Shakira Ramli and her husband started selling handmade Indian textiles in bazaars around West Malaysia, and later ran dyeing workshops under their own brand. Bohomes.
But because of the pandemic, their business that was dependent on personal interactions has to stop. To make matters worse, they lost nearly RM20,000 on the day the first MCO was announced due to the cancellation of their workshops.
“The epidemic hit us so hard, and I got a little lost. But I knew I had two kids who needed me, and I needed to work hard for them,” Shaqira recalls.
“It was devastating because it was the same year we decided to work full time and we were supposed to do a workshop. Langkawi Art Biennale. ”
Art has always been her calling
Before the Bohomys, Shakira was in the juvenile industry, which she found really stressful and demanding. “I was pregnant with my first child when I decided to quit my job, as I had really bad morning sickness and couldn’t commit to my work,” she recalls.
Leaving the stress of her career on events, Shakira felt it only made sense to go back to what she loved doing most – art. Although they sold the handmade art by others first, Shuqira and her husband later found a place where they were passionate about making natural tie dye and teaching others about it.
“From the beginning, it has always been a two-person show. My husband supports the hard work and I am the artist. We are currently based in Putra Heights, Selangor.”
“We were very active in the bazaars, especially in Penang. Sometime in 2017, a friend of mine was the organizer of Localose In Penang we asked if we could teach at the Butterworth Fringe in conjunction with the Georgetown Festival. Without hesitation, I said yes,” Choukira recalled some memorable moments in her career.
Take advantage of old connections
The Bohomys hub was launched in July 2020, and it began when Shaqira and her husband decided to sell their natural dye as products. Before that, they only taught and sold natural dye kits.
Having worked in the events industry previously, Shakira was aware that occasion gifts (small gifts given on occasions) usually have a short life. It was cheap but had a few uses before it was thrown out.
Knowing they could offer something more impactful to event planners, Syaqira and her husband began approaching them to showcase their natural dye products. They were able to get their first order (tote bags, corporate shirts, and masks) soon after they pivoted, and they knew they would need more tailors.
“When we started providing event-appropriate services, we realized that while we were getting more orders, people were losing jobs and sales as well. So we met a young local tailor and hired her to sew our products after we dyed our fabrics,” Shaqira said, adding that many young people like her have a lot. of potential but lack training.
Following this hiring, Shakira decided to launch what is part of her focus today as well, a social project to empower young people and hone their skills to earn better through the Upskill, Create, Earn program that started in September 2020.
Refine the skills of youth through natural dyeing
Since their hub, they’ve added two people to the team through the program: the aforementioned tailor, and the other is a local. They have another person on the team who helps with the dyeing process but is not actively involved in the apprenticeship programme.
“We see ourselves as a bridge for these young people to discover markets they never thought they could reach before. We want to prove that even small tailors can sell to upper-class markets, which is what really happened during Publica Bazaar in May,” Shakira explained to Vulcan Post.
Among the plans they have to hone the skills of these young people is to export them abroad, find ways of how to work with MATRADE as well as introduce them to larger markets in general.
However, young people are not forced to work with them full time and still run their own small sewing business.
Currently, we are focusing on young people from a nearby urban village near where we are. We believe that only those who want change can make the most of this project. So, we need to prove to them that this works,” Syaqira shared.
They were unable to enlist more tailors due to MCO restrictions, but it revealed that the tailors have seen a 30% increase in income since working with Bohomys and earn roughly RM200-500 per month. Admittedly, the Commerce Department has cut its income a bit.
Maintaining her morale despite the difficulties
Since her first MCO, Shuqaira has faced price hikes and has been unable to get some supplies at times, and shared that her fabric supplier has been unable to open her shop for some time.
This limits them to being able to only make bags, shirts, masks and scarves in the meantime, but once the fabric supplier can operate again, they consider offering more clothing.
“We are currently in talks with some parties who would like to support our program and open a community skills center in Kampung Kuala Sungai Baru, Puchong, where young people can learn skills not limited to sewing but a lot at no cost, so this helps them earn better profits right after MCO, I shared their future plans.
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In times like these, switching from a profit-driven business to a social enterprise isn’t something you always hear about, given the number of small and medium businesses looking to maximize their small profit potential at the moment.
While upskilling and employing young people for their businesses to speed up production is one solution to dealing with the pandemic, the drawback is still the personal constraints they face, given the nature of their business.
We don’t have any proven solutions, but there are probably ways Bohomys can digitalize the program to reach more young people and find different ways to offer tie-dye products to customers.
- You can learn more about Bohomys Here.
- You can read about more social enterprises we’ve covered Here.
Featured Image Source: Ramli’s sister, founder of Bohomys