As of March 2021, Malaysia had approximately 178,920 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR. However, we have not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its protocol, nor do we have an asylum system regulating the status and rights of refugees.
For this reason, refugees here lead unpredictable lives as there is no legal framework that guarantees them rights to life or work.
As a result, many local organizations have taken matters into their own hands instead, and one of them is the social enterprise Fugeelah, led by Deborah Henry, who was Miss Universe Malaysia 2011.
I didn’t want to beg for money anymore
“I wanted to create opportunities for young people and refugees, and also build a brand image around advocacy. But at the end of the day, I wanted to build something that was profitable and could support our nonprofit, Fugee, ”Deborah told Vulcan Post.
“I didn’t want to constantly beg for funds.”
Fugeelah is a fashion brand specializing in jewelry making. A lot of their jewelry has their cursive “Lah” signature, and they have names like Pink Lah, Blue Lah, Green Lah, etc.
Fugee, on the other hand, is their educational arm which provides scholarship funds, assistance to access IGCSE / GED exams, preschool and primary education, and more, to refugees.
Involve the beneficiaries themselves
While Fugeelah has his own in-house designer, he also works with 4 refugee girls, two of whom are currently taking a leaving school exam.
“The designer and I were looking at the trends and what’s going on in the market right now, but we were also discussing concepts with the girls and seeing what they think. [them], especially for the handmade collection in which they are very directly involved, ”said Deborah.
“So when they do, we’ll ask them for their opinion, like whether the jewelry should be shorter or longer or where the placements should be, and so on. ”
The advantage that Fugeelah offers is that it is a part-time job where girls can choose to enter whenever they want. For one hour of work, they would earn 10 RM by making jewelry and selling in bazaars. Deborah explained that they came once or twice a week, so they made 200-300 RM per month.
It’s not a lot, but it serves as pocket money. Handmade jewelry consists of colorful pearl necklaces, and some of them are named after the girls themselves, like Silvia. Other projects the girls help out with are pearl earrings like the Rie and Yara earrings.
Because Fugeelah is still new, Deborah has no plans to bring on too many girls to work part-time with them just yet. “I’ve done it before, where I wanted to help more people like 20 women, but it’s really tough, especially for a growing team,” she explained.
“If I was trying to hire 10 girls and not all of them are interested in jewelry or good at making it, I will spend most of my time training them instead of starting the business,” Deborah said. . to be more strategic and sustainable with hiring.
For buyers who appreciate quality
On their site, you will find their jewelry priced at RM 170 for necklaces, RM 120-160 for earrings, and RM 149 for brooches, for example. It might sound expensive, but these would be your standard prices for jewelry that is not mass produced.
“I want people to buy our product because they like it, not because they pity us. I want them to buy it because these products have a story to tell, not because they want to do us a favor, ”said Deborah.
“Sometimes we’re so obsessed with how cheap things are that we forget that in order to make something really cheap, you compromise its quality, or [the] work ethic of a brand.
In 2019, they gave 40% of their income from Fugeelah’s income to Fugee School, but that has changed a bit now. For example, when they previously collaborated with Khoon Hooi to make shoulder bags from leftover textiles, they devoted a higher percentage of their income to school.
“The income from the general jewelry store that we produce and sell is kept [at] a fixed amount, but for some collaborations, we also devote 100% of the profits to the school, ”she explained.
“So at the end of the year, we’ll have a combination of different impact points that will lead to an overall profit percentage. “
Entrepreneurship in addition to education
“What we hope is that these girls learn both technical and soft skills of Fugeelah, like learning to do an inventory check, inventory management, sales skills, etc.,” Deborah said. , hoping their work will help the girls decide. what they want to do next.
Running a social enterprise is never easy, and Deborah has put a lot of emphasis on profitability as a social enterprise to support her work.
“Sometimes I think, maybe in hindsight, that I should have made an easier business like making crisps or something like that because people love them and will buy them, and we’ll make more money.” , she joked with Vulcan Post. “Obviously, for a fashion brand, it takes a long time to build. “
But she is convinced Malaysians are now more receptive to and better understand how social enterprises work, and she hopes local social enterprises continue to gain traction as Malaysians become more aware of their purchases.
- You can read more about Fugeelah here.
- You can read more about other social enterprises we have covered. here.
Image Credit Featured: Deborah Henry, Founder of Fugeelah
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