Big BWN puts female entrepreneurship under spotlight with Womenovation

Meet the 10 female-founded businesses breaking new ground in creative and vocational fields

Founder of EVCroft Dk Evie Pg Kiply showcasing her woodwork at the MSME Festival last March.

Looking at the polished creations sold by EVCroft, from tables with colourful hexagonal patterns to warm coloured benches and shoe racks, many assume that it’s the male half of the couple at their booth at the recently held MSME Festival who’s responsible.

The creations however are the brainchild of teacher and aspiring woodworker Dk Evie Pg Kiply. Bucking carpenting stereotypes, the 33-year-old is a natural craftsman, with her fine work belying her experience woodworking of less than a year.

“My interest came by really simply,” said the Science teacher. “I saw a really unique piece of furniture at a shop – some kind of a drinks tray – and because it was so expensive, I wanted to see if I could match creating it.”

EVCroft’s trays are now one of their most popular items, and Dk Evie has since expanded into building tables and cupboards. But she isn’t alone in her creative pursuits.

Founder of event company Big Bwn Project Noorhafizah Hj Rashid recently picked up on the growing trend of local women delving into creative and innovative businesses, and has set up the Womenovation initiative to bring their talents to a wider audience.

“It’s time that we recognise innovative and creative women in areas of social entrepreneurship or those in technical and vocational fields dominated by men,” said founder Noorhafizah.

“Starting with the MSME Festival, we want to connect these businesses with the public so people can get to know these women who are breaking through barriers in their own unique ways.”

Noorhafizah added that the initiative would host sharing sessions to inspire other women to realize their own ambitions, as well as open up market access opportunities through setting up at trade fairs and events.

Womenovation began with the first cohort of 10 women-led businesses: here’s a rundown on what they’re offering and how they make it happen.

Upsykl: Upcycled Fashion

A social enterprise founded in 2017 by Nabilah Jeffries, Upsykl aims to reduce the amount of garment waste that goes into landfills by upcycling old, donated garments into new clothes of different styles.

She works with two local designers, Aisyah Azlan and Humaira Zakaria, to produce the products which goes for around $40 per piece.

With the aim of further reducing waste, they have also rolled out a range of animal toys and mats for pets.

Itsybytes: Social Edutainment Game App Developer

A company that started as a final year project for Ikmalina Hakimah Hj Md Yunos, Itsybytes is an independent 2D and 3D game studio that aims to deliver education and social awareness content through the medium of mobile gaming applications.

Officially opened in 2013, the company creates apps based on the freemium model where players can play for free up to a certain level and pay to unlock more content.

“One of our games of note is Black Gold. It’s a (puzzle/side-scroller) game that’s based on the history of the discovery of oil in Brunei. We managed to get a big publishing company in Japan to publish our game and it’s an earner for the company,” said Ikmalina.

Pereka Sahar: Creative and Unique Woodworking Products

An unemployed jobseeker, 27-year-old Siti Abidah works out of her parent’s garage in Lambak creating miscellaneous wooden baubles and objets d’art such as lighted logos and wooden coin sorters based on her own artistic sensibilities.

Her products start as low as $15 for a simple display rack for still-in-the-box Hotwheels toys to custom pieces that can go to the hundred dollar range.

D’Fasha Crystal: When textile designs meet everyday items

An avid volunteer, 26-year-old Nurfarahiyah Yahya got the idea to repurpose local fabrics such as songket and batik into various products after getting a handcrafted tissue pouch from her foster mother in 2016 after finishing her youth exchange programme in Japan.

A deft hand with the sewing machine after taking classes with her mother, the bright and soft-spoken Farah makes products such as tissue pouches, which she sells for $3 to pricier items such as woven songket aprons that are priced at $120.

YKS Crafts: Handcrafted Jewellery

Best-known for organizing creative pop up event Craftworks Kitani, Yee Kuan Cheong is also a skilled artisan in her own right, making handmade jewelry from her home in Lumut.

Having recently attended the New York Institute of Art and Design, the 39-year-old former oil and gas executive takes the skills and techniques that she’s learned from her course and fuses it with her ideas and designs which are inspired by nature to create intricate beaded jewelry, such as anklets, rings, earrings and necklaces.

“We have premade lines, as well as take on custom orders, which can include Swarovski crystals and freshwater pearls,” she said.

Florence Design: Made in Brunei Headscarves

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Full-time graphic designer Hamizah Surya Hj Zainal established Florence Designs two years ago after saving enough money as start-up capital to bring to life her locally designed headscarves.

She takes inspiration from traditional Bruneian motifs to create her headscarves, which are priced at $29 each.

Doodles and Colors: Custom doodle art

Making her debut as a full-time artist, Nazurah Usop offers her services as an artist to whoever wants to breathe new life to their old belongings, be it shoes or bags, with her eye-catching and cheery doodles and designs.

“Just yesterday, I just finished a piece; someone came in who wanted me to customise their bike helmet,” said the 30-year-old former Brunei Shell Petroleum firefighter.

Nazurah charges about $20 for small items such as baby shoes to $80 for duffel bags. The rates depend on the size of the items to be customised.

Pins and Needles: Ethical & Sustainable Modern Baby and Kids Wear

Established in 2016, every piece of children’s clothing designed, sown and sold by Pins and Needles is done by Rasyeedah Samid, using 100 percent certified organic cotton which has been ethically sourced.

“I make sure that at every point of the supply chain, every worker that is involved with the fabric are treated humanely and given fair trade and equal regulated pay,” she said.

She also looks for sources that leave as small an environmental impact as possible as well. Her business is informed by her work as a former researcher for the Heart of the Brunei initiative, and working closely with local conservation education organization, BruWild.

“We’re a (custom) fashion company where we only produce items when there are orders from customers,” said the 30-year-old mother-of-one. As such, her products err towards the timeless and season-less look that is suitable anytime, anywhere.

She shares that her company produces clothing suitable for newborns and children up to the age of six. Her products range from $28 per piece to $58, with part of the proceeds going to BruWild.

KAVA: All black Streetwear

Unique, eye-catching and all in black, KAVA streetwear was founded 2017 when Nazy Sam took an incubation programme in UBD while studying for her Business Administration Degree.

“At the time I was only focused on research and development,” said Nazy.

A finalist of the 2017 Air Asia Runway Ready Designer Search, she had the chance to showcase her products during the KL Fashion Week. Recently, she was invited once again to KL Fashion Week 2018 under ASEAN Designers.

Having recently finished her degree, she’s now ready take KAVA to the next step, soft-launching their Season One collection at the Brunei MSME Festival featuring unisex clothing catered to both men and women with prices ranging from $30 to $50.

“Right now there’s only a limited number of designs but look forward to more coming in the future,” said the 28-year-old.