Saffron & Serai eliminates single-use plastic wrap by selling eco-friendly beeswax option
Iman Preece had always wanted to start his own business and create something that was his own. It was while working in the UK that the pandemic struck, and during the lockdowns that followed, she realized her time had come. “You know how people always say, ‘Oh, I don’t have time’. I realized that I no longer had that excuse. I was working in an interior design company and we had a lot of leftover fabric that was going to be thrown away. I kept it all, basically wanting to turn them into pillows and things like that. So I ordered a sewing machine online and started learning to sew on YouTube, ”she says.
Iman named his company Saffron & Serai and decided that sustainability would be at the center of his concerns. “My mother is Malaysian and my father is English. So I knew I wanted a Malaysian touch or a Malaysian aesthetic, ”she says. As the pandemic raged, she decided to return to Malaysia last July and brought her business ideas with her. As she no longer had access to leftover fabrics from her old business, she began working with leftover batik to make masks.
It was when a friend suggested that she make beeswax wraps, to replace cling film to wrap food, that her company’s main product emerged. “My aunt had beeswax wraps lying around the house and I remember smelling them. They were all plain so I never really liked them because they were just plain cotton or canvas. and I was like, “It’s nice but too utilitarian and super basic,” she explains.
As a result, Saffron & Serai’s beeswax wrappers are available in a range of patterns and designs, including Malay Batik. But the R&D behind its creation was not easy. “For beeswax packaging, you can only use 100% cotton. So initially I was trying to use leftover batik and also trying to find a recipe that works because I think people online are sharing information but keeping it to themselves. So I was tweaking the recipe to the point that I thought it actually worked, ”says Iman.
Her mother runs a food and beverage (F&B) business, so naturally she became Iman’s first guinea pig. “I said, ‘How about using this at home and you won’t need to use cling film anymore.’ My mom started using it to wrap her bread dough, to let the bread rise and rise. She found that beeswax wraps were perfect for this because they let bread breathe but not sweat. She started replacing all the stretch film she used at home, ”Iman says happily.
During the testing phase, Iman learned a lot. “I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is to understand the quantities. For example, how much fabric would create so many envelopes and for that, how much beeswax, jojoba oil and pine resin would I need, ”she adds. This was all the more important as the demand for his product began to increase.
In May 2020, Iman launched her website and she admits the business side of things was a bit of an uphill battle. “I’m not from a business or technical background, so the first phase of trying to figure out how to build a website was challenging. Anyone can create something on Instagram, but I personally feel like you need another layer. So the first step was to build a Shopify website, and it took me a long time to figure out because I’m, I’d say, more of a creative person, ”she says.
Fortunately, her friend runs a brick and mortar store called Shop Unplug, a sustainable lifestyle store in Bangsar. “I noticed he was moving slowly, but my friend was leading me. She would say, “I noticed that people don’t like this pattern so much” or “Maybe you could choose more colors like this”. It was helpful to have someone on the ground to give you feedback, so I could know what people really wanted, ”says Iman.
Saffron & Serai’s beeswax wrappers are available in a variety of colors, patterns and sizes. It even has beeswax canvas bags, which are great for packing take out food. A trip to Terengganu to meet artisans and batik makers sparked the idea for another product. “It was around November or December that I traveled to meet batik suppliers, and my mother and brother came with me. To pray, they stopped at the surau. But in the surau you had to bring your own prayer mat because you couldn’t share and you basically weren’t allowed to touch anything. And my brother didn’t bring his, so he was praying on the floor and it really bothered me, ”says Iman. She started making foldable batik prayer rugs in two sizes from bamboo fibers, which have antibacterial properties.
During her trip to Terengganu, Iman also researched other sustainable products that she could sell on her website, such as woven floor mats and place mats as well as coconut bowls and cutlery. . “I was trying to find craftspeople who could make things that I could customize for the look that I like. I started selling items like coconut bowls when customers came to ask for them, ”she says.
At the heart of Saffron & Serai is Iman’s goal of making respect for the environment and the transition to sustainable and zero waste practices a smoother transition. “The idea of my brand is to make sustainable development normal. It’s a lifestyle, little things that you can fit into your everyday life.
It was at the start of this year’s motion control order that Iman felt stagnant as the fabric warehouses were closed, so his production and new designs were halted. To make the most of her time, she updated her website and started selling beeswax refreshment bars. “Beeswax wraps will last you about six months to a year. After realizing that the product was moving, I started to think about the end of its lifespan. Do people just throw it away? Yes, it’s compostable and biodegradable, you can put it in your compost pile and it will decompose because it’s all natural. But what if I could extend its lifespan? Iman adds that with the help of the beeswax refresh bars, the wraps can last from four to six years.
Saffron & Serai has started to wholesale its wraps, which means massive production. So far, she has created custom packaging for corporate gifts and even had a range produced in collaboration with The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Iman has big dreams for Saffron & Serai. “I would love to see our beeswax packaging become the norm, replacing cling film and plastic in F&B establishments such as cafes, starting with KL, then in the rest of Malaysia. I want beeswax wrappers to be readily available to customers – displayed among coffee beans and glasses and offered as an alternative to plastic upon removal. On top of that, it would be amazing to be able to have our beeswax wrappers in large grocery stores such as Ben’s Independent Grocer, Village Grocer and Jaya Grocer, ”she says.
This article first appeared on September 27, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.