Malaysian home-based tailors get training and jobs through social enterprise

Since the MCO, tailors under Komuniti Tukang Jahit have been sewing fabric face masks for sale, producing over 10,000 pieces to date. Photos: Komuniti Tukang Jahit

A mother of three, Maimunah* (not her real name) was at a loss when her husband lost his job due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With schoolgoing children and bills to pay, the 36-year-old Selangor-based homemaker had to find ways to help earn some income.

Luckily, she found out about Komuniti Tukang Jahit (KTJ), a social enterprise which helps single women, single mothers, the OKU group and stay-at-home mums earn a sustainable income through sewing.

The organisation seeks orders for handmade corporate gifts, fashion items and souvenirs from the corporate sector, government bodies and other organisations.

Maimunah is currently one of around 50 tailors from all over the Klang Valley working with KTJ. She is able to earn RM200-RM300 a week, enabling her to pay for food and groceries.

Generally, all the tailors at KTJ have basic sewing skills. However, to be able to sew corporate gifts, they require upskill training – something provided by KTJ – as the items involve more complicated materials and precision.KTJ secures orders for its handsewn products from corporate companies, government bodies and other organisations. KTJ secures orders for its handsewn products from corporate companies, government bodies and other organisations.

Established in November 2018, KTJ was founded by Yap Sue Yii, who was then running her first fashion start-up (Royale Demure).

Yap, 28, realised the need to find small-time tailors to help fulfill small bulk clothing orders, as factories were not able to do so.

“Through the outsourcing of sewing jobs to neighbourhood tailors, word slowly got around and soon, there was a group of women from the community who wanted more work. However, there weren’t enough clothing orders to go around, ” she recalled.

Yap felt that she had to do something to help the women and that was how KTJ came about.

“By designing and creating bespoke, handmade corporate gifts, KTJ would be able to help these home-based tailors earn a side income, ” she said.

Before the MCO, corporate gifts such as tote bags, recyclable bags and PU (polyurethane) pouches were among the best-selling items.Tengku Zatashah, sporting a face mask made by KTJ, has been very supportive of the social enterprise’s work. Photo: Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris ShahTengku Zatashah, sporting a face mask made by KTJ, has been very supportive of the social enterprise’s work. Photo: Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah

“We focus a lot on customisation and quality. But what really sets us apart is that all these sewing jobs actually put food on the table for our tailors and their families. We hope that more corporate clients see the added-value in purchasing products with impact, ” she said, adding that Selangor Princess Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah is a strong supporter of KTJ.

When the pandemic set in, the social enterprise ventured into sewing face masks – using mainly batik material – which come with pockets for filters.

“The team kept on improving the masks at every level – functionality, fit, design, fabric and durability. We are currently on our sixth version and we haven’t stopped improving!”

Since the start of the movement control order, KTJ has produced over 10,000 pieces.

“Corporations and SMEs purchase our masks for their staff and as corporate gifts. We are extremely appreciative and grateful to receive good feedback from our clients and many returning customers.

“What’s really great is that after corporate clients purchase our face masks, they return to place new orders for other corporate gifts.”A special collection of masks in view of Merdeka.A special collection of masks in view of Merdeka.

Advocating impact-buying

KTJ also works with other NGOs to distribute face masks to those in need.

“The team started out by making a few hundred face masks to be distributed to communities in need, for free. We’ve also worked with SUKA Society and Gerakan Wawasan Malaysia to make and distribute face shields to medical frontliners, ” shared Yap.

In June, KTJ came up with the Glam Mask, embellished with beads and sequins, that was sold via auction for RM16,000. The funds were then channelled to SocioBiz – a private sector, government agency and NGO joint initiative – that helps local communities and social enterprises during Covid-19.The team: (from left) Anas Roshad, Hasnaa Mansor, founder Yap, Angela Ling and Gan Teck Hooi.The team: (from left) Anas Roshad, Hasnaa Mansor, founder Yap, Angela Ling and Gan Teck Hooi.

“This initiative is a true reflection of our Malaysian spirit, forging partnerships to solve social issues. Coming together, these partners have only one goal in mind – to provide aid to those in need.

“When a business decision is made with consideration for the community – the potential good that may come out of it, and the long-term impact – more businesses, SMEs and associations would be willing to put effort into developing social enterprises that are more sustainable.”

Yap added that as a social enterprise, KTJ aims to create awareness among society and also companies about impact-buying – purchases that bring about a positive meaning.

“That will help not only families in need but also create a sustainable economy.”

KTJ hopes to continuously create job opportunities for the home-based tailors.KTJ offers bespoke handmade corporate gifts, fashion items and souvenirs.KTJ offers bespoke handmade corporate gifts, fashion items and souvenirs.

“We are here to empower women. These ladies truly inspire us all in KTJ. Their commitment to work, earn and support their family is something we all look up to.

“Through our sustainable business model, we hope to continue this movement and expand it to other states around Malaysia. 

“Furthermore, as KTJ reaches out to more women who require job opportunities, we also realise a huge need with regards to their welfare. KTJ aims to not only provide them with upskill training and sewing jobs, but hopefully in the near future, also attend to their family’s wellbeing such as education and insurance coverage, ” she said.

For more info, go to Komuniti Tukang Jahit's website.

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