Germaine Lye, co-founder of international collaborative platform Our Barehands, likens the two-year-old social enterprise to a toddler.
“It’s like watching a little baby grow up,” she says about building the business. “It’s really nice to see the growth process and the work that we’re putting together with Chanel (Go) and Mitchell (Zachariah Hong), my two other co-founders.”
The business that retails handcrafted apparel, shoes, bags and accessories set out to build sustainable small producing communities across the globe. It does so by bringing together traditional artisans who lack the access to get their products to market, customers who are keen to support social enterprises and are looking for well-made and beautiful products, and creative collaborators with the same goals and vision.
Since its establishment in 2019, Our Barehands has grown 280 percent, and expanded from just two artisans in two countries to 144 artisans in Colombia, Venezuela, Myanmar, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. It’s also working to penetrate the US market this year.
“It’s an affirmation of what we’re doing,” Lye says, “an affirmation that people actually want products like that; and it’s not to say ‘social enterprise’ means poor quality items, but there is a certain value that we’re putting in and it’s being appreciated by the market, so I think that’s quite a testament.”
Lye has always had a passion for doing good, having raised funds and collected second-hand items for communities in Southeast Asian countries with church or school groups, all of which inspired her to think of a more concrete way to make an impact.
“Charity has its place, but can we think of an alternative way that is perhaps a sustainable business?”
The growth of ethical fashion labels and the increasing awareness among consumers of overproduction and wastage in the fashion industry laid the groundwork. “I think getting the narrative across the different generations has really helped people in Singapore take the next step forward,” Lye says.
To further boost sustainability and reduce overproduction, Our Barehands has also introduced made-to-order apparel, a service it is looking to replicate across its range of products.
“As consumers, we have been primed to [expect to receive our purchases immediately], so the idea for us was, ‘Can we rethink what retail looks like?’”
Ultimately, Lye’s goal is to establish Our Barehands as a platform to benefit small producers around the world; and if any of them becomes the next It brand, “I think that would be so awesome”.