Building a Fair Trade Business with Jamie of KAYU

KAYU is a breath of fresh air in a world of “fast fashion”. Jamie Lim founded KAYU as a way to create ethical and sustainable accessories, while also paying artisans a fair wage. Their handbags have garnered attention because of their locally-sourced and eco-friendly materials – even Meghan Markle has been seen wearing them! Read on to discover how Jamie started her company, advice for aspiring business owners, Instagram tips, and more.

Hi Jamie! Please introduce yourself, tell us a bit about your background, and how KAYU came to be.

I grew up in South East Asia before moving to the US for university. Growing up, I was surrounded by beautiful artisanal products. My parents had a set of handmade rattan chairs in their house and used to wear gorgeous hand printed batiks. Over the years I noticed these products were slowly disappearing and were being replaced by mass-produced, cheap alternatives. I started KAYU as a way to preserve and promote my cultural heritage as well as provide a source of income to the artisans.

“Fashion and
sustainability need
not be mutually
exclusive.”


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You make beautiful + handmade accessories, and your sales help to support local communities! What made you want to start a company that helps others through an ethical and sustainable business model?

My son has been a big catalyst in our commitment to using sustainable materials. Since his birth I’ve thought more about the type of world I want to leave behind for him. Why use plastic straw which will stay in the earth’s eco-system forever when we have more sustainable alternatives available? We use seagrass to make our totes, a fast-growing grass that has traditionally been viewed as a weed and will eventually completely biodegrade. Our bags are also all handmade which curtails the need for machinery and energy consumption, and in 2018 we are working towards zero waste by making our scrap materials into small accessories. Fashion and sustainability need not be mutually exclusive.

You use locally-sourced materials, benefit artisans in third world countries with a fair living wage, & focus on being eco-friendly. Why should more companies follow suit? What has been the most important business decision you’ve made so far?

Fashion is one of the most polluting industries but it needn’t be this way. Aside from it being our moral obligation, companies should follow suit because the market demands it. Consumers are not only driven by price; they now want to know where their purchase comes from, who made it and what exactly it’s made of. Being sustainable and eco-friendly isn’t only good for the environment, it’s good for your bottom line.

One of the most important things we’ve done is made a commitment to the artisanal. It would be so much easier for us to produce our bags in a factory in China – it’s less expensive and everything turns out perfectly uniform. However, we truly believe there is value in the handmade, and that it makes for a more beautiful and engaging product.

How has social media helped you grow and build brand recognition? What are your top 3 tips for curating & posting content on Instagram?

The great thing about social media, especially Instagram, is that you can instantly connect with your customers. As soon as a photo is posted you know if that image has resonated with your audience. It’s also a great way to learn more about our customer base – where do they live and how are they styling our bags?

My three tips for curating content on Instagram are consistency, consistency, consistency. This applies to the frequency and time you post, the tone and style of your copy and the filters and photography you select.

How have tools such as Planoly helped you grow on social media, stay organized, and maintain engagement with your followers? What are your favorite Planoly features?

Never has it been more important to put out a professional and engaging image on social media. Planoly allows me to play around with our images until the perfect combination is reached. I love how I can see at a glance which are our most popular posts – it lets me know instantly what is and isn’t working.

“Planoly allows me to
play around with our
images until the perfect
combination is reached.”


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What is your top advice for aspiring business owners looking to get into the fair trade industry?

I’ve always believed that starting a business requires passion and that that passion is a culmination of one’s experiences. What is your story? What is it about fair trade that resonates with you? My story is rooted in my childhood and my experiences growing up in Malaysia surrounded by artisanal crafts. When you find your story and passion that’s when your business will succeed.

What can we look forward to next from KAYU?

We are launching a home and beauty section on our website for the holidays. It will feature South East Asian brands curated from our travels and will include everything from natural facial oils to travel books, and our very own signature candle inspired by Bali.


Stay connected:

Website: KAYU
Instagram: @kayudesign