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Laych Koh

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Bad news for Malaysia and the environment. A 2015 study in Science Magazine reported that Malaysia was the eighth worst country in the world for plastic waste. Every Malaysian generates an average of 1.44kg of general waste every day, but 55% of that can actually be recycled.

Photo: By Zak Noyle / A-Frame, from National Geographic

It’s really tough being a parent, and let’s face it – it’s tough being a parent who is environmentally-friendly when having kids isn’t exactly the greenest lifestyle choice! But don’t beat yourself up about it. It is better to be an environmentally-conscious parent who tries one day at a time,  rather than one who can’t be bothered at all.

So take heart, and here are some practical tips and helpful links (with Malaysian brands!) to help you and your family be kinder to the environment.


1. Refuse Things You Do Not Need

You have probably heard about the Tak Nak Straw campaign, which promotes an end to the use of straws. Millions of straws are thrown away every year, many ending up in the ocean where they can be eaten by wildlife. If you really need a straw, get a reusable one (stainless steel or bamboo) from zero waste shops we have listed below.

But think about other single use items you can refuse to use – plastic bags,  plastic cutlery, cotton buds and stirrers. There are other alternatives to these things out there, and you can slowly cut these throwaway things out of your life. Also try to buy produce without the plastic and packaging that overwhelms our supermarkets. Try buying in bulk at zero waste stores, or purchase fresh produce from markets or farms.

Zero Waste / Bulk / Environmental Shops

Photo: The Hive Bulk Foods

The Hive Bulks Food

This Bangsar-based bulk foods store with the tagline ‘Honey, We Don’t Waste’ stocks all kinds of food you need in your kitchen, and without all that distressing plastic packaging.  From seeds and butters to rice and noodles (and everything in between), this groundbreaking store also serves as a platform for work that supports women and larger communities.

A Bit Less

A Bit Less is a bulk grocery store in Kepong that aims to eliminate single-use plastic packaging and create a community that shops with minimum impact on the environment.

Bring Your Own Bottle

Brilliant. Bring your own bottles to this award-winning store (with several outlets in West and East Malaysia) and get your household detergents to clean your floor, clothes, kitchen, stoves and so on. Stop paying for plastic, and reuse the ones you already have!

Photo: A Bit Less Bulk Store

2. Think Twice, Buy Well

Photo: www.ecowatch.com

Things breaking down often in your household? If you need to buy something for your family, it makes sense to pay a little more for a product that is reputable and will last for a very long time. Do you need to buy more clothes? Watch The True Cost, avoid fast fashion companies, buy less or buy well, and try to buy second hand.

Need furniture? Consider furniture that is secondhand, upcycled, restored or revived. Look for and support brands that care about the environment – they often practise fair trade and have a friendly-to-the-earth philosophy.  Or try something even more dramatic but meaningful – try not to buy things if you don’t absolutely need them.

Try fixing things instead of buying new replacements. Ask family and friends if they have spares. Go secondhand, or ask for lends, shares and trades with like-minded groups like the Beli Nothing Project. Save more money for wonderful experiences with the family.

Ethically Made Brands And/Or Second-Hand Stores in Malaysia

The Biji-Biji Initiative (Bags)

A social enterprise that champions sustainable living and creative reuse of discarded materials, Biji-Biji makes functional and beautiful bags.

Kooshboo (Children’s Clothes)

Ethically produced and 100% natural, these beautiful children’s clothes are made with heart and sustainability in mind – some of their clothes are made by refugees.

Photo: Tropicalia Merdeka Chair by Kedai Bikin

Kedai Bikin (Furniture and Homeware)

An offshoot of architecture studio Studio Bikin, this shop practise fairtrade and champions local and underprivileged artisans to create their line of furniture and homeware.

Recrofurniture (Furniture)

Recro gives new life to furniture – they recreate, restore and revive carefully curated, one-of-a-kind vintage items.

Real.m (Textiles & Clothing)

Elegant eco lifestyle products – throws, blankets, towels and clothing – that are made using natural cotton and bamboo fibre. This brand takes their eco credentials seriously – they use biodegradable packaging and only work with cotton farms if they are completely GMO free.

The Beli Nothing Project (Klang Valley)

In the spirit of reuse and recycling, members here support each other’s goals to buy nothing – there is plenty of giveaways and lending of things people do not want or need anymore!


Photo: By Randy Olson, From National Geographic

3. Reuse As Much As Possible

The sky is the limit when it comes to reusing items in our everyday lives. Yes, diapers are a tough one – not all parents can afford to keep the upkeep and laundry needs of cloth diapers. But parents can certainly try! And if they are sinking from the guilt of using nappies, they can work on other things.

