With eco-consciousness sweeping the world, it is irrefutably important, now more so than ever, to stay on top of the movement or risk facing a dire future absent of any natural resources.
Prestige Malaysia in partnership with Volvo had the opportunity to pick the brains of five trailblazing women across varying fields, who are not only making leaps and bounds via their chosen careers, but find unwavering determination in using their empowered voices towards championing sustainability and the greater good.
Najmia Zulkarnain and Atiyya Zulkarnain
Founders of Unplug
The sisters run an eco-concept shop in Bangsar Village that carries products like natural soaps, essential oils, skincare products, and even upcycled clothing, footwear and bags from more than 50 eco-conscious brands. “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.
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.
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.
Multidisciplinary artist and founder of Poh Sin Studio
Pamela‘s ethereal work spans across a portfolio of colossal murals, installations, 3D-printed jewellery, and prints. 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. 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 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,” she says.
As part of her masters’ thesis, Pamela shared that she also 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,” shares 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.”
Founder and CEO of The Hive Bulk Foods
The Hive Bulk Foods is Malaysia’s largest zero-waste chain of stores. Before setting up the stores, Claire Sancelot had worked in marketing and advertising for more than 10 years in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. 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.
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. “We started small and when I say we, I mean just me, myself, and I,” she shares. “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.
Founder and CEO of Earth Heir
It was on Sasibai’s 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 in Malaysia at a higher price.
“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.”
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.
For now, Earth Heir strives to continually champion ‘Made in Malaysia’ artisanal products. 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.
“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.”
Read full story in Prestige Malaysia’s May 2021 issue on Magzter.
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