Fashionably Kind speaks to Zoe Victoria, co-founder of award-winning social enterprise Biji-Biji Initiative
A number of brands in the Western world are using discarded and/or recycled materials in the fashion industry. However, upcycling and recycling in fashion are still new concepts in Asia. Among the more well-known brands in Malaysia focused on ethical fashion is Biji-Biji Initiative.
If you’re curious about the name ‘Biji-Biji’, it’s a Malay word that means ‘seeds’. As the company says on its official website: “We want the seeds we sow to sprout into many more Open Workshops around Malaysia. We also aim to encourage replication of our business model in creating many more social enterprises, all across Malaysia.”
The company was founded in December 2012 in Kuala Lumpur by four friends, namely Zoe Victoria, Azam Hisham, Rashvin Pal Singh and Gurpreet Singh. Fashionably Kind caught up with the social enterprise’s co-founder Zoe Victoria on a warm Saturday afternoon for insights into the company and its future direction.
For those who are unfamiliar with the company’s business model, its core business is the creation of sustainably designed items and concepts using green technology, effective waste management methods and creatively upcycling discarded materials. (These are the company’s words, not mine.)
“We started out by making small pieces of furniture, photo frames, bookshelves and bags,” recalls Zoe, adding that the business has since expanded. There are five distinct themes to the business: bags, furniture, custom electronics, design and build (art installations) and workshops on upcycling, Zoe explains when asked about the company’s core businesses today. She adds that Biji-Biji also provides consulting services to corporations and event companies on how to be more sustainable.
The company itself has a workshop in Sentul and another in Jalan Ipoh. It also recently opened a factory in Klang to manufacture its various products. According to Zoe, the company has 25 permanent staff members running it, with help from a host of interns, freelancers and volunteers.
Commenting on the ethical fashion division of the business, Zoe says that they often take on upcycling jobs in this area. She adds that the biggest order they have done to date is 2,000 bags for an event company that organised a conference in Kuala Lumpur.
“For the designing of the bags, we work with local designer Maatin Shakir and our staff member Elaine. Business has in the past been focused on B2B, but we are now moving towards a more consumer focus,” she says.
Asked about how they rank in terms of sustainability and fair wages, Zoe said they rank ‘very high’, adding that their environmental impact is quite low to date as their sales numbers are not very high.
She adds that the company will open a space called Mereka (which means ‘designing’ in Malay) at local shopping mall Publika in the first quarter of next year. Mereka will be a space to showcase Biji-Biji’s products, as well as for the public to explore their creativity.
When asked about the company’s top sustainable goals, Zoe says they include solidifying the supply chain, ensuring that each part of the business is sustainable and to increase sales volume.
“We try to tell the story and tell why you need to be sustainable. People need to understand what a sustainable product really is,” she emphasises.
“In Malaysia, there is a growing awareness towards sustainability. As a consumer, you have the power to make the right decisions,” she says, commenting on the level of awareness towards sustainability in Malaysia.
For more information on Biji-Biji Initiative and its products, visit http://biji-biji.myshopify.com/