From shopping bags to food containers, and from shavers to women’s menstrual products, we can keep reusing one thing … instead of replacing plastic every day or week. Good for the environment, and certainly good for your pocket too.

  • Use a reusable shopping bag – we love Rume and Envirosax Reusable Bags.
  • If you love coffee or tea on the go – bring your own reusable cups like these.
  • Bring your own water bottle – this is an easy one, and there are too many to pick from!
  • Pack your own lunches in reusable containers, Tupperwares or tiffin carriers. Totally do-able.

Tiny Tapir

Long time champions of eco-friendly products, this online eco baby shop stocks baby carriers, cloth diapers, baby clothing, feeding and nursing, toys and gifts to parents who are eco-conscious.

Photo: Tiny Tapir

Frangipani

From safety razors in stainless steel to organic menstrual pads, Frangipani aims to provide the public with high quality products that are made to last. They are also shipped with sustainable packaging materials.

In Between Cultura

Founded by three girls with background in media studies, sociology and cultural studies, In Between Cultura focuses on handmade, organic and eco-friendly cloth pads and pantyliners.


4.  Try Toys That Are Pre-Loved or Made From Other Materials

Photo: Play Beyond Imagination

Is your house bursting with plastic, technicoloured toys? Opt for traditional wooden toys that will last a lifetime – they also look good! Gently request for family and friends to buy classic or wooden toys or books if they absolutely must buy presents for your little ones. What about some locally made and adorable crayons, or renting them?

And if you have plastic toys in your collection, try your very best to keep it all functioning and together in a set as best as you can. This way it can be gifted whole and complete to another family or orphanage, prolonging its use and joy in the world. When an assembled toy loses its parts, it sadly becomes junk.  When it comes to toys, practise the hand-me-down philosophy and buy pre-loved baby goods!

Links and Ideas for Toys or Gifts for Children

PreLoved Baby Goods Malaysia

A buy-and-sell page on Facebook that has plenty of preloved items such as infant wear, toys, strollers and car seats.

Carousell

This social marketplace app is easy to navigate and allows you to earn some monetary profit with your old toys and other goods.

Chubby Fingers Play Crayons

A proud Buatan Malysia, these handmade beeswax novelty crayon are non toxic, kids safe and environmentally-friendly. Also, super, super cute.

Play Beyond Imagination

Remember when we used to play with just boxes?  Well, now you can get cardboard playhouses for your kiddos! Sturdy and ideal for creative play, these cardboard creations are something different and definitely less of an eyesore than multi-coloured, plasticky play tents.

Me Books Asia

What greater gift can you give to kids than a regular supply of good children’s books? Not much!


5. Recyle, Recyle, Recycle

It’s an oldie but a goodie. Recycle what you can. Whether for cash, charity or just to put them to better use, check out the following organisations.

UrbanR Recycle+

This recycling and waste management organisation deserves a salute and more. They collect things like paper, plastic, metal, electronics and electrical items, as well as old clothing, batteries and even furniture. It either recycles, resells, donates or discards (as a last resort) the items it collects.

Community Recycle for Charity

Turns your unwanted or unused recyclable items into cash to help those in need. CRC has so far installed 179 bins around Klang Valley to encourage recycling activities. You have to contact them for the location of the bins or call 017-3638100 for a pick-up (large items only), but good news – they are said to be developing an app soon!

Mobile e-Waste Collection Box

Whether it’s an old brickphone, outdated smartphone, media player or tablets, you can bring your electronics to Mobile e-Waste: Old Phone, New Life. They also accept old or spare batteries that are no longer in use (Conventional batteries such as AA and AAA are not acceptable), as well as chargers, earbuds, external storage cards and cables.

IPC Recycling & Buy-Back Centre

IPC offers cash for these items – cardboard, magazines, newspapers, plastic, tin/metals and aluminium (minimum 1 kg) , but please kindly segregate your recyclables prior to visit. It is also a collection point of your out-of-life mercury content light bulbs, fluorescent tubes and batteries.

Pertubuhan Amal Seri Sinar – Kuala Lumpur and Selangor

P.A.S.S is a self-supporting non-governmental organisation that has over 300 orange coloured recycling bins in residential areas around the Klang Valley. They also provide a pick up service for bulky collections everyday, accepting all sorts of electrical, e-waste, and furniture, but the latter must be in a usable condition. Contact them directly or find their list of recycling bins locations here.

For everything else, check the Google Maps ‘Recycling Centres in Klang Valley‘ map!


