KUALA LUMPUR — Earth Heir, an ethical fashion and social enterprise, is carving a niche market in Malaysia.

“The Earth Heir story began when I was travelling in Cambodia,” says co-founder and managing partner Sasibai Kimis. The other co-founder, Poomabai Kimis, is based in London.

“I saw these beautiful handwoven scarves by the local Cambodian villagers. The scarves felt luxuriously soft, and were bursting with colours, truly and simply breathtaking.

“At that time, I had intended to help these silk weavers by buying directly from them — and cutting out the middlemen — and paying a fair price which would help generate additional income.”

The idea of actually starting a company and committing a percentage of Earth Heir’s sales to charities, only came about after a business mentor, Datuk Kim Tan, opened Sasi’s mind towards developing Earth Heir to become a ‘real’ business instead of a hobby.

“He was supportive of what I was doing, but to make a bigger impact, to create meaningful change, he advised me to set up a business.”

Earth Heir also has Ee-Leng Yeoh as the creative partner.

“So in early 2013, we registered the business. And then it became a commitment, not just something we were doing as and when we could,” explains Sasi. It was a humbling experience, adds Sasi.

She recalls occasions where she had to speak of Earth Heir’s scarves to the same people with whom she had worked with on multi-million dollar deals in her previous jobs.

The Earth Heir expansion “Many of our pieces are limited editions, or one-of-a-kind bespoke work. In contrast, mass-produced pieces are usually machine-made without that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ when something is handcrafted.

“Our range of silk scarves are made from pure silk and ethically procured; hand-made with care.

“Except for our range of colourful unpatterned silk scarves, most of the pieces are unique,” says Sasi.

Starting this year, Sasi, Ee Leng and Pooma have expanded the Earth Heir range to include handwoven clutches and necklaces.

I admire the necklaces. The colours are vibrant, the designs absolutely eye-catching and fastened at the neck, you can be assured of due attention.

The use of fabric with stones is such a clever idea, I tell the ladies. “I have always had a penchant for textiles and jewellery,” says Sasi on how the idea came about on combining fabrics with semi-precious stones.

“So we thought of incorporating what we already have in hand — which are our fabrics from the scarves and adding the stones.

“Our clutches and jewellery range also allow us to create our brand identity as we design our own products, whereas our early range of scarves were the weavers’ designs.”

The materials for the clutches are handwoven in Uzbekistan but are sourced from Turkey, and the partners hope to travel directly to Uzbekistan next time.

Silk lines the inside of the clutches but they are considering suede and leather offcuts for their next collection for durability.

However, being an ethically responsible brand, they were initially hesitant about using leather but a feasible idea would be to use vegan leather and/or waste leather.

Currently, the materials for the clutches are sent to Cambodia to be stitched by a group of disabled artisans, while the jewellery and embellishment work is done in Malaysia.

The gold fastenings on the clutches are imported from Britain.

With stringent quality control and dedicated effort, every Earth Heir item deserves a proud owner.

So what’s next?
The trio have passionate and substantial plans they are carrying out diligently. “We have been educating clients and spreading awareness through social media channels such as our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/EarthHeir) and at our pop-up shops.

“We have two options. We can either continue to fly from one country to another and source products to sell, or we could look into building longterm, sustainable growth and impact. If we were to just buy and sell without an ethical perspective, how are we really going to introduce longterm change and grow a community?” asks Sasi.

“We will continue to invest our efforts into designing bespoke pieces which have positive social and environmental impact, and continue to give our clients exclusive goods that are truly unique. For now, we would like to continue growing organically to make sure whatever we do is ethical and responsible. It may mean slower growth, but we believe in keeping to our purpose and vision.” Find Earth Heir items at the Square Room in Bangsar Shopping Centre. Sasi and Ee-Leng look forward to seeing you there.

 

Malay Mail Feature - April 2014