Norashahera Mertens, 32, Head of Biji-Biji Ethical Fashion
Button-down shirt, Levi’s; beaded coat, Kittie Yiyi.
Norashahera Mertens set the slow fashion bar high when the organisation she heads received the World Fair Trade Organisation Membership. Serious about ethical fashion, the head of Biji-Biji Ethical Fashion believes that the stereotype that only men can be leaders is a significant barrier towards female leadership. To Nora, failures are just works-in-progess, and that you should learn from your mistakes. You should never give up!
Who inspires you?
Women who are selfless and lift each other up, women who have fought courageously and tirelessly to establish themselves as individuals and leaders in what they believe despite a rough journey. These powerful figures are important to show to young people that we can be comfortable in our own skin and still achieve our dreams and goals.
How can a person in your position, press for progress in an industry like yours?
Biji-Biji Ethical Fashion is the first Malaysian brand to receive the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) Membership and we also subscribe to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are serious about running a fashion brand that is ethical and fair trade. Every one of us, from interns and designers to foreign workers, has an important role and if the right values are ingrained in us, we can be anywhere in the world and still continue spreading them in their own capacity. Through my work, I press for progress in ethical fashion in Malaysia.
I often do not look at failures merely as failures but more as a work-in-progress. There’s always room for improvement in everything that we do whether we do it right or wrong the first time. More importantly is to learn from your experience and keep on improving yourselves and never give up.
— Nora on how she looks at failures.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? Why?
The mindset that leaders should be men. It does not make it easier when systems that have been directly or indirectly implemented in society and organisations agree to this “norm” and biases. A simple but significant example starts as early in our school days where the School Head Prefect usually will be a boy and the assistant will be a girl. Women need to realise that they are capable and do not be too shy or not have enough confidence to become a leader—just go for it!
In this New Malaysia, how can we do better?
As consumers, we need to pay more attention to the input of the products that we purchase. Every time we shop, someone somewhere is paying with our externalised environmental, social and economic cost—that don’t get costed into the product pricing mechanism. Make it a habit to trace the supply chain to understand what goes behind the products and demand for more transparency, or you may also support ethical producers and brands.