6. Buy Organic, Buy Local or Grow Your Own!

Photo: Eats, Shoots & Roots

It’s hard to buy food these days without an abundance of plastic wrapping – it’s mindblowing to think how we got this bad. How can you try to nourish your family without playing a part in this plastic nightmare? Try to shop at more markets and bring your own bag or basket.

TM Farms

While there are plenty of organic farms out there, this one – with produce grown on 100% virgin jungle land in Lipis and Bukit Tinggi, Pahang – takes pride in their box deliveries and bare minimum usage of plastic. They use recyclable cardboard boxes which you return. Plastic bags are used only when absolutely necessary to protect the produce and ensure maximum freshness.

BMS Organics

BMS Organics has grown from a humble family business to a stalwart of healthy organic living in Malaysia. They only pack their products with biodegradable plastic bags and prioritise recycled materials. You can buy groceries and organic food boxes from their site.

Eat, Shoots and Roots

A wonderful social enterprise that aims to reconnect urbanites with nature, via what they love most: food. They strongly believe that city folk need to know how to grow their own food in order to become a resilient community. From seeds to tutorials, they are the right people to approach if you’d like to learn how to grow your own food.

Free Tree Society

A group of volunteers who aim to green KL from their communal garden, this society arranges workshops on a range of subjects. From growing microgreens to lessons on gardening, they warmly welcome children and families too.

 

Other things you can do in your household:

  • Avoid scrubs that have microbeads! Imagine millions of tiny plastic beads in our oceans and in our marine life – devastating.
  • Avoid glitter. We know it’s really pretty – but it also has the same effect as microbeads.
  • Follow groups like Zero Waste Malaysia and Sampah, Menyampah for more handy tips and inspiration.
  • Understand your plastics – the categories, what can be recycled and what cannot.
  • Sign this petition for a dedicated ministry for the Environment in Malaysia.

 


Remember – You can make a difference by choosing how you spend your money, mums and dads. Malaysian shoppers rank high in terms of shopping with a conscience, well ahead of developed countries like Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

According to a MasterCard survey on ethical spending, it showed that Malaysians were willing to pay more for items that were friendly to the environment (58%), based on fair trade principles (51%), or where a percentage of the item was donated to a good cause (55%). With more consumers exercising their choice and preference, hopefully brands and companies will make the shift to more green and sustainable practices.

 

There you go, parents. Hope that helps, and remember – Every Little Bit Counts!

You have probably heard about Babydash’s success as the first online Malaysian store focusing on selling baby necessities like formula milk and diapers. You may have read that it also broke equity crowdfunding records last year by successfully raising RM1.57 million, thanks to enthusiastic investors. Babydash founders Lavinie Thiruchelvam and Tay Shan Li tell makchic’s Laych Koh about their journey with the start-up that grew into a RM2.5 million revenue company, and their plans for a new ‘baby’ – Babysiri.

Lavinie and Shan at the Babydash warehouse and office.

Makchic: How did you two end up in business together, and how did you come up with Babydash?

Shan: We went to the same secondary school – we have known each other since we were 13. After school we went on our separate ways, had our own jobs, but we always kept in touch and always wanted to do something together. Then one day this idea came from a friend –  who lives in New Zealand – she said everybody in New Zealand buys their diapers and milk online. And at that time in Malaysia, nobody was selling this kind of baby necessities online, and we thought hey, maybe this could work. So that’s how it kind of all started – we just did a lot of research, and looked at whether this business model could succeed. We came across a company in America called diapers.com – it was founded in 2005 by two dads – and it sold in 2010 to Amazon for US$550 million. So very quickly we said, ‘Oh okay!’ Clearly the model works, it’s a matter of adapting to Malaysian culture and customers, and seeing what kind of products could work here. That was in 2010, the dinosaur age in e-commerce.

Lavi: In Malaysia, this was before Lazada started, way before any E-shop. Lazada started in 2012. We started talking about this in 2010, and in the mid of 2011 we launched Babydash.

Shan: But we did it with very little investment and our own money. In the beginning we couldn’t even afford a warehouse, so we stocked all this stuff in our houses.

Firm friends in 2008, way before founding Babydash.

A SITE FOR MUMS BY MUMS

M: You always said you wanted to start something together, were you guys mums already?

Shan: I guess when the idea came about it was especially relevant because we were both mums. In 2010 my daughter was two, and (to Lavi) your kids were about 5 and 7.

