Teaching Women How to Sew to Gain Financial Independence
Komuniti Tukang Jahit (KTJ) or the Tailors Community of Malaysia was established to empower women from the B40 communities of Malaysia to achieve financial independence through sewing.
How It Started
It started out very differently. Yap Sue Yii, co-founder and CEO of KTJ, began with a fashion startup because she wanted to help fashion designers to highlight their ideas and work to the public, but the factory needed a minimum order of 100 pieces per design. However, the fashion designers only needed to sew five to six pieces per design.
That was when she came up with the idea to ask the makciks to sew the clothing for her. These makciks’ business was seasonal. Demand was high during the festive seasons such as Hari Raya and celebrations such as weddings. At other times, business was rather quiet.
The makciks were willing to learn to sew the designs needed. They spread the news through word-of-mouth. We only had a few designs to sew, but more and more makciks came to offer their services.
“All this little bit of household income actually supports the family, and when these women are able to fend for themselves, it gives them the confidence to realise that they can also be the ones supporting the family. They don’t need to rely on just the one household income of the husband,” said Yap, who runs the initiative with her business partner Gan Teck Hooi.
“The B40 category consists of individuals earning below RM3,000, but we don’t look at that only. We help women who are single mothers, stay-at-home mothers who are underprivileged women and also the disabled. But most importantly, what we do is upskill and train them to develop sewing talent. We just want to help them to increase their household income. If they bring home RM300 to the family, it helps,” she said.
In addition, by teaching sewing skills to homemakers, KTJ can give them an opportunity to secure a stable income while being fully committed to their responsibilities at home with their family.
“There’s a gap where there are women who want to earn a sustainable income but there are not enough jobs to support them. From a large corporate order, we are not just able to support one family, but a few families at the same time.”
Growing the Social Enterprise
One year after they began the initiative, the founders joined the Pemangkin Usahawan Sosial Hebat (PUSH) programme by the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC).
“PUSH came at the right time. We were still very new and figuring out what was impact development. But PUSH helped us to achieve balance and understand what was a social enterprise. It helped us to build our cash flow and our business model. We learnt how to be sustainable and profitable as a social enterprise,” said Yap.
The PUSH programme is supported by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and MaGIC. PUSH is a scale-up programme with an ambition to grow social enterprises and increase their social impact through a personalised capacity building and skills development training.
Eventually, KTJ managed to evolved and grow to help more than 50 single mothers and housewives find a source of income.
“PUSH helped us to restructure our business model. We were even able to upgrade and digitise our systems whereby we were also able to do online training as well. Operations have become smoother and we were able to train more women than what we used to handle,” said Yap.
Moreover, the PUSH programme helped KTJ to connect to more multinational companies (MNCs) and government-linked companies (GLCs), agencies and organisations that were interested to work with them. KTJ is located in Ampang, but they have since been getting enquiries from other areas such as Shah Alam, Puchong and Petaling Jaya.
“We do have our share of challenges. Firstly, we provided the sewing training for free. But after that, will the women commit to sewing from home for us? Secondly, we need to constantly look for more clients to provide sewing orders, so that we can provide an income for the women. We need to get sales to be sustainable as a social enterprise,” said Yap.
How You Can Help
KTJ works together with corporations that have their own corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. KTJ also looks forward to working with companies that do not have a CSR programme, but are keen to collaborate. It also accepts orders for sewing corporate gifts and other bulk sewing orders.
During the pandemic, KTJ collectively sewed 46,000 face masks. Sewing tutorials for the face masks were given through WhatsApp and videos. This helped the women to continue to have a regular income during the pandemic.
“There was a family where the husband had lost his job. It was a blessing that the housewife was able to bring in money to support the family, which had five children,” recounted Yap.
KTJ would like to invite companies to contact them for bulk orders and to collaborate on programmes. Members of the public are also invited to visit the KTJ website to purchase items from their Royale Culture retail shop.