About the Brand:
Biji Biji Ethical Fashion is the brainchild of Biji Biji Initiative, a pioneering social enterprise in Malaysia. They create beautiful, functional and timeless handmade fashion accessories using unique materials which are barely experimented with in the fashion world.
We spoke with Ambika Sangaran, Managing Partner at Biji Biji Ethical Fashion to know more about the brand, their journey, their design process and the products they create.
How it started:
Founded in 2013 by a group of 4 young individuals who wanted to do something different with a passion to change how people looked at waste and sustainability issues in Malaysia.
Their passion to solve the problem of waste made them look at the waste material available at construction sites in Kuala Lumpur as a resource instead of throw away material. They picked up a pack of pallet wood found by the roadside and started by making simple furniture pieces like book cases and tables out of pallet wood. Along with this, they also started experimenting with different waste materials.
The brand got a head start with a corporate gifting order of 2000 bags made out of advertising banners & winning Alliance Bank's SME Innovation Challenge Award in 2014. This multipurpose bag became their first product in the fashion division called the 'Vertical Garden Bag'.
Over the years, they have been cultivating the brand, improving the designs and expanding the team along with trying to make ethical fashion more affordable, sustainable, durable and functional in Malaysia.
None of the co-founders had any fashion background so initially they just used to work along with the master tailors who have over 30 years of product making experience to come up with the designs. Eventually to improve the products, the brand started working and collaborating with a number of talented local designers in Malaysia like Maatin Shakir & Elaine Hong who helped to fine tune the designs and make it better.
Being a slow fashion brand they don't believe in producing many different designs, but classic collections that last for a long time. Now and then they produce new products but at a slow place and mostly only once a year. They also focus on bulk gifting for companies that want to make gifts ethically. Sometimes they work with the corporates' materials, they collect their banners, carpets and make products for them for their events or speakers.
Materials & Sourcing:
Biji Biji upcycles various materials recovered at their end-of-life stage from a range of industries to make aesthetically designed bags. The materials they work with are -
Seat belt webbing is sourced from local seat belt manufacturers. Every seat belt webbing bought are faulty due to various factors such as safety and colour defects, and factory offcuts. They are completely new, but are considered unusable in the car manufacturing industry.
Tarpaulin banners are a commonly used tool for advertising. Strong, water-resistant and flexible, these banners are typically discarded after its use. These banners are sourced from public donations as well as collaborations with corporations.
Biji Biji has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) to take their banners & upcycle them.
Needle Punch Carpet
Needle punch carpets are a staple for events and exhibitions held in Malaysia. The carpets go straight to the landfill after the end of the event. Usually, a surplus of unused / barely used carpets are thrown out as well. Biji Biji works in partnership with the Malaysian Association Of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers to obtain these carpets.
The vintage kimono fabrics are sourced from the Japanese textile manufacturer, Nakakoma Orimono, a manufacturer that was established in 1947 in Tokamachi in Niigata Prefecture, to take their deadstock and surplus vintage kimono pieces & fabrics.
"There is one particular story where the manufacturer made one specific material 70 years ago but at that time, the Japanese community didn’t accept the fabric for kimono because it was a bit different and transparent because of that the whole batch ended up being in the warehouse forever" says Ambika.
Closing the loop by breathing new life into once unwanted materials.
The awareness has been very low in the general public of Malaysia
Being an upcycled ethical brand, the foremost hurdle that Biji Biji faces is to justify the price of the upcycled products made with a pre-existing material as against fast fashion products which end up being cheaper.
"Even if people understand why they should recycle or save the environment they may not see the connection between ethical fashion and environmental issues straight away." says Ambika.
So the brand's work starts from educating people about slow fashion, creating awareness & conversations around why the brand doesn't make make new designs every season and why this is the need of the hour.
However Ambika says the Malaysian consumer has become more aware about the ill effects of fast fashion over the last year and their understanding of ethical fashion and its' need has increased drastically. Now when they talk about Biji Biji being ethical, the people understand the what it means a lot better and are more willing to pay a higher price for the products.
Biji Biji aims to raise the bar through its commitment to sustainable and ethical standards to build a fashion brand that puts the sustainability agenda on its forefront - disrupting the typical manufacturing process and encouraging a circular economy with a refreshing take on up-cycled materials.
Why Refash loves Biji Biji:
While there may be a lot of brands using these pre-existing materials to create upcycled products, what makes Biji Biji Ethical Fashion stand apart is that their products come with a warranty along with free repair services, and are likely to last a lifetime!
Find Biji Biji products here.
Discover them on Instagram here.
Photo Credits - Biji Biji