Author’s Blurb: I’ve heard of social enterprises that employ the B40 and upskill them, be it through barista training or handmaking crafts, but this was the first time I’d heard of one that does it through sewing. Curious about how it all began and the way it empowers B40 women, I had to seek answers.
In mid-2018, Sue Yii was in the process of running her first startup called Royale Demure, a platform that essentially functions like a fashion production house, while also helping designers crowdfund to start their fashion lines.
But then she came across an operational issue with the platform. Many manufacturers operate on a minimum order quantity basis, but the designers on Royal Demure didn’t need such big bulk orders.
So, she ended up sourcing independent tailors who were able to sew smaller bulk orders, and somehow the news of this employment opportunity began spreading.
Eventually, there was a group of women from the B40 community who wanted to complete more orders from Royale Demure, but there wasn’t enough demand to go around.
Observing this gap, Sue Yii then introduced a new product range that would demand larger bulk orders, which in turn would provide these women with more job opportunities.
Komuniti Tukang Jahit (KTJ), a social enterprise to build, empower, and provide employment to this sewing community of B40 women, was then established.
“By designing and creating bespoke handmade corporate gifts, KTJ would be able to help these home based tailors earn a more lucrative side income while taking care of the home and children,” she told Vulcan Post.
Recognition For Their Work
Sue Yii doesn’t run both startups alone; Teck Hooi joined her soon after they were launched and lent his experience in the fashion industry to KTJ to strengthen its operations and supply chain.
He’s also a qualified accountant, so he takes care of the finances and business strategies of KTJ too.
Recalling the early days, Sue Yii said their tailors only used to sew clothing designs, which weren’t considered fast-moving sale items that flew off the shelves.
But as demand began to decrease and supply began to increase, she knew they had to do something. “Especially when we found out what we were actually doing was called ‘impact development’,” she added.
Today, KTJ is an accredited social enterprise recognised by the Ministry of Entrepreneurship Development & Corporations, Malaysia as an entity to empower single women, stay-at-home mothers, single mothers and underprivileged women.
“This will allow us to approach bigger corporations as they see the accreditation as an endorsement of our work, and we can provide products/services in a trusted manner,” Sue Yii said.
Innovation Is A Constant
KTJ has since expanded its offerings and now classifies its products under the gifting industry.
Corporate gifts, tourist souvenirs, makeup holders, household décor, duffel bags, premium bowties, neckties—you name it, and KTJ can probably sew it.
The list goes on and on, with Sue Yii even saying, “As long as it can be sewn, we will take on the challenge of producing it or innovating it into a whole new product for our clients. We redesign, redevelop and customise products according to our clients’ needs and branding direction.”
KTJ supplies the B40 women with materials and Sue Yii and Hasnaa (its Head of Operations) overlook design and product innovation, but the tailors are still actively trained to be R&D specialists too.
“As beneficiaries themselves, we empower them to be part of the team,” Sue Yii said.
“We also have a reward based system whereby, if their product is selected to be reproduced by our clients, the tailors would receive a commission and a fee to train other members to sew and take on the order together.”
One example of this was during this past Chinese New Year, when one of their tailors, Kak Haida, decided to use some of their fabrics to create an ang pao pouch which could be used in 3 ways.
KTJ ended up getting an order for 700 pieces in less than 3 days, while having only 1 week to produce them.
“This order alone managed to create jobs for 7 home based tailors, and Kak Haida was immediately rewarded as a head trainer for this project. She also received a commission for her efforts,” Sue Yii told us.
The Cost Of Social Responsibility
Besides the reward based system, KTJ ensures that 30% of their sales go to the B40 tailors as wages, no matter the different profit margin of each product, whose pricing is decided by Teck Hooi.
And speaking of pricing, Sue Yii pointed out that this presented one of their biggest challenges.
“When we approach potential clients, some of them will compare our products with imported premium gifts (such as from China), and our products will never be able to compete with their costs.”
Her solution was to simply educate them about the social impact KTJ creates, and hope that these companies would see purchasing from them as being the socially responsible thing to do.
Corporations with CSR funds can now utilise their funds to create job opportunities, and in return, receive corporate gifts made exclusively for their customers.Yap Sue Yii, Co-founder, Komuniti Tukang Jahit.
“The ability to share their good story and CSR efforts are also seen from the product giveaway itself, and through the story card that is packed with the product,” Sue Yii added.
In the future, KTJ plans on adding a touch of personalisation too by adding the names and faces of the tailors behind every sewn item, to provide them with a sense of ownership.
For now, they’ll continue creating job opportunities for the B40 by spreading their reach to other states, and Sue Yii hopes that they can build a sustainable business model to carry the movement.
“We are also planning to R&D other materials besides the fabrics, and hope to create a range of products that can represent the country,” she concluded.
Bottom Line: I’m glad Sue Yii saw the opportunity to make the ‘solution’ a proper business so that the B40 women they employ can have a steadier stream of side income. The fact that they also give recognition to these women’s skills (through involving them in R&D, rewarding them accordingly, and providing them the sense of ownership over their creations) is the cherry on top.
- You can read more about other social enterprises here.
Featured Image Credit: Komuniti Tukang Jahit