Malaysian brand The Olive Tree sews hope for underprivileged artisans

The Olive Tree, founded by Law, works on initiatives that benefit underprivileged women and refugees through different collaborations. Photo: The Star/Azlina Bt Abdullah

In conjunction with International Women's Day, StarLifestyle highlights three female entrepreneurs who are also driven by a purposeful plan and ambition to do good.

Sasibai Kimis started Earth Heir to promote local artisans, and Amy Blair set up Batik Boutique to market batik. Law Hong Mei created a natural skincare brand for those with dermatology issues.

Through their social enterprises and business, these three women are also striving to uplift other women by providing income earning opportunities and skills training.

The Olive Tree

Law Hong Mei, founder of The Olive Tree, a Malaysian natural skin and haircare brand, was always on the lookout to collaborate with a party that shares her company’s values and positively influences our society.

In 2019, she spotted a sustainable and reusable batik ang pow, Chinese New Year Dignity-Pao. They were sewn by students at the social enterprise sew X Dignity, an enterprise under Dignity for Children Foundation that provides holistic education for underprivileged urban children such as refugees.

“I was really impressed with this amazing initiative; it was so innovative and relevant to the market, ” says Law, 45.

This led to Law’s company The Olive Tree, collaborating with sew X Dignity, last Christmas, to produce furoshiki wraps and travel pouches.

“I chose sew X Dignity because they have done a lot of initiatives to provide the right support, end-to-end training and safe workplace for the underprivileged, ” says Law, a mother of two.

“We did not only create job opportunities for refugees who got to utilise their acquired sewing and entrepreneurial skills, we ensured they were fairly paid for their fine workmanship.”

Maia learnt sewing skills at sew X Dignity and she sews items for The Olive Tree to earn a living. Photo: The STar/Kamarul AriffinMaia learnt sewing skills at sew X Dignity and she sews items for The Olive Tree to earn a living. Photo: The STar/Kamarul Ariffin

In 2012 when Maia Gewa (name has been changed to protect her privacy) was 13, she, her parents and three siblings, left Myanmar in search of a better life and arrived in Malaysia.

Maia, 20, is a refugee from the Zomi ethnic group in Myanmar.

She learnt to sew at sew X Dignity for a year and has been sewing Furoshiki wraps and travel pouches for The Olive Tree.

Maia earns RM1.20 for sewing a piece of furoshiki wrap and RM4 for a pouch. With her earnings, she contributes to her church and helps her parents with the household expenses and sisters’ school fees.

“For now, gaining experience is more important than money as I want to improve my skills. I’m really thankful to The Olive Tree for giving us work so I can earn and gain more knowledge.

“I hope to settle in a country that will offer us freedom and I hope to own a company to provide jobs and help my parents better, ” says Maia.

Law says her brand’s core values is to respect diversity and provide equal opportunity for people with different backgrounds.Furoshiki wraps are sewn by refugee women at sew X Dignity. Photo: The Olive TreeFuroshiki wraps are sewn by refugee women at sew X Dignity. Photo: The Olive Tree

“I realised that Malaysia is blessed with many talented artisans, especially women. Hence, I have a long list of women artisans whom I would love to work with on our upcoming projects. I want to share their stories, especially behind the scenes to showcase their amazing talents."

The Olive Tree has also worked on initiatives that benefit women through various collaborations.

In 2018, Law worked with Hope for Pakistani Refugees (HOPE), a community-based organisation registered with UNHCR, to make handmade pouches that showcased elements of Pakistani culture, and she also collaborated with her own team member Ee Ling, who designed pouches for the brand as a gift with purchase.

In 2019, the Nysakapas x The Olive Tree saw a collaboration with Nysakapas, a batik initiative based in Kuala Terengganu which aims to breath new life in the traditional art of batik block printing.

“It’s actually more costly to collaborate with an NGO but we chose to do so as our objective is to pay workers fairly and support the organisation, so that more women can benefit from our work.”

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