Initiative: EARTH HEIR
City: Kuala Lumpur
It started when I was teaching English in a school in Cambodia – says Sasibai Kimis, founder of Earth Heir - I lived in Kampong Thom where I met weavers in villages and I realized how much they need an ethical intermediary to help them sell their products. A lot of weavers were not using looms anymore (many were using their looms to dry their laundry), their products were considered not profitable, they didn’t teach the skill to their children, they basically stopped weaving. I started to think what I coulddo to help them and not let thesebeautiful art forms disappear.Itinitially just started as a hobby, I used my own money, I bought some scarves and brought them back to Malaysia to sell to my friends and family. Few months later, I met with Dato' Kim Tan, who I consider to be my mentor. He said: "Sasi, if you really want to change the lives of these women, you need to make this a sustainable business. You have to move them from the informal economy to theformal economy where they start to have access to services, start paying taxes, and that improves the economy of their country." It was quite scary thought, Ihad never run a business before. But I decided to try and I registered the company in February 2013.
As predicted, it was a difficult journey. Quitting a stable job and becomingan entrepreneur requires a lot of perseverance and will.
One of the biggest challenges I faced is with myself, in a sense, it’s not an easy journey… withthe corporate job I had previously, I used to earn a lot more money, and suddenly I decided to leave all that and earn basically nothing. Initially, there were times when… I felt embarrassed. Once, I was at a pop-up selling scarves and I saw some of the people I used to work with, I was like… oh, maybe I should go to the toilet so they don’t see me. I felt embarrassed at the thought of what my ex-colleagues would think of me...I used to have more 'status' but now I’m here behind a table selling scarves. There were moments I struggled with that, I struggled with my identity, who am I now? I don’t have this fancy job anymore, I’m nobody, I’m starting from scratch. One of the biggest things I learned in my journey as an entrepreneur ishumility. No matter what you do, you are never too big or too important to do any task. That was a challenge. And then other challenges came of course, like feeling very, very discouraged because you are not making money and you have to pay people. You are not paying yourself anything and many, many times I wanted to give up, I thought it’s too hard, I can’t do this, I can’t go on. There were moments I thought I will break down. I thought I needed counselling, I was just about to break down, I was worried about my mental health. The journey of being an entrepreneur, and trying to run a business was likely one of the biggest challenges I have faced.
Today Earth Heir is a recognizable brand, slowly starting to be sustainable.
I guess one of the things I didn't expect, is that all the things we are doing would get so much publicity. When I started this I didn’t go and ask for publicity. I just did what I did. The press publicity we received… I actually didn't want that! I would rather that they actually buy our products :). That gives meaning to what we are doing and it gives dignity to the artisans. Sometime we ask the artisans group: hey, what else can we do for you? Can we give money to do this or that? And they answer: no, we want to earn money on our own. And it comes back to dignity. People don’t want charity. They want respect. They want to earn their money and use their money to do what they want. People think that poor people are greedy or less functional or just want our money. No. They want dignity. They want jobs and for us to respect them, earn their own money and have this self-respect. And I think that’s why social entrepreneurship is so necessary. I believe this is how we can change the world. It is not by giving away a lot of money. It is by helping people earn money, teach them how to do it.
The best method for that is collaboration, even with our competitors. Uniting with other social entrepreneurs in solving the same problems. We could witness it in practice while participating at the launch of Fashion Revolution Malaysia organized by Sasibai & Laura at Impact Hub Kuala Lumpur. That one evening many social entrepreneurs working in the fashion field came together to raise awareness and share their experiences.
I really think that more of us need to think with a collaborative mind in the sense that, yes, you are running a business but actually if we help each other, if we work together, we can grow the business share for everybody. We can grow the pie together. So it’s not like if you help me, you will earn less or if I help you so I’m going to earn less. I’m glad that it’s more of that happening right now. When I started no one was talking to each other, no one was helping each other. Now we are speaking more with each other, and I hope to speak more with other social enterprises. So we can grow with each other, it’s not a zero sum game.
And there are more and more people who understand that, social entrepreneurs and changemakers, not only in Malaysia, but all over the world.
Take a step back and think what is important in your life, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? Too often we don’t have time to think about that because life just happens and we keep going and going and we forget to think about big things of why we are here and where we are going. You need to know that if you choose to stay where you are, it’s your choice, hopefully it’s a conscious choice. Don’t let life to happen and then just one day look back at yourself and ask: what am I doing? You don’t want to regret the way you spent your life.
More about Earth Heir: earthheir.com