Local Fashion Designer Pearly Wong Gives Back To Society By Working With Refugees
We caught up with the designer on her upcoming CSR projects.
ESQUIRE: Tell us more about the work you're doing with The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
PEARLY WONG: UNHCR have been doing great work with refugees. When the opportunity came from UNHCR, I just returned from Berlin to KL so I jumped on board. I am now working closely with UNHCR for vocational training and livelihood projects with the refugee homes.
ESQ: What inspired you to do this?
PW: I’ve been meaning to create a stronger CSR program for Pearly Wong for the past years by teaching children in orphanages in Cheras to upcycle our leftover fabrics. So, when the opportunity came from UNHCR, it was just like hitting the jackpot for us to build our brand ethically, I have always been passionate about environmental and social issues. I took an advanced certificate in Sustainable Design Entrepreneurship from my school at FIT in New York after I graduated in Fashion studies, because I believe so much in creating fashion in an ethical and sustainable methodology with respect to the earth, people and political issues. It comes from a place where I am not only interested in fashion, I am also valuing my role and responsibility as a fashion designer.
ESQ: How is it like working with these refugees?
PW: Refugees here in Malaysia are in a very vulnerable position because they are forced to flee their county due to war, political and religious reasons. When we approach them, we try to show respect to their culture and be accommodating to their needs. They are different from immigrants and migrants; refugees do not have a choice but to leave their beloved country. When I work with the artisans from the refugees home, I find that often they are very skilled but they are not recognised because they are not legal in Malaysia, so that makes it very hard for them to find jobs and be discovered.
ESQ: What have you learnt from these refugees?
PW: Working with them is a very humbling experience. I am sure anyone who does any give back and charity work will tell you that it is very rewarding. The refugees value so much the freedom we have - to work in Malaysia legally, to go to schools, to go out without getting caught by authorities. That empowered me to reach out more - to provide them the same privilege as I have.
ESQ: Tell us more about the upcoming show.
PW: Corum watches is presenting my show and UNHCR is our partner. I am currently friends of Corum watches in South East Asia so I am very happy to work with such an esteemed company. The fashion show will be a night of celebration of giving back to UNHCR and the artisan refugees in Malaysia.
ESQ: What have you designed and what are being produced by the refugees?
PW: The clothes for the show are made by the Pakistani, Afghanistan and Myanmar refugee women. So we actually go around to their shelters in KL to work with them. I have a lot on my plate because its a lot of training and trial and error, but I’m determined that the three member design team and I will pull through a collection.
ESQ: How important is it for you as an individual and a designer to give back to society?
PW: It is very imperative for me as an individual and my role as a designer to do my best to give back whenever I can, and if it’s within my capability. Also, I believe that giving back and caring for social and environment issues is something innate and personal - some people care about it and some don’t, there is no wrong or right about this. I think it boils down in the end to our beliefs and personal values.