Pure skincare social enterprise supporting B40 farmers in Borneo

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Author’s blurb: I have suffered from chronic skin problems all my life and have tried various products that are said to work wonders on skin diseases to no avail. It wasn’t until I was properly educated about my condition by a compassionate dermatologist that I was able to seek the right treatment to get the problem under control.

Natural skin care products are in great demand for alleviating skin problems ranging from acne, eczema, and psoriasis to simply oily and combination skin types.

A few years ago, Sulie struggled with chronic eczema which resulted in her quitting her job. Since she couldn’t find any products that she could safely use on her sensitive skin, her doctor suggested trying an alternative in the form of natural ingredients.

She plunged into research and made her own skin care products using ingredients that she could easily get from the back yard of her Melugu village in Simanggang, Sarawak. There she met a beekeeper who revealed that half of the Melugu farmers earned less than RM200 per month from their yield.

Hence, Sluvi was born with a two-pronged solution in mind:

  • Make natural skin care products that are safe for people, especially those with sensitive skin;
  • Empower farmers by sourcing ingredients from them and increasing their incomes.

Since its inception in 2018, the company has been recognized as one of the winners of the Sarawak Shell LiveWIRE program 2018 and supported by accelerator programs from MaGIC.

Sluvi was one of the 2018 Sarawak Shell LiveWIRE program winners / Photo credit: Sluvi

Increase farmers’ incomes by 300%

When she got the social enterprise up and running, Sulie told the Vulcan Post that the farmers in her village weren’t exactly jumping on her bandwagon. “We tried to get the news out through word of mouth, social media and phone calls, but no one showed up after more than a month,” recalled Sulie.

“We believe that these farmers did not trust the legitimacy of our company. So we decided to go there and meet the villagers from house to house to explain what our project is about. ”

Some of the Sarawak farmers / Image source: Sluvi

It was time consuming, but it was worth it as the 4 families who work with Sluvi today have increased their income by 300% and earn between RM850 and RM1,200 per month. The team also trains its farmers in sustainable cultivation techniques to reduce the use of pesticides in their plantations while increasing yield.

These farmers consist of single mothers, old widowers, unemployed young adults and fathers in the village areas. “Most of our beneficiaries had no other jobs before and were only in need of government grants, which are still insufficient to support their families,” said Sulie.

“All along they didn’t know what the natural plants they were growing in the back yard could do for them until Sluvi gave them the idea to use them as ingredients in our products. By having more income through Sluvi, life could be better for them. “

Less is more

Currently, Sluvi only sells 4 products on the Poptron and Miracolo e-commerce platforms.

Sluvi’s line of products, priced at RM 22 each, includes face and body soap with stingless bee honey, aloe green tea face mask, rice face mask and lemon coffee body scrub. They are also available in stores at their specialty retailers, Shine Pharmacy, Farm Direct Shop, and Ranee Artisan Gallery.

Sluvi’s Stingless Bee Honey Face & Body Soap and Rice Face Mask / Image source: Sluvi

In 2018, however, Sulie announced to the Vulcan Post that they originally started the company selling 10 products packed in zip-lock paper bags to accommodate their small capital of RM800. “We thought that with a greater variety of products, customers would be more enthusiastic about browsing through the articles,” said Sulie.

The plan backfired; Election paralysis tainted customers instead. It took 6 months for the team to realize that making so many products was wasteful as it cost more money than it was making.

Reducing their product variants has helped them focus more on generating sales and profits while continuously improving the production quality from Sulie’s home kitchen. “We learned the hard way,” said Sulie.

So far last year they have achieved an average turnover of between RM 12,000 and RM 15,000 per month. Sulie shared that around 60% of customers are from Sabah and Sarawak, 30% from the Malaysian Peninsula, while the remaining 10% are from overseas consumers they found on social media.

Still trying to improve farmers’ lives

In three years’ time, Sulie hopes to increase the income of her partner farmers to at least RM2,000 per month through agricultural training courses and workshops run by the team at Sluvi. She also aims to influence 15 families and educate more Malaysian consumers about the benefits of natural skin care products.

“Our long-term goal is to create a better agricultural ecosystem in the villages of Sarawak. Through this project, farmers could earn a sustainable income, improve their farming skills and knowledge, produce high quality natural ingredients and gain work experience in vocational training, ”she added.

Sluvi wants to expand its product range and attract more B2B customers and retailers from the hotel, spa and beauty industries. Sulie intends to raise 100,000 RM for the operation, product development and marketing of her company.

Bottom line: Over time, I’ve found that skin problems are actually a very common problem. I have personally noticed that at least 2 people in my group of 6 friends suffer from it. And while Sluvis products have helped with Sulie’s own eczema, she admits that they may not work the same for everyone, which is to be expected of every product in general.

  • Find out more about Sluvi here.
  • You can find more information on other Malaysian startups here.

Photo credit: Sulie Abell, CEO of Sluvi

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