We sat down for an inspiring conversation with Rae Amarullah, the co-founder of Purnama, an artisanal bags and accessories brand in Singapore. The business is a social enterprise, geared
to make a meaningful and positive difference in the lives of women and children in Asia, by creating quality products that can be marketed to create livelihoods. We met her at her Haji Lane pop-up store, and as we surveyed the beautiful handicrafts on display, we delved deep into the individual stories of the products – which ranged from handmade bags labeled “fight for education” to chic bracelets upcycled from tyre tubes. Rae shared with us insights into how Purnama ensures fair wages and good working conditions for the skilled craftsmen working in Nepal and Java. Moreover, all products carried by Purnama are produced in a sustainable way as far as possible. When we heard that Rae designs each and every item in the collection herself, we could hardly believe how this full-time Upstream Supply Chain Director with Schneider Electric, with a background in accounting, finance, process management and supply chain transformation was juggling the various hats!
Rae runs the enterprise along with her husband Charles, a Private Equity investor and equally busy with his work commitments. We love how the enterprising couple juggle their careers to enhance another person’s life experience. They have two collections under the Purnama umbrella – the Pokhara Collection and the Java Collection. The beneficiaries are skilled women in Nepal and children’s education in Asia in the case of Pokhara Collection. As far as Java Collection goes, part of the sales proceeds from this collection is channeled towards the Planting For Life Organization in Central Java, Indonesia, that does a lot of work in the area of Water Conservation.
Tell us more about Charles and you, the founders of Purnama. How and when did sustainable/ethical design enter your radar? Is Purnama your first endeavor in this regard?
Purnama is our (first) formal establishment. Charles, co-founder, and my husband formalized our passion to support others as a birthday gift, … super happy :).
The sustainable/ethical design journey started from our relocation to Singapore in 2008. We have always been involved in giving back to the community in our home state of Texas, U.S.A. Within few months in Singapore, we were eager to find ways in “directly” sponsoring the education of children-in-need in the region. We asked our Mom in Indonesia if she could find 1 or 2 children who really wanted to study but may not or could not afford it, especially those with one parent or no parents. So it all started: 1 child then 2 children… then the number increased each year. As we traveled around Asia, we noticed that there were plenty of opportunities to support others. The travels opened up our eyes to how fortunate we were in our lives to have received a great education. We wanted to give an opportunity to others and that’s how we decided to support those in need to integrate into the society through the sale of their products (where skill is learned through craftsmanship).
-We started with the Pokhara Collection – woven bags from Nepal in 2014.
-We always have “responsible” or “environmentally-preferred” design in mind when choosing a product(s) and in 2015 we found the raw material as well as the artisans for our upcycled fashionable accessories line. We launched the Java Collection in 2016.
Since then, we are promoting sustainable fashion.
Why the name Purnama? Do you have a mantra/motto? What is the ethos / guiding principles behind your products? [Do mention your infinity sign you have now incorporated into the brand!]
Why Purnama? Purnama is my middle name. Other than being my middle name, in Bahasa Indonesia, it means “Full-Moon”. We like it 🙂 … So our thinking is with “Purnama”, we hope in providing a light for those in need.
Our mantra/motto: “Live Simply and Make Yourself Available To Find Opportunities To Do Better”
Our Mission is to “integrate” those in need into society through the sale of our products. We have two products that are hand-made in Nepal and Indonesia. We are very proud of them – I design them too.
The idea is to build skills or provide the forum in local communities. In Nepal, they learn how to weave, loom and sew (Pokhara Collection) through the Skill-Development Program. In Indonesia, we transform an upcycled raw material into unique fashion accessories and bags (Java Collection).
Our journey as a social enterprise has been fantastic with hard work obviously! We love to see our partners grow. We started with Women’s Empowerment in the Skill-Development Program in Nepal, followed continuous Awareness Campaign in Fight For Education (sponsorship for our children), to the eco-friendly focus with Upcycling Fashionable Accessories which has a great focus on Water Conservation Campaigns in Indonesia and moving us to the next steps.
We have evolved in our designs to be environmentally preferred. We are partnering with local Singapore Fashion Runway, on Fashion For A Social Cause. We design exclusive Upcycled Accessories for Singapore Fashion Runway. We are in the midst to collaborate with large multi-national companies to re-use waste cotton gloves and much more. Just Imagine … Imagine The Possibilities … Possibilities to Make a Difference, just by partnering with others on the cause.
We chose the infinity sign to represent the Purnama brand 2017+ with “Making A Difference Together” … The possibilities are infinite.
