Amy has been on HGKL before and her Batik Boutique products are staples for gifts. She is a genuine social entrepreneur who has made a difference in the lives of those who work with her while pushing her business to new heights.
This interview is a gem, packed with insight, information and inspiration!
1. Can you give us a brief description of your business, when and how it started?
My business started as a charity effort to help a single mother I met when living here in Kuala Lumpur in 2010. She was teaching me Bahasa Melayu, and we began a friendship. As I learned of her struggles of being a single mum, I wanted to help her think of practical options for sustainability to provide for her family. My previous work experience was in consulting for hotels in the region regarding facilities and customer service. One of the repeating issues I saw in Malaysia was the disconnect between promoting a local crafts marketable in quality and color schemes for Western tourists. And while I always thought someone should do something about that, I never thought it would be me, as I had recently started a family of my own. When I discovered my local friend owned a sewing machine, we began to brainstorm ideas for gifts I could take to family and friends on my next visit to the US as a one time help. Fast forward 5 years, and we currently partner with over 50 local artisans, started a sewing center, and sell our products both in Malaysia and abroad
2. What made you decide to turn your hobby or interest into a business?
While I believed there was much opportunity on the business side to provide a product that consumers would want to buy, I was most inspired by the lives of real women, with names and faces and stories and children who needed an opportunity for a way out of poverty. The first woman I worked with soon began telling me stories of women living in 1-bedroom flats with 5-7 children, sometimes without electricity or enough food, just 5 minutes down the road from where I lived. As a new mother myself, how could I ignore them?
3. What challenges did you face getting your business started?
As mine was an accidental business, I struggled in so many areas. I have spent the last 5 years trying to plan ahead versus respond to what is around me. Also, as a foreigner, I struggled (and still do!) with language barriers (though I am now proficient in Bahasa Malaysia), logistics like making our business registered, textile production issues like working with people from small villages in rural areas, and also work ethics, quality control, and deadlines.
4. How do you balance your time between the other aspects of your life (e.g. like being a Mom) and being an entrepreneur?
As I began my business when my first son was 1-year-old, and have since then added a second son (now 4 years old), there is so much I have learned. As someone with big dreams and a lot of ambition, I had a take the first few years slower than I wanted to be able to focus on my young family. That taught me a lot of patience. I have also learned to accept myself and not give in to guilt. Most of the pressure I feel is self-inflicted, and guilt is our worst enemy as mothers. I learned that we must give ourselves, and those around us a lot of acceptance and grace. And that at the end of the day, we are doing the best we can for our families and our community. My husband has been most supportive as well, and he has empowered me to follow my dreams and ambitions here as well, helping as much as he can in the partnership of parenting.
5. What tips do you have for other hobbyists or creatives who are thinking about setting up their own business?
First, test your product or idea out with those around you asking for feedback and ways to improve. Then, give yourself a crash course in accounting and marketing to make sure your business can reach a point of profitability. Have a plan, but be prepared for that plan to take longer than expected (especially if working in a developing country). Do not compare your journey to others, especially in social media. Run your own race!