Creating Sustainable Livelihoods for Traditional Artisans in Underserved Communities
Earth Heir® was established to serve traditional artisans in underserved communities, to support their unique craftsmanship with holistic ethical business operations, including education, collaborative design partnerships, production and supply chain training, market access, financial support, and fair trade commercial practices.
How It Started
Sasibai Kimis, founder and Chief Innovation Officer, was highly educated with a high-flying career. She studied at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, worked in New York with Lehman, did an M.Phil in Environment and Development at Cambridge, worked in Ghana with the UN, and worked for a private equity advisory firm in London, among other achievements.
“At one point, I felt empty and wondered about what’s next after earning money. After a friend died in the Sep 11 attack in New York, I started questioning my life’s purpose,” said Sasibai.
“So, I decided to quit my job, and find a way to make a difference in other people’s lives. I started volunteering and taught English in Cambodia. There, I met many Cambodian weavers who were struggling, so I bought their handicrafts and sold them to family and friends,” she explained.
With the encouragement of her mentor Datuk Kim Tan, her endeavour turned into a business with a difference – a social enterprise christened Earth Heir. Initially, it was a platform for Cambodian, Indian, Indonesian and Thai artisans to showcase the potential of ethnic handmade products as fashion statements and lifestyle accessories.
Today, Earth Heir flourishes on a mission to highlight artisans from all states in Malaysia. Sasibai wanted to create a space to showcase works from the nation's eclectic mix of local artisans as a platform to teach Malaysians about their heritage.
“I often get asked why I left a successful career and financial comfort to found Earth Heir. My answer is, ‘So I can live each day knowing my work is helping a man, a woman, a child, and building an ecosystem for good.’ And it is not just me – I can speak with absolute confidence that the entire team at Earth Heir shares the same vision to create impact and to engineer lasting change in Malaysia. We are not working to build just for ourselves, but to be the first movers in building an ecosystem for the nation,” said Sasibai.
“Our vision is to ‘To build nations and generations to live as heirs of the Earth’. We hope to raise the value of craftsmanship in Malaysia, to do it ethically and sustainably, so that it makes economic and cultural sense for the artisans to continue in their trade,” she added.
“In the early years, marketing ethical fashion was a tricky business. The public at large had yet to understand how it worked. Earth Heir was often mistaken as an NGO. People were uncomfortable with the idea that you could help people and make money from it, because they felt like we were exploiting the community. I had to tell them no, we’re practising fair partnerships with the artisans. In 2019, we were audited for over a year to be certified as a Fair Trade organisation by the World Fair Trade organisation,” she said.
Growing the Social Enterprise
Earth Heir is a part of the Pemangkin Usahawan Sosial Hebat (PUSH) programme and is supported by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). PUSH is a scale-up programme with an ambition to grow social enterprises and increase their social impact through personalised capacity building and skills development training.
“The PUSH programme has definitely supported Earth Heir in the time of need especially when the pandemic hit us hard. MaGIC and the PUSH programme have not only provided financial aid to Earth Heir to allow us to continue supporting our artisans; providing them with training, product development and design. But also helped Earth Heir to better track the impacts that we are making and how we can grow the business in a more sustainable way,” said Sasibai.
"Our hope for the future is to continue to expand Earth Heir globally - to enable more people to see the beauty of our heritage, to bring Malaysian craftsmanship to the world. Through that, we hope to provide our artisans with a better life and improve their well-being," she added.
“Most importantly is to never lose sight of our mission: ‘Celebrating craftsmanship by designing thoughtfully, engaging in ethical partnerships and advocating conscious living’,” she said.
How You Can Help
Earth Heir’s hope is for artisans to grow to be independent, be upskilled and develop sustainable livelihoods. This way, the artisan sector as a whole becomes a means for economic development for communities.
A couple of ways people can contribute to Earth Heir's initiative is to change their consumption behaviour and support their products.
If you feel moved to change your consumption, there is no need to jump off the deep end. Just start asking questions. Instead of just going straight to the checkout, take a beat to think of where it was made, who made it, and what materials were used to create it. You cannot always be the most ethical, but it is essential to have that thought process.
You can check out the products for sale on the Earth Heir website. Every purchase will be utilised to support their vision.
For more information, please visit their website and social media pages: