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Anything can be taken as offensive to someone, even more so nowadays in the age of keyboard warriors. Thus, we watch our words and try to understand delicate social contexts in order not to cause conflict.

But out there is one Malaysian startup making products that are intentionally meant to rub someone the wrong way.

Offending For A Good Cause

Their bags may rub some people the wrong way / Image Credit: Kantoi

Kantoi is a retail brand that prints bold statements on tote bags and pouches, and then sends all profits to the charity they’re collaborating with.

According to their Instagram, their products are meant to offend people for a good cause.

“Our sense of humour is pretty sarcastic and in a time when literally anything can be construed as offensive, we knew that someone somewhere was bound to get offended. So we just wanted to put that upfront,” said Min who co-founded the brand.  

As humour can be subjective, Kantoi is merely finding a different way to do something good. Whether it’s by making people laugh or raising money and awareness for a good cause.

This marketing strategy is an effective use of connecting customers to a brand. We often share things that are touching, amazing, or make us laugh, and ignore the boring ones.

That’s according to Jonah Berger in his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On. “The key is to use emotions to connect with your customers, so they will feel strongly about your brand and share it,” he wrote.

High arousal emotions like anger can be very effective in spurring people to act, and Kantoi has leveraged on this in its collaboration with the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

In the post, they laid out the statistics surrounding the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence faced by Malaysian women and girls.

After the layout of statistics meant to anger their audience, the post ended with a call to action to then support WAO’s fight in this by purchasing a tote bag.

Their bags aren’t always this negative though. Min told Vulcan Post that the statements are grouped by a theme of the cause they’re campaigning for.

WAO carried the theme of anger, while their collaboration with the Cancer Centre at Tung Shin Hospital (TSH) for Pink October was centred around breasts.

For the holidays, they collaborated with Pit Stop Community Cafe with the theme “naughty”.

The team also ensures that their customers know exactly where their money is going. So, every package comes with a flyer to explain the campaign.

Bags To Grocery Shop With

As a TV producer by day, Min had just wrapped up delivering Season 2 of The Bridge when the film industry came to a halt during the MCO.

With plenty of time on her hands, she honed her skills as a home cook. After making many trips to the grocery store, she realised that she needed more reusable bags. 

At the same time, business at her regular printing shop was hit badly by the pandemic. This inspired her to design and print a few grocery bags for fun. 

“Not only would it provide an outlet for my slightly inappropriate sense of humour and give me a new project—the baking was really ruining my waistline—but hopefully, it would help the shop a little bit too,” mused Min.

The tote bags make for great reusable grocery bags / Image Credit: Kantoi

She made a small batch and distributed them to close friends and family. Soon enough, people were requesting to buy them despite her insistence that they weren’t for sale. 

Starting another business in addition to her production one was the last thing on her mind, but demands just kept coming.

So, she roped in 2 friends, decided to settle on selling them to charity without taking any money, and launched the business in August 2020.

It was all uphill from there. Their first batch for WAO sold out in 10 days, and requests from TSH and Pit Stop Cafe for their respective Pink October and Christmas collection to help feed the homeless followed shortly after.

Connections Can Take You Far

Kantoi never really faced any struggles in finding retailers to sell their products, contrary to the assumption that many Malaysian companies still shun “taboo” topics.

The collaborations with Journey Indoor Cycling Studio and Kitsch’s online store are all managed by the team’s school friends. As for sales over Instagram, Min told Vulcan post that Ninja Van also handles their deliveries for free.

But friendship aside, Min shared that it was also easy to get them on board as they too were aligned with Kantoi’s mission in doing good.

“And really, we are the ones who are indebted to them because they don’t take any commission from the sale of any of our products and kickback 100% of the proceeds to us so that as much as possible goes to the causes we support,” she said.

The packages come with a flyer explaining the causes it’s supporting / Image Credit: Kantoi

As for getting on board with social causes and their campaigns? Min joked, “We just turn up and say ‘we want to give you money!’” 

Jokes aside, the team always ensures that these organisations which don’t get a lot of funding understand that Kantoi isn’t using their efforts for personal profit, but for the benefit of making a difference.

Selfishly, the brand is an outlet for our slightly inappropriate humour and if it makes people laugh, all the better! But more importantly, if it can allow us to keep making a positive difference in people’s lives, then that’s all that matters.

Min, co-founder of Kantoi.
  • You can learn more about Kantoi here.
  • You can read about other startups we’ve written about here.

Featured Image Credit: Min, co-founder of Kantoi

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