This interview was conducted in English in Kuala Lumpur and edited very little. Munirah is an eloquent advocate for herself as an artist and her organization. When she said, “every stitch counts,” I died a little from happiness. She is an instructor and seamstress for Raven + Lily products. Photo by Melinda DiMauro.
I was born in peninsular Malaysia and moved to Kuala Lumpur for university. I got married recently and I’m pregnant with my first child. After I graduated high school, my father bought me a 700 Singer portable sewing machine. He passed away shortly after that. I taught myself to sew using Internet tutorials. At first, I didn’t think I would do this full time. I sewed during breaks from university to earn extra money. My first product was a pencil case that I sold to my sister’s friends; that was the first thing I sold.
I have gained more knowledge and experience since sewing bulk orders. Sewing can be your main source of income. I never thought I could sew bulk orders, but I decided to try and I managed to take orders from other businesses too. I learned design in university and I have made my own designs, but I have been exposed through this job to make products for customers to buy instead of just for personal use.
I am proud of my work being sold in America. It’s a good opportunity for independent designers to work. If we want to go far, we need to cooperate. We need our products to be sold outside of Malaysia. The money I have earned allowed me to buy a second sewing machine and start my own business. I’m also running a small handmade business on my own. I like sewing because it gives me a sense of calmness and satisfaction. I love designing. I want my designs to come to life and not just remain sketches.
Working alongside the other Raven + Lily women artisans around the world is very cool. We are united in the same passion. Not many people love sewing, but it is a passion. I am now teaching other people, and I love seeing them learn from me.
It is priceless to stay at home and work with my child. I can raise my own child, and I like to be my own boss. I think Raven + Lily provides paths for women. Many people know they can do it, but they don’t have the right channel to express or channel their passion and gift. Skills are a gift. If you have a skill and don’t use it, it’s a waste. This program is the best thing you could do to help these women express their gifts. You have to have faith in yourself to do what you love. When you buy from Raven +Lily, you are buying a piece from an artisan, not a mass produced factory. Every stitch counts.
–Munirah, 26, instructor, seamstress