It started about three years ago, when four friends living in the same apartment complex would hang out, confiding in each other their dissatisfaction with their jobs.
A quartet of innovative Malaysian creatives tell us how they’ve started and grown a social enterprise with a strong message of sustainability. We catch up with them as they work on their latest art installation in Iskandar Harbour.
It started about three years ago, when four friends living in the same apartment complex would hang out, confiding in each other their dissatisfaction with their jobs. From this, they decided to take advantage of all the positive elements from each person’s work experiences and model something different, a new business venture.
Rashvin Pal Singh brought the business-savvy he gained from working with a multinational auditing company. Gurpreet Singh Dhillon developed knowledge in sustainability from working in waste processing. Azam Hisham came with a creative background from working in the media, and Zoe Victoria brought along her experience of social work. Their combined skills and knowledge contributed to the formation of Biji-Biji, which has now grown into a collective of about 25 permanent team members.
At its heart, Biji-Biji operates as a social enterprise. According to co-founder Zoe, their aim is “to promote sustainability through creative approaches.” Biji-Biji works primarily with found and discarded objects, whether chanced upon at construction sites or given to them by businesses getting rid of their stock. They then work with these materials to come up with useful everyday objects, such as bags and furniture, which they sell on their website. They are also known for making large-scale art installations for their clients. These installations would frequently tap into the skills of their electronics team, who would integrate interactive components into the piece, creating an immersive experience for the public.
All the work takes place in two main locations: a bungalow off Jalan Ipoh in Kuala Lumpur which handles smaller-scale projects, and a factory in Klang, Selangor that allows them to work with larger materials and loud power tools.
“In the beginning, we had to do everything ourselves — client management, finding discarded materials, sorting them, cleaning them, building them into whatever the client wants,” explained Zoe. Now with their sizeable staff, the work is delegated into teams based on their expertise.
One of the large-scale projects that Biji-Biji is currently working on is an art installation that will be situated in Iskandar Puteri Harbour. Scheduled to be constructed in October, it will feature musical instruments made out of bamboo, which the public will be free to interact and ‘jam’ with — hence its title, Jamboo.
“Art installations are something we’ve always been excited about, it’s so fun,” said Zoe. “You can get so creative. We can show the potential of applying creativity to discarded materials, things that (seemingly) have no value and really turn that idea around.”
Biji-Biji is determined to spread their message of sustainability further. Aside from the items they craft for clients, they conduct educational workshops to promote creative innovation and to encourage people to upcycle discarded items.
Their partners include MaGIC, who runs incubator programmes from Cyberjaya, and EcoWorld, whom they have been working with since winning the Alliance Bank Bizsmart Academy SME Innovation Challenge in 2014.
Biji-biji will hopefully be opening a workshop space in Publika next year to further their work on creativity and sustainability.
Source: Kreatif, 2016, pg190-191
Jointly published by Khazanah Nasional Berhad, UEM Sunrise Berhad, Iskandar Investment Berhad