Sasibai Kimis – founder of Earth Heir, a company that endeavors to bring a collection of exquisitely handcrafted luxurious pieces from around the world, with an ecological and social mission. Each piece weaves a human story – lovingly handmade by master craftspersons carrying the disappearing traditions of their forebears. Earth Heir prizes fine craftsmanship over mass fashion.
Q1: What do you appreciate yourself in the business mainly for?
I guess one of the things I’ve never expected, even in my dreams, is that all the things we are doing would get so much publicity. When I started this I didn’t go and ask anybody for publicity. I just did what I did. The rewards that I received, press publicity… I actually even don’t want any of that. I feel like I really don’t want people to give us publicity anymore, I want them to actually buy our products. That’s what gives meaning to what we are doing and it gives dignity to the artisans. Sometime we ask the artisans group: hey, can we do it for you? Can we give money to do this or that? And they answer: no, we want to earn money on our own. And it comes back to dignity. People don’t want charity. They want respect. They want to earn their money and use their money to do what they want. People think that poor people are greedy or less functional and actually just want our money. No. They want dignity. They want jobs and you to respect them, earn their own money and have this self-respect. And I think that’s why social entrepreneurship is so necessary. I believe this is how we can change the world. It is not by giving away a lot of money. It is by helping people earn money, teach them how to do it.
Q2: What is the biggest challenge for you now?
One of the biggest challenges I face is with myself, in a sense, it’s not an easy journey… with the job I had I used to earn a lot of money and suddenly I decided to leave all that and earn basically nothing. It’s not even about money, initially it was about… I felt embarrassed. When I was in a bazaar selling scarves and I saw some of the people I used to work with, I was like… oh, maybe I should go to the toilet so they don’t see me. I felt embarrassed by the fact that I used to be this but now I’m selling scarves. There were moment when I struggled with that, I struggled with my identity, who am I now? I don’t have this fancy job anymore, I’m nobody, I’m starting from scratch. One of the biggest things I learn was humility. No matter what you do, you are never too big or too important to do anything. That was a challenge. And then other challenges came of course, like feeling very, very discourage because you are not making money and you have to pay people. You are not paying yourself anything and many, many times I wanted to give up, I thought it’s too hard, I can’t do this, I can’t go on. There were moments I thought I will break down. I needed consulting or go to therapy, I was just about to really breaking down, I thought I will lose it. The all journey of being an entrepreneur and trying to run a business was maybe one of the biggest challenges I faced.
Q3: What advice do you have for yourself in this situation?
One of the biggest lessons I learned is collaboration. I really think that more of us need to think with collaborative mind in the sense that, yes, I’m running a business and, yes, you are running a business but actually if we help each other, if we work together, we can make more business for everybody. So it’s not like you help me so you gonna earn less or I help you so I’m gonna earn less. I’m glad that it’s more of that happening right now. When I started initially nobody was talking to each other, no one was helping each other. Now we are talking more, I talk to Biji Biji, I talk to Batik Boutique and I hope to talk more to all other social enterprises. So we can grow with each other, it’s not the competition.
Would you like to add something more?
Take a step back and think what is important in your life. Too often we don’t have time to think about that because life just happens and we keep going and going and we forget to think about big things of why we are here and where we are going. You need to know that if you choose to stay where you are, it’s your choice, hopefully it’s a conscious choice. Don’t let the life to happen and then just one day look back at yourself and ask: what am I doing? You don’t want to regret the way you spend your life.
The questions were asked on our behalf by Anna and Andrea from How to (ex) change the world.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 23rd, April, 2016