TRAVELLING is more than just a vacation or fun escapade for Safuraa Razak. She loves nothing more than learning the culture of the places she visits.
She spends time with the locals to learn more about their language and handicraft.
The unique souvenirs that she buys from each trip is a reminder of her travels.
“Every time I step on a carpet, carry a bag, smell a wicker basket or view an artwork, I am reminded of a trip,” says the 29 year-old.
This eventually led her to launch Mowgli Store in 2015. She wanted a brand that represents the part of us that is curious, appreciative of aesthetics and who dare to dream.
Mowgli Store offers a contemporary twist on traditional crafts.
“When I created the brand, which is based on popular fictional character, I wanted it to evolve as everyone’s friend - a person who curates products from places he visits, people he has met and memories he has experienced, and which are shared through home decor and accessories.”
Mowgli Store’s first product is the belly basket. The eco-friendly handwoven basket is made from seagrass. Traditionally used as rice baskets, the lightweight material and collapsible design allows it to be handy for multiple uses including home decor.
“I am drawn to wicker because each product speaks for itself through the material, technique, uniqueness, scent, texture and use.
“It is amazing how much you can know about a place from the components of an object. You can find similar designs anywhere in the world, but what distinguishes one from another is the details. Different plants, processes and the weaving technique make it impossible to find the same products.”
From research, she found the baskets were made by artisans from a Vietnamese village.
She reached out to a villager who introduced her to the artisans.
For Safuraa, it is important to understand the back story of the baskets. This is to educate customers on the importance of the make and origin of the product, the impact the brand can make.
It is also important to support the artisans and ensure the craft is preserved through fair trade.
The baskets are perfect for the brand as Mowgli is about flexibility and being able to adapt to the environment.
“I am one of the first in Malaysia to import the customised baskets.
Every batch offers different colours, sizes and material.
“I keep diversifying the product range. The products are also directly sourced to maintain quality and standards.”
As she wanted the baskets to relate to her brand, Safuraa named them BalooBakul, after one of the characters in the Jungle Book, which is also where the name Mowgli comes from.
Using Instagram (@mowglistore) as her marketing tool, Safuraa posted pictures of the baskets.
“It was a bit of challenge to promote the baskets initially. When I posted the pictures, I wanted people to know how special the baskets are — they are foldable, eco-friendly and can be used for home decor or carry-on. Thankfully, people loved the baskets and the concept.”
In January this year, Safuraa brought in 100 baskets and they were sold out quickly. The BalooBakul comes in large, medium and small sizes, in various colours.
The latest design by Safuraa is the mini BalooBakul, with leather handles and a drawstring lining. It is small enough to be used as a bag or as a table decor.
The products have expanded to include the berkela (a large durable and double-handled bag); teman tote (made of flattened seagrass for everyday use); tana (an Asian interpretation of Africa’s bolga basket) and a set of three rectangular structured bamboo basket and a set of three-cylinder structured seagrass basket. The price ranges from RM65 to RM180.
Safuraa is working on two prototypes for wicker cross-body bags.
COLOURFUL POM POMS
To make the baskets more attractive, Safuraa has included colourful pom poms, made by a refugee from Myanmar, to tie on the handles.
The colour schemes are derived from some of her favourites places in South America including La Paz and Uyuni in Bolivia and Cusco in Peru.
“Mowgli Store is largely influenced by trips to South America in 2015. The pom poms and tassels are called foreign charms. They are dedicated to travellers who love to take a piece of their trip home, while leaving a part of their hearts behind.”
She is working on the next collection of pom poms based on places of interest in Berlin, Germany, where she used to live for a few years.
An architect by profession, Safuraa is handling her business in her spare time. As she is self-funded, she has learnt not to waste stuff and to do everything herself — from accounts, inventory, packing andposting, public relations and to creating a website.
“Creating new products can be challenging as I can get lost in my own thoughts. Linear decision-making can result in a rigid outcome, thus it is important that I get feedback from family and friends.
“I spend time at weekend markets to get feedback from customers. If you do what you love, things become much easier.
In addition to selling her baskets online, Safuraa has five stockists in the Klang Valley, Penang and Johor Baru.
With overwhelming response for her baskets, Safuraa is excited about Mowgli Store’s plans.
These include designing and producing original products, pushing boundaries with local material and producing through groups and cooperatives.
“I want the baskets to be designed and made in Malaysia at some point. But I need to know more about the material and process.
“Our traditional materials can be a trend too.
My role is to let people understand the value of these goods and how important it is to support the people who make them.
We need to learn from our traditional wicker makers and improvise the products to keep them relevant in the market.”