In March 2021, around 178,920 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia. However, we have not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its protocol, nor do we have an asylum system that regulates the status and rights of refugees.
For this reason, refugees lead unpredictable lives here, as there are no legal frameworks that guarantee them the right to live or work.
As a result, many local organizations have taken matters into their own hands instead, and one of them is the Fugeelah social enterprise run by Deborah Henry who was Miss Universe Malaysia in 2011.
Didn't want to beg for money anymore
“I wanted to create opportunities for young people and refugees and also to build up a brand image around lobbying. But in the end, I wanted to build something that would be profitable and support our nonprofit Fugee, ”Deborah told the Vulcan Post.
"I didn't want to keep begging for money."
One of the girls who makes jewelry / Photo credit: Fugeelah
Fugeelah is a fashion brand that specializes in jewelry making. Much of their jewelry is embossed with the distinctive “Lah” branding in italics, and they have names like Pink Lah, Blue Lah, Green Lah, etc.
Fugee, on the other hand, is their branch of education, which provides refugees with scholarship funds, assistance with access to IGCSE / GED exams, kindergarten and elementary education, and more.
Include the beneficiaries themselves
Fugeelah has her own designer in-house, but also works with 4 refugee girls, two of whom are currently taking their final exams.
The 4 girls who work part-time at Fugeelah and sell at a bazaar / Image source: Fugeelah
“The designer and I looked at the trends and what's going on in the market right now, but we also talk to the girls about concepts and see what they think (about them), especially for the handcrafted collection on the they are very directly involved, ”said Debora.
"So when they do, we ask for their opinion on whether the jewelry should be shorter or longer, or where the placements should be, etc."
The advantage of Fugeelah is that it is a part time job that the girls can choose when they want. For an hour of work they earned 10 RM making jewelry and selling it in bazaars. Deborah announced that they would come once or twice a week so they would earn RM 200 to RM 300 a month.
It's not a lot, but it is used as pocket money. The handmade jewelry consists of colorful pearl necklaces, some of which, like Silvia, are named after the girls themselves. The other projects the girls help with are pearl earrings like Rie and Yara earrings.
One of the girls is working on her handmade collection / Image source: Fugeelah
Since Fugeelah is new, Deborah has no intention of taking in too many girls to do part time with. "I've done it before where I wanted to help a larger number of people like 20 women, but it's really hard, especially for a growing team," she explained.
"If I were to try to hire 10 girls and not all of them are interested in jewelry or good at making them, I will spend most of my time training them instead of building the business," said Deborah, making her plans more strategic and sustainable to be in the hiring process.
For buyers who value quality
On their website, for example, you can find their jewelry at a price of RM 170 for necklaces, RM 120 to RM 160 for earrings and RM 149 for brooches. It may seem expensive, but these would be your standard prices for jewelry that is not mass-produced.
“I want people to buy our product because they like it, not because they pity us. I want them to buy it because these products have a story to tell, not because they want to do us a favor, ”said Deborah.
Deborah and the Girls / Photo Credit: Fugeelah
"Sometimes we're so obsessed with things being cheap that we forget that doing something super cheap is jeopardizing its quality or (the) work ethic of a brand."
In 2019, they gave 40% of their earnings from Fugeelah's earnings to the Fugee School, but that has now changed a little. For example, when they previously worked with Khoon Hooi to make shoulder bags from scraps of textile, they devoted a higher percentage of their income to the school.
"The income from the general jewelry that we make and sell is kept (at) a fixed amount, but with some collaborations we also dedicate 100% of the profits to the school," she summed up for us.
"So at the end of the year we will have a combination of different impact points that lead to an overall percentage of the profit."
Entrepreneurship alongside training
“We hope that these girls will learn both hard and soft skills from Fugeelah, such as: B. an inventory check, inventory management, business skills and more, ”said Deborah, hoping her work will help the girls make decisions about what to do next.
Some of the girls give models a chance / Image source: Fugeelah
Running a social enterprise is never easy, and Deborah placed great emphasis on social enterprise profitability to keep her job going.
"Sometimes I think, maybe in hindsight, I should have started a simpler business like making potato chips or something because people will love them and buy them and we will make more money," she joked with Vulcan Post. "Of course, it takes a lot of time to build a fashion brand."
However, she is certain that Malaysians are now more receptive and understand how social enterprises work, and she hopes that local social enterprises will continue to gain more appeal as Malaysians become more aware of their purchases.
- You can learn more about Fugeelah. Experienced Here.
- You can read more about social businesses we covered Here.
Photo credit: Deborah Henry, founder of Fugeelah