Growing up in her local community, Neekita shared it was common to see wives being abused or ill-treated by their own husbands. “It was almost like it was acceptable for a man to control and hit his wife, even when sometimes it was at no fault of hers. It’s as if wives just accepted it as something their husbands just do,” she told Vulcan Post.
Editor’s Note: Parts of the above paragraph have been edited to respect potential sensitivities.
Studying psychology in university, Neekita began understanding the complexities of domestic abuse and learnt that there are several reasons why this occurs. While the behaviour can stem from being culturally learnt and permitted, it could also be linked to the outcome of one dealing with addiction or a mental health disorder.
Neekita thought, “In my experience of speaking to people about domestic abuse, it’s often seen as a family matter that others shouldn’t get involved with. But my question has always been why not?!”
So, she roped in 3 friends to launch The Spread Project (TSP), a business that spreads awareness about domestic abuse with artisanal handmade jams as the medium.
Using spreads to spread awareness
TSP’s objective is simple: to spread awareness about domestic abuse as you spread jams on your toast. The product carries a label highlighting information about the topic, thus triggering its reader to talk about it.
Neekita’s idea to use the product’s packaging as a vehicle came about whilst grocery shopping; she often went through the ingredients listed on labels when choosing items. She postulated that most Malaysians likely did the same.
By placing a message on a product that consumers will likely use and buy often, exposure is high, therefore discussions are expected to come up.
“I’ve always thought having conversations on difficult topics is important for society to evolve. That’s how the idea to spark conversation, break taboos, and empower people to take a stand through education came about,” Neekita explained.
“While a book might be too time-consuming and a big commitment to some, a label is something that can be seen and read easily whether at the grocery store, while having breakfast, or passing the jar to someone else at the table.”
But in order to make a real impact on the issue of domestic abuse, simply talking about it won’t cut it. Neekita and her team needed a way to reach real survivors too.
That’s why TSP donates 20% of its profits to the Women’s Change Centre (WCC) in Penang. With these funds, WCC will conduct initiatives to get abuse survivors up on their feet again to lead meaningful lives after recovering from the trauma.
Roping in like-minded people
While TSP was officially launched in April 2021 by a 4-person team, Neekita actually started it as a solo project in 2017. The only product she made at the time was the Cookies & Cream Spread.
But with a full-time job and limited cooking appliances at home, producing more than 10 jars at a time was challenging, so the business came to a halt.
Still believing in her mission, Neekita spent the following years looking for suitable partners who could help her expand. Nothing materialised until she was finally connected with a chef friend, Fred. He’s the owner of Pastry Institute of St Honoré in TTDI.
Next came Imee, a friend from her gym who became interested to collaborate upon hearing about TSP’s business model and aim to work with charities around Malaysia. Finally, the brand needed a creative, someone who could work on the visuals and branding materials for the company.
Neekita managed to find that in Ben, a graphic designer she knew from the same gym who was moved by her initiative and wanted a slice of the pie too.
Making an impact, batch by batch
On top of working their individual full-time jobs, the team of 4 spends most of their free time on TSP’s operations.
“The main challenge is that there is so much more than can be done. We’ve been having some awesome collaboration conversations, but there’s only so much time on our hands,” Neekita shared.
“I think we have been incredibly grounded about what we can achieve within the time that we have, so we have paced ourselves pretty well up to now. This will definitely have to be re-thought when we plan to further scale the project.”
TSP’s best-sellers so far are its Strawberry Balsamic (RM30) and Cacao Hazelnut (RM45) spreads, the cheapest and most expensive of its variants.
Since reviving TSP, the team has sold out their first and second batches within 5 days, albeit only producing 100 and 80 jars each time respectively. From sales, they’ve managed to raise approximately RM1,500 in donations to WCC.
With a third batch to be released soon, they’ve kept logistics costs low by personally delivering orders to customers over the weekends. The team has now partnered with a logistics company which has agreed to deliver their spreads for RM5 per trip from Fred’s kitchen in Cyberjaya. This will aid in increasing the team’s production.
For the short term, TSP’s team is making it their goal to increase their revenue by producing more in volume, hopefully to be sold in mini-marts or grocery stores too. Furthermore, they’ll be refining TSP’s social media to include more educational material about domestic abuse, and collaborate with counsellors to host talks.
While it’s a premature plan, Neekita also wishes to partner with organisations and universities that can help equip domestic abuse survivors with the right skills to get them employed.
A lot of the charities in Malaysia do great work on housing these individuals, providing emotional and counselling support, but at The Spread Project, we think a very powerful way to break the cycle of abuse is through access to financial means.Neekita Patel, founder of The Spread Project.
- You can learn more about The Spread Project here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: The Spread Project