Lavi: And I had another child in 2013, so while we were doing this I became pregnant. I thought – Oh dear, how were we going to manage? But it was fine. So it was certainly very relevant. The business has evolved, even mums and products in the market have evolved. When I had my first two children, organic was not a big deal yet. People were still using Johnson & Johnson and Pureen. When we started Babydash, we first contacted Johnson’s and we also contacted Buds Baby, a well-known organic Malaysian homegrown brand. We found that Buds took off but Johnson’s didn’t. You could see the paradigm shift – what people in the early 2000s used, and fast forward to 2010 – people weren’t opting for Johnson’s anymore.

M: Why was that, you reckon?

Lavi: Just awareness. All the articles coming out and about, I remember the scares to do with the powder. Mums were saying ‘No, we want to go more natural and organic.’ It took us so long to sell those Johnson’s products off, I remember.

M: It just shows that parents really read up and they are much more particular about products right now.

Shan: They would put chemicals on themselves, but they wouldn’t put it on their kids.

Lavi and Shan in 2010.

THE EARLY BEGINNINGS

M: It’s not easy to set up a business, when you have young kids, and you had full time jobs at the time! Tell us a little bit about that.

Shan: It was Lavi who basically started and ran the company, because I was working at a bank. She was running her own business, she had more flexibility. So I was actually a silent partner for the first 2 or 3 years.

Lavi: It obviously wasn’t easy. I had a dance school. You have to immerse yourself in it and then see if this thing takes off. If you do it on the side, then it isn’t going to work because you are not giving it a chance to reach its full potential.

M: Were there already similar baby websites at the time?

Lavi: There were many, actually, but doing things like car seats, strollers, and toys. Nobody was doing diapers and milk. So for us, it was about going out there and talking to these companies that were really sceptical. They would say ‘But we already sell Mamypoko in Tesco, why would we want to put it online?’ That conversation was difficult because we were trying to convince them that this was the way forward, and already happening in the West. The terms and margins given to us was another challenge altogether. We had no prior knowledge, we just had to go out there and do it.

M: So Shan, at what point did you say Okay, I’m ready to quit my job and do this.

Shan: I started working full-time for Babydash in 2014. Quite far down the line, but by then we already had a proper warehouse and a small team. It was a case of us needing an extra pair of hands and head to come and grow the business from where it was. At the time, e-commerce was already picking up. People were already familiar buying online and were not so scared. In a way, the Lazadas of the world really helped to educate the general public about buying online. By then we could see that this was definitely a business that could grow – the potential is huge, there are so many parents out there and they are willing to spend.

THE GOOD DAYS AND THE BAD

M: Share some experiences with us. Tell us about a very good day, a special day for Babydash.

Shan: For me, it was from the very beginning. The minute we put stuff online and it sold, we were like ‘Eh, it can sell!’ (Laughs)

Lavi: Our first sell was even before we launched! Our site was up, but we didn’t do any launch, we were still testing things out. Our boxes hadn’t even come in – I panicked! I said Shan, we just had a sale! But we have no boxes – how? It was May, and we were planning to launch in June or July, so we had no boxes.

Shan: I remember that! We went and bought a box!

Lavi: It was diapers. We already had stock, and I had already ordered the boxes in various sizes. But even then, that was a guess in the dark. Everything we did was basically a study on Diapers.com – in their early days they had 14 different boxes. We started off with about three variants. But then this order just came in, and we didn’t know how we were going to fit these diapers. The fact that this happened before we even launched, that shows the power of Google. Obviously, someone searched something, and found our website. We had to launch earlier than anticipated.

M: What about a really horrible day for Babydash?

Lavi: Oh, we had a lot of those days. Difficult situations.

Shan: I remember situations where the customers didn’t get their stuff. We would say to each other ‘What do we do, do we just put it in our cars and drive to their house now? What do we do?!’

Lavi: And that was not our fault, it was already sent out – it was just the courier guys. Typically, at the end of the year, (courier companies) seem to lose a lot of their drivers. Basically, what we need to do is be really close with our courier company and all the various people working there. We have to say, ‘This is really important’, or ‘That’s not going out’. It’s nothing that cannot be solved – it’s just that you have to put in the extra hour and get it figured out.

Lavinie with a Babydash lucky winner at their first Mom & Baby Expo in 2012.

FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS IN MALAYSIA

M: Two dynamic women running your own company, what it is like – any nuggets of knowledge to share?

Shan: I think a lot of women forget there is a lot of support out there for women entrepreneurs and women in business. We have the National Association of Women Entrepreneurs, we have the Women Entrepreneur Network Association, Girls in Tech, and so many organisations set up for women in business. So there is actually plenty of support, don’t forget that it’s available. Lavi and I are very active in Cradle and Lean In, and we support all these different initiatives.

