Francisca Turner, Founder of Frankitas
Image taken from the official Frankitas Instagram
I had a meaningful chat with Francisca about sustainable textile, how Frankitas came about, what Frankitas stands for and Frankitas' plan for the future.
What is sustainable fashion? Prior to my chat with Francisca Turner (Frankie), founder of Frankitas, I always thought it was just about using materials that were eco-friendly or recyclable. I don’t know about you guys but sustainable in my head = the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). That’s mostly what I learnt in school anyway. However, upon learning about Frankitas and doing further research on the topic, I learnt that sustainable fashion is not just about our choice of clothing and its impact on the physical environment. That would be an oversimplification of the problem, a common mistake amongst the general public.
An interviewee from a Forbes article has best summarised it:
“What so many of us forget or perhaps don’t realise is that sustainability is not just about using bamboo based fibers and slapping the term ‘sustainable’ on the hang tag. True sustainability comes when the entire supply chain of that bamboo is sustainable.”
And true sustainability is the very thing that Frankitas tries to achieve with traditional textile. A lover of traditional textile and firm believer in communal collaboration, Frankie decided to combine her passion into her business by purchasing textiles at fair prices either directly from weavers or through NGOs that represent them. In this way, she not only provides employment opportunities for weavers in underprivileged and remote villages across Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, India and Central Asia but also paves a sustainable way for them to preserve their textile heritage.
Embracing Heritage and Communal Collaboration
For Frankie, embracing her heritage and roots has always been an integral part of her life. Frankie was born and raised in Ciherang, a small village in West Java, Indonesia. She describes her childhood as “one of nature, outdoors and just happiness”.
“I grew up in a village, and it’s so community-driven. Everyone looks after one another. Even if I don’t have a father or a mother, I will have many parents because the entire village looks after you. I was born there and raised until I was 9. Back there, we were always on the farm digging stuff, harvesting stuff. Or we were in the river, trying to fish for eels or we were chasing dragonflies. It was awesome, I really can’t complain. I had the best childhood.”
This unique upbringing in a tight-knit community ultimately inspired Frankie to pursue a community-driven business as a way to give back and retain that sense of communal collaboration, which is rare in today’s highly competitive world. For Frankie, there was not really a moment of epiphany about making handbags and home decor using textiles. Frankitas is just a way to connect and stay in touch with her roots.
When was the exact moment that you realised you wanted to make bags?
“It’s just as you grow older, you tend to look back on your childhood and how you grew up. With Covid, even before Covid, I always thought being in a city like KL, I mean, I’ve lived in a number of cities, Singapore and London and I’ve just always felt that cities are not very community-driven because everything is so fast-paced and people just don’t live close together. I think I’m a traditionalist, I come from a very Traditional, Indonesian, Javanese family. And they’ve taught me to always be community-centric, always think about the people around you and look after one another. That’s always always been with me. Everytime I go back to Indonesia, most of my relatives are still there. They still live pretty much the same way as 40 years ago, except the infrastructure and the eco-system has changed of course. The culture and tradition of that community still remain.
So every year, I’m reminded of that and as the older I get, the stronger my sentiment is towards that. And logically, if you think about it, human beings have always lived together. We shouldn’t be living apart. It's part and parcel of who we are in nature. I mean, if you look at the apes, they all live in packs. Nobody lives in a silo, nobody can. For me, I apply that to both my personal life and in my business. It’s the same thing - the same principle. Synergy is better than to work singularly. A lot of us, especially in cities, can be so competitive. You know what they say, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. I don’t want to be a part of that. To be honest, you know, I’ve worked in a corporate environment where it was like that and I don’t ever want to go back to that. I want to create my own community for people, businesses and customers who have the same values. It’s important that we attract the same sort of energy - the idea that we all come from different walks of lives and different nationalities but if it’s the one thing we all have in common, it’s that we believe in a community, a synergy and looking after one another. Obviously, the energy you project is really important because it attracts like-minded people.”
On the official Frankitas website, it is mentioned that Frankitas “purchases textiles at fair prices either directly from the weavers or through NGOs that represent them”. As an outsider and someone who isn’t familiar with supply chains and such, I was curious about what the implications of this practice were and how it makes Frankitas “sustainable” and different from mainstream fashion brands. Frankie explained:
"Middlemen that we work with are slightly different, they’re not middlemen who are out there to just make commission, not capitalists who don’t know anything about weaving or textile and are in it just for the bucks. So for example, in Cambodia, we work with a guy in Phnom Penh. His name is Alan, he’s been in Cambodia for 15 years. He used to work with Fairtrade Cambodia, he was a Professor who taught fashion and design. After his contract with Fairtrade Cambodia ended, he stayed on and created his own line of textile. He basically trains weavers from different provinces in Cambodia on how to make “ikat”. That is his main strength.
