When governments around the world first imposed the lockdown on their citizens on March 2020 in response to COVID-19, countless people started their own small businesses. This may have been to supplement their income or fill up their time.
Iman Preece, a Malaysian interior designer who worked in London, wanted to make the most of the three months she was stuck at home upon returning to Malaysia.
“We always say we don’t have time, and now this is my chance!” she motivated herself.
With the sample fabrics she kept from her interior design job, Iman thought that she could make something out of them. “I ordered a heavy duty sewing machine online and taught myself how to sew from YouTube tutorials, and learnt how to upcycle all these fabrics into beautiful cushions, and that was the very beginning of Saffron & Serai.”
Putting her artistic sensibilities to good use
Food wraps made of beeswax are quite popular in Western countries. It is also common for people to practise reducing single-use plastics with more sustainable alternatives.
Starting with a capital of RM2,200 in hand and an eye for design, she launched her own brand that emphasised Malaysian traditional culture through a contemporary aesthetic.
“The wraps I would see were either plain or cute, and as I am an interior designer, my approach to fabrics is different,” Iman explained. “I play with colours and patterns [to see whether] aesthetically they could be even more appealing and attractive.”
Knowing the importance of appearances, she intended for her beeswax wraps to serve as decorative elements for kitchens and homes.
Without compromising functionality
Saffron & Serai’s wraps, like any other plastic food wrap, can be used to seal and secure food in plates, bowls, or even on its own to keep it fresh.
According to the founder, “On average, they should be able to be used around 100 times. However, the duration varies according to how regularly you use them and how you care for them.”
Iman went on to say that the wraps should only be washed in cold water and not scrubbed. The more you take care of your wraps, the longer they will last.
“I still have beeswax wraps that are two years old and still perfectly usable. Once they deteriorate, they can be easily rewaxed with our beeswax bars, or they can be placed in your compost and will biodegrade over time,” she outlined.
Saffron & Serai sells a set of four organic food wraps for RM70, while the beeswax bars come in 25g and 50g, costing RM20 and RM40 respectively.
To me, being able to reuse them 100 times appears to be quite reasonable and practical in light of the price. Especially when I could make an impact on saving the environment while also decorating my dining table with vibrant batik patterns.
Contributing to the social fabric
The entrepreneur began production and operations from her home, and she continues to do so. “All the products are made by hand and in small batches,” she clarified. “We pride ourselves on not mass-producing, as that defeats the purpose of sustainability. We do not want to create too much waste and add to the problem.”
In the beginning, Iman designed and hand-sewed everything herself, including her beeswax bags, coconut bowl pouches, batik shopping bags, and foldable prayer mats.
When she received more wholesale orders from stockists to sell Saffron & Serai’s products, she realised she needed extra pairs of hands. Iman collaborated with women who were either immigrants, retired, or living on a low income to help them increase their monthly earnings and teach them new skills.
I personally think that the more you give, the more you receive. Doing this much as a small business is already a significant accomplishment that I admire and hope to maybe emulate one day.
“[Once] I have perfected the design and I’m happy with it, I then create a cardboard pattern to make the process faster and teach a seamstress how to sew exactly what I need,” the philanthropic entrepreneur explained. “[One of my seamstresses is] an older lady who has retired, so when she sews for Saffron & Serai she earns some extra income.”
Iman claimed she never bargains for a lower price, “I believe whatever price they state is fair, and I also tend to pay above the average hourly rate for their time.”
Sustainable goals that come from the heart
In an age of climate change, you could argue that sustainability has become a necessity in the business world. It plays a critical role in enhancing brand value and ensuring that brands stay relevant to global trends.
But it has to come from the heart.
The challenge lies in business owners struggling to relate to the issue because they may not see a return on their investment in environmental sustainability. Some may view this as an opportunity to leverage the market without actually making any notable sustainability efforts.
For Iman, she aspires to be recognised as one of Malaysia’s top sustainable brands and to improve her business’s transparency.
“We try to recycle as much as possible. We use local recycling companies to collect our waste. All our packaging is paper based [and] we do not use any plastic,” the entrepreneur claimed.
When production takes place, small fabric remnants are inevitable; Iman gives these away for free to other small businesses in the hope of giving the fabric pieces a second life. These could be used by the next person to create batik scrunchies or batik earrings.
The creator elaborates that the small fabric remnant strips are also used to create larger pieces of fabric for gift wrapping. “We use the Japanese technique of Furoshiki so that none of our fabrics go to waste and the receivers of these Furoshiki wraps can reuse them again.”
Not settling for just one goal
In the long run, Saffron & Serai aspires to earn the B Corp Certification. The accreditation verifies that the brand complies with stringent performance, accountability, and transparency standards across a range of factors, including charitable giving and sustainable practices.
Furthermore, the founder stated that she intends to expand her product line to include new aspects of sustainability to curb plastic pollution. “But of course, this comes with a lot of research and development, sourcing suppliers, and connecting with artisans,” Iman added.
With the growing eco-conscious consumer base, brands with the right messaging have the potential to thrive in the coming years by providing environmentally viable solutions that can help reduce carbon footprint and offer a better way of living.
As consumers, I believe it is also part of our moral obligation to support eco-friendly brands in order to maximise the impact wherever possible, one step at a time.
- Learn more about Saffron & Serai here.
- Read more articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Saffron & Serai