“You gotta go to the other house” “Huh what there are two?” “Yeah, we have two places of operations, sorry for the confusion!” Yes, I had just realised that Biji-biji operates from two separate locations, two bungalow houses to be exact. So i headed on to the other location that was not listed on Google maps somewhere within the Jalan Ipoh/Sentul area.
This was the first bungalow that I visited which I had to leave and then come back to visit again
After a few turns here and there, I finally reached a quaint looking bungalow lot sandwiched within other quaint looking bungalow lots. And right at the gate of this quaint looking bungalow, one would have the notion that there is much, much more to the place than what the façade shows.
SHOW ME THE BIJI-BIJI
As I walked in, I was greeted by the living hall converted into a fabric shop, all busy processing what looks to be used rock climbing rope – and made into pouches to store chalk (also for rock climbing purposes). One of the guys there told me it was a collaboration project with Camp 5, a rock climbing gym in 1 Utama Shopping Mall, where they wanted to make something out of all the expired, used climbing rope. Biji-biji then came up with using the old rope to make new chalk bags which can then be sold at Camp 5. Pretty brilliant execution of upcycling used materials I must say.
I was then greeted by Azam Hisham, one of the 4 founders of Biji-biji.
“Hey man sorry didn’t tell ya about the two separate locations. We’d probably have to go back there again later too…” “Huh What?” “Well I gotta show you around right?”
Azam then proceeded to bring me around the bungalow, showing me various rooms that have been converted into work spaces; and I was pretty taken back about how much space the place actually has, and all the interesting stuff built and stored.
“If you think this house has a lot of stuff, wait till you see the other one”
“Biji-biji was formed at about 4 years ago by me and 3 other friends here in Malaysia. We actually started this out just as an outlet for our creativity and interests,” Azam told me.
They started as hobbyists, using their skills and ideas to make something out of nothing and then now, have turned into a pioneering Social Enterprise that thrives on collaborative energies of a wide range of people with diverse expertise and thought processes. From the first 4, the team has now grown to 30 full-timers and around a fluctuating 10-20 volunteers, interns and trainees; all multicultural, multinational, and multi-talented.
Azam lead me around the bungalow where I met people from locals, to people from Europe, Japan, Australia, etc…all sorts of people manning different segments of Biji-biji. They have rooms dedicated to electronics, fashion, wood work, fabrics, metalwork, even horticulture.
“At first when we started there weren’t as many things that we would take on. As we grew and the more and more people shared skills and technical know-how, then we could expand our operations to so many areas”
“You really need to love tinkering over here. We set up Biji-biji also as a co-working space for people who love to fix, repair, build and fiddle with things.”
DIVERSITY IS STRENGTH
Azam brought me around and explained at length (too much information that even I can’t remember what to put in this article) about the many exciting projects that they have done for their clients.
“Our large and diverse workforce allows us to produce an array of products and services. From art installations, solar powered electronic appliances, upcycled fashion accessories, sustainability consultancy, sustainable events management, furniture and fittings, to workshops and training,” said Azam as he showed me around the premises.
“We constantly collaborate with corporate companies, consumer brands, NGOs, government agencies, well just about anyone actually to come up with different things. One project could be building a working installation for a brand’s product launch, and another could be working with a NGO to build a sustainable energy system for villages in the outskirts.”
Check out what they did sharing information with villagers: CLICK HERE
“Our team has tried many, many things. Some weird and wonderful, some completely bonkers but definitely awesome!”
Through my tour of their operations in both premises, I’ve met people and their projects ranging from upcycling raw materials to build rides for a children’s playground, solar panel equipped briefcases, an art installation that plays music activated by lasers, bicycle electric generators, and even living plants used as jewellery.
“Living plants that you can wear as earrings…now that’s pretty unique I might say”
“What we have here is a work culture where everyone from the oldest team members to the fresh interns, take on tasks or projects that expands their knowledge and skills.” “We want to make sure that people are constantly working together and sharing their experiences with one another, which makes us as a group better and more knowledgeable,” Azam explained.
SHARING IS CARING
One of their latest projects, Biji-biji had a plastic recycling machine built for the cosmetic brand Kiehl’s as an initiative to educate people about recycling plastics. It featured a bicycle initiated electric grinder that people could put plastic waste in and minced down into bits. The plastic bits is then used as raw material for another plastic moulding machine what could shape and cut out the remoulded plastic into new and different items or products. This project was surprisingly helmed by an 18 year old intern, who has now gone on to pursue his degree in aeronautical engineering.
“I would say if this intern were to intern at any other place, his skills and knowledge would have been wasted,” I told Azam. “We were very lucky to have him intern here as well. Who would have known that we could learn so much from a young 18 year old too!” Azam replied.
It is really true that talents are everywhere. It all boils down to whether a place gives an opportunity that can extract their true potential.
ALL UNDER ONE ROOF
Azam explained that Biji-biji was made to not be or operate like an agency. They see through their products from the idea, client management, the design, the prototyping, and to the building or production of it. They also will see through to the communications and promotional aspects of the finished project. Like one stop shop really.
“Many creative agencies or design firms would operate by only doing the creative ideas or concepts, and then the building or production is passed on to contractors, whom on the other end of the spectrum, are businesses that would only do the building and production, never the design work,” said Azam.
“We would prefer to be on-board throughout the whole journey.”
By far a pretty unique business operations here in Malaysia, Biji-biji represents a new school of thought, new methods and culture. A place where people can explore social-impact projects, wild innovations, and hands on experiences.
Biji-biji is soon to be opening another place of operations at Publika Shopping Gallery, Kuala Lumpur; as a showcase of their work and also as a co-working space/workshop where like-minded people can share ideas and impart knowledge. They have gone from being among the earliest socially-conscious businesses in Malaysia, to being creators and inventors; producing and selling unheard of prototypes that are innovative, collaborative, and uncompromisingly determined.
“Ideas are not enough. You need the resources, the tool, the space, and the people to make it happen. That’s what Biji-biji is all about.”
This visit to Biji-biji has been an eye-opener for me about a gung-ho, eco-sustainable, social collaborative mentality and culture that I never knew Malaysia ever had. It has also sort of rejuvenated my interest in some of those DIY projects I abandoned a while ago too. Time to pull out the tools and get cracking again!
Interested in a job that lets you dream up, create, and build things? Head on over to Biji-biji’s Culture Page!