CEO Series

Why These M’sians Risked Their Savings For A T-Shirt Business Printing Kid Drawings

  • Havan Clothing is a social enterprise that sells minimalistic pocket tees touting designs by underprivileged children. 
  • Proceeds from the sale go to providing free classes that teach these kids how to increase their EQ. 
  • On top of that, children feel more empowered when they see their designs being worn and bought by adults.

Hany Cheng spends most of her working days as a counselor.

Our Asian, top-down way of educating our kids can lead them to a toxic way of dealing with their emotions, causing emotional and behavioral issues in school. So Hany’s job is to give these kids the crucial EQ skills they need to deal with daily life.

“From a young age, we were taught to focus more on IQ and academic excellence. Nobody really teaches us how to acknowledge, regulate and manage our feelings and emotions,” said Ivan, Hany’s husband.

Deciding to use her psychology knowledge for good, she and Ivan started volunteering at a children’s shelter home to give free EQ education to underprivileged kids between 7 to 12.

Hany came up with a special programme designed to help the children manage their own emotions and to relate with others.

Image Credit: Havan Clothing

“Our challenge when dealing with children living in shelter home is to reap off layers of negativity that is sucking their confidence and replace it with positivity that will lead them to excel in this world.”

Four months into it, Hany was happy to note that the children were more confident and expressive than before. She knew that her programme had value and was effective.

This was when an idea struck.

Image Credit: Havan Clothing

“The kids produced a lot of artwork during the lessons as we implemented expressive artwork throughout our lesson plans. Some of these artworks aren’t just an expression of creativity, but come with meaningful story or inspiration,” said Hany.

So Ivan came up with the idea of printing those meaningful pieces of art onto T-shirts to sell.

“Children like to draw a lot, but how often do they get recognition for what they express?” said Hany in a previous interview with Rojak Daily.

Thus Havan Clothing came about—a social enterprise that strives to bring Hany’s learning programmes to more shelter-home children. The proceeds go to increasing the number of teachers and staff working with them, and to ensure that the children can continue to get these lessons for free.

Using clothes to tell a story.

Havan Clothing believes in transparency in their pricing, so they’re forthcoming about the costs and markup of their tees.

Each tee costs them approximately RM25 to RM30 from production to delivery charges, while the prices charged to consumers are RM49.

“Our mark-up is about 1.5 times to 2 times of our cost; we think that’s a reasonable mark-up plus with all the cool social values we are contributing to the community. I remember reading an article that mentioned fashion companies charging 4 times the manufacturing cost,” said Ivan.

It’s worth noting that the kids aren’t just compelled to draw simply for business, but the drawings are an expression of their creativity born from the classes they have with Hany.

“We wish the stories and inspiration can be spread out; and the easiest and fastest way is to wear it! It is visible and kids can see that with their own eyes that adults are wearing their masterpieces. It is encouraging and empowering,” said Hany.

Plus, seeing the results of their labour bringing in rewards could help empower these children—they don’t have to feel like charity cases or entitled to help.

“We aim to cultivate long-term relationships with these kids by spending committed and consistent quality time with them—that is what they are most lacking in their life.”
– Hany Cheng.

The art of turning children’s drawings into adult designs.

Image Credit: Havan Clothing

Even though the drawings were the handiwork of children, Havan Clothing still manages to portray a quirky,  yet sophisticated aesthetic that your average person on the streets would be happy to wear.

According to Ivan, this was very much by design.

“The main objective is we want adults to wear the tees proudly, only then will it serve the purpose of empowering the kids,” said Ivan.

“We want the adults to see it not as childish designs or simply kids’ drawings. Therefore, we took the minimalist concept in presenting the design to make it look sophisticated and stylish.”

The team ensures that each design chosen has a unique story to tell about each child too, putting a real human being in the forefront of every design.

Screenshot of the Havan Clothing website

But it isn’t always easy to do good when your pockets are empty.

Ivan quit his corporate job to run Havan Clothing full-time, but they soon came across a problem.

“The first 6 months was really tough. We dried up most of our cash. We had less than RM200 to spend in our bank account at the beginning of every month.”

“I had to [drive for] Uber & Grab for the daily meals, teach as a part-time lecturer to cover basic needs, and work freelance jobs to pay off our bills. We risked everything.”

At that time, Hany even contemplated using money from her PhD fund to keep the business running.

But, encouraged by the support received from friends and families, they trudged on. 8 months down the line, they finally had the budget for digital marketing, which gave them the ray of hope they needed.

To date, the team has sold 780 tees after running for 12 months—a promising starting point for the team to build on.

“We want to expand from just one shelter-home to 2 shelter homes this year. With the teachers’ help, we can design and deliver a better experiential learning experience to these awesome kids too,” said Ivan.

Class is in session / Image Credit: Havan Clothing

The pair had enough dedication not only to stay with a startup’s difficult early days, but also to remain with the shelter-home children they taught to provide that crucial consistency they need.

Eventually, Havan Clothing wants to take a leaf out of the TOMS Shoes’ book, and like that famed social enterprise, grow beyond their place of origin. They also would like to expand their offerings into children’s wear, long sleeve tees, and maybe even socks.

Meanwhile, on a shorter scale, the couple will be applying their business acumen over the past year into guiding their students into setting up their first-ever juice business from scratch. This time, it will be a business that is run by the students themselves. Those skills they get out of it may just be what gives them that needed boost to get a good start at life.

  • You can find the full range of Havan Clothing’s designs on their website here

Feature Image Credit: Havan

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