After 40 years in the banking industry, Jade Lee was ready for a new challenge.
Following her retirement from the arduous financial sector at the sprightly age of 63, she and together with a small group of friends (and fellow retirees), set up a pro bono platform and initiative that would give local artisans and small enterprises of the like a space to distribute their products.
That platform came to be The Artisans Haven, a digital platform aimed at giving local artists a place to showcase and sell their work and handicrafts to a wider audience.
Following the recent pandemic and the rise in changing working methods, many found themselves at a crossroads of what they wanted to do. They craved the flexibility that came with being their own bosses and in turn established their own start-ups from the comforts of their home.
This was especially so for the selected few who chose to pursue creative endeavours as their new business, with such small enterprises typically consisting of one or two partners, who made & sell the products on their own.
According to government statistics, there are more than 1 million households engaged in homebased products & services. Referred to as the ‘informal sector’, they contribute to nearly 10% of the country’s employment.
Social media proved to be a boon for these businesses during tough times and only required the ease of setting up an online presence. But this doesn’t guarantee success. Without consumer acceptance and appreciation, the market is limited, and it is hard to sustain such a business.
This led Jade to realise the harsh realities these homemade entrepreneurs had to go through to break into the market and sought to build a brand that would allow the artisans of Malaysia a competitive edge.
Though a whole new ballpark for Jade, she admits that developing Artisans Haven was almost a familiar ground for her.
“This wasn’t a big leap for me,” says Jade. “It felt more like a natural progression from my banking experience.”
“Though that was the easy part. Building distribution capabilities and making the products known was the real challenge, but even that presented itself as a great opportunity to continue contributing and help small enterprises.”
Today, the platform has amassed 1000 registered artisans and craft makers, all leveraging on the opportunities that Jade and the platform have worked hard to establish.
For this community of creatives, it is crucial to be given a space that allows them the chance to really showcase their work. Besides an online presence, the Artisans Haven has physical presence all over the Klang Valley area, giving customers the opportunity to see these brands and their products in full view.
This is something Jade believes is the most important when it comes to helping the brands sell their handmade and homemade gems.
“Local artisan brands are not well known, and people don’t just buy based on pictures they see online,” admits Jade.
“Our experience is that when people get to see and touch these products and appreciate the real stories about real people, consumers are generally supportive. That’s why it is important for us to have outlets in addition to online stores for our artisan products.”
Some of their physical markets that attract young shoppers include Tokyo Street Pavilion KL, The Linc KL, Damansara City Mall and their pop up at Fahrenheit 88.
As much as Jade preaches the wonders of our local craftsmen, she’s also made it a point to foster a young community of art lovers as well. Some of their leading members include a pair of talented fresh graduates and their team of Gen Z-ers.
The team actively encourages the dreams of young entrepreneurs and provides guidance to other fellow fresh graduates on what it means to run a business.
Moving ahead, the collective is now looking to broaden its horizons, and is currently working with corporates and relevant parties to expand the distribution network to neighbouring countries and other parts of Asia, which if successful, would provide a new channel for its artisans.
“We hope to spread the word and help foster a burgeoning community of talented artisans across Southeast Asia.”
An adventurous spirit, Jade has never been afraid of trying something new, and she wishes for more people at whatever stage they are in their life to not shy away from going out of their comfort zone as well.
“Be prepared to work very hard and consistently; take this from someone who has made enough mistakes to learn from,” jests Jade.
“Try new roles and learnt new things. Change is the only constant.”
Penny For Your Thoughts
How would you define a “good life” and/versus a “successful life”? A good life is a happy life but I think success does contribute to self-esteem & happiness
If you could choose to be anyone in the world—fictional or non-fictional—who would you want to be, and why?
(laughs) no interest to be anyone else, really
Advice you would give your younger self. Never give up. Things will be tough but you will get past them. It makes you a better person. Keep learning. Don’t be afraid to try new things.