Our brand is Unique Artisanal Products – Eco-Friendly and Socially Conscious. We are proud of the products being Unique and Local with Great Quality – Smart and Simple Urban Wear with Bohemian Fun Style.
We are super excited!
You have two ranges on offer – Pokhara, and Java, both made using handcrafting techniques. Can you give us a flavor of the care and time that goes behind their making? For instance, the Pokhara bag – is it end-to-end handcrafted (cotton picking, weaving, dying, looming and sewing)? How many days in total (approx) does it take to make a bag?
For Pokhara Collection – Made in Nepal
Supports: A Way For A Woman’s Independence through Skill Development Program in Nepal
is imported from India (to Nepal). It is hand dyed, using natural dye and limited colors use chemical dye (Purnama does our best to educate and to use natural dye). It is then hang-dried outside and washed and hang-dried outside again. Once cleaned and dried, it is shifted into the workshop. The threads are then put in a wooden loom; then the patterns are laid out in preparation for the next project of design. The transformation begins in weaving into the loveliest and into the finalized product. At times, the women will take the final hand-stitching to their homes in the mountains in Pokhara, Nepal.
The skilled women can produce 10 exquisite bags per day with available looming. It can take up to at least 4 weeks to make the desired loom.
For Java Collection – Made in Indonesia
Supports: Water Conservation Campaigns, Organic Compost & Waste Shortage Education, Clean-Up The River and Lake Projects through Planting For Life Organization in Central Java, Indonesia
The raw material which is the inner tube of tyres is sourced locally. The designer (Rae) frequently visits Indonesia. During conversations over a cup of coffee, we collaborate with the artisan on the design. At the end of the crafting process, each item is cleaned and coated with natural essential oil (from the sap of pine tree). The oil is naturally deodorizing and antibacterial, creating a long-lasting fabulous finish to our environmentally friendly accessories.
The local artisans can produce 20 unique accessories per day per person (where local artisans are limited, where Purnama comes in to support to bring in more work to transfer and keep the local craftsmanship) and about 5 unique clutches per day per person
How was Java collection conceptualized? When was it launched?
Through our travel in the Region (Asia), we were mesmerized by
the beauty of this beautiful planet, the ocean, underwater world, the mountains, … At the same time, we were clouded by pollution, saw mountains of waste; met the privileged and underprivileged.
In 2015, I started to draw, and we thought through what can we do to start a step towards making a small difference that we can ‘wear’ and the wearer will be proud of it. We started the research and why not, let’s use the inner tube of tyres. We launched in 2016.
Community welfare and empowerment seems to be a running theme in your production process. We’d love to know more about your skill development programs and the education outreach program. Do you have a fixed proportion of sales proceeds that are channeled towards these endeavors?
Pokhara Collection > simple model, the more order (purchase) > the more work for the women (and more women we can put in the skill development program) > the more children in school
We basically commit to keep the women in the skill development program employed or find another employment, to do that, we have to keep ordering great quality unique woven products.
Fight For Education Collection > any products (currently with woven bags only) with a “Fight For Education” label, 100% proceeds will be put towards the sponsorship of our outreach program. Today, our Outreach Program consists of 7 children across Asia.
We also have exclusive designed products for Singapore Fashion Runway > 50% of the proceeds support the beneficiaries of Fashion For A Social Cause (autism, down syndrome, breast cancer and special needs patients in Singapore). This is our recent development; and have been very happy with the partnership and great community.
Love your shop at Haji Lane and glad to see you growing bigger! Any tips/pointers for other SMEs that are trying create sustainable products for Singapore?
Thank you so much for visiting us at Haji Lane!
We are at the beginning of our journey, still, loads to learn. I would say, stick with your principles.
We remind ourselves and we inform our customers & our partners:
We aim to be both environmentally conscious and socially empowering. We are definitely happy with the positive feedback of our handmade products.
The Tip: Learn from Others and Share your Knowledge – We learn and grow as a Community.
What next for Purnama outreach- new designs, more products or something entirely different?
Well, as we focus on having lovely designs and quality in our eco-friendly products – we’d like to emphasize on our current partnership to grow together in this journey. So we will have new designs and to combine Pokhara and Java, and collaborate with local designers. Other ideas are in bio-degradable materials for everyday use items and a product in R&D for natural health & beauty…… Let’s see …
That was Rae Amarullah in conversation with Anuja and Lara, the founders of Secondgsuru. We met her at The Better Store nestled in the heart of the bustling Haji Lane. The Better Store was a collaboration between Purnama and GreenieGeenie and shut shop on Sept 20th, 2017. But not to worry, they will set up shop soon once they find an appropriate location. Until then, shop online here.