By: Supriya Sivabalan
“Since I met Biji Biji, I fell in love.” Akiko Watabe is a Japanese journalist who came to Malaysia in 2013, seeking a world of potential and personally felt that Malaysia is a great place to embark on her journey. A year later in 2014, as Akiko was reading the newspaper, she stumbled across an article about Biji Biji and it really piqued her interest. Fast forward to another year and Akiko encountered Biji Biji for the first time ever- completely by chance! “I encountered Biji Biji by accident at a pop-up store called “The Good Shop” in Sunway Pyramid Shopping Centre.”
Akiko was in complete awe of the Biji Biji products and gravitated toward the pop-up booth! “I’m being honest!”, she said. “I automatically stepped into the store, I still remember that moment very clearly.” Akiko met Rashvin Pal Singh, group CEO of Biji-biji Initiative and William Koong, Co-Director of Taylor’s Me.reka Makerspace (branch of Me.reka, a subsidiary to Biji-biji Initiative). The two explained the story and purpose of Biji-biji Initiative and Biji Biji and she was truly dazzled by the social enterprise. “That’s one of my biggest memories of Biji Biji”, Akiko mentioned.
Akiko (centre) meeting Rashvin (second from the right) and William (second from the left) at the pop-up booth!
Pictured is also Maks (far left) and Inga (far right), who have been with Biji for the longest time! Read about Inga's Biji Biji bags and their journey with us here.
According to her, it is “through Biji Biji’s charm that (she) felt lots of potential in Malaysia.” Akiko said that it is because of Biji Biji’s “outstanding leadership by its founders and partners who are full of ideas with the power of youth” that made her fall in love with us and our products. “Because Biji Biji products were so fantastic at The Good Shop, I visited the pop-up store so many times not only for myself, but also to introduce the brand to my family members and friends.”, Akiko said.
Ever since that fateful day when Akiko crossed paths with Biji Biji, she has been a true fan of both the products we sell and the social enterprise as a whole. She used to visit Biji-biji Initiative’s space back when we were operating out of a humble home in Jalan Ipoh and even loved dropping by our factory in Klang where lots of workshops were conducted and projects embarked. Akiko very kindly described the two areas (our house and factory) a utopia because she was simply blown away with the authenticity and uniqueness that Biji-biji and Me.reka Makerspace carry. She visited us so much that Akiko practically became part of the family!
Akiko Connects Biji Biji & Nakakoma Orimono
Spotted (from left): Norashahera Martens, co-founder of Biji Biji,Tsyahmi, Biji Biji’s collaborative designer for KL Fashion Week, and Akiko at KLFW last year!
Here’s where things get more interesting as Akiko brought back a seat belt bag during one of her trips home to Japan and presented her dear friend, Ms. Kazuno Nakajima, the bag as a gift because Akiko knew that she had to spread her love for Biji Biji products to everyone she knew that would resonate with her feelings. Akiko said that when Ms. Nakajima laid eyes on the bags and held it in her hands, she muttered “if a small part of my kimono materials are used for this seat belt bag, it would be more gorgeous.” Ms. Kazuno, at the time, was the owner of Nakakoma Orimono - a Japanese Kimono company that owns beautiful vintage kimono fabric - some with extremely detailed patterns, using shibori or the Japanese tie-dye technique. Upon hearing that, Akiko knew that she just had to introduce Ms. Nakajima to Biji Biji.
Akiko and Nora sharing a teary moment during KLFW 2019
Alas! The perfect collaboration was born (see: Biji Biji Kimono Collection) as Akiko said that Biji Biji and Nakakoma Orimono were synchronized the instant they met. Given Ms. Nakajima’s dream to “share the (kimono) fabric and see that it ‘lives’ and is used by people”, Biji Biji’s innovation in incorporating the fabric to our seat belt bags since 2017 has done her justice. She absolutely loves the mix of traditional and modern. Hence, we have no one else but Akiko to thank dearly for bringing our two companies together!