When Alan and I met for the first time at a trade show, we immediately fell in love with one another - not in the romantic sense but we immediately had chemistry because we knew what each other was talking about. We both shared a love for textile, for weaving, what goes on behind the scenes. He doesn’t just train the weavers - he provides them with raw materials, goes into their homes, teaches them and then he pays them a fair price for what they do. He then resells it at his shop. Even though he may be making profits, the margins are not that much because that’s not what his business is about. For him, his passion goes beyond that - he wants to help the Cambodian community and their heritage. His business for him is like an ode to Cambodia and her people. And that is why I really enjoy working with him and I will continue doing so because he’s just done so much for the community over there. That is a big part of Frankitas."
"Ikat" from Frankitas
Indeed, Frankie and Alan’s work has directly contributed to the livelihoods of many underprivileged Cambodians who have very extraordinary backgrounds. Some of the weavers employed are landmine survivors, others survivors of Polio, and all are survivors of a civil war that resulted in approximately 2 million deaths between 1975-1979. I knew that off the top of my head because I myself am Cambodian and my parents unfortunately had to go through the same traumatic experience as children. The genocide was essentially a historical reset (backwards) for Cambodia and left even greater social disparities in our society.
Although my family and I are fortunate enough to have what we have and be where we are currently, I have been constantly reminded by my parents from young to never take anything for granted and to always have empathy for others who are less fortunate. With the genocide, many of those who are living in poverty now are unfortunately in their circumstances because they had to pay a hefty price for a failed, corrupt and backwards political system - a payment in which they’re not even responsible for. Seeing individuals and businesses like Frankie, Alan and Frankitas care for and provide a means to social mobility for my fellow countrymen is truly heartening.
“It’s not just a bag, it’s someone’s livelihood in your hands”Photo of an ikat weaver, taken from the official Frankitas Instagram
I then asked Frankie, “What do you want customers to feel when they see or buy your products?”
"It isn’t just a bag, it isn’t just a lamp. There’s a story behind it. Yes, we try to make our textiles into beautiful, contemporary bags and home decor. But I see beyond that. I see people’s love, sweat and livelihoods in different products. I know it’s difficult to see beyond the beauty but because I know what goes on behind each product, each weaver, where they come from and who they are.Try to imagine and build your own narrative for each bag and it doesn’t have to be our narrative. It could be your narrative. It’s not just for Frankitas - I think for every product you buy, try to see beyond the product. Of course, for some products, it’s hard to see the narrative, especially those manufactured in bulk in big factories. But for everything else, try to see a meaning, a story behind it. It comes from a special place, made by special people. It’s someone’s livelihood. It can be from Cambodia or a remote village in Indonesia - that’s the birthplace of the bag. For Frankitas, they’re made by people who took a lot of effort and time to create the products. For example, the weavers in Cambodia, they’re mostly victims of landmine and Polio. With civil war, there’s a lot of detrimental impacts and they’ve had to pay for what happened in the political system. If you think of how physically immobile they are and for them to be able to create those amazing works of art, that is beauty. That is raw beauty. So, my message is: See beauty on a deeper level."
Moving forward, Frankie’s hope for Frankitas is to be a name and platform for weavers from all around the world to communicate their works of art.
"Really, I just want to preserve tradition and heritage, especially those who are patriotic and proud of their roots. I feel very deeply for that because I think that’s part of your DNA. Without that, you’ll just be another Tom, Dick or Harry and there’s nothing special about that. I think being normal is overrated. At the moment, technology and modern infrastructure has taken over the world such that we’ve kind of lost our identities. Everyone wants to be an influencer, wear the same clothes, and listen to the same music. I personally find that very dull. I’ve never been the kind to follow any trend, I just want to do my own thing and I’m happy doing that even if I get called crazy or weird. I just think heritage is a big part of who we are and we shouldn’t lose that. It makes me nauseous thinking about someone or a country losing their heritage. Right now, people are spending so much money on space exploration when earth is just so beautiful - we just have to look after it better, respect it better. Sometimes I think humans take things for granted, we always want more, bigger, better."
Learning about Frankitas' story and chatting with Frankie has definitely inspired me to delve deeper into my heritage and culture and embrace it as a part of my identity. Furthermore, I feel encouraged to change my shopping habits and consumption pattern to be more meaningful and sustainable. I sincerely hope that you feel inspired too, WYLDones!
The WYLD Shop proudly carries Frankitas products and is honoured to represent individuals who have such great passion for community. We look forward to seeing more of their collections!
Shop their collection on our online store here ( Get 50% Off selected Frankitas Bags & More from 12 am, 20th June to 11:59 pm, 22nd June )
Here are some of our favourites:
FRANKITAS GAYA BUCKET BAG - BROWN (Sold Out!)
With love & on behalf of the WYLDcrew,