Crafts for A Good Cause

11 October 2017

With these Malaysian crafts groups, every purchase gives back to a worthy cause.

There’s no denying that Malaysians love to shop. Shopping’s often seen as a personal, maybe even self-indulgent, activity – what more when it comes to shopping for fashion! But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, shopping can be about helping urban and rural communities, or it could even be about helping traditional craftspeople survive in this world of online shopping and mass retail.

Here, we feature four groups that are helping underprivileged communities through the sale of their arts and crafts.

Founded by Nik Sin Nik Man and Lawrence Anak Abus, UmieAktif is an NGO which works with urban, poor women in Chow Kit, Kampung Melayu Ampang, and Kelantan.

“We are empowering the community by teaching them sewing skills,” the team explains. These women, many of whom are single mothers, are also given guidance on how to produce, market, and sell their handmade items. They work with batik sourced from Kelantan and Terengganu to make plush toys, tote bags, T-shirts, cushion covers and more, with proceeds going back to the community that produced the products.

UmieAktif products can be purchased from their Facebook page.


Gerai OA
Established in 2004, Gerai OA is a volunteer-based initiative that works with more than ten Orang Asal tribes living in over 20 villages across Malaysia.

“We work together with artisans to identify crafts with commercial potential,” explains coordinator Reita Rahim. “We do try to maintain traditional skills but in contemporary forms, while making it easier for them to earn cash from what they already know how to do.”

What makes Gerai OA unique is that it is not a social enterprise; it merely helps the makers sell their products – which range from bookmarks to bags, baskets and more – at pop-up markets throughout Klang Valley without taking any percentage from the proceeds. “All revenue generated is returned to the artisans, their businesses or NGOs,” shares Reita.

As such, Gerai OA is not funded and accept no funding. Among other things, volunteers help with labelling and transporting the products, manning the stalls, as well as sourcing grocery and medical items needed by the artisans.

To volunteer, email For more info on the products or artisans, visit the Gerai OA Facebook Page.

Helping Hands Penan
Helping Hands Penan is hard to miss at pop-up bazaars, thanks to the vibrant colours and modern designs of the bags and baskets they sell! These products are handwoven by indigenous Penan women, whom Helping Hands Penan wants to empower with financial independence.

“This initiative has been a complete game changer for the weavers, who now earn a stable income to support their families and their communities,” says group coordinator Violette Tan. Sales from the bags have also helped to install solar lights in six Penan settlements, as well as sending kids to school.

To learn more about their products or other ways to help the Penan community, email or visit

Cotton & Sago
While studying overseas, Maryam Samirah Shamsuddin developed an interest in Malaysian batik. Yet when she visited Terengganu in 2012, she learned that there were fewer than ten block batik makers left as most were pursuing the more lucrative yet cost-effective hand-drawn batik.

So in 2015, Maryam set up Cotton & Sago, a social enterprise to help keep Kuala Terengganu’s art of block batik afloat by creating a more sustainable income for the artisans while promoting the craft itself. From sarongs and tote bags, to coin purses and more, check out or purchase Cotton & Sago batik Terengganu products on its Facebook page.

By Myra Mahyuddin
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi and Wong Yok Teng
Photos of Cotton & Sago courtesy of the brand



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