What Happens When The Deputy Pm Praises Ethnic Sabah Bag Brand It Sells Out

Mary Jim’s handbag has been selling well after Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail praised the product on Instagram.KOTA KINABALU: Any business person would dread going into the year-end running low on stock but Mary Jim doesn’t mind the headache this time
On Nov 1, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail posted a photo of herself on social media with a clutch bag from Mary’s MJ by MUS collection
In her Instagram caption, Wan Azizah praised the beautiful Sabah-made product and said she was impressed that it was the combined work of several rural communities
Her post triggered a landslide of online orders for the bag and other MJ craft products
Mary told FMT her sales rocketed by about 80%
“Once her post went viral, the enquiries were non-stop. All my staff were kept busy. I even had to pull non-marketing staff to help fulfill online orders
“They were unable to do any other work for two or three days,” she said. “Then we ran out of stock.”However, the 43-year-old mother of four said it’s a good headache to have
They are still trying to cope with demand pouring in from Singapore and Australia
“We are thankful to our DPM for posing with our product,” Mary said, adding she was also grateful to political secretary to the chief minister, Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas, for introducing the bag to Wan Azizah
With orders still flooding in, the ultimate winners are the local homemakers, single mothers and young people who make the products for MJ by MUS
As well as handbags, the product line features men’s and women’s wear, and children’s clothing, all promoted by MJ by MUS but actually made by various local communities and brands
Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail posing with the clutch bag inspired by Mary Jim.The MUS part of the name comes from “Me” and “U” becoming “US”
“I created the company as a platform brand to promote local products in fashion, accessories and lifestyle but infused with Sabahan or Borneo motifs
“The ideas and designs come from us but the ones making them are communities in Sabah
“The brand on the products is MJ by MUS but I don’t claim them as mine alone, but rather co-owned by the communities that made them,” Mary said
For instance, the clutch bag posted by Wan Azizah goes through several processes before its completion
First, people in Sipitang, Papar, Kota Belud and Nabawan turn local dried pandan leaves into tikar matting
“The matting is collected and woven into clutch bags in Keningau and Penampang,” she continues
“The beads come from Kudat. So each bag changes hands several times before becoming the finished product.”Mary has a processing and finishing centre in Penampang, but all the craft work is done by members of 76 Sabahan ethnicities in their own homes
Other handbag designs featured in Mary’s shop in Penampang.“I call this system a smart factory, because our workers are able to produce a minimum of 10 items a week instead of just one if working alone, which doesn’t contribute much to extra income,” she said
“These makers are really grateful, because in the past, they sold their products at market places, leaving their children at home. But with our system they are able to make extra money while taking care of their children.”She said she did not at first intend for this to be a business
“I come from a skills training background so I had travelled to a lot of rural areas in Sabah. I saw plenty of talents but there was no product promotion
“My intention was to help, but I couldn’t do it as a charity, so we do it as a business where everybody benefits.”MJ trains workers to make sure their products meet high quality standards. The initial training period was tough for her and she suffered “mentally and emotionally”
But it was worth the pain. And having grown up in difficult circumstances she knows how tough it can be living in deprived rural areas
“This is my passion because I grew up in a poor family in Sook, Keningau, in interior Sabah. My father passed away when I was little and I was the second child, and only girl, among six siblings.”Mary had to provide for her younger brothers and the rest of the family
Women folk busy finishing products under Mary’s MJ by MUS collection at a community centre.“I first came to Kota Kinabalu in the late 1990s. I remember passing out from exhaustion when I had to work four jobs just to earn enough for all of us
“But we are fortunate because despite our adversities, God gave us very good minds to have a positive outlook on life.”During the toughest of times, Mary made a promise to herself
“I said to myself that if I make it one day, I want to give back to the people – this is how it all started.”She said she is also into youth empowerment, using her life experience to educate and inspire the young not to be afraid to gain knowledge and experience in order to better themselves
And with that, Mary disappears to organise more supplies of her special clutch bags to fulfill all those orders still pouring in as a result of the “DPM effect”. - FMT

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