Handmade with love for the planet

Want to begin living sustainably? Cutting plastic waste is a good way to start. The Sunday Times features two women entrepreneurs who have come up with green alternatives to plastic household items

Cloths and sponges made of natural fibre 

Crocheting and knitting are often thought to be associated with clothing and accessories, but local artisan and entrepreneur Eileen Wan is taking this delicate craftwork into a more practical realm - household products.

The 45-year-old founder of local lifestyle brand byiroiro, which sells washcloths, sponges and reusable facial cotton pads made of natural fibres, originally just wanted an outlet for her lifelong hobby.

Ms Wan, who picked up crocheting in primary school and continued it into adulthood, started her label about two years ago, making bags from raffia yarn.

"Originally, I was just passionate about making things out of natural fibres. A lot of the yarn sold in Singapore is synthetic or acrylic and simply does not feel as good to the touch," the mother of a 11-year-old girl says.

While her raffia bags were well-received, the time and labour it took to make them meant she had to sell them at a high price - more than $100 each.

She says: "Eventually, I stopped making bags and decided to make something practical that people can have in their homes."

That's my day job, but this - knitting and crocheting - I love it. It's what keeps my soul alive. 

MS EILEEN WAN, founder of local lifestyle brand byiroiro, who runs a software company with her husband

She now uses natural fibres such as hemp, cotton and linen to knit and crochet products such as washcloths and shower puffs for the face and body, dishcloths and sponges for the home, and soap sacks to hold bar soaps.

  • TIPS FOR CUTTING PLASTIC WASTE

  • • Switch to natural cleaners. Alternatives to laundry detergents such as soap nuts (a fruit with soap-like properties) and all-natural bar soaps are not only free of harmful chemicals, but they also do not come with plastic packaging.

    • Go digital. Switch to online mailing lists, bills as well as bank and insurance statements to avoid paper waste and envelopes with plastic that always end up in the bin.

    • Buy loose-leaf tea. Most teabags sold by major companies contain some plastic and are not completely biodegradable.

    • Opt for pre-loved items. Be it furniture, clothes, decorations or appliances, buying second-hand products is the easiest way to reduce waste.

    • Say no to plastic bags. Reusable bags can be folded into small, neat packages and taken everywhere, so you will never be caught in a shopping situation without an eco-friendly carrier.

She runs the business and makes all her products by hand.

Some of her most popular products are the kitchen sponges and reusable facial cotton pads.

Kitchen sponges are most commonly made with plastic polymers and are recommended to be changed at least once a month.

But Ms Wan says her hemp sponges are biodegradable and also made from a more durable and mould-resistant material that is said to be able to last for months.

As for the reusable cotton pads, these can be used in place of disposable cotton pads to remove make-up or apply skincare. They can be washed and air-dried after use.

While the making of cotton is generally regarded as harmful to the environment due to the amount of water and chemicals it uses, Ms Wan sources her cotton yarn from a brand based in South Africa, which says it applies sustainability principles such as reusing the water used in cotton-dyeing for irrigation.

Sourcing for materials and shipping them from overseas means more costs. As such, prices of her products can be high. A set of three facial cotton pads sells for $10, while a hemp sponge and washcloth set costs $26.

Ms Wan admits that her solo business venture does not make much money and the bulk of her income comes from her full-time job of running a software company with her husband, but she hopes to do her part for the environment while pursuing her passion.

She says: "That's my day job, but this - knitting and crocheting - I love it. It's what keeps my soul alive."

• Go to www.byiroiro.com for more information and products.


Reusable wraps for storing food

When Ms Anchalee Temphairojana quit her corporate job last year, she was not planning to start her own business making beeswax food wraps.

The Thailand-born Singapore national, who moved to Singapore 14 years ago for work, was simply hoping to focus on her health.

When I was working, I always felt guilty about eating out or taking away food and using so much plastic. After I quit, I started to look around the apartment to see what I could do to reduce waste at home. 

MS ANCHALEE TEMPHAIROJANA on what led her to find out about beeswax wraps 

Her hyperthyroidism - a condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive - flared up while she was working at her previous job in the oil and gas industry. She has since recovered.

"When I was working, I always felt guilty about eating out or taking away food and using so much plastic. After I quit, I started to look around the apartment to see what I could do to reduce waste at home," says the 37-year-old, who is married to a Singaporean senior executive in the consumer technology industry.

She soon discovered beeswax wraps - an alternative to disposable plastic wrap and plastic bags - which can be used to store food.

Beeswax wraps are reusable food wraps made of fabric coated in a beeswax mixture, making it water-resistant but breathable.

She says: "I tested a few recipes I found online and began making some for myself and my friends. It was well-received."

She turned her beeswax wraps into a business in January under her label, Minimakers.

Ms Anchalee makes all her wraps by hand in her home - an apartment in the Kallang area, which she shares with her husband and their two cats.

Her wraps are made of 100 per cent cotton fabric, which is coated in a mixture of beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil - all biodegradable ingredients.

The finished wraps can be washed with cold water and a mild soap and are reusable for up to a year or when the wax mixture erodes away.

"You cannot microwave it because the wax melts in heat, but it's good for wrapping food items such as cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables.

"Because the wax is slightly adhesive, it can also be used to cover open containers or wrap food to eat on the go," says Ms Anchalee, whose wraps come in four sizes, with prices starting at $9.90.

She also sells her beeswax mixture in the form of 60g bars at $16.90 each, which customers can use to make their own food wraps.

She works with local labels - children's wear Missy Messy and African print-inspired womenswear Theresa Cotton - to upcycle their leftover fabric into food wraps.

"It's too expensive and laborious to print my own fabric and upcycling fabric is a way to reduce waste too," she says.

She also runs the occasional workshop, in which participants can print their own fabrics - using non-toxic water-based ink and block print stamps - and make it into a beeswax wrap.

Running a one-woman show can be taxing. Ms Anchalee says she had to undergo physiotherapy for her thumb after she spent long hours cutting long pieces of fabric into perfect squares, but the work is rewarding.

She says: "I hope more people find out about beeswax wraps. Once you start using wraps, you become more conscious about how much plastic you use daily for food."

• Go to www.minimakers.sg for more information.


Second of a 28-part series in collaboration with DBS.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 07, 2019, with the headline 'Handmade with love for the planet '. Print Edition | Subscribe