With the season of gift-giving upon us, how about considering some beautiful options that will not only bring joy to the recipient but also make a socioeconomic impact? Ranging from Orang Asli craft and produce from farmers in Sabah and Sarawak to local batik hand-blocked by artisans from marginalised communities and products that accord refugees some financial independence, the choices abound. Here are some of our top picks.
1. Suri Lifestyle
Our pick: Practical Japanese tote bag
Besides helping single mothers earn a steady income, the brand — founded by Sally Ahmad, a single mother herself — focuses on upcycling denim and salvaging material that would otherwise go to the landfill, adding to the huge amount of textile waste we produce.
Our pick: Quirky pizza motif unisex tee
Havan’s clothing showcases art drawn by shelter home children with the aim of boosting their confidence through fashion. Each piece of apparel purchased recognises a child’s creativity in addition to sustaining the Havan School’s learning programmes. In the interest of full disclosure, the brand’s honest pricing model can also be found on its website.
3. Penan Women Project
Our pick: Iconic Penan bag
The well-loved Penan bags, made famous by the project’s founder, Shida Mojet, come in all shapes and sizes, making shopping for multiple gift recipients a breeze. All of the proceeds from the wide range of woven products (such as bags, clutches and baskets) go to the Penan community — believed to be the last of the nomadic hunter-gatherers in Malaysia. They get to not only earn a regular income but also preserve their weaving heritage.
4. Batik Boutique
Our pick: Colourful Christmas baubles
With an emphasis on quality, Batik Boutique’s products champion local batik with a touch of luxe while creating a social impact. On top of empowering the artisans with a fair and sustainable income from producing high-quality items, the nature of the hand-dyed textile makes every piece by Batik Boutique truly one of a kind.
5. Bliss Zero Waste Store
Our pick: Versatile furoshiki cloth
There are more ways than one to make environmentally conscious choices and incorporating the furoshiki cloth into your daily life is an easy (and pretty) way to start. Colourful and vibrant, it makes for a funky way to wrap gifts this festive season, sans the waste created by conventional paper or plastic wrappers. Once the gift is unwrapped, the cloth can be used to carry lunch or anything at all, making it a versatile option.
6. Social Enterprise Estate by YWCA
Our pick: Bright orange clutch
This social enterprise project of YWCA KL was founded to create entrepreneurial opportunities for the students of its Vocational Training Opportunity Centre’s School of Art & Design. Here, students hone existing skills by producing bags and pouches of exquisite quality, creating an avenue to earn money during their studies while meeting basic needs and learning financial independence.
7. Sew x Dignity
Our pick: Cute coin purses with detachable key fob
One of Dignity for Children Foundation’s multiple initiatives, Sew x Dignity is an avenue for underprivileged students to enhance their entrepreneurship and employability in the fashion industry. Upcycled fabric is cleverly coupled with the students’ sewing skills to produce practical, daily use items such as laptop sleeves, bags and pouches.
Our pick: An adventure-filled, five-day padi harvesting trip
The trip offers a glimpse of the lives of the hardworking smallholder farmers and fosters an understanding of how the brand’s curated selection of fine agricultural produce is attained. Some 30% of Langit’s profits go towards introducing community-appropriate technologies to reduce intensive physical labour and increase crop yields in the rural areas of Sarawak’s Lawas highlands.
9. Sze Women of Hope
Our pick: Fabric notebook
Focusing on women’s empowerment and the protection of human rights in production, Sze Women of Hope provides education and vocational training to more than 100 women at risk, including refugees, single mothers and indigenous people. Its mission is to provide them with a self-sustaining income from the production of artisanal crafts, such as bags, clutches, notebooks and bookmarks.
Our pick: Laser-etched coasters made from recycled pine wood
Led by designer and carpenter Harith Ridzuan, who is committed to the environment, Dapo offers eco-friendly wood products using sustainable timber and recycled materials. The brand’s curated selection is ideal for the food enthusiast who also enjoys cooking for and hosting guests.
Our pick: Black rose petal earrings
The accessory line of Fugee School — a learning centre for refugee children founded by Deborah Henry — is designed and inspired by its students’ giftedness, various cultures and unique life journeys. Sales proceeds are distributed to the school, the children and artisans.
12. Bake with Dignity
Our pick: Salted caramel fudge brownies
Part of Dignity & Services, Bake with Dignity began as a casual weekend activity to impart living skills under the organisation’s Supported Living Programme. Today, it is a full-fledged online bakery that provides job opportunities and a source of income for people with learning disabilities.
This article first appeared on Dec 17, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.