Lavi: It might be a bit bold to say, but I think it may be easier to be an employee than a business owner – because when you are an employee, you generally have fixed hours. When you start a business, you are very much consumed, and you are doing so much within it that it is pretty much non-stop. You don’t think in terms of 9-6, or whether it is a public holiday. You don’t even know when the public holidays are! It’s non-stop because it is up to you to drive the business and to make it happen. So you are trying to put in as much energy as you can, and that takes up a lot of your hours.

M: On top of that, you have to juggle being a mum.

Lavi: Yes, which is hard. For me, it is a difficult balance and you have to decide. At least with my older kids, I have tried to train them to do chores and certain things. So that takes the burden off me, but it’s still not easy, right?

Shan: Something’s got to give. You can’t have a perfectly clean house and perfectly laundered clothes. Everything can’t be perfect because I think it’s impossible to do everything, unless you have somebody to support you in all those different things.

Shan and Lavi organised their first Babydash Coffee Morning in 2016, and it was attended by loyal customers and mummy entrepreneurs.

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS ASK

M: Any tips out there for women who are thinking of starting a business, an idea, and hold back because of doubts or fear?

Lavi: I think that’s it – the fear. A lot of women maybe don’t have the confidence that they can do it, so my view on that is that if you really want to do something, go do it. Try, and don’t let anything hold you back. Even if it doesn’t work, never mind. You’ve tried it and you’ve put in your all. But if you haven’t, then you’ll have this nagging feeling and keep thinking about it year after year. So just go and do it.

M: Just bite the bullet.

Shan: Yes, but make sure you have thought through your support network. If you’re going to do something and take time away from your family, make sure you are okay with that. If you have enough people to support you – look after your child while you spend time at work, then you are okay. Make sure all that is sorted out. Then make sure you are surrounded by people who can support you from a mentor perspective as well.

We have a lot of people we can call upon and seek advice from, about any aspect of the business. I think that’s really important if you are going to start. Especially people like us – we had zero technology background. But right now we have shareholders from the equity crowdfunding exercise, as well as advisors who can help us and are willing to help us. Surround yourself with mentors and people who want to help. And a lot of people out there will help – all you have to do is just ask.

M: What is next for Babydash? What is the dream?

Lavi: We are thinking of new ways to get customers from new states, get more of those mummies on board. What we really need to do is to go out there and get the Babydash branding out. Another thing is that e-commerce is still a tiny percentage of overall trade – just one to two percent of people shop online. How we convert those still buying from shops, that’s another difficult task.

Shan: The dream is for people to think of Babydash when they think of buying anything online for their babies.

SHARING EXPERIENCES ON BABYSIRI

M: And so why have you thought of Babysiri, when you are still very much concentrating on your plans for Babydash?

Lavi: A lot of people ask us – what is so different about Babydash? ‘Why are you guys different?’ We always tell them we aren’t just a faceless commerce store that just sells you stuff. We are a community of parents. Babydash makes phone calls every day, we get phone calls every day, we are on Facebook, Instagram, talking to hundreds of parents, and sharing experiences about products and all sorts. We have 100,000 followers on Babydash alone, but not all get to hear what we say or share online or in messages to parents. So this idea came within the team – to create another site to share these experiences. We don’t want to sell them products, we don’t want to make any money out of this, we just want to share.

Shan: Recently someone on Babysiri recently shared that they went to a confinement centre and she had a horrible experience. I’m glad she shared it, because either the centre bucks up and does something about it, or at least other parents know now not to spend RM30,000 – RM40,000 on that kind of service.

Shan: This sharing of experiences is what we want to put onto a proper site. Right now, even on our own private groups, there are people asking these questions, and then it gets pushed to the bottom. Two weeks later someone will ask again – ‘What’s a good toddler swimming class?’, for example. So why not have a place that has it all?

M: Kind of like a TripAdvisor?

Shan: Exactly like a TripAdvisor! For baby-related services. For baby-friendly restaurants, baby-friendly gyms, anything.

M: What would you say to parents who are maybe debating on whether to use Babysiri or add their review?

Shan: I guess the question is ‘Why not?’ If you do research or use TripAdvisor, why not check out Babysiri? I would encourage people who like sharing their experiences to share on Babysiri because anything you share will help someone else. And we are not treating this as something we want to monetise. We truly, honestly believe that this is going to help the community of parents in Malaysia, so please share.

 

Parents who write 12 listings or reviews for BabySiri can collect ‘Dashpoints’ which can be used against purchases on Babydash. Once they have completed the 12, they can write in to [email protected] and get rewarded with 5000 Dashpoints, with each 100 Dashpoints redeemable for RM1.