Celebration of the 60th diplomatic anniversary between Malaysia and Japan
Akiko mentioned that one of her most memorable moments with Biji Biji was during the 60th diplomatic anniversary between Malaysia and Japan in 2017 as the event was a beautiful collaboration with Biji Biji and Nakakoma Orimono. It showcased the gorgeous Kimonos in its raw form and Biji Biji’s seat belt collection with incorporated Kimonos. Akiko said that when Ms. Nakajima witnessed the gorgeous kimonos, accessories and apparel on stage that day - she lost all words and had tears in her eyes!
Ms. Nakajima told Akiko that the showcase sparked many memories of the Kimono materials but the most distinct one that jumped out at her was a memory regarding her mother-in-law. It was always Ms. Nakajima’s mother-in-law’s dream to bring the stunning kimonos to international waters, and she is very happy that this collaboration with Biji Biji allowed her to honour her in-law’s wish.
Featured: Sakura Tote Bags in various designs, made from beautiful vintage kimonos
This moment, Akiko said, is one that she will always treasure and is the reason why Biji Biji holds such a special place in her heart. Some of these Kimonos are actually specially crafted but turned down by the Japanese Kimono Market due to the conservative nature of the industry. Fortunately, Biji Biji could see the beauty in these stunning pieces and honoured them through our products. “That was truly a fantastic moment to witness.” Biji Biji did not only incorporate them to our seat belt bags but made other stunning pieces including dresses and blouses that were showcased in various events.
Stunning looks Biji Biji carefully curated out of vintage kimonos for Biji Biji x Tsyahmi KLFW 2019 Collection
Akiko and Her Biji Biji Bags
We asked Akiko “How many Biji Biji bags do you own?”.She replied - “To answer this question, you need to give me a few hours!” Akiko then went around counting the number of bags she owns and sent us a cute list summarized as below:-
My husband – 8
My eldest son – 3
My daughter – 3
My youngest son – 1
Myself – 11(^0^ OMG)
I can’t count…….
Lantana Grocery Bags - I have roughly 5
Tote bags - 5
File/ Folders - too many
Lunch Bag - 1 (I love this product!)
P.s. My mother, mother- in-law, my father, our relatives and friends also own Biji Biji bags! (Akiko could not count them)
Akiko’s children drawing animals with Biji Biji bags on a wall at iSetan Japan!
“I love all the products!” Akiko said her favourite products from Biji Biji are the first batch of seat belt totes that were released. She uses her Biji Biji bags every day - “I put my cell phone, sunglasses and use it for work, private events and even for casual walks!” Akiko personally thinks that Biji Biji’s minimalistic design is very modern and describes it as “cutting-edge”. She mentions that the designs beat gender stereotypes and can be universally loved.
Akiko’s favourite Biji Biji products - the first batch of Biji Biji’s seat belt bags
Regarding quality, Akiko says “I can tell it is among the premium quality products in Malaysia! Of course, since they are made from seat belts (as she refers to our Classic Seat Belt Collection), they are pretty strong and tough. Very durable. I have used them a lot over 6 years and they are suitable for long usage.” Akiko says that maintenance when it comes to her Biji Biji bags is very simple because it does not collect much dirt and can easily be dusted off if it does accumulate any dust.
Akiko also commends the excellent sewing technique on our bags as she said even Japanese professionals praise it! “It’s very difficult to sew unconventional materials together, however, Biji Biji’s sewing quality is perfect. Amazing.”
“Normally, when we buy products from charitable organizations or social companies, people feel obligated to buy them to support a good cause. However, Biji Biji is different. I buy their products because I WANT to buy them. I come back because I love them.” Akiko strongly recommends Biji Biji products to all and believes it is important to recognize the sincerity and uniqueness of a good brand on your very own. Make your next purchase with Biji Biji to further understand where Akiko’s heart lies when it comes to our brand.