the same clothes, and living life like a peace-loving hippie will obviously in some part help Mother Earth, but to really make a difference in the zero-waste sense, what one needs to do is to make sure nothing we use will eventually end up in a landfill.

“Since 2010, I’ve been very passionate about zero waste. I’m not going to claim that I eat very clean, that would be a lie, but I do eat normal non-processed food that is package free,” says Claire.

Before setting up The Hive Bulk Foods in Malaysia, Claire had worked in marketing and advertising for more than 10 years in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. On the side, she diligently ran a blog documenting her zero-waste journey for the purpose of sharing her growing knowledge and to reach more people who were interested to be part of the movement.

It was in 2015 when Claire met her husband – who is a local from Bangsar – and found herself setting up base in Malaysia. She immediately saw the potential in the country to start something more tangible on an entrepreneurial scale. The difficulty Claire faced in securing a job despite her professional background only encouraged her more that it was the right decision to be her own boss.

Testing the waters with her Facebook page, Zero Waste Kuala Lumpur, she noticed its growth with like-minded people who were on a quest to also share their zero-waste efforts and tips.

When I wanted to start this zero-waste store in Malaysia, it was the first time that I’ve heard so many ‘nos’ in my life, but now look at The Hive Bulk Foods thriving with the times

Claire Sancelot

“Just like how every entrepreneur starts out, I saw a gap in the market and decided to start the first zero-waste store in Malaysia,” says Claire who opened the first The Hive Bulk Foods in Bangsar. “We started small and when I say we, I mean just me, myself, and I. For two years, we didn’t really have many customers, but through word of mouth and social media, we got there.”

The main ethos of her business is to source and provide ethically produced foods, tools and products, but most importantly, Claire continuously educates people on how to be less wasteful through her composting programmes, workshops and talks. This, says Claire, has not only brought her personal satisfaction towards creating a cleaner and greener Earth, but also recognition when she least expected it.

“Barely a year after I opened my first store, the United Nations gave me a prize for my contributions towards sustainability and promoting zero waste in Malaysia,” says Claire, who has since given a TEDx talk in 2018 as well as on other various avenues as a familiar zero-waste spokesperson.

A firm believer that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity today, Claire wants to continue to promote sustainable living and hopes to see the country she calls home embrace it sooner rather than later.

“It is our responsibility as humans to lower our carbon emission through our daily waste. We all know that in Malaysia, we don’t recycle properly, and we only have a few who are doing a great job with aluminium and paper, but plastics are barely recycled. We need to do more,” says Claire.

Running any business is extremely hard work, but running one that is quite niche and new to the nation must be exceedingly so. Luckily for Claire, she managed to overcome the first five years where many businesses fold, and she adds that she is thankful that her gender and race did not hinder her in any way.

“I am a massive feminist, so luckily I’ve never been discriminated against my gender. Even as the only foreign person for miles around visiting rural factories, I was never treated any differently,” says Claire.

Like every other business out there, the pandemic forced change on The Hive Bulk Foods. Where there were six stores, now there are only three left: in Bangsar, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and in The Intermark. However, business has massively expanded online via their website and e-commerce platforms, and it is even serving customers in the US through Amazon and eBay. For 2021, The Hive Bulk Foods is setting its sights on serving the European market.

“When I wanted to start this zero-waste store in Malaysia, it was the first time that I’ve heard so many ‘nos’ in my life, but now look at The Hive Bulk Foods thriving with the times,” says Claire.

“I guess I’m the type of person who the more you say ‘no’ to, the more I will want to do it and prove you wrong.”   

Najmia Zulkarnain & Atiyya Zulkarnain

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.”

Pamela Tan

It is a known fact that contemporary art in Malaysia has long been shrouded in the shadows, but a vast range of amazing local works definitely exist for those who try seeking it. Multidisciplinary artist Pamela Tan, whose ethereal work combines her architecture background is something so delicately detailed that one wouldn’t expect such breadth of work was produced right here in Malaysia.

Futuristic ensembles and skeletal lines create a sculptural harmony comprising her diverse portfolio of colossal murals, installations, 3D-printed jewellery, and prints that are unique to her style. Since she started producing her work in 2014, Pamela has 20 series of miniature to massive works to her name. An impressive feat, considering she is an independent artist who has not gone the traditional route of exhibiting her work in galleries.

Among her more prominent labour is the all-white immersive structure called Garden of Eden at 163 Retail Park, Mont Kiara, and the colourful multi-archway installation at the last Good Vibes Festival in Genting, which was some 20,000 over festival-goers’ favourite spot to pose for photos. Captivating those who experienced her work, Pamela’s Garden of Eden and Project Kite won the bronze and merit awards respectively in the Design for Asia Award 2020 under the category of Environmental Design.

I believe in constantly questioning everything, to speculate and ask the ‘what ifs’ in order to do right by things

Pamela Tan

With a boundary-blurring style that invokes ambiguity in her art, her career as an artist first stemmed from the curiosity she had while working as an architect. “I wanted to explore some of the many ideas I had, so I decided to quit my practice and do a small series of design work which eventually led to larger pieces of projects that were unconventional,” says Pamela.

Surely it must’ve been daunting to work solo, and in an art discipline that has slight masculine elements, especially when it involves architecture, construction, and laser cutting some of the pieces of her work, but Pamela says she feels otherwise.

“As a woman I feel empowered and most importantly the freedom to control and voice my creativity,” says Pamela. “I’m glad that in this era, everyone is more accepting of female-led roles and that we’re respected in that way.”

Two years ago, Pamela gained new inspiration while she was in London and Paris for their design week. With themes revolving around recycled plastic, paper and other materials, she looked into how she could also incorporate sustainability in her work.

“I have been researching into sourcing plastic sheets to incorporate them into my designs. As an artist, that is my way of working with the environment and supporting suppliers who are sustainable,” says Pamela.

As part of her masters’ thesis, Pamela shared that she spent a year researching the extinction of top soil and she hopes it is something she can look into in the future. “We apparently only have about 60 years of top soil left and that started rolling some questions in my head as to how to deal with this,” explains Pamela.

“It isn’t just about finding a solution, but about understanding the culture and what people believe in especially in terms of architecture. I believe in constantly questioning everything, to speculate and ask the ‘what ifs’ in order to do right by things,” she adds.