I always think that one thing we can do right in life, if there is such a thing, is to use whatever step-ups we have to improve the lives of others. Deborah Henry, who was crowned Miss Malaysia World in 2007 and Miss Malaysia Universe in 2011 (she has Malaysian and Irish heritage), was one of those who used her platform from these competitions for good. In 2017, she founded Fugeelah, a women-led conscious and affordable jewellery brand that not only sells beautiful products, but also educates, employs and empowers refugees at the same time.
We asked Deborah some questions about her jewellery brand, and its inspiration and aims.
What’s Fugeelah all about?
It’s a jewellery brand I started to improve the lives of refugee children and youth. The name “Fugeelah” is a combination of the word “refugee” and the famous Malaysian slang word, “lah”.
We allocate profits to provide access to education for over 200 refugee children at our non-profit organisation, Fugee School. The social enterprise also offers training and income opportunities to refugee youth who make some of the jewellery and work in the business.
Where are the refugees from?
In Malaysia, there are close to 180,000 refugees. The majority come from Myanmar, but there are people from Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Pakistan and Afghanistan as well. Out of these 180,000, approximately 44,000 are refugee children, and the majority of them don’t have access to schooling.
How did you start the business?
I kickstarted the business with a MYR 10,000 (around S$3,000) grant from UNHCR and Rotary Malaysia, which I received back in 2017. But before Fugeelah, I co-founded Fugee School, a non-profit organisation that provides education and community support to those in transit in Malaysia. As refugees in Malaysia cannot access formal schooling opportunities. After seeing the struggles of the community and facing fundraising challenges, I decided to start Fugeelah as a way to tackle some of the challenges.
With Fugeelah, our customers get the best of both worlds; they buy something lovely that gives them pleasure, and at the same time, they get that sense of satisfaction in knowing that they’re making a positive impact on someone’s life. We encourage our customers to recognise that they have power in how they spend their money, every dollar spent matters and can make a huge difference in someone else’s life.
Tell us about your jewellery brand.
Fugeelah creates affordable jewellery that is unique and that tells a story. We hope our creations are a cause for compliments and start conversations about our story and mission.
We make everyday jewellery using a mix of Sabahan-sourced freshwater pearls, as well as semi-precious stones with gold-plated brass. And we love creating collections that have a deeper meaning. After all, jewellery can be a vehicle for creating the social change you want to see in the world.
We design all our jewellery in-house. Our handmade pieces are made by the refugee youth who work with the brand. But we also do work with partner manufacturers to make some of the collections.
How are you involved in Fugee School and Fugeelah?
I am heavily involved in the day-to-day of both these organisations. In my work, I seek to build a global-conscious jewellery brand that creates awareness about the refugee crisis while empowering people to wear their change. And at the same time, use this brand to financially support the education of refugee children and youth in Malaysia.
What do you love about what you do?
I’ve been blessed with many opportunities and privileges. I love that I’m in a position to be able to support people to create better lives for themselves. To me, an education is the most powerful weapon that can change a person’s life, and it’s the responsibility of all of us to do what is right and just. This drives me, and motivates me to keep going.
How can people buy your jewellery and support you?
Shop via fugeelah.com! You get to support a great cause and make a change with your purchase. We ship globally, and we have stockists in Singapore, Dubai and Tokyo.
Any new projects that you’re working on?
We’re launching a collection with Indonesian actress and celebrity Raline Shah soon. This will likely be out in early September – so keep your eyes peeled!
Fugeelah by Khoon Hooi is a meaningful collaboration between two friends. By rethinking what many would consider waste. By creating these cool bags the collaboration breathes new life into leftover fabrics that may otherwise end up in a landfill. It encourages people to make meaningful choices with their purchases. To make them count, to make them matter, to make a change.
Browse and shop affordable jewellery by Fugeelah at fugeelah.com.