Deborah Henry’s social enterprise that sells handmade jewelry


In March 2021, Malaysia was around 178,920 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR. However, we did not sign with the 1951 Convention on Refugees and its protocol, nor do we have an asylum system governing the status and rights of refugees.

That is why refugees here lead unpredictable lives, as there is no legal framework that guarantees them any right to life or work.

So many local organizations have taken matters into their own hands and one of them is social enterprise, Fugeelah, directed by Deborah Henry, who was Miss Universe Malaysia 2011.

I no longer wanted to ask for funds

“I wanted to create opportunities for youth and refugees, and also create a brand around defense. But ultimately, I wanted to build something that was profitable and that could keep our organization nonprofit, Fugee“, Deborah shared with Vulcan Post.

“I didn’t want to ask for money constantly.”

One of the girls who makes jewelry / Image Credit: Fugeelah

Fugeelah is a fashion brand specializing in jewelry making. Many of her jewelry has her cursive mark “Lah” printed on it, and they have names like Pink Lah, Blue Lah, Green Lah, and so on.

Fugee on the other hand, it is its educational arm that provides scholarship funds, help to access the IGCSE / GED exams, infant and primary education, and much more, to refugees.

Involvement of the beneficiaries themselves

Although Fugeelah has its own in-house designer, it also works with 4 refugee girls, two of whom are currently taking an end-of-course exam.

The 4 girls who work part-time with Fugeelah and sell to a bazaar / Image credit: Fugeelah

“The designer and I would look at the trends and what’s happening in the market right now, but we’ll also talk about concepts with the girls and see what they think. [them], especially for the handmade collection in which they participate very directly, ”Deborah said.

“So when they do, we’ll ask for their opinion, as to whether the jewelry should be shorter or longer or where the locations should be, and so on.”

The advantage Fugeelah offers is that it is a part-time job for which girls can choose to enter whenever they want. For an hour of work, they would earn 10 RMS making jewelry and selling it to the bazaars. Deborah said they would come in once or twice a week, so they would earn 200 to 300 euros a month.

Not much, but it serves as pocket money. Handmade jewelry is made up of colored pearl necklaces, and some of them are named after the girls themselves, such as Silvia. The other projects that help girls are pearl earrings River i Wound earrings.

One of the girls working on her handmade collection / Image credit: Fugeelah

Since Fugeelah is still new, Deborah doesn’t intend to incorporate too many girls to do part-time. “I’ve done it before, where I wanted to help a larger volume of people like 20 women, but that’s very difficult, especially for a growing team,” she explained.

“If I tried to hire ten girls and not all of them were interested in jewelry or good at making them, I would spend most of my time training them instead of building the business,” Deborah stressed of her plans to be more strategic and sustainable with procurement.

For buyers who appreciate quality

Instead, you will find that your jewelry is priced at RM170 for necklaces, RM120 to RM160 for earrings and RM 149 for brooches, for example. It may sound expensive, but these would be your standard prices for jewelry that is not mass-produced.

“I want people to buy our product because they like it, not because they feel sorry for us. I want them to buy it because these products have a story to tell and not because they want to do us a favor, ”said Deborah.

Deborah and the girls / Image credit: Fugeelah

“Sometimes we are so obsessed with making things cheap that we forget that to do something super cheap, we compromise on its quality or [the] work ethic of a brand “.

In 2019, they ceded 40% of their revenue to Fugeelah’s profits Fugee School, but that has changed a bit now. For example, when they collaborated with Khoon Hooi previously, to make traffic bags from textile scraps, they devoted a higher percentage of income to the school.

“The profits from the general jewelry we produce and sell are maintained [at] a fixed amount, but for some collaborations we also dedicate 100% of the profits to the school ”, he broke it down.

“So at the end of the year, we will have a combination of several different points of impact that will lead to an overall percentage of profits.”

Entrepreneurship at the top of education

“What we hope is for these girls to learn from Fugeelah both hard and soft skills, such as learning to do inventory control, stock management, sales skills and more,” Deborah said, hoping that the their job is to help the girls decide what they want to do next.

Some of the girls who shoot modeling / Image credit: Fugeelah

Running a social enterprise is never easy and Deborah put a lot of emphasis on profitability as a social enterprise to keep her job.

“Sometimes I think, maybe in hindsight, I should have created an easier business like making chips or something, because people love them and will buy them and we’ll make more money,” he joked with Vulcan Post. “Obviously, for a fashion brand, it takes a long time to build.”

But she is confident that Malaysians are now more receptive and understand the workings of social enterprises and hopes that local social enterprises will continue to have more traction as Malaysians become more aware of their purchase.

  • You can find more information about Fugeelah here.
  • You can read about more social enterprises we’ve covered here.

Featured Image Credit: Deborah Henry, founder of Fugeelah

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